We’d like to believe that certain forms of sadistic entertainment are a thing of the past, such as dogfighting, cock fighting and bear baiting. While the public endorsement of such blood sports has declined, they are far from being a thing of the past; underground fighting rings are frequently raided by police, while other exercises of animal cruelty are publicized to audiences who lack knowledge of what’s going on behind the scenes. One of these blood sports is greyhound racing.
Greyhounds are an ancient breed thought to have originated in Egypt. Sometime before 900 A.D., they were brought to England by traders, and later brought to America by Spanish explorers in the 1500s. They are the fastest dog breed in the word, able to run up to 40 miles per hour. They are intelligent dogs with a gentle, laid-back disposition, and are generally good with children. Because they are often timid, early socialization is important. Their coat is smooth and short, therefore easy to groom. Aside from a brisk daily walk, they are relatively low maintenance and make good pets.
To say the least, the life of a racing greyhound is no picnic. These dogs spend the majority of their lives in crates, pens or fence enclosures, with limited human contact, for 18-22 hours a day. Bedding in these enclosures are things like shredded paper or patches of old carpets. Many tracks use wooden crates, which are not only fire hazard but are also hard to clean; as a result they are often urine-soaked and unsanitary.
Animal welfare investigators often find the greyhounds infested with fleas and ticks, carrying potentially deadly diseases. Rescued greyhounds more often than not test positive for worms and parasites—illness that are easily preventable with vaccinations. Dermatitis is also common, along with bad teeth and gums. The dogs also often suffer from untreated injuries, such as missing or broken toes, broken hocks and musculoskeletal injuries.
Not only that, thousands of wild and domestic rabbits are killed in the greyhounds’ training process every year, as the dogs are made to pursue and kill them in order to learn to run faster. Although the use of live lures is illegal in most states, these laws are often difficult to enforce.
Also unsanitary is the diet of most racing dogs. They are routinely fed what is known as 4-D meat, the meat of dead, dying, or diseased animals. The meat is sold cheap as it is deemed unfit for human consumption by the USDA. Predictably, dogs that are fed this diet often get seriously ill.
At this point you may be wondering, why are the greyhounds treated so badly if they’re a source of income for their owners? Surely an unhealthy dog wouldn’t be a good racer. It wouldn’t be practical to mistreat a moneymaker, right?
Well, caring for dogs costs money. Neglecting dogs is cheaper.
In most cases, the owner/investor of a racing greyhound is not the same person who is responsible for the day-to-day care of the dog; that’s left up to the trainer and their assistants. The owners only have to sit back and let the dogs bring in the money.
Given that greyhound racing is first and foremost a business, the dogs themselves are expendable, depending on how much money they generate. Every year the industry breeds tens of thousands of greyhounds in an attempt to produce “winners.” Although the average lifespan of a greyhound is 10-12 years, racers are usually disposed of after 4 years in order to bring in a fresh batch; sometimes younger dogs are disposed of due to injury or lack of racing potential.
Once they’re not useful anymore, they’re either put up for adoption, sold to research labs, returned to breeding facilities where they serve as breeding stock, or sent to foreign racetracks in developing countries. Thousands of these greyhounds are euthanized each year due to lack of available homes, including around 7,000 puppies at breeding farms deemed ineligible for the racetrack, and another 11,000 retired dogs. Given that money is the top priority, these greyhounds are often disposed of with the least expensive methods, such as gunshot, bludgeoning, abandonment and starvation.
Of course, the well-being of greyhounds does not matter to the state racing commissions that oversee and regulate the industry. Their primary function is to protect the state’s financial interest; therefore the industry is not governed by the federal Animal Welfare Act or any other such laws.
Luckily the Humane Society of the United States has been doing its part to investigate industry abuses and initiate and support legislation to ban greyhound racing. They also educate the general public of the inherit cruelty of the industry, thereby gaining more momentum for the movement.
Dog racing is currently legal in seven states and illegal in 38 states (and thankfully that includes North Dakota and Minnesota). The remaining five states—Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Oregon, and Wisconsin—there are no longer any open racetracks, but no legislation has been passed to ban the sport.
The only reason the sport became legal in many states was because lawmakers thought they were a way to raise revenue. However, the industry has taken a nosedive in the past twenty-odd years, and the generated revenue currently amounts to less than one percent of a state’s annual income. So not only is it inhumane, it’s also economically unsound.
If you would like to take part in banning greyhound racing, look to Grey 2K USA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to greyhound welfare. If you’d like to look into adopting a retired racer, head to The Greyhound Project or check your local animal shelters.
– Särah Nour