No one ever notices me when I am with him and there was no exception to that rule on a recent humid, Florida morning. The stranger spoke up and began with the typical greeting when he saw my handsome partner by my side. “He’s beautiful. Is he a retired racer?” I responded with the appropriate “Yes. Thank you.” My regal, fawn-colored Greyhound and I always got this reaction when we walked together, but on this particular morning stroll, the conversation took an unusual turn as the gentleman explained how he knew several Greyhound trainers; he went on to share about how much they cared for their dogs.
I was intrigued because usually uniformed passer-byers, victims of unsubstantiated rumors, bestow upon me some sort of imaginary dog-rescue sainthood because of my willingness to take in, what they falsely believe to be, a mistreated racer. This soft-spoken stranger knew differently and continued, “Denying them the chance to run is like telling a track star that they can’t race.”
The stranger’s comment about how much Greyhounds love to run struck me as both timely and solidly true, and he answered my final question regarding how to vote on Florida’s proposed Constitutional Amendment 13, a “Ban on Wagering on Dog Races.”
As one who has adopted two retired racers, I was initially torn when I saw this amendment. A ban on racing sounds like a good thing on the surface to a dog-lover.
Shouldn’t all dogs be spoiled like mine with couches for beds and baskets of chew toys? My first clue that this might not be the case came in my email inbox. I received my usual newsletter from the Greyhound adoption agency that we had used. The email stated their opposition to the amendment. Quite frankly, I was shocked that this volunteer run organization, who put our family through an extensive adoption process which included thorough home visits, vet background checks, multiple references and intense education, was now explaining how the claims made by the proponents of the deceptive ban and Amendment 13 were unsubstantiated. They, along with 90+ adoption agencies, are in opposition to the amendment and encourage a “NO” vote.
After receiving the email, I went on a quest myself to find out more facts. I tackled my first question. How do injuries of racing Greyhounds compare to that of the everyday family dog? According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the family dog has “about a 1 in 20 chance of being rushed to the vet for an emergency this year.” Further, in the U.S. alone, 1.2 million dogs are killed by motorists on roads each year. In contrast, Dr. Rob Gillette sites a study where the injury ratio for 47,323 greyhound races was only .2%. Granted, racing may be deemed by some as unnecessary, but isn’t much of what we do as pet owners unnecessary? Of course, it is, and accidents happen just the same when I allow my thin-skinned Greyhound to run around the dog park just as they do on the track.
This led me to my next question. How do kennel owners and handlers treat the dogs? Do they abuse and drug them as alleged? The answer lies in common sense. Why would the handlers want unhappy and unhealthy dogs? They wouldn’t. Several kennel owners are third and fourth generation breeders and take great pride in the health and well-being of their dogs. Therefore, they feed them high quality food, assure they get quality vet care, and give them massive amounts of attention. In addition, racing Greyhounds are not regularly given drugs or cocaine as alleged. The state-regulated standard for the drug testing of racing Greyhounds is higher than what is required for humans taking a comparable drug test for a job interview.
These facts only reinforce my personal experience. I remember the day we picked our first Greyhound up at the kennel at Derby Lanes. I was shocked. There wasn’t a single sign of mistreatment as the rumors had suggested. The Greyhounds looked content and relaxed as they freely roamed in a yard with their canine friends. They were not snuggled up on sofas or wearing designer sweaters like a family pet might be, yet these dogs were not caged in tiny kennels after being bruised, beaten and drugged by surly, calloused trainers as urban legend had suggested. I don’t even recall barking, yelping or howling, but rather remember being struck by the serenity I have since come to know well as typical of Greyhound the breed.
Sadly, if racing is banned, over 3,000 of the tax paying citizens in Florida who care for racing Greyhounds would lose their jobs. Even more troublesome is the fact that the state could be sued for not providing just compensation as is required. In turn, tax payers may then have to pay millions in retribution to these workers because no provisions for them have been made in the amendment.
Seeing that the workers would not be taken care of, I wondered, “What provisions are included in the amendment to take care of the 8,000 greyhounds who would retire should racing be banned?” Shockingly, there are none. They will go to shelters, many of which are already over-populated and as a result, many may end up euthanized. A 2016 study by the University of Florida confirmed that animal shelters in Florida euthanized 116,000 shelter pets. This could easily be the fate of many greyhounds. Furthermore, the YesOn13 campaign has spent over 3 million dollars on the campaign, but yet none of the monies have been allocated towards rescuing hounds if racing is banned.
This led me to ask myself, “Who was behind the amendment and how would they benefit?” What I found was alarming. Although, there are no provisions in Amendment 13 to help the Greyhounds, there are plenty of provisions to protect gambling so that the tracks could easily become casinos. It became easy to see that the dogs are simply a smoke-screen to sneak in casinos across the state of Florida without the public knowing that they are actually voting on gaming expansion.
Still, after all this research, my “YES” or “NO” vote boiled down to this one final question—Do greyhounds like to run?
Nine years ago, I would not have known the answer to that question. We had just relocated, and I became intrigued by the nearby Derby Lanes, a Greyhound race track. New to Florida, I asked dog-loving friends about the track and the dogs, and I started hearing the unfounded rumors of how sad their lives were in tiny cages. I set out on a mission to convince my family that adopting a greyhound racer was our duty as compassionate humans. It worked!
Soon, we brought home our first retired racing hound, Banks. I would quickly see that my hound was indeed very well trained. Despite six years of living in the racing world, he showed no signs of fear or neglect, the way an abused dog would. He was a kind and poised dog and it was clear by his demeanor he had been given a massive amount of gentle training. He was accustomed to baths and nail clippings, more evidence that he had been well taken care of.
Most importantly, we began to see how much he loved to race. We would line him up at the back door and excitedly encourage him to get ready. A low growl of enthusiasm would ensue and when we opened the “gate”, he would explode out our back door to our backyard as if he had just been let out into Greyhound heaven. He, indeed, loved to run.
The gentleman’s comment on our morning walk brought my thinking full circle to those moments of sheer joy that my hound exuded when we unleashed him to run at the back door. This gentleman was right. My last question was settled– Greyhounds do love to run, and it isn’t cruel to allow them to do what they love. I knew I must vote “NO” on the ban.
Ironically, we now have our second retired racer, Hoss, who was a horrible racer. He ran a whopping two races and came in dead last both times. Clearly, he was not intended to live a life on the track and the trainers recognized it. They honored who this dog was intended to be, did not try to pound him into something he should not be, and, in turn, he became ours.
One could argue that these breeders and trainers are simply looking for the win, but I submit that trainers understand something that we pet owners often forget — The two lives that Greyhounds enjoy, as racers and as family pets, are not in competition with one another. They can both be different from each other and both can be good. It is not an either-or scenario. The Greyhound racing industry recognizes both lives can be beneficial for Greyhounds. If we truly want was is best for Greyhounds and for Florida, we, too will recognize this reality and vote “NO” on Amendment 13.