Racing greyhounds: 'The proof is in the pudding'
I have a great new patient. Her name is Proofy. She’s a Greyhound, as her glamour shot shows. Her racing name was “Proof in the Puddin’” or “Proof of Speed” or some other such insult to her current life as a pampered housepet in a loving home.
Much as I try to retain any semblance of objectivity on the dog racing thing, I have a really hard time with it—as a vet, as a Greyhound fan and as a dog person. So I’ll just dispense with it for the purposes of this post.
I just don’t get how life in a cage, much as they might relish the daily runs, can in any way compare to life on the sofa—or no life at all (as the racing industry likes to posit as an ominous alternative to the sport of dog racing—as if no racing means no purebred Greyhounds).
After examining Proofy, I would argue that the latter alternative is an improvement over her former existence. Here are a few pics (posted with her owner’s consent) that help prove my point:
Most Greyhounds have chipped teeth from gnawing on the bars of their cages. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re dying to escape, rather that they’re bored most of the time. Genetically over-engineer a dog then let it sit in a cage all day and that’s often what happens. (Sorry--I didn't get a good pic of this.)
Proofy has a sprung hamstring—a muscle torn from its tendinous point of insertion—from over-extending herself in a race or while training. This is a fairly common injury. Orthopedic malfunctions from strained muscles, joints, ligaments and bones occur on the track all the time.
See the difference on her right side?
I have an acquaintance, a vet surgeon in Great Britain who apparently makes better money than most human surgeons by treating Greyhounds (exclusively) for their track-related orthopedic injuries. You might think this a “kind” approach compared to the euthanasias of years past but lest you get caught up in a flurry of misplaced emotion, let me first explain:
Not all racing dogs get surgery—usually just the A racers. Forget the limb-sparing surgery if you’re a B or C. In fact, forget any life-saving treatment, much less the expensive orthopedic variety.
Next, let’s explore more of the husbandry-related diseases—beyond the broken teeth. How about the dog-dog interactions that arise from chronic close quarters? This is the result of Proofy’s near miss, after another dog attempted to tear her limb from limb—literally. She was a good enough racer that she was worth keeping. I wonder what the pain med protocol might have been for her injuries?
See the stellate scarring? (All the paler, redder and darker grey areas)
To be fair, Greyhounds have plenty of advantages as a breed. As a consequence of the industry’s jealous hold on their genes, they have precious few genetic diseases that might manifest during their racing lives--because not one adversely affected animal is ever allowed to breed.
Consequently, Greyhounds are perfect examples of the basic breeding principles developed in the 18th and 19th centuries: cull the weak and diseased; breed only the best. They have a predisposition to periodontal disease and they get plenty of cancers but these features don’t have a thing to do with racing, so they're not considered issues for breeding programs.
Dogs like Proofy can find plenty of homes. And Greyhound rescue organizations do most of the leg-work required to save the culled and match-make with those of us that care. For that, they deserve their kudos. But look beyond the glossy pamphlets of some of these organizations and you might be surprised.
Most rescue groups survive symbiotically with the racing industry. Caught up in the romance of the breed’s tradition, they relish their unique position to receive their “saved.” Like a pastor attending his flock, they value the fact of captivity above the “freedom” they facilitate because without it, they wouldn’t exist.
This may sound unduly harsh. After all, they're saving lives. But what do you think would happen if they failed to place the percentage of greyhounds they do? What if these organizations didn't exist? What percentage do they really place? How many get euthanized every year in the kennels? The industry is highly secretive about these issues. And I don't blame them. No one wants PETA on their doorsteps. But how about us not-so-radical dog lovers?
If these Greyhound groups no longer existed, the general public might not tolerate the industry’s death rate. As it stands, most of us who care tend to think all ex-racers get placed through Greyhound "agencies." To me, the placement procedure seems a likely veil for the industry’s malfeasance. Without it, I bet we dog people might finally demand to see the “Proof in the Puddin.’”