Dog Days of Retirement

The Greyhound Rescue League constantly hustles to give castaway dogs a new life

Dixie is a retired athlete who never got the chance to sign a million-dollar contract. She is locked up and doesn't know why. She won her races until age inevitably encroached. Dixie--a greyhound--gradually became slower and slower, until her owner decided she was no longer profitable. Now, she is homeless.

The greyhound racing industry breeds more than 30,000 dogs each year in its search for the fastest dog, according to the National Greyhound Association (NGA). When a greyhound stops winning at a certain track, it is circulated throughout the country to slower tracks, until it reaches the end of its career. If a dog gets injured or can't cut it even on the slowest track, it's up to Greyhound Adoption League volunteers to make sure the formerly prized hound doesn't end up six feet under.

The Greyhound Adoption League--which works closely with Tucson Greyhound Park to organize adoptions in Arizona, California and Idaho--faces the daunting task of providing for 30 to 50 greyhounds per month in need of homes, according to league President Lorri Tracy.

Every day, a league volunteer must drive to the northside kennel to let the greyhounds out, make sure they have enough food and water and take notes on each dog's health.

Walking into a kennel housing 60 greyhounds, a volunteer is assaulted by a shockwave of barks from former or current racing dogs that have been treading around an indoor/outdoor cage for as long as 20 hours. The volunteers let two dogs out at a time to race each other in the sprint paths for a few minutes, while the others wait jealously for their turns.

The time commitment necessary to run an adoption agency is significant, but funding is an even more serious need--the league's veterinary bills alone amount to approximately $38,000 each year. Although Tucson Greyhound Park contributes a guaranteed $500 per month to the Adoption League, plus 2 percent of the money garnered from simulcast betting--totaling $700 to $900--it is not enough to cover the food, rent, utilities and unexpected veterinary bills necessary to run a greyhound adoption agency, according to Tracy. The $150 fee the league charges greyhound adopters, she adds, barely scratches the surface of expenses racked up from neutering, spaying, teeth cleaning, vaccinations and the treatment of injured dogs fresh off the track. Racing greyhounds, for example, are regularly handed over to the league with broken legs, but since Tucson Greyhound Park offers no extra money to the Adoption League when unloading a dog with such an injury, that $3,000 leg surgery leans on the pocketbook of the Adoption League.

Another hurdle the league must contend with is finding a place to keep recently retired greyhounds. Until November 2004, the Greyhound Adoption League was paying about $350 per month to temporarily house approximately 30 dogs at a kennel on Tangerine Road. When a new greyhound racer bought the kennel, Tracy realized she would have to move her dogs out and put them in crates--containers about the size of a large dresser. Since league volunteers could only be there once a day to let them run around, Tracy considered death a better option.

"I'm like, 'OK, we are going to have to put them down.' I wouldn't subject them to that," Tracy said. Fortunately, the Adoption League found a way to avoid euthanasia by keeping some dogs in foster homes and using six spaces in the kennel for free, courtesy of the kennel's owner, David Blair.

Although it was a victory of sorts, Tracy recognizes that it was a small one in the context of the overwhelming, endless number of greyhounds waiting for a second chance. And despite the fact that competition from local Indian casinos continues to hinder the profits of the dog racing industry, Tracy believes she will not see the end of greyhound racing in her lifetime.

"You can get 20 dogs out, and there are 40 more waiting," Tracy says. "There is no light at the end of the tunnel. There is no end in sight."

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