ADOPTER PROFILE - Mary Beth
Educating and advocating for the SPORT of Greyhound Racing!
My name is Mary Beth Constante. I adopted my first greyhound, Ellie (fka Kenro Benelli) from GST's Sun State Greyhound Adoption in October 2017.
Ellie raced for Robert Thorne Kennels at Southland along with two of her littermates, but after only 1 win in 31 races, she was sent to Flagler. In the interest of honesty, she never got a chance to run there because she was heartworm positive. So, she was the first of her litter to retire in April 2017.
GST was the adoption group for Flager (but Flagler has since switched to jai alai), but continues to be the track adoption group for Naples-Ft. Myers. So that's how she wound up here in the Tampa Bay area despite being from Arkansas.
It's funny to think how Ellie's and my path ended up crossing.
I love dogs and I had them growing up, but I held off from owning my own for literally 20 years until I knew I could be stable and responsible enough for this commitment. My husband had graduated vocational school and found an awesome job and I had a steady income, so we decided we were ready to adopt a dog. We have a cat and one day while we were out running errands, we had to stop at the pet store to buy cat food. A greyhound adoption group was doing (what I later found out was) a meet and greet. My husband and I were enthralled with these dogs. We lived in an apartment and learned that they are one of the best breeds for apartments. We prefer larger dogs, so this seemed like the perfect match.
Shortly after, I started searching on Petfinder for a greyhound that was cat friendly. The first one I inquired about was just adopted and not available. So for weeks, I kept looking and another one became available through Greyhound Advancement Center. I don't have a laptop or a printer, so I went to Office Depot, printed out their application, filled it out, scanned it and submitted it. They wanted all the usual information, but they also wanted references.
So for two weeks, they were playing phone tag with them, my landlord and me. During this time, a lady came to my (dog friendly) restaurant with a greyhound. I complimented on how cute her dog was and told her that I was in the middle of adopting one myself. She gave me her card and said "if you have any questions once you get her, feel free to email me". I thanked her, petted her dog and I put her card in my purse. She waited on someone who ended up canceling on her, so she cashed out and left.
Two more weeks go by and I'm not getting anywhere through GAC. I was so frustrated! I'm finally able to adopt a dog and they don't seem very interested at all. I'm not trying to throw GAC under the bus, I'm just being honest. So I found that business card and I emailed the lady telling her what I was experiencing and asked if I could adopt a dog through her group. She said "sure! I remember you. The dog I brought that day is available for adoption. I was there to meet with a potential adopter but she changed her mind". I said "perfect! I'll take her". So I did the same process for filling out the application and submitted right away. The lady replied right away saying that she got it, but she's out of town and she'll back to me by Wednesday.
Sure enough, she called me that Wednesday letting me know she went through my application, spoke with my landlord and that we were approved. That random lady that came into my restaurant was Sharon Dippel from GST'S Sun State Greyhound Adoption!
Sharon was straightforward with me letting me know that Ellie was getting heartworm treatment and wouldn't be available to go home for at least another month. I've already waited 20 years, so what's another month? She stayed in constant contact with me keeping me updated and once she finished her treatment, she was scheduled for her spay. That got put off another week because of Hurricane Irma!
So during our home visit, I was invited to come to their events and volunteer. I was like "oh, maybe...". I got an email about their next meet and greet being at the tattoo convention. I like tattoos and live near downtown Tampa, so I loaded up Ellie and off we went. I had fun meeting the other greyhounds and volunteers.
I had absolutely NO opinion, knowledge and stance on racing. I quickly learned that meet and greets were just as much about education as much it was about raising money. I couldn't believe how many people approached us with questions, assumptions, opinions, beliefs, rumors, myths and general lack of information.
I'd never given my dog's previous life a thought. Yeah, I knew her racing name and record, but that was it. I didn't have any preconceptions. I never wondered if she was abused or hated racing. To me, she was a perfect companion from the get go and settled in her new home without any issues. End of story.
A few meet and greets later, Sharon showed me how to watch races online so I watched the ONLY race she won - and I was amazed! I couldn't believe it. It was a box to wire win. I was like "that's my little couch potato!? Look at her go"!
