3, 2, 1, GO!
Tall, lean dogs run with all their might around a track in Dubuque, Iowa. Fans cheer, and betters wait eagerly to see if their favorite greyhound wins. But underneath their enthusiasm lies a sobering knowledge: Their sport is almost extinct, and this track is about to close.
Greyhound racing reached its peak back in the 1980s, when racing buffs streamed to more than 50 tracks across 19 states. Support for the sport has been sliding ever since—especially since people started investigating the welfare of dogs used in the races.
What’s best for these speedy and energetic hounds?
Animal advocates claim that some dog racers keep their dogs cooped up when they’re not running, use drugs to increase their speed, and even kill dogs that don’t run fast enough. Besides, the racing life means continuous risk of dog injury.
But greyhounds love to run, supporters argue. Plus, people love to keep retired racing dogs as pets, and some trainers treat racing greyhounds “like kings and queens.”
But many tracks have already closed. After the Dubuque track shutters, only two West Virginia tracks will remain.
“Do I think the industry is dying? Yes,” says Gwyneth Anne Thayer, who wrote a history of greyhound racing. But “it’s happening way faster than I thought it would.”
Peggy Janiszewski and her friend Robin Hannan have for years been driving about three hours to Dubuque to watch the racing. Some people use the races for gambling. These friends typically bet only a few dollars on each race. They’re more interested in watching the lithe dogs than counting winnings.
“They’re beautiful,” says Janiszewski. “Like works of art.”
People started racing greyhounds in the United States around the 1920s when they had just invented the mechanical lure—typically a stuffed bone or stuffed animal that swiftly clatters around the track ahead of the dogs to attract them. The sport became an accepted part of American life and at times even surpassed horse racing in popularity.
Greyhounds still whip around tracks in Australia, Great Britain, Ireland, Mexico, and Vietnam. But observers are starting to object to the practice in those nations too.
Closing tracks has an upside for some dog-lovers: more available canines for pets. But if bringing one of these majestic mammals home after its racing career, bear in mind: It might never have learned regular doggie skills. Running? Yes. Sitting or climbing stairs? Maybe not.
Why? God gave humans dominion over creation. That means we have the privilege and responsibility to care for it—greyhounds included.