On May 13, Governor Doug Ducey signed a law that banned greyhound racing in the state of Arizona. When I first heard the news, I smiled — I’ll admit it. Arizona was one of only six remaining states to have active dog-racing tracks, but news of the ban was followed with the announcement that the Tucson Greyhound Park would be closing as early as June 24. Tucson Greyhound Park was the last remaining operational dog-racing track in Arizona.
As an owner of two greyhounds, this news was bittersweet. Although I’ve never visited the Tucson track personally, it was there that my two greyhounds ran their last race. It was there that they sustained injuries that caused their owners to retire them from racing. And, I know this sounds awful, but I’m actually glad that my dogs raced at the Tucson Greyhound Park — for selfish reasons entirely. Because if they hadn’t raced there, they wouldn’t have been retired here, or been given to the adoption group where I found them.
A similar feeling washed over me as I thought about what this change really means for the 400 dogs that will need good homes once the track shuts down. In many ways, it’s a good thing. But in other ways, it’s really scary.
1. A better life for these dogs
One of the most difficult things for me to think about is what my dogs' lives were like before they were retired. I met with representatives from the adoption group several times before I finally brought my first grey, Rusty, into my home — and what surprised me was the information I received about the living conditions of these dogs.
I was told that there were a lot of misconceptions about how greyhounds were raised and cared for. I was told that although there were some bad eggs out there, the vast majority of dog owners treated their animals like prized possessions, and saw that they were well fed, regularly exercised and given proper medical attention to ensure that they were healthy.
Of course, this isn't the general consensus of all adoption groups out there. In fact, groups like Grey2kUSA have pushed to end to greyhound racing because of the living conditions many of these dogs encounter. However, this was my experience as I went through the adoption process, and although I'm sure it's true that in some cases the dogs are treated well, I still can't help but think that this definition of good treatment doesn't remotely compare to the living conditions my greys now enjoy — a loving home, where they receive one-on-one attention.
2. No more injuries
If you look closely, you'll see that my dogs still bear the scars of their racing days. Lilly favors her hip on her back left leg whenever she sits or stands, and there's a large spot of missing fur where she has a scar beneath the right side of her rib cage. Rusty's back left hock is still swollen from the scar tissue from his reconstructive surgery.
But the truth is, in the grand scheme of things, my dogs got off relatively easy with their injuries. A recent report by the ASPCA revealed that between 2008 and 2015, there were 11,722 greyhound injuries reported as the result of racing, including broken legs, crushed skulls, broken backs, paralysis and even electrocutions. In addition, 909 deaths were officially reported, although the number is believed to be much higher.
My dogs' injuries are likely part of those statistics, which is another reason why I am happy to see the practice of dog racing come to an end. Few other breeds face such a great risk of physical harm each day just to keep their masters happy by doing their "job."
3. It was all for nothing
Although dog racing used to be a popular sport, interest has been dwindling over the past decade. Arizona alone used to have five operational dog-racing tracks, with thousands of people filling the stands. Yet the Tucson Greyhound Park has struggled for years to attract crowds much larger than a few dozen people.
In addition, the dogs were competing with off-track betting. While the dogs ran outside in front of empty bleachers, the majority of the crowd was inside watching broadcasts of horse and dog races from around the country. Betting from these races is how the park made most of its money. But to offer off-track betting, by law the track had to offer live racing as well. Which meant that 140 nights per year, 16 races per night, these dogs ran in circles and risked their health and lives to entertain absolutely no one.
1. Greyhounds enjoy racing
Believe it or not, greyhounds actually love racing. Just like cattle dogs love herding, and hunting dogs love hunting, greyhounds love to run. Literally.
All politics aside, taking racing away from these dogs could have negative consequences on their overall health and happiness, too, if the new owners of these dogs aren't careful.
There are times when I find myself wondering if I'm providing my dogs with everything they need to live the happiest lives possible. Sometimes it's hard. As I rush to and from work each day, often my dogs are home alone for hours. And although they love car rides and taking walks, what they really love most is to get out and run — and there just aren't many places in the city where it's safe to let them do that.
For the most part, greyhounds are a lazy breed, enjoying hours and hours of napping each day. But they also love running around the back yard and taking trips to the dog park.
2. From one kennel to another
I met with several adoption groups when I was looking for my dogs, and I was surprised to learn that some of them also had kennels. These kennels were used to house the dogs that had come straight off of the track, and served as a holding tank until the dogs could be placed into foster homes.
For the 400 dogs being retired from the Tucson track this summer, I worry that we are just sending them from one kennel to another. I worry that the adoption groups will become overwhelmed by the numbers, and won't have the resources they need to give these dogs proper attention. I worry it will take longer than it should to get these dogs into good forever homes.
Of course, this is where we all can help by volunteering, or donating to these adoption groups that truly do care for the well-being of these dogs.
3. Will this put an end to greyhound breeding altogether?
As someone who truly believes greyhounds make amazing pets, this thought really frightens me. With the end of racing, I worry that adopting these wonderful animals will no longer be a possibility. I worry that the only way to bring a greyhound into your home in the not-so-distant future will be to go through a breeder — which can be its own can of slimy worms.
I hope that this doesn't wind up being the case, and that we can somehow find a way to keep this remarkable breed healthy, happy and safe.
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