McKeon's Minute
Re-envisioning Greyhound Racing (part 1)
© Copyright 2019 & Dennis McKeon
N E W S  L E T T E R
Fake dog protectors have decided that they did not make enough money in Florida, disenfranchising greyhounds there. They have now set their sights on new targets for their greyhound-averse panhandling and propaganda—one such target being the greyhounds who reside at the track in West Memphis, Arkansas, known as Southland.

At a recent meeting with local Arkansas legislators and other interested parties, fake dog protectors revealed that, as in Florida, they will make injuries sustained by greyhounds, while racing (or living), the primal scream of yet another emotionally overwrought effort to fleece the gullible and dis-informed public of their hard-earned money. To convince them, as they did clueless Florida voters, that they, the fake dog protectors, are somehow greyhound welfare providers--and not just elitist, meddling, greyhound dilettantes, interested only in self-enrichment, at the expense of greyhounds and the future viability of the Greyhound population. A unique, thriving, genetically diverse population, which, incidentally, is entirely supported by the monies derived from racing, and which is now in unprecedented demand by adopters and would-be adopters, who covet them as retired pets.

At the aforementioned meeting, the fake dog protectors noted that there were, in the year 2018, 165 injuries sustained by greyhounds who raced at the track in Southland. (“Injuries” can involve anything from a torn or shelled nail, to a broken bone). Now, taken entirely without context, as it was presented, this might seem quite shocking to the casual reader, or even to the greyhound-interested observer.

However, when we realize that during the year in question, the greyhounds at Southland made 54,340 individual runs while racing there, with 165 of those runs resulting in a greyhound sustaining some type of injury or another, we have a somewhat differing picture. The statistical reality is, that on 54,175 separate occasions, out of 54,340 opportunities, in 2018, greyhounds completed their races without injury. No brag, just fact.

(Note: in a typical racing program at Southland, there are 18-20 races. There are 8 or 9 dogs in each race. So within a typical racing program at Southland, there are a minimum of 144 “individual runs” -- 8 greyhounds X 18 races -- made by individual greyhounds. Totaling all of the races and the individual runs made by greyhounds, during the year 2018, at Southland -- # of races X # of dogs per race -- we arrive at the 54,340 figure. All this can be verified on Greyhound-data dot com, which has the results charts of those races).

So, in reality, and placed in appropriate context, the opportunity-to-injury ratio is actually 333:1. The injury rate is 0.3%. I doubt that there is any sporting enterprise, with either animal or human participants, whose regulators, investors and financiers would not give their eye teeth to achieve such a rate of injury.

Be that as it may, a simple perusal of the various Facebook group pages, dedicated to and populated by retired greyhound owners, reveals that greyhounds, even in retirement, are anything but immune to injury. These pet pages are brimming with retired greyhounds who have met with regrettable misadventure and injury, requiring everything from simple first aid, to emergency vet visits, from complex surgeries and rehabilitation, to premature death or euthanasia.

Greyhounds are, after all, 60-90 pound canines, who have elongated limbs, dense and powerful muscles, otherworldly powers of acceleration, with the ability to achieve speeds of 40 mph in several strides. Injuries happen, and they benefit no one, least of all the greyhounds. Short of completely depriving greyhounds of any natural, physical activity, there is always the possibility of injury, looming just above the music of a greyhound’s footfalls, whenever he is allowed to indulge in his most basic urge--to achieve rapid and even not-so-rapid locomotion.

Now, for the greyhound racing community and its supporters, it should have been made abundantly clear by recent events in Florida, that injury prevention is not, and cannot be viewed or approached as a zero-sum game.

Track racing for greyhounds began nearly a century ago. Then, the basic template for a greyhound racetrack was conceived, and it has come to pass that all of our racetracks today, are forged upon that basic, century-old template of a quarter-mile oval.

At that size, the greyhound track made for great spectacle. The dogs would both begin and finish a (roughly) 400-600 yard race, in front of the main grandstand. Spectators would have an intimate, up-close-and-personal view of the greyhounds, as they furiously rushed to the first turn, and then again, as they raced down the long homestretch, to the finish wire.

A century later, most greyhounds are bigger, heavier, faster and more powerful than they were in the 1920s. That is the natural, inevitable result of 100 years, and 15-20 or more generations of highly selective breeding, to the task of chasing an electronic lure around an oval-shaped racetrack.

Today, we see a greyhound population that is the result of refinements and adaptations, both physical and temperamental -- refinements and adaptations which have been impelled by the sport of formal, state-regulated racing. This head-to-head competition among greyhounds, demands unique, meticulous selectivity in the choice of breeding specimens, and provides an accurate, objective measure of each and every greyhound’s suitability to the task of producing the next generation of racing greyhounds. In light of all that, the breed tends toward gradual improvement.

Today’s greyhounds are, across the population spectrum, better adapted, or if you prefer, better “evolved” toward the function of racing. Yet they are still racing on tracks which were designed 100 years ago, when greyhounds were less well-adapted to racing on an oval, and when greyhounds, across the population spectrum, were smaller, lighter in weight, and ran, fractionally, more slowly.

Assuming that few, if any of the remaining greyhound racing facilities in the US might be inclined to update their racing plants to accommodate this forward evolution of the racing greyhound, some acknowledgement of breed refinement and adaptation must be made, to optimize greyhound safety while racing, and to minimize the potential for injury when doing so.

Greyhound racing cannot afford to be satisfied with what appear to be very low injury rates. Not if it wishes to survive the present-day media of bias, fake news, and that media’s embrace of a radical ideology, promoted by people who are entirely removed from, and ignorant of the nature, the nurture and the future well being of the Greyhound -- as a breed and as a unique and superbly functional population of canines.

Greyhound racing must begin to avail itself of 21st century technologies in track surface formulation, preparation and maintenance, in lure design and operation, and of innovative format changes in how the races themselves are presented, conducted, and wagered upon.

In my next essay, we will explore some of the changes that need to be made, to re-brand and to revolutionize greyhound racing in America -- to the betterment of the sport, the business, and thus to the safety, well-being and future of the greyhounds themselves.

copyright, 2019

Thanks go out to Dick Ciampa for his assistance with this article.
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