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Greyhound racing has been a controversial topic of discussion in recent years, where it has been banned completely in some countries and in some U.S states.
This may seem a little confusing for anyone who has crossed paths with a Greyhound – perhaps at the dog park or in a neighbor’s yard – because they love to run, don’t they? Few breeds can work up such an impressive speed, and it is not unusual to see a Greyhound run lap after lap around the park.
So, what is the problem with greyhound racing, and why are so many animal welfare organizations working day and night to put a stop to them? What makes it different from other canine sports?
To fully understand why greyhound racing is generally a problem, we need to make sure we know what it is, how competing dogs are treated between races and the dangers that come with each race, and that is what we will look into here below.
Related: Dog Food for Greyhounds.
The Greyhound – About the Breed
Greyhounds are among the absolute fastest dogs in the world, with the ability to reach speeds of 40-45 mph, and seeing a Greyhound run at full speed is an overpowering experience. They are known as race dogs due to the practice of greyhound racing still taking place all over the world, but racing was not what the breed was originally bred for.
Their DNA reveals an interesting truth where they seem more closely related to herding dogs than any other dogs, and experts believe the breed originates from Eastern Europe, the Celts or Eurasia, and that it was originally bred as a sighthound. The modern Greyhound first appears in documents from the 18th century.
The shape of the Greyhound’s body is possibly what enables it to be so fast; the lean and long body, strong muscular legs, shock-absorbing foot pads, deep chest, tucked waist, and aerodynamic narrow skull allows it to fly through the air with surprising ease, with few other breeds being able to keep up.
The Greyhound is an intelligent and loving dog breed; gentle, calm and easy-going, while potentially also being somewhat reserved with strangers. There is a common misconception of the Greyhound needing a lot of exercises, which is not true, as they are great at short sprints but not the best when it comes to endurance. This makes the Greyhound a moderately active dog that loves a long walk but that also wouldn’t say no to a cozy snuggle on the couch.
How Greyhound Racing Works
The type of Greyhound racing we will be discussing here is track racing, where a set number of dogs run around a track following an artificial lure. How many dogs compete in each race depends on the track, the organizers and the available dogs, and there is no rule for the maximum- or minimum of Greyhounds that can run in one race, but the most common numbers are 5 or 6 dogs per time.
It is an organized sport where people can make bets, similar to horse racing, and win large sums of money. If you are physically present at the track, you have the option of betting with bookmakers or betting directly on the tote, and if you are not physically present you will be making your bets with a bookmaker.
The type of bets you can make depends, and it is regulated by standardization. For tote bets, you usually have the options of win, place and forecast bets, and depending on the track there might also be several multi-bet pools available to bet on – these including the combined results of two races.
Each track has a fixed number of Bookmakers that are allowed to operate there, and each track operates its own tote which is what mainly differentiates it from horse racing. Also, every track needs a valid track betting license.
All dogs participating in professional races are graded on their running style and overall performance, to make sure the races are as even (and exciting) as possible, with no clearly superior dogs. The dog with the best time wins the race, and whoever better on the dog wins money.
Related: Dog Treadmills.
This sport has been around for longer than what most people think, and it has its origins in coursing. In 1876 in Hendon, England, the very first attempt to have Greyhounds race on a straight track was made, but the project was unsuccessful and did not go any further from there.
The modern races we see today, performed on an oval or circular track, were made possible thanks to Owen Patrick Smith’s invention – the mechanical hare (invented in 1912). He wanted to avoid the use of a real hare to make Greyhound racing comparable to horse racing, and he opened the first racing track in Emeryville, CA, in 1919.
Greyhound racing in this form did not reach the United Kingdom until 1926, which was brought there by a man named Charles Munn. He, together with a Canadian major, set out to convince others to join them on their mission, and they managed to raise enough money to found the Greyhound Racing Association, and a year later – in 1927 – there were 40 operational Greyhound racing tracks in the UK.
