Ask the Dog Rescue Volunteer (also: racing greyhounds)

In another thread someone was asking about getting his money back for a sick puppy that he got from a disreputable Craigslist seller. The discussion devolved into an argument about supporting disreputable sources of pets (along with some support for the poor sick pup). It seemed like an interesting topic: when does buying/adopting a pet support the “source/industry”? I have some experience in a very controversial area of dog adoption, so this came up in the thread:

Starting with my comment about greyhound adoption both supporting and not supporting the perpetuation of the racing industry:

It does support the industry because the race owners can easily get rid of their unwanted dogs and buy/breed new ones. However unlike 10 - 15 years ago when unwanted hounds were destroyed by the thousands every year because they were not seen as being “pet-worthy” we now have a large, efficient adoption network. Unwanted dogs are now happily handed over to the adoption network. The adoption network is a magical thing that’s grown up from a deep love of the breed and is almost entirely volunteer and donation-based. We have something we call a “GUR” which stands for Greyhound Underground Railroad. It’s a volunteer/donation-operated transportation network where dogs are moved from the tracks (around the gulf states) to adoption groups all over the country and Canada.

Many dogs are injured when racing, and instead of euthanizing them as was the former practice, the adoption network has stepped up to saving them also. Nobody wants to adopt an animal with broken bones, so many adoption groups donate money to pay for surgery, followup medical care and fostering during rehabilitation in order for the dog to then be adopted. Rephrased, they send money for vet care of dogs that are not yet adopted and won’t be adopted until they’re recovered. As a result of this heroic practice, most of those injured dogs actually are now adopted!

On the other side of the coin, adopting a retired racer does not support the industry because the dog racing industry is in rapid decline for a list of other reasons. There’s no longer the popular interest in dog racing and people are spending their money instead in casinos (slot machines and card games). Animal welfare organizations do pound on the industry regularly still, which results in the public having a negative opinion of racing folks. (Might be worth a separate post but they have earned that negative public opinion and although their practices are much, much better than they used to be, the racing industry is so defensive that they are now their own worst enemy. Nobody in the racing industry seems to understand the value of public relations, so they end up looking like complete assholes. Having met some kennel workers and farm owners, I think that’s a shame because there are some really good people in the industry who love the dogs and do maintain their best interest.)

At any rate, my point is that adopting a greyhound doesn’t support the industry because it’s rapidly failing for other business reasons anyway.

In another post (I need to run for a bit and come back later), I can talk about the amazing way greyhounds are raised, which is nothing at all like puppy mills and most people have no idea.

All questions are welcome as well!

Greyhounds really are lovely dogs. My vet does work for free for the local greyhound rescue and I’ve visited with quite a number of them.

If greyhound racing is anything like horse racing, adoption doesn’t “support” the industry at all. Greed is the motivator and it won’t stop people from breeding for that winner. Rescue groups only try to mitigate the fallout by helping the innocent victims. If rescues don’t pull them, unwanted (injured, don’t want to run) horses go to slaughter. I don’t know what happens to the dogs but I suspect there’s a nasty underbelly there, too.

And because we need pictures, here’s one of some pups on a breeding farm. One unique aspect of the way greyhounds are raised is that they get to stay with their siblings and mom for longer than most pet puppies do.

Yes, thank you, I forgot that very good point. If we don’t take the dogs into the adoption network, they’ll just kill them. Or worse: the current “thing” seems to be to sell them overseas where there are fewer animal welfare laws, much less enforcement of said laws, and in some places no laws at all so the fate of the dogs is unspeakable. (I can speak to it but it’s not my thing to offend people by talking about horrors.)

This is a perfect post, thanks for doing it. It’s the perfect seque into the topic I wanted to cover next, which illustrates the difference between racing dog farms and puppy mills. Most people have no clue that there is a difference, so I want to talk about it next.

Greyhounds are, as mentioned, whelped and raised on farms. (Disclaimer: While there are a few bad actors still around, I’m going to talk about the good ones. I’m not glossing over the fact that there are assholes out there, I just think that there are more good actors who are in the business because they love the dogs.) Racing greyhounds are bred for speed, stamina, “heart”, and a few other nuances related to racing performance. As a result, they are not bred for color or conformation to a breed standard (AKC greyhounds are a different story), so you get dogs in every possible color, and few inherited health problems. In other words, they’re bred with the goal of ending up with animals in peak physical condition. Bitches are only bred once or twice a year, and only for 1 - 3 years. They’re not overbred, unlike puppymills.

The bitch whelps (gives birth) in open-topped pens or other easily accessible containment (a plastic baby wading pool in one photo I saw), lined with clean shredded newspaper. They are kept warm and dry and clean. After a few days old, the farmer allows his kids, guests and visitors to the farm to gently handle the pups. This is step 1 of ideal dog socialization. They’re not forced to wean early, they wean when momma-dog feels like it. When she weans them, the farmer moves the pups into their own kennel together. In other words, they’re separated from mom but not each other. Their little kennel has warm and dry indoor part and an outdoor part where they can play. People still play with them during this time.

