Heartbreak at 45 mph

Scenes from the life of a racing greyhound.

According to the DBPR's report, the owner, David Dasenbrock, lived in Oregon and had stopped sending money for food or flea and tick medication. The dogs were found emaciated, lying in piles of their own waste. Many had gnawed themselves bloody and raw. The floor was covered with blood, ticks, and rodent droppings. There was a dead rat in the corner. There was no edible food on site, and the dogs had no water. "The smell of urine in the kennel was unbearable," an investigator wrote.

But the DBPR has only limited power, and all it could do was issue a warning. Four months passed and conditions only got worse. When they returned, investigators found a trainer dipping greyhounds into a bucket of Malathion, a cheap insecticide that's highly toxic to dogs. It was the cheapest way to take care of the flea and tick problem. The trainer had also been cleaning the building — with diesel fuel.

In May 2008, Dasenbrock's pari-mutuel license was suspended and the trainer was charged with animal cruelty, a misdemeanor. A year later, all 74 dogs have either been adopted or are in the hands of adoption agencies. The worst part: Nobody really knows how often this happens.

C. Stiles
Jerry Berlin, a volunteer with Friends of Greyhounds, has owned seven retired racers. He tries not to think of what his dogs went through before he got them.
C. Stiles
Jerry Berlin, a volunteer with Friends of Greyhounds, has owned seven retired racers. He tries not to think of what his dogs went through before he got them.

There are whispers at the track of a veterinarian nearby who will put down any greyhound, healthy or not, for $75, no questions asked, but obtaining reliable statistics about casualties is impossible. Florida tracks have no legal obligation to report injuries, deaths, or cases of neglect and abuse to the state. Breeders, owners, and trainers never have to report how many dogs are culled, euthanized, or killed during transport. The vast majority of regulation in Florida relates not to the welfare of the animals but to how profits are divided.

Meanwhile, in November of last year, there were two more horrific incidents two days apart. On November 17, a 3-year old brindled greyhound named Birthday Toy was electrocuted after being bumped into the lure line at Sanford Orlando Kennel Club. Then on November 19, Jawa Spock, a 2-year-old fawn, was euthanized at Palm Beach Kennel Club after breaking both back legs during a race.

This is why Grey2K USA is targeting Florida's greyhound racing industry. The group has video footage of both incidents on its website (grey2kusa.org), and this April, Christine Dorchak traveled to Tallahassee to oppose new legislation that would expand gambling and subsidize greyhound racing. She held a news conference on the back steps of the Old Capitol Building in Tallahassee with the help of Scooby and Molly, two retired greyhounds.

Whether it's pressure from groups like Dorchak's or because people have vast entertainment options these days, the dog racing industry is indisputably in decline. In fact, it might have died out already if it weren't subsidized by tax breaks and other forms of gambling.

In 2000, the Florida Legislature approved a $20 million tax break for the struggling pari-mutuel industry (horse tracks, dog tracks, and jai-alai frontons). Then, the pari-mutuels lobbied for the right to offer slot machines and high-stakes poker. Since South Florida voters approved them in 2005, slots and card rooms have become so profitable that most track owners would probably be willing to drop dog racing entirely. (In 2007, the state collected less than $6 million in taxes from the greyhound industry, compared to $125 million from slot machines.) But the way the law stands, in order to keep a pari-mutuel license and have access to that juicy income flow from slots and poker, dog tracks are required to race at least 100 days a year.

Greyhound racing won't end unless that law is changed.

Dorchak says her group would support any bills that would rid pari-mutuels of the racing requirements. Every year, such bills are introduced in the state Legislature, but they never make it out of committee. In her quest, she's found an odd ally. Mardi Gras CEO Dan Adkins showed up at the capitol. Dorchak says Adkins even jokingly wore an "End Greyhound Racing" button.

"He might not be able to say it as publicly, but he hates giving that money to breeders too," she says. "Racing is a losing game he has to play to get the cards and slots. They could take or leave the dogs. It's all about money."

Still, the more I learn about the industry, the more I want to know about my dog. The longer I have her, the more I see that she really does love to run, even if it means she's hopping on the hurt leg. Most of the time, though, she just lies around the apartment looking adorable. We also decided to keep her name. Although Jailamony evokes something dark and degenerate, her past is part of who she is and what brought her to us.

The truth is, the world of greyhound racing can be just as heartbreaking and complicated as that twisted black leg with the little white sock. It hurts to think of the toll this industry has taken on that sweet dog. If she hadn't raced, she wouldn't have a limp, a bald ass, and grey hair at 4 years old. Then again, if she didn't race, I wouldn't have her now.

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