Feature photo credit:
Greyhound racing in Florida at the finishing line from the Tichnor Brothers Collection at the Boston Public Library, Print Department is licensed by CC BY 2.0
Last week I discussed why performance is historically important to the Greyhound. Without performance we would not have the Greyhound we know and love. I also discussed that coursing was where all Greyhound sport originated and explored some of the history of the breed. This week’s blog is about the recent history of the Greyhound in the U.S.
In the late 1800’s the Irish created park coursing, which used similar rules of coursing that were used in Britain; however, the size of the course was smaller. Many feel that this is when folks decided that even with shorter courses the greyhound was still exhilarating to watch. The Irish developed their coursing club in 1916.
The first mechanical lure was used in 1876. It was used in a 400-yard straight course. This was not found to be exciting and many spectators did not enjoy this type of sport. It took about 30 years for the mechanical lure to become popular.
In the meantime Greyhounds were coming into the United States. For the most part these dogs were settled out west to help with jackrabbit population control. Even General Custer was a fan of the Greyhound, using them as scouts prior to battle. You bet these Greyhounds were coursed out west!
In 1906 the National Greyhound Association (NGA) was organized. The NGA was responsible for registering Greyhounds in America and keeping up with Greyhound breedings.
In 1919 the first Greyhound track was opened in Emeryville, CA. This was designed by the entrepreneur Owen P. Smith and financed by George Sawyer. The track used a mechanical lure that was propelled by a motorized cart on the inside of a rail. The total length of the track was about 3/16th of a mile. These early races were poorly attended but Sawyer had an idea on how to fix this.
Sawyer encouraged Smith to introduce wagering and they began allowing wagering on races. While attendance increased, they were still unable to make money and the track ended up going bankrupt. Smith took his mechanical lure and went to Florida.
The World’s fastest greyhounds race at West Flagler Kennel Club, Miami, Florida from the Tichnor Brothers Collection at the Boston Public Library, Print Department licensed by CC BY 2.0
Tracks were popping up throughout Florida in the 1930’s. These tracks were helpful for tax income throughout the Great Depression. More and more states allowed Greyhound racing to flourish. At Greyhound racing’s height it was the sixth most popular sport in America. However, often times when money changes hands undesirable attention comes.
There were speculations of illegal actives associated with greyhound racing. These speculations did not come to anything and did not hurt American Greyhound racing; it was at its height in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
Nightly gathering for greyhound racing, West Flagler Kennel Club, Miami, Florida from the Tichnor Brothers Collection at the Boston Public Library, Print Department licensed by CC BY 2.0
In 1987 The American Greyhound Council (AGC) was created. The AGC oversees Greyhound welfare from puppyhood to retirement. The AGC inspects Greyhound farms to make sure they are within their guidelines for proper Greyhound care. Once the Greyhound arrives at the track there are state regulation in place for Greyhound welfare as well as track contracts that kennels must comply with to continue racing. The AGC follows the numbers of greyhound adoptions. They also follow the economic impact of greyhound racing.
The early 2000’s were a hard time for the racing. There were reports of mistreatment of Greyhounds throughout the news. There was also a decline in live betting. This caused multiple tracks to close their doors.
During these hard times, the people of Greyhound racing did not tuck their tails and run. They worked tirelessly with the AGC, adoption groups, and state regulatory bodies to ensure the welfare of the Greyhound and the integrity of racing. Currently 90% of all retired racing greyhound are adopted or returned to farms as pets or for breeding purposes, a much higher percentage than that of other dog adoption organizations in the U.S. The goal of AGC is to expand adoption efforts and increase that to 100%. This percentage is sure to increase as more and more people want Greyhounds as pets and more adoption organizations are willing to take on complex cases.
In addition to creating wonderful pets, Greyhound racing is important economically. It is estimated that the racing industry employs 14,000 people with an annual payroll of 194 million dollars. The racing industry also pays an estimated 86 million in taxes to federal, state, and local governments. The racing industry donates an estimated 6 million dollars to charities, including greyhound adoption groups.
Greyhound sports have always been the essential component of the Greyhound. Without coursing and racing, the dog that we love would most likely not be in existence. Continued support of athletic activities of the Greyhound is needed to promote this breed. Continued recognition of performance is essential to for us to be the best stewards of our breed. Thanks to the great work of AGC, adoption groups, and the NGA we are able to welcome these professional athletes into our homes to be wonderful companions. We all know that greyhounds give us fulfillment but we must remember that our Greyhounds need fulfillment as well. Greyhounds can find fulfillment in multiple ways but the most special is in their passion for the chase!