At around 16 weeks old, the litter is separated into 1 or 2 dogs each in very large runs. Each run is about 50 feet by 500 feet long, with a dog house for shelter. The runs are only separated by chain link fencing so they can still see each other and chase each other along the fenceline. Their “job” at this stage is to run as much as they want in order to solidify their bones and get strong muscles. They’re not forced to run but some farmers encourage them by running an ATV up and down along the length of the runs (outside) to get the dogs to chase. And people still handle them.

They start race training at 1.5 years old, and that’s a different topic. But note that at no time in what I’ve described here are the pups isolated from other pups or people. Racing greyhounds are perhaps the most perfectly socialized dogs in the world. (Some do have high prey drive and are triggered as much by a little white fluffy poodle as much as a rabbit. That’s not poor socialization, though, it’s prey drive.) Animal behaviorists have identified the importance of 12-week old socialization in puppies, and newer studies are showing that dogs have several important “stages” of socialization. The way greyhounds are raised bears evidence to these findings. Also, I hope you can now see the difference between a racing dog farm and a puppy mill.

Missed the edit window - I want to add another comment related to dog farming and puppy mills. Currently the motivation of the dog farms is to raise animals with the best mental and physical condition so that they perform well. (Money is the motivator for the races, but not so much for farming.) Many of us who are not outright against racing are dreading the day when the last race track closes in this country. Because when that happens the dog farms will also disappear, leaving us with dogs bred from puppy mills and backyard breeders (and reputable AKC breeders) just like every other breed. With the athleticism motivation removed from breeding, the only thing left will be money. The resulting dogs won’t be the same because they won’t have that same socialization. When money is the only motivator, you succumb to pressure to pump out “product” as fast as possible.

At a local fair, I once saw a woman who did greyhound rescue with a couple of her dogs. Another woman with her toddler was talking to her, and the mom said, “They are gentle dogs, honey” to the toddler.

Who promptly shoved her hand in the dog’s (open) mouth.

To my (and the mother’s) amazement, the dog froze, mouth open, allowing the little girl’s hand to be removed, unharmed.

Do you think greyhounds are good with children in general? (Of course, exceptions exist.)

Owner of two greyhounds (and a fairly recently deceased at age 16 1/2 years whippet). Greyhounds now 10 and 11 and parent of four kids, youngest now 14.

Greyhounds are good with children in general but one has to be very aware, especially in early months, that they have not been raised and socialized as pets. Especially during those first months they need their space respected by the kids. It is a stressful thing for them. Mouth handled they are probably used to; hugs no. A greyhound waking up to a child laying on them giving them a hug may get spooked and turn with teeth bared. That’s enough to slice a forehead open. Some can have significant anxiety. (One of ours is on Prozac and it works well.) And kids need to be very aware that many greyhounds have a strong prey drive and can quickly bolt out of a briefly open door after perceived prey.

JcWoman, I am also a fan of the breed and also very aware that the supply of greyhounds for rescue is dwindling as the racing industry contracts (as you note).

The industry may effectively die off someday in the not too distant future. What are you thoughts about the breed’s future if it does?

At what age are GHs typically retired? And how long can a loving family expect to spend with one?

Most of the people I know who love greyhounds have no problem with the racing, and say the dogs love running. Whippet racing is quite popular among whippet owners, although oddly it’s not an industry like greyhound racing is, more like a sport whippet owners engage in. Retired greyhounds make excellent pets.

They mostly love laying around. A few seconds of running and they’re ready to curl up on the couch again. Of course greyhound races are generally less than a minute long.

Typical adoption age is about two to three depending on how good the career goes. Some better racers last longer. Our anxious one retired pretty fast! Life expectancy is about 12 to 14.

Dseid answered this but I can add my experience also. In general they have mellow and easy going dispositions which makes them good with well behaved kids. You do have to evaluate the individual dog to see what his natural inclinations are when put under stress. Does he growl or get up and move away? We teach people to always respect the growl, don’t scold your dog for it because that just teaches him that his only method of peaceful warning is dis-repected, so he will resort to instant biting next time. Don’t know about you guys but I would much rather be growled at than bitten. Having said that though, ideally if you have small children it’s best if the dog just gets up and removes himself from an uncomfortable situation.

I call my two (female 12 years old and male 10 years old) “bomb-proof” and allow kids to interact with them freely. Always closely supervised, of course, but I know from experience of taking them to meet and greets and fairs what their responses are so I can predict problems. My “prime directive” in any situation is the health and well being of my dogs, which means also I can’t let them bite a kid, so I protect my dogs by not forcing them to endure high stress situations. For my two, high stress is a pretty high bar, which is why I call them bomb proof. I once had 4 little girls kneeling around Capri petting her as she was laying on her side, and she had no problem with “being surrounded” by strangers.

