and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
October #4

Question 3:  Greyhounds are born to run
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A ship in harbor is safe but that is not what ships are for.
John A. Shedd

I know, Question 3 is about prohibiting dog racing, not sailboat racing. But the above quote came to mind as I watched the Salem News-sponsored debate on that ballot question.

Chip Ford [his photo below; click on it to enlarge] and I were there because he was arguing for "Yes on 1" and I was trying to decide about Question 2. I thought I had already made up my mind to vote for Question 3 because I'm an "animal nut" who always votes yes on animal rights issues.

But as I watched proponent Christine Dorchak accusing greyhound owner and trainer John O'Donnell of inhumane treatment, I began to wonder: Why would people who had invested in a dog to win races mistreat him in ways that would prevent his maximum performance?

I appreciate animal rights activists in general, and if the greyhounds were being abused, I wouldn't care if abolishing racing costs jobs. But are they?

I read the voter information booklet, noted that dogs are sometimes injured while racing. The little quote about the sailboat kept returning and transforming itself: A greyhound who doesn't run won't be injured, but what are greyhounds for?

Dogs have always been bred for a particular reason, and that is what they do: Border collies herd, hounds and spaniels hunt, other dogs guard, protect, rescue, perform at shows, and pull sleds across miles of snow. Greyhounds run.

Later I learned that in fact they chase. They are what dog experts call "sight hounds" as opposed to dogs that hunt by scent. I'm told this is why they don't go out without a leash: they will chase any running creature without regard to their safety. But when nothing is running, they are happy to just lie around; they sleep a lot, like cats.

I wondered: If greyhounds could vote, how would they vote on Question 3? So Chip and I went to John O'Donnell's kennels to ask them.

We got there just as one large group was coming in from playtime. They rushed the fence we stood behind, pushing to be noticed. As O'Donnell opened the doors to the stacked cages, each dog walked or leapt into the one with his name on it.

For sure, cages make me uncomfortable, but I have friends who keep their pet dogs in crates; though I'd never do that with my own, I'm getting used to it. I'm told that some dogs are den animals and like having their own secure space. Dogs are pack animals and the greyhounds seem to like hanging out near other dogs.

Each cage has the dog's official racing name, though their muzzles (worn while they play so they don't nip another short-haired dog) carry their pet names (Glitter, Meatball, Renee, Mosquito); John and kennel manager Casey O'Neil seem to know them all.

I was surprised by the wide variety of colors and personalities: I'd expected more inbred uniformity. Some cages had a number the ideal racing and health weight controlled by weighing the food, which looked good enough to share. The dogs ate politely, and seemed friendly and unintimidated.

I was asked if I'd ever seen a dog smile. Well, yes; my golden retriever, shepherd mix and Newfoundland all smiled a lot. But greyhounds have slim, tight mouths.

O'Donnell introduced me to Danielle and told her to "smile." Her attempt made her look like a skinny Hound of the Baskervilles, about to rip out my throat. She licked my neck instead.

John and Casey were laughing; they said they've never had another dog that "smiled" like Danielle. I wanted to bring her home.

Fortunately she didn't have "Pet" on her cage. The dogs who have that note are ready to be "petted out," and the men told me that they have a waiting list of people who are being vetted for ownership.

O'Donnell takes pride in finding homes for his dogs no matter where they end their racing days.

I learned that it is illegal in Massachusetts to euthanize a greyhound until a reasonable effort is made to place them for adoption, and that effort seems successful because many people want these gentle, retired "athletes," as the trainers call them. This makes them more protected than shelter animals. Credit for this goes to activists like Question 3 proponents, whose efforts in the past encouraged strong state regulation.

Of course, there are only so many homes for pets, so one can argue against making more puppies who will someday compete with the many homeless dogs. That argument could be used about goldens and Newfies too, though. If not for racing, would this amazing breed the second fastest animal on earth be eventually lost?

Honored as hunters and pets by ancient Egyptians and British royalty, the greyhound was brought to America in the late 1800s to help Midwestern farmers control the crop-eating jackrabbit; coursing events soon followed.

Official racing may be in decline already; with the many protections built into Massachusetts regulations, I can't bring myself to vote to end it now. Run, chase and smile, Danielle.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson's
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.