As time went on, I looked up littermates and saw that she had two still racing: one at Southland and the other at Orange Park. I started watching their races online and following their careers. (Her sister at Orange Park is the only one still racing and will come to our couch once she is ready. I'm friends with her trainer and we stay in contact).
I also kept volunteering. Every meet and greet, I learned something new about the racing industry. Pretty soon, my fellow volunteers became good friends and I was fielding questions from the curious public.
Right around that time, Jeff Sonksen (from Paint the Trail) came onto the scene. I watched his first videos from SOKC and I got my first look "behind the scenes". Everything I saw lined up with what I had learned from volunteering. There weren't any discrepancies.
He mentioned that he wanted to learn more about the adoption side of things so I considered inviting him to one of our meet and greets, but refrained. After all, it's not my group. But Sharon was already on it and invited him. He accepted our invitation and came to out with us to the Lakeland Farmer's Market. It was super cool meeting him and he was so nice and asked great questions. He left and had the video uploaded like 2 hours later, so obviously he wasn't editing it. I could compare my experience with his footage and nothing was left out.
I saw Jeff take it to another level. He questioned his beliefs, investigated, listened, learned and changed. And then he did something better: he fought back. That inspired me to fight as well.
In my time of volunteering, I hadn't seen a dog that seemed the least bit abused yet and we're getting them directly off the track. They'd pick up a dog on Friday and have them out at a m&g on Saturday with no problems.
I'm sorry this is so long, but there's so many meaningful synchronicities in my story that defy being mere coincidence. And they really shaped who I am today.
During a visit to a dog beach, I met a photographer named Rob Robinson. He is behind the website Bad Azz Dogz. He has border collies, so we got to talking about working dogs, greyhound racing, animal rights, etc. While being an advocate for working breeds, he hadn't taken a side about greyhound racing because he didn't know enough about it. He took some amazing pictures of Ellie playing at the beach and I took his card and added him in Facebook. He said he would love to photograph the dogs in action because it would be challenging and he could use different equipment and techniques he's learning.
Also, during this time, was the Breakfast with Blondie event at SOKC. If you're not familiar with this story, AJ Grant from SOKC has a dog in his kennel named Blondie that would bark until AJ shared one of his breakfast sandwiches with him. It sparked a worldwide event where greyhound owners from all over gave their hounds egg mcmuffins and money was raised to buy every dog at SOKC breakfast. I figured feeding breakfast sandwiches to literally hundreds of dogs was a huge undertaking, so I messaged Jeff to see if they needed help picking up the order and feeding them. He said sure. So I woke up before dawn and drove over to SOKC and got to meet AJ and Kathi.
It was like meeting rock stars because I had only seen them on Jeff's videos and I had learned so much from them. They were super nice and feeding every dog took a while but we had a blast. That was my first visit to a kennel and it was EVERY kennel at SOKC! Everything matched up with Jeff described and demonstrated. AJ let me stick around and he showed me how they mixed their food and I got to help feed them and clean up. I wait tables for a living and I'd rather wait on dogs than people! Every pan came back spotless and there were no complaints - just full bellies and food comas.
I had told Sharon about Rob Robinson and she invited him out to Derby Lane to take racing photos and some photos of her racer, Flamenco Dancer and some other dogs in the kennel. By this time, I had gotten my kennel license. Rob accepted and we went to a matinee race and afterwards we went back to the kennel compound. This was my first time in Derby Lane's kennels and I met the owner of Farmer Racing: John Farmer.
John gave us a tour of his kennel and it was spotless. He brought out dogs individually so Rob could get photos. They were all so healthy, friendly and happy. I had yet to see any signs of abuse, neglect, etc. Every dog approached us and wanted attention. Rob was really impressed with what he saw and decided to take a public pro-racing stance and to help fight Amendment 13.
And for what it's worth, I just want to go on record saying that I think John Farmer is one of the best in the business. He's always been very kind to me and has taught me so much. He's a wealth of information.
Anyway, Rob Robinson ended up being our photographer at our kennel tours at Derby Lane! I helped out on the first one.
I was also proud to stand beside fellow adoption volunteers and people in the industry and speak at the CRC meeting in St. Petersburg against Prop 67. We arrived shortly after noon and didn't get a chance to speak until after 9:00 PM. I got to see the unscrupulous people behind Greed2k in the flesh and their minions. The outright lies being flung by them was nauseating but apparently effective. I did get a chance to meet a lot more people in the industry - finally putting a face to a lot of names.
