Next week, the last dog racing tracks in Florida will close forever.
The dogs will either be retired and rehomed or go on to race in one of the three states left that still conduct this game of chance. It is unclear what percentage of the 1,200 or so dogs left racing in the Sunshine State will fall into what category.
In an expected defiant act by the industry, the last race in the state will take place at Palm Beach Kennel Club on New Year’s Eve at 11:59 p.m., the very last minute it could legally occur.
The sport was shut down in an effort people made to stand up for animal rights in November 2018. By a landslide, the people of Florida passed Amendment 13, which banned Florida greyhound racing by the end of 2020. As of this week, nine Florida tracks have closed their gates to the sport forever.
That left only two still operating. In addition to Palm Beach noted above, St. Petersburg’s Derby Lane will also close Sunday. Passage of Amendment 13 ends a century of the sport in Florida.
At Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, a colony of dogs including many retired racetrack greyhounds used to help fill and refill one of the nation’s first successful canine blood banks while living an ideal life among hundreds of veterinary students. It was estimated that only one out of 100 racing dogs could qualify for WSU’s program because of exposure to blood borne parasites and other disease issues encountered during travel.
Life on the racing road in the Deep South is as hard or harder on the dogs than it was for Dixie moonshiners. Traveling from track to track and being exposed closely to other dogs from goodness knows where was not a recipe for producing the “cleanest” blood to type, cross and give to a suffering pet. Still, a few made it to the good life at WSU to benefit legions of animals across the Pacific Northwest.
WSU still provides banked canine blood but now relies on community donors who volunteer their dogs once per month to donate a unit. Having witnessed the procedure many times, dogs clearly don’t mind. Often, they fall asleep on the table during the donation but are eager for the food treat and the praise of those involved.
It would be surprising if some of the 1,200 or so dogs in Florida were not humanely euthanized, except for the fact that those who opposed dog racing are watching. Hopefully, the “celebrity” of old racing dogs characterizing the end of an era born of blood sport in this case will likely be enough to get all those without significant medical issues to be rehomed.
Those interested in accepting a rehomed racing greyhound need to do their homework, perhaps even more so than those that accept others from an animal control agency. These dogs are often forced to sleep on concrete floors and treated poorly.
When they are awake, they are often nervous and ready to run. As one veterinarian once told me, “greyhounds have only a two-position switch: O-N and O-F-F. The latter can be up to about 17 hours a day with no other interference and you better be ready when it flips.”
These are not insurmountable problems. Working with your veterinarian, the rescue associations and perhaps a behaviorist, these dogs can become even bigger sweethearts than they are already.
I hope this column finds all my readers healthy after having had a regenerative holiday season.
Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service.