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Saturday, August 5, 2017

By Tracey Bouchard

Photos by Brooke Betancourt

I feel like I should get continuing ed credits after Saturday’s trip to Wheeling!


Over the last almost ten years I’ve learned a lot about the third phase of a greyhound’s life (retirement and adoption). The Robans and Blu Too were kind enough to open their doors and allow me to learn more about phase 1 (puppies and farm life). When picking up dogs and visiting tracks I had a couple of chances to peek behind the scenes at a race kennel to check out phase two, race life. It was interesting to see similarities and differences with the adoption kennel and get a better understanding of what the dogs are used to. On Saturday though we were gifted (there’s no better way to describe what we were given) with a chance to see what a day is like at the kennel compound for both humans and hounds, and what goes into a day at the track.

 

Let’s start at the compound. The first thing you notice is the kennel doesn’t smell like dogs. It is clean, air is moving, and dogs are happy. Breakfast is an impressive undertaking. I haven’t had the heart to break it to my own personal dogs what they are missing out on in the feeding department. Raw meat that looked good enough to make a stew out of, high pro kibble, and other supplements are all well mixed before serving. At this point the food isn’t just dished out and fed to the dogs. It is weighed. Every bowl. For an entire kennel. On each crate is a card with the dog’s name and the amount of food he or she is fed. One dog may get 42 ounces of food to maintain weight while another may only need 37 ounces. This attention to detail showed. Each dog we met was healthy, energetic, and at an ideal weight with impressive muscle definition that we all wish we could have. The amount of water they receive is monitored and if one dog seems to be drinking excessively they are watched carefully to make sure there isn’t something going on with them that would cause them to suddenly drink more water. Everything is washed and the meat for the next day is loaded into the bin to defrost because in 24 hours it will all be repeated.

 

But a dog’s life isn’t just about eating and sleeping, there’s also time to go out and stretch their legs. We had a chance to go to the sprint path and watch the dogs sprint two at a time. Here is where you could begin to see the competitive nature come out in the dogs, as some were happy to run and others clearly were not going to lose this sprint. Then there is turnout. When you are the new person in the turnout lot you are quite popular. A few scratches and a little bit, ok a lot, of mud were worth it to get to interact with the dogs. You quickly get to see who are the attention hounds, who are the goofballs, and who are the kennel favorites. From the girls who gave hugs to the boys who had the forceful greyhound lean and butt throw down pat, each dog came right up to us to say hello and check out the newbies in their lot. There was never a moment of fear or distrust, just happy, well socialized hounds who clearly knew suckers when they saw them.

 

 Saturday was a race day, and with 22 hounds running that day they were soon loaded into the dog trucks for the caravan to Wheeling.

Once we were at the track we were able to watch the dogs being weighed in. After weigh in they were off to the ginny pit where their owners and trainers would not be allowed to interact with them until after the race. The dogs were in the possession of the state at that point. The ginny pit was impressive. I’ve never seen that many greyhounds in one place before. Again, this kennel was clean and cool, but you could feel the excitement in the air. The dogs waiting in this area know their moment is coming and there’s lots of excited barking as dogs somewhat patiently wait their turn. When it is time to race, dogs are checked and double checked, tattoos, race vest, tags, etc. to make sure the correct dogs are ready to go. The dogs are weighed again and have a chance to visit the “indoor potty” before the race. Even with the indoor potty area the only thing you could smell was the shavings. Again the attention to detail was impressive. Collars are switched out before the race because they had issues with leash clips coming undone. So the clips are taped so one won’t open by accident. The dog’s kennel collar and leash is placed in his/her muzzle until after the race. All of this is done for the safety of the dogs.

 

We had the opportunity to meet with the track vet who takes her job very seriously. We talked about urine testing and injuries. Wheeling has an impressive chain of custody when it comes to urine samples. She tries to make sure each kennel has a sample collected each day, and the room with the samples will never be unattended after the first race. Sample cups are sealed before use, marked with a bar code in multiple places, and sealed again before being sent off to the lab where they will spend $175k on these tests. She showed us her spreadsheet where she tracks injuries and looks for patterns. When those patterns begin to form the track is carefully inspected to figure out what may be causing issues. Her care and concern for the dogs and their safety was obvious. They work with Ohio State to get treatment for dogs with broken legs, track vaccination records, and do everything they can to prevent injuries and keep the dogs healthy. On Saturday alone (not including schooling) there were 200 dogs racing and I have no doubt she could have pulled up information on each and every one of them.

 

In a day filled with highlights one of the biggest was Bustin BJ. This sweet black boy quickly endeared himself to us at turnout. He got lots of loving in the turnout lot and kept coming back for more, making the rounds to be sure everyone had a chance to pet him. We cheered him on as he came in first in his maiden race, and got to walk with him to the cool down area, let him get hosed off, and then enjoy a walk around the parking lot to allow his heart rate and breathing return to normal (and pee on lots of stuff!) before settling in for a nap and returning to the kennel. It was truly a chance to see all aspects of a day in the life of a racing greyhound by following Bustin BJ around for the day.

 

I cannot thank Steve Sarras enough for coordinating everything and allowing us a chance to see inside the racing industry. Thank you to Chris Ohler and everyone at the kennel who allowed us to completely disrupt their morning routine and took time to show us around, explain everything, and answer questions.

 

 I know not everyone will be able to have the opportunity we did, but education is so important. We saw people who had been there since 7am and would be there until 8pm when the last dogs came back from racing. We saw attention to detail that you won’t see with most pets, never mind a kennel of 70 dogs. We met owners and trainers who knew every dog by name and knew their personalities, quirks, gifts, challenges, and of course their nicknames. Despite torrential rains the night before we saw clean, dry kennels with fresh, dry bedding, and clean, well maintained turnout lots. Everyone was kind, welcoming, open, honest, and willing to answer questions. Everything is done to keep the dogs healthy, happy, safe, and injury free, whether that is measuring out each portion of food or outfitting dog haulers with multiple AC units and a thermostat that can be read from the cab of the truck to ensure it is working properly. It is unfortunate that scandal, drama, and bad people make the news and that organizations like Grey2K use their funds to fuel that fire instead of working with the industry to continue to keep dogs safe and retire them responsibly. I know not everyone is willing to listen and willing to change their mind, but it all starts with a conversation. If something doesn’t make sense, ask. Think critically about what you are being told. Talk to the people who live and breathe dogs 24/7 and spend most of their waking hours caring for these beloved greyhounds. Do your homework, see it for yourself, and form your own educated opinions about racing.

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