Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Plight of Greyhounds




Sao Tome Shrew

I don't normally use this blog to promote books (with the exception of my own,) but I recently participated in the Northern California Independent Booksellers conference in South San Francisco. One of the books I picked up was Comet's Tale: How the Dog I Rescued Saved My Life, not because I rescue greyhounds, but because a dear friend does and it was her birthday. What caught my eye was the subtitle. If you've read this blog more than once, you know I believe in the healing power of our relationship with animals, and the natural world in general. Animals we adopt as pets to give them better lives frequently lead us to understand it is they who enrich ours. Animals as healers is a theme that runs throughout everything I've ever written, so I carefully read Comet's Tale before giving it to Tanya. 

I'm extrapolating here, but too often the question that arises before any consideration is giving to saving a unique habitat and the species found in it--a polar bear or Preble’s meadow jumping mouse--is what purpose does it serve? How is mankind any richer for saving a Sao Tome shrew or a Pig-nosed frog? 
Pig-nosed Frog


That should never be the question. The question should be what right do we have to destroy it? However, for those who think the former question trumps the latter, perhaps greyhounds need protection because we have thousands of veterans coming back from our wars who need help, and there's a chance they might make great service dogs.
  

From COMET’S TALE, by Steven D. Wolf. © 2012 by Steven D. Wolf. Reprinted by permission of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. All rights reserved.

Even if a racer survives (the risks involved in racing,) the dog’s long-term prospects are grim. Hounds who never place in the money far outnumber the winners, and even the winners will start losing one day. Most of the losers are three years old or younger. Because food and care cost money, no racing kennel wants to keep them around. Since greyhound breeders produce tens of thousands of dogs ever year, it’s easy to obtain a replacement. The president of the Pensacola Greyhound Assoc. summed it up the industry attitude when he said, “That’s just a bad part of the business, unfortunately. I compare it to owning a professional sports team. If you have one of you star players who isn’t putting out, then you have to make other arrangements.”
            The “arrangements” are what lie at the end of the road for hundreds of greyhounds. Some are killed legally by veterinarians hired by the dogs’ owners…then there is the other option, known within the industry as “going back to the farm.” A man named Robert Rhodes operated one such farm—eighteen acres in rural Alabama where he admitted to shooting thousands of greyhounds during his forty-year career in the racing industry. An aerial photo revealed an estimated three thousand greyhound skeletons scattered around his property. Rhodes, a security guard at a Florida track, said dog owners and trainers had paid him as little as ten dollars per animal to dispose of their greyhounds.
            Something similar happened in Arizona. In 1992, the rotting corpses of 143 racing greyhounds were found after the bodies had been mutilated and scattered in an abandoned citrus orchard. After shooting the dogs, the killers had cut off the tattooed ears, hoping I would prevent them from being identified. Good police work led to the discovery of some of the ears, and an Arizona breeder and kennel owner was convicted for his part in the massacre. He was fined $25,000, sentenced to 30 days in jail, given 18 months probation, and ordered to perform 400 hours of community service. Compare that to the punishment of Michael Vick, the professional football player who in 2007 was convicted of animal cruelty and served a 23-month prison term for his part in a dog-fighting ring that resulted in the death of several pit bulls. The disparity in those two sentences may point to how differently ‘pets’ and ‘livestock’ are valued.
            In addition to the massacre of greyhounds, there are a multitude of documented cases where greyhounds have simply disappeared. Thousands have been ‘donated’ to medical research, and many more have been transported to other countries. Advocates for the Greyhound Protection League say that 24,000 is a conservative estimate of the yearly number of greyhound killings that occurred during the racing industry’s heyday from the mid-1980s to the early 2000s.
            ‘If there is anyone to indict here, it’s the industry because this is what they’re doing to these animals. They misery begins the day they’re born. The misery ends when my client gets ahold (sic) of them and puts a bullet in their head(s).' That is how Robert Rhode’s attorney attempted to defend his client’s actions as late as 2003. The defense was ridiculous, but his observations about the industry were on target. A racing greyhound’s misery does begin the day the dog is born. However, owing to growing public awareness, greyhounds are being rescued and adopted in ever increasing numbers. By 2003, 18,000 retired racers were being placed with families each year. Unfortunately, that still left 7000 hounds who were needlessly put to death. While the numbers might be fewer today, the percentages haven’t necessarily improved.




Needles and Jenny
adopted by Tanya Smart and Brent Wright

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