Heartbreak at 45 mph

Scenes from the life of a racing greyhound.

We adopted her in March, on her fourth birthday.

Moments after being personally delivered to my house by Michelle Weaver, president of the adoption agency, Jailamony discovers the stuffed chipmunk we had waiting for her. She prances around the furniture with it dangling from her mouth. Her tail whacks everything. She has never lived outside of a kennel. The stairs completely confound her — she figures out how to go up, but once at the top, she peers down, befuddled by the steep, carpeted obstacle before her.

"You're gonna change her name, right?" Weaver asks.

Michelle Weaver likes to deliver all the adopted greyhounds to their new owners herself.
C. Stiles
Michelle Weaver likes to deliver all the adopted greyhounds to their new owners herself.
The reminders of Jailamony's racing life are disturbing: missing teeth and fur, tattoos in both ears, and worst of all, a noticeable limp.
C. Stiles
The reminders of Jailamony's racing life are disturbing: missing teeth and fur, tattoos in both ears, and worst of all, a noticeable limp.

"We haven't really decided yet," I say. "Jailamony really is a horrible-sounding name, though."

Cute as she is, Jailamony bears inescapable remnants from her mysterious past as a racer. In addition to the missing teeth and fur, both ears are marked with faded, green tattoos. The left ear has a series of numbers, and the right reads: "ESV." Weaver explains that it was supposed to say 35A, since Jailamony was the first, or A, puppy tattooed in a litter "whelped" (born) in March 2005 (3/5). "Sometimes [trainers] get nice and drunk before they tattoo the dogs," she says, "and the first one gets screwed up like this."

Then there's Jailamony's right hind leg. It swings out awkwardly from her otherwise sleek, graceful gait. At the bottom of the hoc (the equivalent of a human calf) is a hard bulb of bone. In her last race, I learn, she broke her hoc and the bone had been set at the track. Jailamony never puts that foot straight down, and when she squats, her leg shakes.

Greyhounds are sight hounds; Jailamony can see a black cat in the dark at 300 yards. They were first brought to the United States in the mid-1800s to help farmers control the jackrabbit population. They've been bred for thousands of years for speed, beauty, and the gentle demeanor that makes them great pets. Ancient Egyptians considered them royalty. Arabs admired them so much that they were the only dog permitted to sleep in tents and ride atop camels. Greyhounds are the only breed mentioned by name in the Bible (Proverbs 30:29-31). In medieval England, the law permitted only noblemen to own greyhounds.

So seeing one of these magnificent creatures limping around my living room, I wonder about their lives as professional athletes. What did my dog go through before she came to me? The question haunts me, and the answer seems unknowable — like wondering about the past dalliances of someone you love.


Long before spring break — before professional football, basketball, baseball, or ice hockey; before slot machines, card rooms, and cruises to nowhere; before most of the cities in South Florida were even incorporated — there was dog racing. The dog tracks were as synonymous with Florida as fat men in floral print shirts.

The first track in the country opened in Hialeah in 1926. By the '30s and '40s, dog racing was South Florida's top tourist attraction. Every night, the grandstands were packed with young and old, rich and poor. Greyhound racing was the shared pastime in a land devoid of Babe Ruths and Joe DiMaggios.

And racing made a lot of people rich. After purchasing the Pittsburgh Steelers with money he won betting on horses, Art Rooney purchased the Palm Beach Kennel Club in 1970. His grandson, Pat Rooney Jr., remains managing director of the track, and Pat's brother Tom is a U.S. representative from nearby Tequesta.

Over time, however, the industry began to develop a backlash. Stories began trickling out about dogs being killed if they weren't fast enough. There were rumors that trainers dumped slow greyhounds in oceans and swamps to be eaten by sharks and gators. In the '80s and '90s, the debate was over the use of live lures, such as rabbits, which have since been banned.

An Arizona woman named Joan Eidinger has tried to collect every published report of greyhound abuse over the past 15 years. In the Greyhound Network News — a quarterly newsletter she publishes — the headlines are horrifying: Three racing dogs found dead at a Daytona Kennel, Seven greyhounds die from extreme heat in Arkansas, Iowa hauler accident kills five greyhounds, 17 dogs die of smoke inhalation in Naples. There are stories of respiratory infections and equine influenza. One article tells of a thousand Wisconsin racing greyhounds sold to a cardiac research lab. Using industry breeding numbers, Eidinger estimates that between 1986 and 2006, about 600,000 greyhounds were killed — about 80 every day.

Antiracing groups like Massachusetts-based Grey2K USA point to these sorts of atrocities when they call for states like Florida to ban greyhound racing. Working with local organizations like the Fort Lauderdale-based Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, activists lobby legislators, take out antiracing ads in newspapers near tracks, and post videos of incidents like Story Book's on the internet.

The campaign seems to be working. A ballot measure in the 2008 election will end greyhound racing in Massachusetts. In the past five years, 15 tracks nationwide have either shut down completely or ended live racing.

Bring on the industry's demise, says Grey2K President Christine Dorchak. When I call to get her perspective on the industry, Dorchak rattles off a litany of greyhound racing's alleged offenses: "[Trainers] feed them grade-D meat. The dogs don't have access to dental work. They get the bare minimum medicine and medical treatment, if they're lucky. And they suffer industrialized confinement in these standardized cages for up to 22 hours a day."

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