When I was a little girl my family would take annual trips to Florida. It was during one of these trips that I went to my first ever dog race. My aunt had really wanted to go and because I was such an animal lover, my parents thought I would think it was fun to watch the dogs run around the track. While they were looking over the names of the dogs and assessing the odds I watched as the dogs were taken to the area where they would prepare to run. Most dogs I had seen up until that point had been fluffy and furry, a sharp contrast to the lean, short haired, muscular animals that now walked the track.
The bets were placed and we cheered as the dogs bolted out of the gates and chased the mechanical rabbit around the track. My dad and aunt both won small amounts of money. Had they listened to the young girl that just loved looking at the pretty dogs, they would have won the Trifecta.
I remember that day as a fun family outing. Today, I am disgusted by it because little did I know that while my family and other patrons were placing their bets, we were betting against greyhounds.
Fast forward 20+ years. I was living in Orlando with my dog Sasha, an American Eskimo (Spitz) that behaved more human-like than well, most humans I know. My fiance' and I were entertaining the idea of getting another dog. He suggested that we get a greyhound. Now, other than my experience with the track, I knew little about the breed, and truth be told, I liked my knee high, fluff ball dogs. Still he insisted that we go to GPA (Greyhound Pets of America) to look at the dogs. Now, I have a whole other story about GPA, but, to avoid going off on a tangent, I will refrain from getting into it now. So to keep a long story short bottom line is I fell in love with the breed, but due to politics was unable to get one. Frustrated, I left GPA and contacted the dog track to find out if there was any other avenue I might be able to go through to obtain a greyhound.
A woman informed me that although they weren't allowed to solicit, if someone called saying they didn't want to go through GPA, she was allowed to take their name and pass it along to any trainers that might be getting rid of dogs. Score! A few hours later we received a call and took off to the track where we met a man (we'll call Dan) that brought us into a room filled with caged dogs. That's where we first met Topper.
There he was, scrunched up in his cage that was stacked on top of another cage. He did not even have enough room to stand, sit or turn around. He was stuck in a constant crouching position. His legs were so muscular from being given steroids that his stomach didn't even touch the ground. The trainer led us outside to a pen filled with mud and dog crap. It had a trough in the corner where the animals were fed. Dan walked out and let Topper off of the leash. The poor dog took off and ran to a corner shuttering uncontrollably. He broke my heart.
Dan explained that Topper was probably a little skittish because he had to use "The whip...uh..."weapon," he said quickly correcting himself, earlier that day when some dogs began fighting, which is apparently something they do often. He explained that they put the food in the trough and the dogs fight to eat. Topper allowed me to approach him. His eyes looked so sad. Dan informed us Shadow Rage (Topper's racing name) was the fastest dog they had...there was only one problem. When he got on the track he ran the wrong way, which if you ask me, made him the smartest dog too. We decided to take him right then knowing we couldn't leave him there.
When we got Topper home, the first thing we did was change his name. Every time we called him, he would cower and shake as if he was going to be beaten. I came up with Apollo because it meant strong, handsome, striking boy. He seemed to like this and began answering to it immediately as if it was the name he was meant to have all along.
Next we had to teach him how to lie down and how to sit. I mean to literally sit and lie down...not the command; the action. He couldn't do those things. The vet said once his muscles calmed down after being jacked up for so long, it would come easier to him. Feeding him was another issue. He would grab as much food as he could, run away from the bowl, swallow it whole, then regurgitate it and eat it. I assume this was his survival mechanism from being with the other dogs. He must have grabbed as much as he could before he would get attacked. I began hand feeling him a little at a time until he learned that no one was going to take it away from him.
There were other obstacles we had to overcome as well like teaching him about sliding glass doors which he ran into more than once and how to go up stairs. I remember he was so excited the first time he made it up the stairs. For about 4 years he had watched me go up them and down them while he waited at the bottom until one day he decided today was going to be the day he tried it. I turned around and there he stood beaming with pride in the upstairs bedroom like, "Look Mom. Look what I did!" Getting him down the stair was another story (that took another year to learn). in the meantime, I had to break my back carrying a 90lb greyhound down the stairs.
Still I think the biggest obstacle was getting him to trust men. From day 1, whenever I left Apollo would run into the corner of the bedroom, cower and shake until I got home. He even had an accident once or twice when my then fiance's friend (also a man) came over. Getting him to be comfortable did not happen over night. In fact, it wasn't until Apollo almost tore off his leg and my fiance and I rushed him to the vet for emergency surgery that he finally began to trust my fiance and view him as his dad.
I do not have children. That said, Apollo is the closest thing I will ever have to a son. Some people won't get that and I feel sorry for those people. I made a promise to him that after seeing the horrors of the track and the conditions he lived in that I would do my best to educate people and put an end to this barbaric sport. Since then I have done even more research only to learn that most dogs are only let out of their cages for 1 hour a day, are packed in trucks and transported without air or bathroom stops for hours which has lead to heat exhaustion and death; are hit with whips/weapons and pumped full of steroids; puppies are assessed to see which ones are thought to be the best performers (farm culls). The others are killed. As are thousands of the dogs that are not re-homed or sold to animal testing labs.
|Topper's (a.k.a. Apollo's) cage was not even this tall.|
Picture from animal-rights-action.com
I wanted to tell you about Apollo so that you could see the face of an amazing dog, friend, and loyal companion. This is for you Big Dog :) Thankfully, I no longer live in a state that condones greyhound racing. If you do, please start a petition through Change.org and urge as many people as you can to sign it. You must live in the state that has it in order to start it. And please pass this article along to help educate others. These are beautiful, graceful, living, breathing beings. Not bets to be placed. Thank you.
|RIP Apollo "Big Dog"|
Apollo's vet sent me this of his paw print
My most valuable possession
If you would like more information here are more articles citing the barbaric practices and a list of states that still have greyhound racing. Please help spread the word.
States that still allow greyhound racing:
Alabama and Florida are considered the worst because they do not have top report injuries that occur (broken bones, fractured skull, paralyzation, etc).