Run To Death: The Rise & Fall Of Greyhound Racing
Animal advocacy often feels like a long-term project, a mission that we may not see the end of in our lifetimes. However, there are “winnable issues” that, for various reasons, are closer to an end-point than others. One of those winnable issues is greyhound racing.
Greyhound racing is a gambling sport based on running dogs around a track in pursuit of a mechanical lure. Throughout the 1900s it blossomed into a multi-million dollar industry, resulting in suffering and death for thousands and thousands of dogs. Despite past popularity, though, the industry has declined significantly in the last couple of decades. It now stands on the precipice, waiting for advocates (or just inertia) to push it off the edge of the present and into our memories.
Pushes come in many forms. A push can be a concerted campaign that results in a new piece of legislation that puts an industry on the ropes. Or, a push could be a cultural shift away from a certain animal practice, such as recent shifts away from dairy consumption that have forced dairy companies to reconsider their business and get into making plant-based milks themselves. A push could also take the form of a film like Blackfish, which permanently changes the conversation around a particular topic, and in turn, impacts the industry on several levels at once.
In recent years, Faunalytics has made a point of sharing resources on greyhound racing that show just how vulnerable the industry is. Today, we present a film that we believe could serve as a push to help relegate the global greyhound racing industry to the dustbin of history. In Run To Death: The Rise & Fall Of Greyhound Racing, filmmaker Ryuji Chua gives a comprehensive look at the history of the industry, its decline, and the myriad animal abuse issues that plague it. The film builds on the work of the incredible greyhound advocacy groups around the world that have already pushed this issue to where it is today.
We hope that you’ll watch this new film and share it widely. Included below is a full transcript of the narration, sourced and cited. We’ve also included a list of greyhound advocacy organizations that you can support in our collective effort to end this industry once and for all.
[WARNING: This video contains images and
subject matter that many people may find disturbing.
Viewer discretion is advised.]
“And now they’re off, and the bunny gets away to a flying start!”
This is Derby Lane. It’s a greyhound racetrack in St. Petersburg, Florida that opened in 1925 and went on to become one of the most iconic greyhound racetracks in the world. It’s been open for longer than any other racetrack in the country. And throughout the 20th century, whenever there was a race, its grandstand would be packed to the brim.
Just like basketball, baseball, and football, greyhound racing was huge back then. In the 70s and 80s, it was even reported to be the fastest-growing spectator sport in the U.S. But today, while those other sports still easily sell out, the same greyhound racing grandstands that once boomed with life now look like ghost towns.
Today, I want to tell you its story. It’s a story about corruption, drugs, animal cruelty, and cultural shifts that starts with an ancient greek philosopher and ends with the Simpsons. So strap in, grab a drink, and place your bets because this is the rise and fall of greyhound racing.
Prologue: On Coursing
Our story starts with this guy, Arrian. He’s a Greek historian and philosopher who lived 2000 years ago between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. And this is a text he wrote on a sport called coursing. Coursing is the act of making two greyhounds chase the same prey, followed by having humans judge which one is the superior hunter. And given how old this text is by Arrian, it’s possibly the oldest spectator sport ever involving dogs.
And, relevantly to our story, it’s also where greyhound racing comes from. Around the 16th century, coursing became popular in England as a hobby for aristocrats, and 200 years later in the 18th century, it made its way to the U.S. in a way that’s still debated and not completely clear.
What is clear, however, are two things: one, for humans, coursing was undoubtedly fun to watch. And two, for the prey animals, it was awful to experience. At best, they were literally running for their lives, chased by creatures that must’ve looked like titanic monsters to them. At worst, they were being viciously torn apart.
At the time, while people saw this, they brushed it off. The point, they said, was the sport, the spectacle, not the suffering of the rabbit. As Arrian himself wrote in his book: “Coursers, as true sportsmen, do not take their dogs out for the sake of catching a hare, but for the contest and sport of coursing.” And this attitude is one that persisted for almost 2000 years.
