Thursday, February 17, 2011

A trip to the track.

Something I have long wanted to do was to make a trip to the racetrack and the kennels to get a better picture of what life is like for the greyhounds before adoption.  I have read a lot of stories and points of view but there are some things that you simply have to experience for yourself.  Earlier this month I had just such an opportunity.  I joined a two truck road trip to the race track in Birmingham.  Our mission: To pick up 12 greys that are ready for the finer things in life.  We were going to keep 8 in the GPAN group and 4 were headed on to Cincinnati.
Now first off I would like to say that the trip to pick up greys is a joyous event.  The women who regularly make the journey are a ton of fun.  Walkie talky banter between the lead vehicle aka "Thunder Paws" and ours made the trip fly by.  When we arrived at the track there were clear signs that we were in the right place.

The first impression I got from the kennel areas was this is an older facility.  It isn't that it isn't equipped or totally unsanitary or anything like that, but it is a far cry from the glitz of a Vegas casino.  When we hopped out of the trucks we could see all the dogs out in the dog run waiting to see us.  A woman with a cheery disposition and an infectious smile was there to greet us.  I found out that this was the very same kennel and very same handler that had Kassa before he came to me.  Next it was off to meet the dogs.  Now I won't say that the kennel smelled of roses.  In fact the waft of ammonia hit the nostrils pretty strongly.  But as a person who has frequented farms in the past, I know that when you put a lot of animals together, be it in a barn or kennel, there will be some odors that you have to adjust to.

There were three turn out areas.  Two areas are used for the boys and one for the girls.  Of course you have to keep the genders separate or you would have an unplanned increase in population. (I pretty much fell in love with the white dog in the picture below.)
Even though these dogs are working dogs and are not living in "sleep on the couch environments", it was obvious to me that they are healthy, well feed and well cared for.  For those not familiar with greyhounds, you may wonder about the muzzles.  The muzzles do not lock the dogs mouths shut in any way. The dogs can drink through them.  When you have to manage a large number of dogs together, muzzling them is the best way to ensure that there are no injuries due to spats.  As you can see most of the time it wouldn't be a problem regardless.  When we get a group of adopted dogs together to run and play we sometimes will put on their muzzles for their protection.  When you get a group of dogs running around at 30-45 mph one is going to get bumped and frustrated at some point.

Here is a big boy that I know will join our group someday!  From what I understand the dogs are turned out at least 3 times a day for an hour at a time.  They race somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 times per week.  Now I give my Kassa a quite a bit of exercise, but I know that it doesn't approach what they would get while they are still working.
After their outdoor time is over they are let back into the kennel area in three waves and crated up one by one.  Here they get some love from the woman with the infectious smile and of course any gawkers who are there to pick up some dogs.
It was amazing to me how the dogs know the routine.  They mill around and one by one as the crates are opened jump up inside.  Here is an action shot... but it isn't a very good one.

Here is another picture of the big boy.   As you can see, they have enough room to stand up/sit up and turn around in their crates.

You may also notice that this guy was muzzled in the crate.  I asked about this and was told that they are on rotation for who wears muzzles when crated and that rotation changes between turnouts.  I got the impression that the handler has a very busy job.  Between turning them out, preparing food, feeding them and cleaning the crates and putting down new paper not to mention taking them to race,  it would be a constant cycle.

We went and collected our dogs.  In total we collected dogs from 3 different kennels.   You could tell that the dogs are loved by the way the handlers interacted with them.  Some didn't want to come with us but rather kept looking back at their misty eyed handlers.  Both had a bit of trouble saying goodbye.  The next phase of our trip involved microchipping, photographing and small dog/cat testing at the local adoption center.  No animals are harmed in the small dog/cat testing as the greys are muzzled and leashed.  In our case all proved to be small critter safe.

Then we loaded up the truck and headed back to Nashville.  This was a new experience for the dogs but eventually they all lay down.  All except one :)

Sergeant Major wanted to make sure everything was secure the whole trip back. Things went pretty smoothly in the other vehicle as well.

When we arrived back in Nashville all the foster families were there to great us.  The dogs got baths and nail trimmings and headed home to the first step in their new life. 

I'm sure my experience is not the same as everyone's at every track and I know that the variety of opinions on racing are wide and deep, however what became apparent to me is that good systems and caring handlers lead to healthy dogs.  Good relationships with adoption groups help ensure that these dogs have long and happy lives.  Please visit   to find out more about Nashville's adoption program and to find out what dogs are currently available.


Hiking Hounds said...

That's really cool. I like "the big boy", very sweet and handsome looking. Is he still racing? Is someone in your group already wanting to adopt him? I was just wondering because you said he would join your group someday. It's great to see they were all healthy and happy. You killed me with the hounds not wanting to leave their misty eyed handlers! Thanks for the post.

Hiking Hounds said...

P.S. I do wish I could just go around and put a nice soft cushion in the crates for them.

jcp said...

HH : The big boy is indeed still racing. I'm not sure if anyone in the group already has him but I think there is interest because I think he is the brother to one of the dogs in the group. I might be wrong though so I will keep my eyes open. I hear you about the cushions. Thought the same thing myself. I imagine that disposable crate lining is much easier when it comes to keeping things sanitary, but thats just a guess. I know that sometimes they use carpet strips but honestly that looked less comfortable to me.

Greyhounds CAN Sit said...

What an interesting post, thank you:) The big boy is stunning and can already sit! I'd want to bring them all home with me. It seems a shame they're in such small crates and yes, a cushion would be nice but I guess when they're not turned out they are sleeping. It does make you wonder what the conditions are like in the 'bad' kennels though.

jcp said...

GCS Thanks. I think Birmingham is one of the lower paying tracks in the US and thus would have fewer resources. That means that the dogs that come there don't have any where to go but adoption. Southland (also relatively near me) would be a much higher payout track. Dogs that don't race well there have a few more options to go to lower pay tracks. I'd like to get to Southland some time so that I can see how things are done there as a point of reference. I think that the handlers are the biggest factor in the quality of life for the dogs. A good example of this is the derby lane fire rescue that happened last week.

houndstooth said...

I am so glad you posted this! I think everyone who adopts a Greyhound should visit a track and see how they lived before adoption. I've been to three different ones and got to visit the kennels at all three. It was pretty obvious to me that the dogs were well cared for in the ones that I visited. I've also been lucky enough to talk to Bunny's breeder who took care of her as a puppy!