Greyt moves: Adopting fast dogs, unemployed

December 23, 2009 at 12:22 am Leave a comment

Image by Greyhound Rick, whose Flickr photostream of greyt dogs in action can be seen here.

Greyhound racing is something I never think about much, except when I write to promote the adoption of ex-racers. The sport has never been legal here in California, at least not in my lifetime, and I’ve never taken the opportunity to see it elsewhere.

That last thing? Getting harder every year, with tracks closing for good one by one, most recently Phoenix Greyhound Park, which had been open since 1954.

Animal advocates, driven by regular reports of unwanted track-bred greyhounds illegally disposed of like trash, a bullet to the brain and a mass grave for the body, no doubt had some impact on the sport’s dwindling popularity. But more likely it was just a matter of the changing times. It’s easier if you want to gamble to go to an Indian casino, zone out and push a button on a slot machine — hell, that’s so easy you don’t even have to go to the effort of pulling a handle anymore.

Winning a bet at the races — horse or dogs — is about luck, sure, but it’s also about study, and nobody much can be bothered about that when the promise of effortless wins — even if the house is the only one who really wins — seems a better deal. People actually do make a living betting on racing — not me, I don’t gamble, horse racing is not about that for me — but I don’t know anyone who can say the same about the lottery or casinos. The “gaming industry” is all about sucker bets, a de facto government-sponsored tax on the poorer among us, for the most part.

In a way, it’s a shame about greyhound racing, because the industry long ago cleaned up its act in significant ways (excepting the rogue operator here or there), working more or less happily with adoption groups to get failed racers into forever homes as pets. (And by the way, they make great — oops, I mean greyt — easy-going companions, quiet, sweetly funny and low-energy almost all the time, unless given the opportunity to open up and flyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.)

ZenyattaHorse racing, of course, is also in trouble, and for many of the same reasons. (And without nearly as much effort to find homes for its “losers,” who are, as horses, infinitely harder to place.)  But while horse tracks are also closing,  the industry is still blessed with the patronage of the super-ultra-mega-richer-than-God rich (greyhound racing is a blue-collar game) and the continued popularity of its marquee events like the Kentucky Derby and its stars like Zenyatta (at right, with her jockey, Hall of Famer and Nice Guy Mike Smith) or the late Barbaro (can anyone name a famous greyhound race or a top-winning greyhound?).

The horse-racing industry will survive, albeit likely in a much smaller way and, I hope, a more humane one. That’s a short-odds bet, although of course nothing is certain in this world, not even an odd-on favorite.

Greyhound racing? It’s a goner, on life-support now.

Greyhound Rick’s photos, so rich with affection for the dogs and the people of the Arizona tracks, have made me think that when the last track goes and the last racing greyhound becomes a “40 mph couch potato,” something valuable will have been lost — another group of dogs with a job. (And yes, I do know  there’s a very small group of people who really do hunt with sighthounds, but they’re probably not a heckalot bigger than the number of  those who really do hunt with terriers. Gundogs — retrievers, pointers, spaniels, setters — are probably by far tops in terms of sheer numbers of real working dogs, but believe me, that’s just a guess undoubtedly skewed by the fact that I know a lot of people who hunt gamebirds.)

But then, sighthounds themselves aren’t exactly popular, even as pets.

The whippet is the top breed on the AKC registrations list, at No.  61, if you jump over the Rhodesian Ridgeback, only arguably a sighthound, and the Italian Greyhound, which is really a lapdog. Even the dog-show folks aren’t that taken with sighthounds, aside from the Afghan, who can be Barbie-dolled into a top attention-getter. Most sighthounds look extremely uncomfortable in a show ring, showing something on their faces that’s rather like the expression most people have when enduring  “those” medical tests involving the probing of nether regions.

The scarcity of really fast dogs with double-suspension gallops is one thing that just made me wince when Christie decided to move back home to San Francisco from her rural property, with the now-departed Rebel in tow as the end of a well-respected breeding program. I’m happy to know she’ll have a Deerhound again some day, but  it’s unlikely she’ll ever resume an active breed-preservation  program, at least not unless she gives up the city.

But what of the racing greyhounds? My neighbor has a greyhound, Lizzie (that’s her at right), a sweetheart from top show lines who has never stretched out at full gallop — that’s right, never.  A long-retired show-bred sighthound who has never been off-leash in an area big enough to run.

Why not? Because … she might get hurt.

It makes me hurt to think about it. Preserving our heritage working dogs  — especially the rare ones — is about more than breeding and showing them. It’s about working them, or at the very least, showing they can do something like the work they were developed to do.

Which is why I find myself today mourning the loss of a dog track — a strange feeling  that I’m actually surprised to have — even as I encourage dog-lovers to snap up these lovely hounds to fill your couches and your hearts.

But by damn, once you have  a retired racer, don’t take advantage of their willingness to veg out for the rest of their lives. Go, please, and find some place to let them fly.

They deserve to do so — and you deserve to see them do it. You’ll never, ever regret or forget it.…

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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