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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

THE LIFE OF A RACING GREYHOUND


by Anita Hammond, Guest Blogger

AT THE FARM

Greyhounds are bred and raised at specialized greyhound “farms” which have facilities tailored to the needs of racing dogs. Until they are weaned, the pups stay with their mother in a small enclosure called a “whelping box” which is has clean, soft bedding and is climate-controlled. The whelping box has plenty of room for the brood mama to stretch out and for the puppies to explore safely. There is also an area where the mother can get away from the pups to relieve herself, eat, and get some exercise. As soon as they are born, the pups start to receive handling from people. Many farms are family businesses, so the pups may be handled by children as well as adults. It is important that the pups be socialized at an early age. If not, they will be hard to handle during later training.

1 week old puppies
After they are weaned, at about 8-10 weeks of age, the pups remain together as a litter and are moved to a larger outdoor run with dog houses. The houses are usually insulated with straw for warmth, and the pups always have shade and water and are fed several times a day. In hot weather, they are usually given a kiddie pool to cool off in, or they have a spray mister. By the time they are 3 months old, they get ear tattoos which identify their litter and their date of birth.

 3 month old puppies

At about 6 months old, the pups are divided into pairs or small groups and moved to long parallel runs, from 100 to over 400 feet long, with individual or group dog houses. They love to run back and forth along the fence lines, chasing each other. All this running helps them build muscles and prepares them to race. At this stage, they are trained to accept a muzzle and walk on lead, they learn basic voice commands, and they are introduced to the “squawker” which will be used in later training.

 Dogs in a long run
At about a year to a year of age, the young dogs are moved to a kennel building similar to the one they will live in at the track. Each dog has a crate (sturdy metal cage) which is 3 feet wide, 4 feet long and 3 feet high. There is plenty of room for the dog to stand, turn around, lie down and stretch out. Crates are stacked two high; the male dogs go in the lower crates and the females are taught to jump into the upper ones. The crate will have some kind of bedding or padding for comfort, and the kennel will be air-conditioned and heated. Although some people think it is cruel to keep greyhounds in crates, many hounds feel secure and cozy in their crates and look forward to getting back to them after an outdoor run. The dogs can see each other, and there are people around, doing their routine jobs. A radio is often left on at night to keep the dogs company and drown out little noises that might otherwise startle them.

 Kennel crates
The dogs are “turned out” in groups into a large pen four or five times a day for about 45-60 minutes for exercise and elimination. They wear muzzles to protect themselves from accidental injuries while playing. Their crates are cleaned and bedding is changed daily while they are outside.

The dogs are fed once a day, plus an evening snack. There is a myth that racing dogs are fed impure or diseased meat. This is not true. The dogs get a balanced, nutritious diet which is designed to keep them at their racing weight. The main food is raw meat, mixed with vegetables and rice or pasta, plus nutritional supplements. The amount of food is calculated to keep each dog at its ideal racing weight. People sometimes think that greyhounds are starved because they look skinny, but they are solid muscle and bone, with almost no body fat. Greyhounds are athletes, and just like human athletes, they have to have exercise and eat a nutritious diet in order to perform at their best.

While living at the kennel, the dogs are taken twice a week to the training track where they learn to run on the oval track, use the starting box, and chase the lure. They develop their strength and speed in preparation for racing. Some large greyhound farms have their own training track. Others take the dogs to a specialized training facility.

Hounds chasing a lure

AT THE TRACK

When they are 18 months old, the dogs are moved into kennels at the track. The litter is not usually kept together at this point, and they may not all go to the track at the same time, or even to the same track. The dogs have “schooling” or practice races on the actual track and they go through the same routine they would for a regular race. The trainers keep records of each dog's performance and watch for any bad habits that need correction. After the required number of schooling races, a dog may be entered in a maiden race, sent back for further training, or if not suitable for racing, sent immediately into an adoption program.

There is a range of experience levels, or grades, in racing. Dogs start in the lowest grade. If they race well, they move up to the next grade. If they perform poorly, they are downgraded. A successful racer usually races until he or she is 4 years old. Exceptional dogs may continue racing to age 5, which is the mandatory retirement age.

And they're off!

