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North Hills Monthly

End of Greyhound Racing in Florida to Impact Local Adoption Groups

Nov 30, 2018 12:21PM ● By Vanessa Orr

This past November, Florida voters elected to end greyhound racing, which on the face of it, might seem like good news for those who don’t want to see animals used in the sport. For local greyhound rescue organizations and enthusiasts, however, this decision has far-reaching consequences.

“The way the law was written, greyhound tracks can close on Jan. 1, 2019 if they want to, but they have until the end of 2020 to completely shut down,” explained Warren Harju, vice president of Going Home Greyhounds, which is based out of Wexford, PA. “What the law didn’t do was provide any funding or instructions for what will happen to the dogs after the tracks shut down, and this has created a real fear among adoption groups.

“It doesn’t matter what your thoughts are on racing; what’s important is making sure that the dogs are taken care of when their careers are over,” he added. “That is our only goal.”

Because the tracks can be phased out, Harju doesn’t expect to see a huge influx of dogs into the adoption system all at once, though some of the smaller, less profitable tracks will probably shut down immediately. The best racing dogs will be purchased by tracks in states where greyhound racing is legal, bumping lower-performing dogs out into the system.

“Of the 12 tracks impacted by this decision in Florida, about half are committed to racing as long as possible and plan to continue to use the dogs they have,” said Harju. “The other ones will likely close pretty quickly.”

One kennel may have 40 to 50 dogs, which may not seem like a huge issue, until you realize that Going Home Greyhounds only adopts out about 30 animals a year, 95 percent of which come from Wheeling Island Casino. “The adoption kennel at Wheeling is very good at finding out where there is a surplus of dogs and bringing them up here,” said Harju, adding that other Pennsylvania-based greyhound rescues may bring up animals from Florida and other locations. 

“We are worried that some dogs are going to slip through the cracks and end up in regular shelters,” said Harju. “In America, 30 percent of dogs that end up in shelters—or one in three—is euthanized.”

Because greyhounds are fairly delicate dogs, there is also a fear that they will be adopted out to owners with no knowledge of the breed. “Greyhounds are not built to be outside dogs, and they always need to be in a fenced-in yard or on a leash because if something runs, they’ll chase it,” he explained. “They also have health idiosyncrasies—if a vet isn’t familiar with their bloodwork, they’ll think the animals have kidney or liver problems.”

There is also concern among greyhound aficionados that with less demand for the dogs, the breed will suffer. “This year, 6,000 racing greyhounds were born in America, and with the loss of the Florida market, there are only expected to be 2,000 born next year,” said Harju. “That is scary for the breed.

“It’s a Pyrrhic victory for those who passed the law,” he added. “They might have ended racing, but they may also have ended the breed.”

How Can You Help?

As the tracks close and greyhounds come up for adoption, agencies are going to need money to pay for food and kenneling while those who want to provide homes for the animals go through the adoption process. “There are good adoption groups in Florida who will work to get those dogs into the adoption system, while we’re handling the dogs that are displaced from local tracks like Wheeling,” said Harju.

People who want to adopt a dog should go to the Going Home Greyhounds website and fill out an application. An adoption coordinator will talk with them, and then they’ll be put on a waiting list, though it may take several months to find them the right dog.

“While there won’t be 10,000 dogs looking for homes on January 15, there will be more available next year than this year,” Harju added.

To learn more or to make a donation, visit Going Home Greyhounds at www.goinghomegreyhounds.org.