Uncertain destiny

As a group of muzzled greyhounds struts to their starting boxes in a single-file line, a crowd looks on from about two feet away.

“Here comes Rusty,” the commentator announces.

A white, stuffed bunny serving as the lure begins its journey around the track. As it passes by the dogs, the greyhounds take off from a cloud of dust.

Dog No. 4 begins in the lead as the crowd starts to roar.

Spectators gather around the track, watching dog No. 3 and No. 7 gain on the leader.

After one lap around the track, the pack of dogs comes to a halt. They jump around, playing with one another. Each trainer retrieves his respective dog, putting it on a leash. The race has ended.

In a matter of minutes, the dogs’ rankings are displayed on the scoreboard. No. 3 placed first, followed by No. 7 in second and No. 4 in third.

But some believe these dogs won’t always be winners.

The greyhound racing industry says the dogs are handed to agencies where they are then adopted. But the Greyhound Protection League believes otherwise.

Janet Skinner, Tampa Bay coordinator for the GPL, said she tries to educate the public about the realities of dog racing.

“In Florida, there are no records of what happens (to the dogs),” Skinner said. “Very often, they are just euthanized.”

Hillary Fellenz, director for marketing and advertising for the Tampa Greyhound Track, said while the dogs are euthanized, the racing industry is not responsible for the killings. Additionally, Fellenz said information given to the public by opponents of dog racing is misconstrued.

“They have us killing more dogs than are born,” Fellenz said. “It’s not as widespread or as gleefully done as you think.”Fellenz said, according to the American Greyhound Council in 1996, fewer than 10,000 greyhounds were euthanized compared to the 36,000 greyhounds born in the same year. The number of euthanized dogs dropped by 70 percent from 1991 to 1996 and 85 percent of the dogs were adopted in the same year.

However, GPL reports more than 20,000 dogs are killed each year.

The breeders and owners, not the industry, are responsible for the euthanization of animals, Fellenz said. Some people breed the dogs in order to find a winner, but in the end, find they have numerous dogs with no money to care for them. She said this is what leads to the euthanization of many dogs, and it is not condoned by the industry.

“Nobody is more angry about the killing and dumping of dogs than we are,” she said.

The tracks also hire companies to investigate kennels for abuses and refuse to work with kennels that have had a history of mistreatment of the greyhounds.

“I couldn’t work here if the dogs were being abused,” Fellenz said.

But Skinner said the greyhound industry is not required to account for the dogs after their careers. She said records on euthanization and adoption are kept by the National Greyhound Association.

“(The industry) has tons of money to get their sides of the story out,” Skinner said. “We do as much as we can with our limited resources.”

Out of the 16 states that allow dog racing, Florida contains 1/3 of the nation’s tracks. Florida currently has 16 dog-racing tracks. Colorado has the second highest number of tracks, with five. Skinner said the high number of tracks compared to other states is due to the tropical climate and elderly population in this state.Skinner said one of the main problems with the industry is that a countless number of puppies are bred for the purpose of finding a winner. There are so many dogs not chosen to run, in addition to retired dogs, that the adoption groups in Florida can’t handle them all, she said.

Opponents of greyhound racing also disagree with the lifestyle that the dogs are forced to lead. Skinner said the greyhounds are kept in crates and are only let out an average of three or four times a day to relieve themselves. She said they are denied and isolated in the crates, and the dogs seem to thrive off human interaction and affection, which they are not receiving.

However, Fellenz said the dogs are constantly around people, and this is the reason they make good pets.

She said there are two veterinarians on staff at all times. All dogs are required to be current on their vaccinations, and each dog only races twice per week because of legislative standards.

She also said the dogs only wear muzzles when racing, but not because of a negative temperament.

“People see the muzzle and they think (greyhounds) are mean,” Fellenz said. “They wear the muzzles for clean-line photo finishes.”

As the owner of two greyhounds, Skinner said proof of the abuse and mistreatment of these animals is in the statistics. She said one of her dogs had fleas, ticks and was missing a piece of his ear when she received him, and he never made it to the racing tracks.

Some of those opposed to the industry have chosen to protest. Skinner, along with a group of volunteers, decided to protest during the opening weekend of the dog racing at the Tampa Greyhound Track.

Skinner organized a protest in July when the season opened. Armed with signs such as “You bet they die” and “Winners live, losers die,” the protesters waved to cars on Waters Avenue and held their signs high for 1 1/2 hours. The goal for the day was to educate the passers-by about the information and possibly veer people away from visiting the track.

Kelly Faircloth, a senior majoring in business, joined the protest because she has always been against racing.

“When they stop making money, we’ll stop (protesting),” Faircloth said.

GPL organizes two protests a year, when the Tampa track begins live racing in July and when racing begins at Derby Lanes in St. Petersburg.

But Fellenz said the protesters aren’t doing anything to help solve the problem, and insists the industry does its best.”It’s unfortunate that the dogs are euthanized,” Fellenz said. “But it’s nowhere near the amount published.”

Contact Lindsay Fosterat oraclefeatures@yahoo.com