A dog usually races once or twice a week. The length of the race is from 330 yards (3/16 mile) to 770 yards (7/16 mile) and it's over in less than a minute! The dogs scheduled to race that day are fed lightly in the morning so they do not have a full stomach at the time of their race, which could make them susceptible to gastric torsion when turning corners at high speed. It's not true that they are “starved” on race day to make them run faster. Greyhounds naturally love to run and to chase things. Before the race, the dog is weighed, examined by a vet and taken to a holding area. When it's time for the race, the dogs are dressed in their numbered racing jackets and each is led by a handler to the starting boxes. The dogs wear special racing muzzles which aid in determining the winner in photo finishes. When the box opens and the lure (usually a stuffed toy rabbit on a mechanical arm) starts moving, the dogs burst out of their boxes to give chase. The lure moves just fast enough to elude the fastest dog. After the race, the dogs are led off the track by their handlers. They are bathed or hosed down to cool off and are taken back to the kennel to rest before having their meal and getting turned out.

Many people ask about injuries at the track. Injuries happen, just as they do in any sport. The rate of injuries for racing greyhounds is similar to the rate for other working dogs and active family pets. Track Data Systems, a company that keeps racing statistics, estimates 1 or 2 injuries per 1000 starts. The trainers and track owners do everything they can to minimize injuries by making sure the dogs are fit to run and that the track is in good condition. An injured dog can't run, so can't make money for its owner. There are vets who specialize in greyhounds at the track during the race and vets on call at all times at the kennel. Ideally, an injured animal is treated and returns to win races again. Good racers who are injured and can't return to racing may be sent back to the farm for breeding. Dogs who recover but can't race well can still make great house pets. The ASPCA and other anti-racing groups overstate the risks to the dogs from racing, and are lobbying to eliminate dog racing altogether. Remember that in greyhound racing, all injuries are reported, and most injuries are minor ones such as sprains.

LIFE AFTER RACING

Nowadays, about 95% of retired racers become pets through an adoption program or retire permanently to the farm where they grew up. Some racetracks, like Gulf Greyhound Park in Texas, have their own adoption programs. Off-track non-profit adoption groups may have kennels of their own, or they may depend on individual foster homes to keep the dogs while they are awaiting the right home.

Most dogs are from 3 to 5 years old when they come up for adoption, but there may be some younger ones who didn't race well and some older ones who have been used for breeding before adoption. They live to be 12-14 years old on average, so you will have many years of companionship with your adopted hound. Because these dogs have always had a lot of interaction with different people, they usually adapt quickly to family life.

Texan in his foster home
My husband and I have adopted two retired racing greyhounds, and we are serving as a foster home for racers waiting for homes. Our first greyhound never raced, and went straight from the farm into a foster program. Our second is a racer from a champion bloodline, who came to us after having two litters of puppies, who are now racing. We work with a small non-profit adoption group, Fast K9's Greyhound Adoption, which works with several local farms and trainers. Our job as foster parents is to make sure the new dogs get basic house training and have been introduced to strange new things like stairs, mirrors, life with cats, getting into and out of a car, and walking on slippery floors. The foster parents also bring their dogs to an open showing at a local pet store twice a month where they meet potential adopters. We make note of any behavior quirks or personality traits of the foster dog that might be a problem. For example, a dog with a strong prey drive would not be placed in a home with cats or small dogs which might be seen as prey. A dog that shows anxiety when left alone would be placed in a home with another dog or with people who are home most of the time and are willing to work with the dog to overcome its fears. Finally, our foster families and adoptive families serve as dog-sitters and vacation boarding homes for each other, so that our dogs are cared for when we are away by someone who knows and loves greyhounds.

Shirley, our first greyhound

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bow Helps Clean

Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to have Bow in my life, and I complain rather loudly about the small cleaning chores that I have in the pens.

Yesterday afternoon, I looked around, and I saw that despite all the constant cleaning I do, there was some more thorough scrubbing required to get rid of accumulated grime. I was feeling kind of sorry for myself, so I complained to Bow that he wasn't keeping his pen clean enough, and that's why I had to scrub the floor. Bow watched me scrub and listened to me complain until he could stand it no more. Then he came and, silently, without saying a word or asking permission, he took the brush out of my hand and started scrubbing the floor himself.


He put a lot of elbow grease into it and kept doing it for some time.


I was so surprised!

Bow would never have done this if I had ordered him to. It was only because it was his own idea that it worked so beautifully. Later, I thanked him profusely for helping me, and he was so happy that I appreciated his help, he was practically jumping for joy

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Stereotypes

Do you get to define your identity or do other people? At what point do you stop correcting them when they call you a monkey but you're really a chimpanzee or a Jew when you're just someone from Israel?