I do have a funny story: at one fair we were chatting with a family who had a 4-year old little boy. The dad wasn’t paying any attention to the kid, my husband was talking to the dad, but I always have my attention glued on what’s going on around my dogs even when chatting with people. As I was talking to someone else, I noticed that the little boy had raised Ajax’s tail, formed his other hand into a fist with index finger pointing forward and was moving it toward Ajax’s anus. I know my boy; he would have only looked back at the kid with a WTF? look on his face but just in case, I had to prevent the kid from sticking his finger where it was clearly about to go. But it was funny so I made sort of a choke-laugh sound, which caught everybody’s attention, including the kid’s and he stopped what he was about to do.

But yes, in the scenario quoted this is likely to be no problem at all for most greyhounds. Why? They’re handled so much at the tracks, including daily mouth inspections by the track vets. Vets love them because they’re so used to being physically inspected.

Dseid’s right, they retire between 2 and 4 on average and since their life span is around 14 years you get lots of time with your baby. Younger ones, around 2, tend to still have “puppy brain” which means they want to play alot and are fairly active. Around 4 or 5 they slow way down and fully engage the couch potato attitude. Regardless of age, they don’t need a ton of exercise, don’t need huge yards to run in, and still play a lot less than other breeds.

The only inherited problem they have is an inclination to osteosarcoma, and that seems to have a very high correlation to specific bloodlines (through specific sires). They don’t have hip dysplasia or other problems known in large breeds. They do tend to have awful teeth, so everybody recommends daily or at least several times a week tooth brushing.

I think they’ll lose alot of the charm that they currently have as a result of their upbringing. When we can only get them from AKC breeders, backyard breeders and puppy mills, they will be just as poorly socialized as other breeds (unless you the owner is saavy enough to socialize him). They will be less “standardized” in their temperament and physical health because they’ll be coming from a much wider range of sources.

An interesting illustration of how special they are is to compare a racing greyhound to an AKC greyhound. The body shape is slightly different and AKC dogs don’t have the enormous muscle development because they aren’t athletes like the racing dogs are. You know how conformation is so important in AKC breeding and dog shows? Do a google search for racing greyhound images (cautiously, you will see some bad stuff) and notice how they naturally “stack” themselves. Because they’re athletes, they just have a very high degree of natural grace, posture, and muscle development. It doesn’t have to be forced. I don’t have to move my dog’s feet to “stack” him, just just … stands that way. Racing greyhounds are really very gorgeous natural creatures.

Just dropping in to thank you guys that rescue greyhounds.

My first real pet, Debbie, was a retired racing greyhound in the 90s. My dad had a friend that raised/trained them (and loved them!) so we got her when she hurt her leg a little and couldn’t take corners as fast.

I wish I could have one now, but I have two bunnies, and while it’s theoretically possible things would go ok, it’s also possible it would be disaster. I still tear up a little when I interact with one, and Debbie’s been gone for 20+ years.

If racing ends in the U.S., I would not be surprised to see people who have the means to do so get greyhounds from other places where it is likely to continue, such as Britain and Ireland (and maybe even Australia, though that’s a long way to go). Some of the most beautifully mannered greyhounds I’ve ever seen were raised in the UK and then shipped over here for breeding purposes.

I know it’s already a thing with certain other breeds used for sport (like Schutzhund) and for military and police work, since there isn’t much breeding for those purposes going on here.

Yes, that’s true too, thanks for pointing it out. Those of us who adore the racers will probably happily import them from the UK. And you’re right, they do occasionally bring in Irish and UK dogs to keep our USA bloodlines fresh. Another nice thing is that the pedigrees are all online, contain data from several nations and free, so you can view your dog’s entire lineage back to the time where they started keeping records. It’s all hyperlinked, so you click on each dog and the tree updates. My Capri has recent ancestors from Australia, UK, Ireland and goes back to the mid-1800’s where you start seeing “unknown dog” listed on the tree instead of names.

Since I’m clearly describing purebred dogs here, another nice thing about retired racer is this: they cost a huge amount less than other purebreeds. What would you expect to pay for a purebred dog with papers… a thousand or more? In most parts of the USA, you can adopt a greyhound for $250 - $400.

Yes, this is pretty cool (though since my husband and I help input info to the database, I think I might be biased :)). It’s nice knowing the birthdate of your dog, the names of their siblings, and who their ancestors are, sometimes with photos and other information included.

Also track records! And occasionally videos!

My girl has a lovely bell curve track record. She progressed nicely up the grades all the way to AA and then slid back down the grades and they retired her. She spent her whole 3-year career at Daytona. My boy on the other hand, spent more time in a truck than on the track. He raced at 7 different tracks in two years!

A friend shared a video of one of her dog’s races. A come from behind win by several lengths. It was unusual and quite exciting. Typically when a dog falls behind the pack he never catches up.

A couple of ours raced at the old Daytona track (not the new one, which is quite nice). That old track is now a parking lot for the Daytona Speedway.