Thursday, April 5, 2012

182. Sky is bright, beautiful now

Ozark Sky Way was his racing name, though he is known as "Sky" these days. From the dog tracks in Alabama, Sky is a beautiful, brindle-colored greyhound who came to Erie Shore Greyhound Adoption of Ohio last year looking for a home to live out his "retirement."

My wife has long admired these beautiful animals, and always wanted to care for them after they were unceremoniously discarded by their racing organizations. Like many people, she believed that they needed large amounts of space to run around in, but that is not actually the case. They are often described as "couch potatoes," despite the ability to run up to 45 miles per hour. It is recommended, however, that they live in a home that has a fenced-in yard due to their speed and attraction to small animals.

We started inquiring about the possible adoption of a greyhound last December; we have only had one dog since we lost Easton last February. The more we learned, the more remarkable we found this breed to be. Unfortunately though, the more we learned, the more we were disgusted with the way they are bred, raced and then tossed aside when they no longer have the ability to make money for their owners-either through racing or breeding.

We've only had Sky for a couple of weeks and it's been a transition. He frolics and "roos" when he gets excited-with his long legs and tail moving in every direction. Petey, our American Bulldog mix, is a bit intimidated by his size and speed. Sky is sweet, engaged and learning to assimilate into our home.

Like racehorses, greyhounds are meticulously bred and their linages carefully documented for generations by the National Greyhound Organization. We saw several hounds as they came to the adoption agency from a track in Florida, there was Cameron, Pearl, Sammy and Blazer-just to name a few. They come in near racing condition, very thin, with bulging hind quarters. A breed dedicated to the optimization of speed.

Also like racehorses, owners do not have an interest in "retired" animals. These animals are a business and an investment. According to Retired Racing Greyhounds for Dummies, a good place for first time owners like ourselves to begin learning about the breed, before the 1980s nearly all of the greyhounds were killed after their racing career. It states that, "it was estimated that 60,000 Greyhounds were being destroyed each year."

Things have improved since then and now up to 18,000 Greyhounds are made available each year for adoption-though this is still more than the number born every year. Through the hard work of as many as 200 adoption agencies these animals are made available throughout the country. As of 2010, eleven states have expressly banned dog racing, and there are fewer than ten states with operational dog tracks.

But there are still issues and states of denial within the racing community. The Greyhound Racing Association of America claims, "it's easy for extreme animal rights groups to misrepresent the facts. Often, people are led to believe these campaigns are about animal welfare, but in fact that's not the case. These groups oppose all animal use, whether it's for food, clothing, medical research, entertainment or any other purpose. The same people who oppose greyhound racing think it's wrong to eat a hamburger, wear a leather jacket or go to the zoo."

I do oppose using animals for any of those things-and I am certainly morally against exploiting animals for profit. But, changing the subject, and the using the label of "extreme," is an attempt to avoid the issue.

Just this week there were two reports concerning the welfare of greyhounds.

The first was out of Ireland, where a mass grave of former racing dogs was discovered. The Greyhound Rescue Association of Ireland (GRAI) believes, however, "this to be only the tip of the iceberg. Last year there were 3,271 registered greyhound litters in Ireland. A conservative average of seven pups per litter makes 22,904 dogs, however less than 16,000 greyhounds were registered that year to race at 12 months old. Taking into account the number of greyhounds that retire each year due to age or injury GRAI estimate between 8,000 to 10,000 greyhounds disappear every year."

More sad news was reported by the Houston Chronicle which stated that, "Scores of racing dogs have become ill and six have died as a yet-undiagnosed illness, possibly canine influenza, swept through kennels at La Marque's Gulf Greyhound Park." It seems that the illness is contagious and very dangerous-particularly for dogs who spend their youth confined in kennels. The dog owners noted that the situation was "financially devastating," but that their concern was for the dogs.

Considering that both stories were widely reported in the media, I am assuming that the welfare of these dogs is of interest to more than just those "extreme" animal rights groups. Last weekend we took Sky to a "Meet and Greet" at the Midway Mall, and the love of dogs seems to be a universal language. It was fun to meet such a diversity of dog lovers.

April just happens to be "adopt a hound month" and it is a chance to learn about these amazing, but unfortunately exploited, dogs. It is also an opportunity to consider an alternate form of entertainment. It eighteen races, Ozark Sky Way only won one race; now retired, Sky is on track to win our hearts.