Floridians: Vote Today to Save Racing Dogs Like Mine

Bowie, my 85-pound retired racing greyhound, sneaks undetected into our bed every night while my girlfriend and I sleep. He lies directly perpendicular to the two of us, then nestles in, stretching his gangly, two-and-a-half-foot-long legs out in both directions. I usually wake up dangling precariously off the side of the bed or shoved against our bedroom wall.
Photos by Jerry Iannelli
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Bowie, my 85-pound retired racing greyhound, sneaks undetected into our bed every night while my girlfriend and I sleep. He lies directly perpendicular to the two of us, then nestles in, stretching his gangly, two-and-a-half-foot-long legs out in both directions. I usually wake up dangling precariously off the side of the bed or shoved against our bedroom wall.

This is my favorite part of every day.

I have never bonded with an animal like I've bonded with Bowie. He is my morning coffee companion, my night-time TV-watching buddy, and the reason I now spend an hour every evening walking along Biscayne Bay while the sun sets. He insists on lying either near or on top of us and follows us from room-to-room. He has permanently commandeered the corner spot on our L-shaped sectional couch. I am jealous, because this is the comfiest part of the sofa.

My girlfriend and I adopted Bowie in February 2017 after we moved to Miami from up North and learned that dog racing is still legal in Florida. Even before arriving, we'd heard horror stories about the awful lives of racing greyhounds, and we were at least tangentially aware that, before adoption agencies began finding homes for retired greyhounds, many were euthanized at young ages after being pulled from the track. But once we moved to Florida and saw operational dog tracks nearby, we realized we were in a position to offer a retired dog love and companionship. So we wound up finding Bowie.

Today, short of adopting retired racers of their own, Floridians can all do something to help dogs like Bowie by voting yes on Amendment 13, which would ban greyhound racing in the state by the year 2020. It's estimated this would save roughly 8,000 dogs from life on the track. The Florida Legislature has floated multiple greyhound-racing bans over the past few years, but thanks to the power of the state's entrenched gambling lobby, the bans have failed every time. Meanwhile, 461 dogs have died on the track since 2013, the first year the state began tracking racing-dog deaths. Untold numbers of others have been abused. The gambling industry will almost always be able to out-spend and out-lobby animal-rights activists. But today is a chance for voters to notch a win over a far too powerful, morally heinous industry designed to make money off humanity's absolute worst impulses.

The barbarity and horror of the dog-racing industry becomes clearer only once you've spent time with a retired racing dog and seen how naturally loving, gentle, and lazy the dogs truly are. They are not workhorses. Our Bowie is a delicate, nervous animal that is hyperattuned to our actions. His large brown eyes follow us around the apartment, and he has learned, for example, to get nervous and whine if he sees us packing our suitcases for a weekend trip away from him. Despite the fact that greyhounds were bred thousands of years ago to have two-inch-long, snaggletoothed incisors to hunt small game, Bowie is terrified of the two abandoned kittens we recently rescued and often declines to walk unaccompanied past one of the four-pound cats. On the flip side, when he is particularly comfy, he sleeps on his back with his legs sticking straight up in the air like a candelabra. His jowls flop down over his face and expose his gleaming teeth.

Bowie is epileptic and needs regular seizure medication. For this reason, he'd been languishing in a shelter for longer than most dogs. His racing name was "Halo the Remedy" ("Remedy" for short), but it's unclear if any human beings actually ever used his name because, to this day, he does not respond to it. My girlfriend and I renamed him in honor of David Bowie — he learned his new name in a matter of days, and now his long, rabbit-like ears perk up whenever someone whispers his name.

My girlfriend and I don't know a ton about his days as a racing dog other than that he was born in an Ohio kennel and subsequently shipped to Florida. There's video online of him racing at a Tampa dog track. He seems to have won a few events.