Today, Greyhound racing officially exists in eight countries, but races are believed to be held in another 21 countries where dog racing has still not grown enough for it to be considered commercial.
The Problematic Aspect of the Sport
Dogs will usually start racing when they are approximately one year and a half and keep racing until they are between the ages of 3 and 6, depending on their performance and physical condition, and they are then retired from racing.
This makes the career of a race dog quite short, and due to most of these dogs being kept mostly for the purpose of racing – a significant number of retired greyhounds are surrounded to the pound or put down when they are no longer fit to run.
Treating dogs as something disposable does not sit well with many animal welfare organizations, as it raises questions as to how they are treated between each race.
There is a significant concern that most dogs do not get properly socialized, exercised or even love during their upbringing, as they tend to be kept with the sole purpose of running and winning races. Is it truly ethical to raise dogs only to run races for their trainers, and to rob them of the opportunity of having a family of their own?
Those supporting Greyhound racing argue that the dogs have fun while running, which is a possibility, but is it enough to defend a life of limitations and the risk that come with running in a race?
While it may not be the case for all racing dogs – many of the Greyhounds are kept in small kennels while not on the track; they can be kept cooped up for up to 20 hours per day, and others spend their lives living outdoors with possibly little to no shelter.
Additionally – not every bred-for-racing Greyhound is fit to race, and thousands of healthy Greyhounds are euthanized every year (with up to 17,000 yearly only in countries like Australia). It is hard to defend such a wasteful approach to canine life, and it is one of the reasons why the voices arguing to shut down the sport are growing increasingly louder.
Greyhound racing causes severe injuries to many of the dogs that run the track; the high speed and the many dogs on the track at once make it highly likely for a dog to sustain injuries at some point during its career.
The dogs wear muzzles to avoid any nibbling or fighting on the track, but common injuries are broken bones, critical back injuries, heart failure, and broken necks. This is the side to Greyhound racing you rarely get to see when attending a race or when watching one on TV, and it is far from pretty.
In the UK, every track is required to have a stand-by veterinarian and veterinary facility, and all racing dogs need to pass a thorough inspection by a licensed veterinarian before they are cleared to run. The dogs should also be vaccinated against Leptospira Canicola, Parvovirus, Leptospira Icterhaemorrhagiae, Distemper, and Infectious canine hepatitis.
This does guarantee a certain health status for each animal (provided the controls are carried out thoroughly and as required), but it says little about the dog’s living conditions outside the track or about their mental wellbeing and health.
Dogs are also routinely drug tested to make sure that no illegal doping has occurred, and as absurd as it may sound – it happens, as some trainers will be a lot more interested in winning than to see to the general health of their dog. Bigger races usually require a drug test before every race, to establish that each dog has an equally fair chance to win.
Despite these tests and checks, it cannot stop injuries from occurring or the dog’s hearts to give in, and during a 5-year period (2008-2015), the ASPCA and the Grey2K USA reported that approximately 11,722 Greyhounds were critically injured on the track.
Greyhound Racing Bans
The sport of Greyhound racing is still legal in 5 states in the United States; and there is additionally still racing taking place in Florida (which previously had the biggest number of Greyhound racing tracks), even though Florida has recently passed a bill to completely phase out Greyhound racing by the end of 2020.
When this promise is fulfilled – Florida will be state number 41 to prohibit the sport, which says a lot about its often-unethical practices. The ASPCA works actively to put a complete halt to Greyhound racing in the US, to follow the example of other countries that have already ended it fully.
This article refers to professional greyhound racing currently practiced in several countries, where dogs are often pushed beyond their own limits – putting them at risk of life-threatening injuries and more. Greyhounds love to run but should be allowed to do so on their own terms (in, for example, a fenced-in dog park) where they can stop and pause as needed.
There are many other dog sports that are better suited for Greyhounds and other dogs, like Flyball, where the focus lies on the communication between dog and owner and on mutual respect, rather than on the dog winning something at the cost of their own health and wellness.
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