In our quiet isolated environment, we have no identity problems. As far as the eye can see, all is calm and peaceful.


But come into contact with other people, and their assumptions can sometimes grate. No sooner does someone from school find out that my daughter lives with a chimpanzee, then the word "monkey" shows up in the conversation. She used to correct them and say: "No, he's a chimpanzee." But then she got tired of it, and she told me one day that she had stopped correcting them. "That's what they think. They don't know the difference, so I'm not going to bother, anymore."

She also used to ask me why everyone thought she was a Jew, just because we came from Israel. I am almost afraid that one day she will stop correcting them about that, too, because when the vast majority of people think something, then it must be true. It's consensus reality.

"Does your monkey throw poop?" is another common question. Even the ones who know the difference between a chimpanzee and a monkey ask that. When they are told "no," they don't quite believe it.  "The chimps in the zoo throw poop," they observe.

Is it really a good idea for the sake of chimpanzee conservation to put them in cages in the zoo and then have people they don't know come and gape at them? Is that really so much more humane than allowing people to get to know chimpanzees personally in a friendly setting? How they behave depends on how you treat them. "Chimpanzees are a wild animal" is a stereotype that is reinforced by being enforced. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Yes, it's true that Bow is a chimpanzee, and some behaviors come built in. Throwing poop. however, is not one of them. He will display at strangers. He will display for sport. But he is also very friendly and very kind, and he likes to sit quietly with someone he knows and look at pictures and take selfies.

Bow insisted that he wanted us to take selfies yesterday
How do you combat stereotypes when other people seem to have a vested interest in keeping them going? Identity politics is such a dirty area of human interaction.  If your ethnic background gives you an advantage in a certain area of human endeavor -- such as gymnastics for a chimpanzee -- then you are precluded from competing with others who don't have that advantage. If someone employs you to use your inborn skill, then somebody else is bound to cry "exploitation", which is what happens when a chimpanzee is hired to play a chimpanzee in a movie or to perform as an acrobat in the circus. They would rather have a human play a chimpanzee or do the acrobatics. It would be awful if a human were deprived of a job that a chimpanzee can do so much better!

But at the same time, they also don't want anyone to see the basic similarities. Humans and chimpanzees can't live together,  they say, and then they proceed to make laws to make sure that we don't.

Is it the public's fault that they don't know the difference between a monkey and a chimpanzee? Is it their fault that they have never interacted personally with one, so they harbor many prejudices? Or is it the fault of the animal rights propaganda machine? Who really profits from the stereotype?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

In the Swing of Fall

Fall is in full swing now, and Bow is swinging, too.


The air is crisp. The leaves are turning, and even the grass is starting to change its hue.


The big red maple is slowly starting to turn color.


And mushrooms are springing up from the lawn.


Bow is energized by the fall weather, and he asks to go out frequently.


The swing, which he often ignores in the summer, has suddenly come into full use again.


Leo has only to tease Bow a little bit, and Bow starts thinking about getting up on that swing.


Once on, he not only swings.


He also displays.


Bow can see his reflection in the glass of the doors that lead to the inner pens.


As he vocalizes and blows raspberries to impress Leo, he will occasionally steal a glance at his own reflection, to see how truly impressive he is.


Then when it's all over, Bow will switch to the bench, where he can relax, his  excess energy spent.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Weather and the Creatures

Bow this morning in the outer pen
We have fine fall weather right now. It's cool, but not too cold. Bow goes outside in the morning and works up a display, and then when he is read, he goes back inside.


When Bow goes back into the inner pen, the dogs in the yard look wistful, as if they wished he would stay longer.

Leo wishes that Bow and I would stay outside and play
I am grateful to have made it safely home from my long trip, and so glad I am not absolutely required to get in my car and drive for hundreds of miles even in a downpour and zero visibility. Some people commute every day to work, and then they find themselves in the same situation that I had to face in Little Rock, Arkansas on my way to Galveston this past week. They have to keep going even though it is not quite safe. For me, it was a rare occasion.

There were thunderstorms even before I set out on the trip, some even quite disruptive. In the wee hours of October 7, a week  before my talk, there was a loud crash of thunder that sounded very close to the house. My iPhone gave a weird warning sign in the darkness, to let me know there was a flash flood watch till 10 am that morning. In the darkened inner pen, Bow became incensed and displayed loudly against the weather gods. That day, we had not internet service, as the modem had been damaged by the storm,

And the snakes came out of their hiding places, aware of the flood danger. 



