Life After the Track

Life After the Track

Ohio helps former racing dogs live healthy lives

by Tim Walker

“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”

Josh Billings

 

The dog.

Is there any animal more loving, more loyal, more devoted, than the dog?

The drive from Dayton to Charleston, West Virginia is a pleasant one. Take U.S. 35 East for about 3 ½ hours, past the indian mounds and Bob Evans Farm and the Silver Bridge. Wave at the Mothman statue as you drive past Point Pleasant. Then, when you find yourself in Charleston, keep an eye out for the city’s major attractions. The capitol building. The 2012 World Championship Chili Cookoff. The dog track.

Dog track? What? Wait a minute – aren’t all of those down in Florida?

Well, no. West Virginia has two legal pari-mutuel dog racing tracks — the other one is in Wheeling — and six other states across the country still permit dog racing, as well: Arizona, Texas, Arkansas, Iowa, Alabama and the aforementioned Florida, which is home to over half of the 25 greyhound racing tracks currently operating. The industry, which began in this country in 1919 with the first track in Emeryville, California, is in decline. Since its heyday, just after the Second World War, money bet on greyhound races has steadily dropped — from $3.5 billion to $1.1 billion between 1991 and 2007, according to Gary Thompson, director of corporate communications for Caesar’s Entertainment in Las Vegas.

Unfortunately, as the industry continues to decline, conditions for the dogs themselves have worsened. Injuries, cramped quarters, and substandard food make life difficult for the dogs while they are actively racing, and once their days at the track are over, they usually find themselves unwanted by the owners and trainers that have raised them.

Luckily, there are several animal rights organizations across the country who attempt to help the greyhounds that have outlived their usefulness at the track. One of the most successful is Team Greyhound, a non-profit organization here in the state of Ohio.

“Our organization, Team Greyhound Adoption of Ohio, was actually created in 1999,” said Don LeVan, Vice President of Team Greyhound, recently. “And it started in Toledo, actually. Since that time, we have opened branches in other cities in Ohio — we are now in Dayton, Columbus and Cleveland. Since our formation, we’ve adopted out almost 1700 dogs, so it’s been a pretty successful program.”

“Basically the way it works,” he continued, “is that when the dogs are done racing at the racetracks, some of them go to farms or kennels. Those dogs are the ones we get. We get most of our dogs from West Virginia and Florida, which are two of the seven states which still allow dog racing. Once we get those dogs, before we adopt them out, we ‘vet’ them — spayed, neutered, shots, whatever they need — but then, before they get placed into a home, we have a prison program. The dogs actually go to the prison, which right now is the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville. We also had a program in Dayton Correctional up until about a year ago.”

In cooperation with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, Team Greyhound Adoption of Ohio works with several correctional facilities in the state.  They started with their first dogs at the Lorain Correctional Facility in Grafton in March 2001, and they now work with five facilities throughout Ohio.  This is the first prison training program in Ohio to involve retired racing greyhounds. While the dogs are at the facility, they each have a primary and secondary handler, and the job of the handlers is to teach the greyhounds socialization, general manners, and basic obedience skills. The goal is that when the dogs leave the program they will know how to walk on a lead and obey the basic commands of sit, down, stay and come.  Based on the willingness of the dog to learn, more commands can also be taught.

“It’s been a very successful program for us,” said Don LeVan. “The dogs are usually kept at the prisons for between one and three months, and then they’re adopted out to waiting owners.

Team Greyhound is a 501(c)3 volunteer organization. They have no paid help and rely entirely on volunteers and donations to help in the placement of the greyhounds they rescue. They are always in need of help with various things: assisting with the new dogs when they arrive, help in transporting the dogs, temporary foster homes and donations of services, supplies and money. For more information, see their website at www.teamgreyhound.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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Tim Walker, 46, was raised by wolves in W.V. after being abandoned by his family. Currently writing two mystery novels, he loves books, offbeat films, Miles Davis and pizza. He has broken his back twice, works as a DJ, loves his wife & kids and rarely howls at the moon these days, unless it's full.

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