Eventually, as I became more outspoken, I was introduced to more people at Derby Lane. One of trainers there, Gudrun Malers-Scheider, from Capabal kennels introduced herself, gave me a big hug and thanked me for standing up for the industry. Greyhounds are her life. And she's hurt by all the accusations of abuse. She loves her dogs with all her heart. She invited me to hangout in her kennel and I started watching and learning from her. Guddy is such a kind soul who wouldn't hurt a fly and we've become good friends. She welcomed to visit her kennel whenever.
I became friends with Alexis Winning, the GM of Derby Lane and she asked me to visit the kennels and get videos and pictures from "behind the scenes" to be used in the fight against A13. Cal Holland, Kayruth Abernathy, Henry Parker, and John Farmer all opened their doors and let me come in to their kennels and film anything I wanted.
I did my best. I'd show up at 5am for first turn out, I'd record how food was prepared, what happens after races, etc. I tried to cover every angle. It was a great experience. And I'm grateful for everyone that allowed and helped me to get footage.
I eventually made my own videos tackling a different subject every day in an attempt to educate the public and show them the truth. I did podcasts, TV and radio interviews as much as I could. That was really not in my comfort zone, but I pushed myself because nothing is gained from not leaving your comfort zone, right? I went to early voting locations, I did events for Committee to Support Greyhounds, I stood up to AR bullies at public events, I went to dog parks almost daily to engage with dog owners and researched the grandiose animal rights agenda and learned a lot along the way!
Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. I was there with Derby Lane people as they watched their lives be taken from them by the bamboozled voters on election night. I cried, I hugged, I consoled, I held hands with many of the people I had come to admire and respect and call friends. It was devastating to say the least.
A month later, John Farmer asked if I could help out while his son, Sean, was on vacation. I jumped at the chance. Even though I worked nights, I was there before dawn the entire week and got to know what it's REALLY like to work in a kennel. I got to do everything from scooping up poop in the turnout pen to giving out treats at the end of the day. Let me tell you, it's hard work! I was exhausted every day. But I can say i've pretty much done it all. I've weighed and fed dogs, cleaned pans, muzzles, crates, bedding and the floors, picked up dogs after races, hosed them off, been in the racing office, done turnouts, taken dogs to weigh in, morning schooling official schooling, sprint path. I've held dogs while the track vet administers vaccinations... you name it, I've done it. And I can't thank John enough for that opportunity.
After that, Kelsie Gubbels from Everett Racing said she needed some help, so John was kind enough to recommend me. So now I pick up matinee races for Everett Racing 3 times per week. I love it. I love working with the dogs and seeing the friends I've made out there. I come home damp and covered in dog hair and sand everyday but I don't care. I consider myself lucky!
And Kelsie is a sweetheart! She loves her dogs like they are her children. She teaches them tricks and gives them a lot of one on one attention. She's got a great work ethic and she's very dedicated. Her attention to detail is incredible and she's super organized for someone so young.
This is why I won't be gaslighted by the AR people. I know the TRUTH. I've experienced it first hand.
Throughout all this, I've continued to volunteer just about every weekend and foster with my adoption group. And I can tell you as someone who gets dogs directly from the track - like when i'm done working at the kennel, I get a dog's paperwork and load them into my car and take them to their foster home - I have yet to see one that has been abused or unhealthy. Yes, there's been a few ticks or ear mites here and there, but that's an exception not the rule and the trainer takes care of it before sending them off to adoption. I've seen John keep a broken leg dog in his kennel for a month on his dime while he waits for the adoption group to have room and pick her up. I've seen a few broken leg dogs come through our group but we tend to get more than the other groups because we take care of it right away and we work with really good vets. My girl is the only one I've seen with heartworm, though. My last foster was retired from PBKC because of an injured stopper. It's nothing serious, but he would just injure it again if he kept racing. So he's fully recovered and runs with no problems. Are some skittish or shy? Sure, but that's they way they were in the kennel. Some of them just keep to themselves and mind their own business. Others jump on you, stir the proverbial pot or want to lick you to death. You learn all their little quirks and they're all unique.