Educational Series: It’s Time to Stop Racing Greyhound Dogs to Death

By Nick Engelfried
With their powerful muscles, streamlined bodies, and ability to run up to 40 miles per hour, greyhounds are master sprinters of the dog world. Over the centuries, greyhounds have been selectively bred to reach greater and greater speeds, and there can be little doubt these dogs enjoy exercising their long legs. However, there is a dark side to greyhound breeding: today, the industry exists largely to supply commercial racing operations with speedy hounds who are treated as nothing more than money-making assets. Thanks partly to the dedicated work of animal rights activists, the cruel sport of greyhound racing is now on the wane in the United States. However, every year greyhounds are still forced to race for profit and entertainment–-while many more dogs suffer as inadvertent casualties of the breeding industry.

Greyhounds are one of the oldest dog breeds in history, with origins in the ancient world. While it is unclear exactly where the first greyhounds were bred, experts believe they originated somewhere in the Middle East several thousand years ago. In ancient Egypt, greyhounds were prized as hunting dogs and the tombs of the elite were decorated with pictures of the speedy dogs. A greyhound-like image even appears in a temple in modern-day Turkey believed to have been built around 6,000 BC. Greyhounds often figure prominently in ancient Greek and Roman mythology, where they are honored for their skill as hunters.

For thousands of years, greyhounds were prized primarily as hunting dogs whose incredible speeds allowed them to chase down deer and other animals. The dogs were so popular in the ancient world and ever after that the breed has remained virtually unchanged for millennia; so much so that it is possible to clearly recognize greyhounds similar to the modern breed depicted on ancient Greek coins. However, in recent decades the incentive for dog breeders to produce greyhounds has shifted. Today, these sophisticated runners are best known for their role in the highly profitable dog racing industry.

While watching a greyhound run can be thrilling, most spectators at greyhound races never see the cruelty and abuse the dogs suffer over the course of their lifetimes. Dog breeding facilities intentionally produce many more greyhounds than are actually needed for racing, all so the fastest individuals can be selected for running and breeding. Individual dogs who are not selected are often doomed to lifetimes of neglect or an early death. Meanwhile, those who are chosen for racing are pushed to their physical limits for a couple of years before being discarded by an industry that sees them only as a source of profit.

When they are not on the track, racing greyhounds spend most of their time in cramped kennels or outdoor pens exposed to the elements. At racing events, the dogs are routinely pushed beyond their physical limits, suffering serious injuries and sometimes even death. Like all dogs, greyhounds are social animals with an innate need for companionship and the ability to interact with humans or others of their species. However, racing greyhounds are routinely forced to spend a majority of their time isolated in cages, without the ability to engage in natural dog behaviors. The only human interaction that many greyhounds have is with trainers intent on pushing the dogs to become better racers.

According to a national report on the cruelties of the greyhound industry, from 2008-2015 over 900 greyhounds died in the racing industry in the United States, while almost 12,000 were injured. Most racing dogs are “retired” by five years old or younger–but unfortunately, this does not mean their years of enduring abuse are over. Too often, dogs deemed too old to race are killed or relinquished to shelters where they suffer uncertain fates. The breeding industry churns out greyhounds at an unsustainable rate, without apparent regard for how the animals will be cared for or what hardships they will endure later in life.

Fortunately, the public has pushed back against the cruelties of greyhound racing; indeed, the dramatic decline of the industry is one of the great animal rights success stories of the last several years. Amid the declining popularity of racing events and pressure from animal advocates, some state legislatures have outlawed greyhound races, while other states have banned the practice through ballot initiatives. In Florida, which was once home to more greyhound racetracks than any other state, one such initiative passed in 2018 with support from 69% of voters. Today, West Virginia is the only U.S. state with active greyhound racing. Yet, efforts to ban the industry through Congressional action at the federal level have so far been unsuccessful. This means dogs continue to suffer and die on racetracks every year.

Meanwhile, greyhound racing continues in other countries including Australia, the U.K., Mexico, Ireland, and New Zealand. In Australia, where one of the most active racing industries still exists, greyhound racetracks have been beset by scandal and allegations of shocking animal cruelty. In the summer of 2023, two prominent Australian greyhound trainers were formally suspended after a whistleblower unveiled drone footage appearing to show dogs trying desperately to escape as they endured vicious beatings on the trainers’ property. However, dogs themselves aren’t the only ones who suffer in the racing industry.

Also this year, three greyhound trainers in South Australia were banned from the industry for life after being found guilty of live baiting, a practice where a small, defenseless animal is used as an enticement for greyhounds being trained to race. Often the animal–which may be a rabbit, piglet, or possum–is tied to the arm of a mechanical device that spins around so the creature flies through the air as it is chased by hungry dogs. Animals used as live bait suffer severe trauma and in most cases eventually die from the ordeal. While the use of live bait in greyhound training is illegal throughout Australia, this recent incident underlines that it is still taking place.

While greyhound racing still exists in countries like Australia and the United States, this cruel industry has come under increasing scrutiny both here and abroad. With only one U.S. state that still has active racing tracks, it may be only a matter of time before the abusive sport becomes a thing of the past, at least in this country. However, to achieve that goal animal advocates must continue to be vocal. Consider writing to your member of Congress to urge them to support a federal greyhound racing ban. Meanwhile, you can educate others about the cruelties of the industry.

Although the fight against greyhound racing is not over yet, the decline of the sport is a testament to what a grassroots movement to better the lives of animals can accomplish. With tracks closing and more and more people waking up to the cruelties of racing dogs for profit, it is time to keep the pressure and relegate this cruel industry to the past.

Photo credit: Przykuta

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Nick Engelfried Writes About Animals, the Environment, and Conservation for the ForceChange network

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