With the increasing focus on the cruel treatment of many of the racing Greyhounds in the early 1970's, the industry as put in some very important changes to the ways in which dogs can be housed, trained and raced. The result is slightly better overall care of the dogs both on and off the track, with owners, racers and trainers held to a much higher standard of care for the animals in their kennels. However, there are still many issues with the Greyhound racing industry that lead to cruel and inhumane treatment of these dogs throughout their short racing lives.
In the United States there are far fewer Greyhound racing tracks now in operation. In seven states including Nevada, Washington, Maine, Virginia, Vermont, North Carolina and Idaho live Greyhound racing is now completely banned, although races can be shown from other tracks around the United States. Not all states have Greyhound tracks or racing associations, but there are 27 year round tracks and 19 seasonal tracks still in operation.
Some of the biggest concerns, especially for the Humane Society of the United States, are that the Greyhound industry is based on increasing revenue at the tracks, not specifically on the care and treatment of the dogs. Unlike horseracing, Greyhound racing is not governed by the Animal Welfare Act, which leaves all investigations of cruelty of dogs up the Humane Society to investigate.
The typical age for a Greyhound to be retired from racing is three and one half years, with mandatory retirement by the age of five for almost all dogs. This results in literally thousands of dogs each year that are coming off the track that are no longer able to make any type of money for the racing kennel owner. Those dogs that are proven champions will typically be used in future breeding programs but this is very few of the total number of retirees. In addition dogs that race their first few races and don't make money are simply pulled from the racing program at that time.
These dogs, through no fault of their own, are now a cost to the kennel. Since these kennels are designed to produce winning racers, the culls or poor performing dogs are simply destroyed, sold to labs as research dogs or given to Greyhound rescues. The vast number of dogs are simply destroyed. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that in 2000 there were approximately 11,400 retired racing Greyhounds euthanized and up to 7,600 puppies killed because they were deemed to be not worth feeding until they reached maturity or could be adopted or sold.
The Greyhound Racing Association of America disputes the report of the Humane Society and indicates that they are actively working to manage the numbers of Greyhounds bred per year and to find options for adopting and caring for puppies and retired dogs. They also report that in 2003 there were 26, 277 Greyhound puppies registered with the National Greyhound Association which is mandatory for all racing dogs. This allows for tracking and monitoring of the dogs, however it is also self-regulated and managed.
Regardless of the issues around Greyhound racing, thousands of Greyhounds from the track are available for adoption each and every year. Most states with tracks also have their own Greyhound Rescues, plus these dogs also show up in shelters around the United States. Adopting a retired track Greyhound can be a very rewarding experience, provided the owners understand the unique adjustment that these dogs will make before becoming accustomed to life with a family.
Racing Greyhounds have lived their entire lives in kennels, which are very similar to the larger kennels found at most SPCA shelters and rescues. While they are not housetrained they are kennel trained, which means they don't mess in the crate or kennel. They are also highly routinized with specific feeding and exercise times, and capitalizing on this can help the dog understand that the whole house is now their "kennel". Start with the dog in a kennel in a room and provide routine feeding and trips outside. Give lots of praise and rewards for using the bathroom outside. Gradually allow the dog more freedom in the house, sticking to the routine time outdoors for toileting. Most racing Greyhounds will adjust to this within two weeks or less, some within a few days.
Being in a home will be very overwhelming for these dogs. They may never have heard a TV, radio or stereo, especially as loud as may be heard in the home. They will not typically be familiar with children, toys, stairs, glass doors or even closing doors so care needs to be taken to give the dog time to adjust. They will be nervous the first couple of weeks but will soon gain confidence in their new surroundings. Most Greyhounds are also good with cats provided they understand that the cat is part of the family and the new pack they are now a part of. Outside cats will be seen a prey animals and something fun to chase.
The great news is that the racing Greyhound will be completely leash trained and highly used to being only on the leash when outside of the kennel or house. They do need to be kept on the leash as these are dogs that are trained to chase at top speed, reaching a full 40 miles an hour in some cases. These dogs also have very little homing instinct and if they do get away on a chase they will often not find their way back on their own.
Greyhounds from the track will be highly social and non-aggressive dogs when it comes to interacting with other canines. It is important to monitor existing dogs in the family with the Greyhound, especially if the current pet is a dominant breed. Slow introductions on neutral ground such as a park or going on a leashed walk together with two separate handlers are the best options for introduction. Once the dominant breed understands the Greyhound just wants to be part of the pack and is not challenging the leadership of the other dog most concerns should be put to rest. Careful supervision of the two dogs for a week or two is essential when they are interacting.
Adopting a racing Greyhound is a great opportunity for a family to find a loving, friendly and very accepting addition to the home. Remember that these dogs aren't used to home life and will need routine obedience work as well as lots of love and attention in their new environment.