The Other Side of Greyhounds: A Reality Check

February 12, 2012
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The Gathering of the Hounds

Racing Greyhounds are amazing creatures.  Their back story is unique to any other breed of dog. Consequently, greyhounds themselves are, in many ways, different from any other dog.

Mother nature designed greyhounds to hunt, feed and survive in packs, with one dog as leader, actually signaling to the rest of the pack when a scent is picked up.  Then the whole pack takes off in pursuit to bring down the animal, whether a small, furry creature, or a larger animal that requires the whole pack to bring it down.  Their bodies were designed to outrun and take down prey.  They are aerodynamic.  With a long, narrow snout, wide-set eyes that can see peripherally 270 degrees – almost a full circle – ears that fold back, a huge chest that contains over-sized lungs and heart, long, muscular limbs, and no body fat. They are built for speed.  At a full sprint, they can reach 45 miles-an-hour within one and a half seconds.

Born and raised on greyhound farms, racing greyhounds have their own registry and are bred with other racing greyhounds in order to continually improve the line, much like horses, i.e. quarter horses, thoroughbreds, etc.  They are registered and ear tattooed in order to keep the lines pure.  They are separate and apart from AKC registered greyhounds.  These are big, powerful, joyful, 50 to 80 pound dogs that, from the time they are born, are raised, encouraged and trained with one goal in mind.  Compete.  Run.  It’s in their genes.  It’s been bred into them generation after generation.  That natural instinct and ability has been instilled in them every step of their growth on the farm, until they are sent to the racetrack at 18 months.

During this entire process, those dogs that are seen for whatever reason, to have no potential for racing are culled out along the way.  And that’s where we come in.

We adopters see these beautiful, perfect specimens of physical strength, speed and agility, and fall in love.  Then we read of their plight in life, from breeding, to training farms, to the racetrack, to the culling of thousands that don’t make it as racers, to retirement from the track.  We are hooked, not only on a physical, but an emotional level.

We end up adopting a dog and find out that not only is he physically amazing, but he is incredibly sweet and gentle.  He is so dependent on us in the beginning as he gets used to life in a home.  It’s wonderful to see him relaxing and discovering the joys of his new life.  It’s miraculous to see his personality evolve.  He learns to play and be joyful.  He learns that the kitchen is where wonderful things happen.  He discovers the softness and comfort of the bed and the couch and his various dog beds scattered about the house.  He greets you at the door with helicopter tail swirling and sometimes even a toothy grin.  When you walk him there’s a Zen-like quality to his quiet demeanor that actually brings you down to a relaxed state after a hard day in the trenches.  And through all of this there’s an incredible sweetness about the breed.

We realize that, although this is a 50 to 80 pound dog, he takes up very little space.  But he seems lonely, looking at us with soulful eyes as we head out the door numerous times during the day and night.  So within a year of that first adoption we head out the door and come back with a second greyhound.  Now life is perfect.  The dogs are wonderful.  When we take them out people ooh and ahh over them.  At home, life revolves around them as we buy silly squeaky toys, fancy collars, raincoats, winter coats and the latest dog food that is “in” at the moment.

The Joy of a Mudhole (Crosby)

We find a fenced-in area where we can unleash our dogs to socialize, run for an hour or so, and be released from the houses and leashes that bind them.  We get together with other greyhound owners and enjoy the interaction of our dogs because, having always been with a pack of greyhounds, they recognize their own kind.  And they love romping and playing together.

Now here’s the caveat.  We take these dogs from an extremely controlled environment where their whole life is structured, even to running in a certain direction for a specific amount of time, and we turn them loose in a large wide open area with a bunch of other greyhounds and no ground rules except that they should wear a muzzle.  They’re running helter-skelter, this way and that, and they’re running fast.  As with any pack, there are going to be little skirmishes (“smack talk”) as they jockey for position.  But there is always the chance that it is going to escalate.  Can you break up two or three dogs?  Probably.  Can you break up four, or five, or six?  Probably not.

I have now witnessed the substantial injuries of two friends in the past four years right here in my city.  These are both very good, experienced greyhound owners.  The first one, whose own dog ran right towards her and knocked her over, sustained an injured knee and was on crutches for a while.  The latest accident happened to one of my dearest friends who was running towards a large group of five or six dogs whose smack talk had turned serious.  The whole pack suddenly took off, turning toward her, running full tilt.  They barreled into and around her, knocking her to the ground.  The result is a serious knee injury that required three days in the hospital for surgery, a steel plate, screws, and three months of no weight-bearing on her leg.

I don’t mean to be a naysayer.  My intention is not to take away the joy of ownership we all feel for these animals.  I just feel the need to remind us all (me included) that the very things we treasure most about our dogs – their strength, their exuberance, their speed – is the very thing we must have the most caution and respect for.  We must never forget their size and strength.  And we must never forget that, as much as we like to think we know what our dogs are thinking, we do not speak DOG.  And they are not going to listen when we yell stop.  They do not speak HUMAN.

Love your dogs.  Have fun with your dogs.  And never forget for a moment the responsibility you have taken on.

Zen moment with Alex and Ava

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