This is Dudley.
Dudley didn't have the greatest start in life. He was bred to be a racer, which meant that from his earliest days, he lived a kind of life no dog should ever live. He resided at a track in Sarasota, Florida, where, like all racing greyhounds, he was virtually starved, left unvaccinated and unprotected against parasites, denied toys and affection, and confined for more than 20 hours a day to one-half of a double-decker cage in an unheated and uncooled kennel that looked like a warehouse. He barely had room to stand, and he ran on a track that didn't make enough money to be properly maintained. His last race ended in a collision that terminated his career before he was two years old.
And he was one of the lucky ones.
Most greyhound pups are bred at breeding farms, where "only a select few actually become racing dogs. This massive over-breeding is done in order to produce winning dogs. The unwanted pups, those who don't measure up to racing standards, are simply destroyed. The racing industry also sells some of the dogs considered unfit for racing to laboratories, which use them in experiments."
Of the dogs who become racers, most aren't champions—and many would-be champions are injured before they ever reach their potential. Most of the dogs who fail to make money are destroyed in the cheapest way possible, frequently by gunshot or having their throats cut. Some are simply left to starve. Even the most successful racers are usually retired by age 4, at which point they, too, are killed unless they are fortunate enough to be rescued.
Even with rescues doing as much as they can, as many as 20,000 dogs are still killed (and nearly half that number of rabbits illegally used to train the dogs) each year in the US alone.
The dogs are not beloved pets; they are property. And they are treated thus. In one infamous case, an owner told a trainer not to bother trying to rescue dogs from a kennel which had gone up in flames, because "they're insured." Greyhounds' lives have no innate value at the track.
I will spare you descriptions of the abuses I have seen in pictures taken at greyhound tracks. I will spare you photos of the dogs the local rescue with which I volunteer has rescued from tracks in Florida and elsewhere, so thin it's inconceivable that they are still alive.
I will tell you that most of this is totally legal, because greyhound racing was made an exception to the US Department of Agriculture's Animal Welfare Act.
Greyhound racing is a goddamn ugly sport. Even the lucky ones who survive it, like Dudley, are traumatized.
They come off the track into a world they've never experienced. They don't know how to walk up or down stairs, or how to fetch a ball. They have no idea what it means to be loved.
But they want to know. Even after all they've been through, they trust. They want to be with people. They are the sweetest, gentlest dogs, who, given half a chance, will lean against your legs and gaze up at you along their long snouts with a plaintive look. I'm ready to be loved now.
When Dudley came to us, he was ready to be loved. He was also so timid that he would urinate on himself in a submissive gesture every time I got near him. I spent long hours lying on the floor, next to his crate where he felt safe, synchronizing my breathing to his, quiet and still, to reassure him I would never hurt him. One day, he came out, and laid down beside me on the floor. I put my hand on his side, across a long scar the origins of which we do not know, and matched him breath for breath. There we laid, until he let me know he needed to go out, and I put on his leash without making him fearful for the first time.
That was the first step in what has been, and continues to be, a remarkable journey away from the track. When I think about the possibility that Dudley's fate, once he had proven useless as a racer, could have been a callous bit of violence to bring a swift end to his life, or a cruel bit of neglect to yield the same result over agonizing days, my heart aches. It aches because I cannot imagine my life without him, and it aches for all the greys who never had the same opportunity he's had to be loved.
It occurred to me the other day that sometime next week, give or take, Dudley will have officially lived more of his life with us than he lived before he got here.
It was a sort of relief, that thought. A relief on his behalf. As I thought about the literally scarring experiences he had at the track fading into the distance of time, diminishing into a terrible anomaly in a life of boundless affection, I asked Dudley if he knew that he is home. He flopped against me with all his weight, craned around his impossibly, comically long neck to give me a goofy grin, then licked my chin.
I will take that as a yes.
Iowa is one of the few remaining states in which greyhound racing is legal. This week, a House panel in the Iowa state legislature approved a measure that would effectively end greyhound racing in the state. That would be excellent news in the long term, but would immediately leave thousands of dogs at risk of death unless area rescues can come to their aid. Please consider taking action or donating on behalf of greyhounds today. There are even more ways to help here. If you are considering adoption or would like to donate to a local rescue, a resource to find US greyhound rescues is here.
Please, if you can, help give other greys the same chance to be loved that Dudley's had.
Us & Dudz, last summer.