This was a nice, healthy black rat snake that greeted me by my front door.


That same day, I also saw a different kind of snake.


This snake was much smaller than the rat snake, and it looked a little like a copperhead, but it wasn't.


It was actually a baby prairie Kingsnake. Here are some tips that I picked up from a later websearch about the differences in appearance between a copperhead and a prairie Kingsnake: 1) the Kingsnake  has round marking on its back, while the copperhead's markings are hourglass shaped 2) The Kingsnake has round pupils, while those of the copperhead are vertical and slitted, like cat eyes.

I did not bother the baby Kingsnake and it did not bother me.



By the time I got back from my trip, the weather was clear, but much colder. Checking my mailbox for the first time since my return, I found that a large bee was taking shelter there. I retrieved the newspaper in the mailbox, but just then a car came by on the road, and I quickly shut the mailbox and got out of the way. Then I returned to the mailbox, after the car had passed.


I coaxed the bee out with the newspaper, and eventually got it to buzz away. 

Yesterday I saw a lone butterfly in the crisp fall air and followed it around for a while. 



Where do all these insects go when the weather turns cold? Do they just die? Do they fly off to warmer climes? Do they take shelter in abandoned mailboxes and in man-made beehives and sleep away the winter?

The buttefly I was following yesterday

It is good to be home safe and snug when the weather turns bad.  We are very lucky that way, Bow and I.



Thursday, October 16, 2014

Because It's Not Good

Bow sometimes has an oblique way of referencing things, as if they almost have nothing to do with him and he is remarking on them in passing.

I was away for three days to give a talk before the Laffite Society in Galveston. Before I left Bow spelled "שמעתי שאת עוזבת". "I heard that you are leaving."

"Bow, I told you I was leaving."

He agreed,  : "כן" "Yes."

I had explained it all to him before, where and why I was going and that Lawrence would be taking care of him in my absence. He had not said anything at all about it until the afternoon of the day I left.




I returned last night. This morning, I was looking at pictures from the trip that I had posted on Facebook. This seemed to upset Bow, though he did not say anything about it. So I offered to let him look at the pictures and explained what was in each one. "This big house is the hotel where I stayed. These are some of my friends, here is a picture of me talking to people about my book."



Bow was much more interested in the picture of the people in the restaurant than in anything else. He looked at that particular picture for a long time, staring at it closely.


Later, he tried to scroll through the pictures, but  at first he was doing it wrong.


In no time at all, however, he became an accomplished scroller, at which point he wanted to practice his new found skill over and over again.


After he was done looking at the pictures he took me to the glass and spelled: "תנסי לא לנסוע" Roughly translated that means "Try not to travel."

"Why?" I asked him.

He answered: "כי זה רע"  "Because it's bad."

He did not at any time refer to his own feelings on the matter. It was just a general statement disapproving of travel.

Monday, October 6, 2014

In Bow's Eyes


Have you ever gazed deeply into someone's eyes? It's usually not allowed. There are privacy concerns and intimacy taboos and so when we look at another person, we usually make the glance quite cursory, even with people we know very well.

Bow is also a very private person. He doesn't talk to just anyone, and he takes time to get to know people. It takes a very long time to convert someone from a stranger to a friend. It takes a commitment to get really close.

But here is your chance. Look deep into Bow's eyes. He allowed me to film him close up. It's okay. It's not invasive.

video

Now that you've looked, it does not mean that you know him, nor does it mean -- certainly not! -- that he knows you. But it gives you an idea of what it might be like if you did know him well.

Knowing someone, just like seeing someone, is not reciprocal. You can see someone and yet he cannot see you. You can know people, but they cannot know you. Sometimes people are fooled into thinking that if they see, then they are also seen, and vice versa. That's a mistake. Reciprocity is an illusion.

The problem in today's world isn't just that we don't get to know chimpanzees well, and that even those who call themselves experts on chimpanzees will rarely spend all their time with a single individual. The biggest problem of all is that the more experience someone has, the less he tends to know. The more people we know, the less we know anyone.

You may meet hundreds of people every day. But how many can look you in the eye? Have you ever been close enough to anyone to gaze as deeply as I can into Bow's eyes?