But it's impossible to imagine Bowie racing in any sort of professional capacity. He is athletic without actually being agile. He can run in a straight line faster than a racehorse, but if he tries to turn, he usually does a few barrel rolls on the grass before steadying himself and looking confused. If he sprints in a park for more than ten seconds, he often lies down on the ground in public and whines until we take him home to sleep on the couch. He can barely maneuver his oblong body through the few doors in our small apartment. He once fell into a crevice between our bed and the wall, and we arrived to find his four legs jutting straight up in the air. Another time, he got stitches and was fitted with a cone so he wouldn't lick the wound. He proceeded to the slam his cone into every single wall in the apartment before lying directly on the floor like a depressed canine Charlie Brown.
click to enlarge
Photos by Jerry Iannelli
It is clear, too, that racing took a toll on Bowie's body. Racing dogs are infamously pumped full of steroids, performance-enhancing drugs, and even cocaine. They are usually raised in outdoor stables and confined for 20 to 23 hours every day. Dogs race in extreme weather conditions, and in Florida, a dog dies on the track once every three days. Though we have no real idea about Bowie's youth, it's clear he was not raised with a basic semblance of care, love, or attention. He has tattoos in his ears and is missing patches of fur on his behind, which is commonly referred to as "kennel butt."

He arrived in our home confused and somewhat afraid. He did not know what a couch was, and it took weeks for us to coax him onto the sofa or bed. He had never once used the stairs. He still has not learned to fetch or to chew toys and has no interest in the many, many balls, frisbees, and squeaky items we've given him. When we first took him to our local dog park, he had no clue how to socialize with other dogs — it took him nearly a year to learn how to chase and play with other canines. To this day, he does not enjoy being left alone and cries whenever we accidentally close him in a room without us. He is significantly larger and more muscular than most greyhounds — his shoulders are larger than mine, and his hind leg muscles are each as wide as melons. Though we have no proof, we suspect that as a puppy, he was pumped full of some kind of growth hormone. We also do not know if his seizure disorder is genetic or was sparked by a weird combination of drugs or irresponsible breeding — if he misses a few doses of medication, he will, like clockwork, collapse to the ground while foaming at the mouth and violently jerking his legs in a motion that suggests he's afraid and trying to run from something. He wakes up about a minute later confused, crying, and too dizzy to stand.

These are common traits for greyhounds, which makes it all the more cruel and bizarre that such trusting and emotionally fragile animals are forced to race in the Florida sun simply so a bunch of cigar-smoking weirdos and derelicts can bet money on them.

It's impossible to take Bowie to public events without someone walking up to us and telling us that they, too, have heard horror stories about the lives of Florida's racing dogs. Though I've never been able to verify many of these tales, I've run into a few former track workers who've told me they've seen dogs routinely starved, dehydrated, or physically injured in order to ensure that races are fixed for a given winner, which has been given a smorgasbord of illegal drugs. Former New Times writer Michael J. Mooney, who himself owns retired racing greyhounds, chronicled a series of horrid racing accidents and abuses in a 2009 long-form feature. He described cases in which dogs collided by accident and snapped or shattered bones, died of heatstroke, and had quite literally been massacred by the thousands and dumped in a mass grave in Alabama that was later dubbed "Dachau for dogs."

When Bowie received his first vaccination with us, the veterinarian tossed off a comment about how he was probably "used to being injected with stuff by now." As predicted, Bowie did not flinch when the needle pierced his skin.
click to enlarge
Photo by Jerry Iannelli
Somehow, Amendment 13 is not a shoo-in to pass today. More than 60 percent of state voters must approve the measure for it to become law — some polls have predicted it could fail by simply a few percentage points. The dog-racing industry, meanwhile, has trotted out a series of cruel and bad-faith arguments to try to keep its awful industry alive: Racing groups and breeders warn that phasing out racing could lead to thousands upon thousands of "displaced" or abandoned dogs. This argument is a cruel form of emotional blackmail. For one, adoption agencies have almost uniformly said they will be able to re-home the racing dogs — and, moreover, this is still not a logical explanation to keep dog racing itself legal. Dog-racing groups are now asking the public to let the industry phase out racing, but time and history have proven that racetracks are unlikely to follow that path voluntarily. Florida will help more animals over time by outlawing dog tracks once and for all.

There are thousands of other reasons to vote today. Real, live human beings need help and protection from creeping, semifascist authoritarianism; state-sponsored racism and violence; and the loss of their social safety nets. Voters today can end a racist felon-voting ban that was written by white-nationalist politicians during the Jim Crow era to stop black people from voting. But a vote for Amendment 13 is also important. It could save thousands of dogs that simply don't know why they're stuck in cages, don't know better lives than being forced to sprint in the hot Florida sun, and don't know what it's like to feel any love at all.
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