In the U.S., it was only in the 19th century that the welfare of animals started to become this real, legitimate, public concern. It was in 1866 that the country’s first animal protection organization, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA, was founded. And it was their work that helped catapult animal issues into public consciousness.
One year after founding by 1867, they were operating ambulances around New York for injured horses. By the 1870s, they helped enact the country’s first federal animal welfare law, and by the 1880s, they succeeded in implementing animal welfare laws in 37 states.
Coursing was one of the issues they were tackling, and they actually recognized the rabbits as victims. But as you can read in the newspapers of the time, they got quite a bit of pushback from the coursing crowd.
I am at loss to see how anyone can be so foolish as to claim that coursing is a cruel sport, especially when it is compared with any of the other lines of outdoor amusements.
Quote from The San Francisco Call, April 7, 1896
I have frequently seen jockeys spur and slash the animals on which they were mounted until the horse’s flanks were painted red with blood that oozed from their torn flesh. Does Mr. Holbrook [that’s a guy who worked at the ASPCA] consider this humane sport?
Quote from The San Francisco Call, April 4, 1896
If coursing should be stopped, then all kinds of sport where the killing of birds or animals is concerned must be stopped. […] if this law of cruelty to animals was to be enforced, why stop short of making vegetarians out of everyone and stop the killing of all animals used for food?
Quote from The Butte Miner, August 11, 1900
Now, coursing did eventually see a sharp decline. But it wasn’t because of the ASPCA, or any other animal protection group for that matter. Coursing, it turns out, was actually brought down by one single person. A small-time sports promoter by the name of Owen Patrick Smith.
Owen Patrick Smith is one of those guys that history kind of forgot about. This is the only picture I could find of him, and this is the only article I could find that went into any kind of depth into his story. It’s from a 1973 edition of Sports Illustrated, and it paints Smith as this DIY type of guy: creative, resourceful, and hardworking. “We were church-mouse poor, but somehow my father would always find food,” his son recalls. “When we lived in New Orleans he invented a lid-locking garbage can. He sold the patent for $100 to get food in the house.”
Anyways, at some point during the early 1900s, Smith got involved in a coursing event as an organizer. It was his first time seeing the sport, but he was immediately shocked. “When the dogs got it, the rabbit screamed like a baby,” his bookkeeper and assistant at the time recalls. “It really sounds quite like a child’s scream.”
On one hand, Smith understood why people enjoyed coursing. There was a certain thrill to watching dogs compete, but on the other hand, he was horrified by the suffering of the prey animals. And so in that moment, an idea was born in his mind: what if he could keep the thrill of the chase but remove the suffering of the prey? If I could do that, he thought to himself, I could make this into a family-friendly thing that a lot more people could enjoy. And I could make a fortune.
So, he got to work trying to figure out a solution to this problem. He did a lot of thinking, researching, and experimenting, and 15 years later, he emerged with this. The “automatic rabbit.” Or as it’s come to be known today, the mechanical lure.
The mechanical lure is a fake rabbit on a mechanized rail that can be flown around a track. And the reason it works is that greyhounds are sighthounds, and they’ll pretty much chase anything that moves, so it makes no difference to them that the rabbit is fake. In fact, the reason why it looks like a rabbit is not for the dogs, but for the humans watching.
On May 29th, 1920, in Emeryville, California, Smith and his colleagues opened the first racetrack ever using a mechanical lure and held their inaugural race. After that, people added gambling to the spectacle, they advertised it using models, and added interludes like having monkeys ride dogs as miniature jockeys. And soon enough greyhound racing became a mainstream spectator sport.
So, what happened then?
Well, part of the answer is that they failed to innovate. A greyhound race today is basically the same thing as a greyhound race 100 years ago, and so gamblers moved on to other more modern and exciting games. But the other part of the answer is that while greyhound racing seemingly solved the cruelty issue with coursing, it was still an animal welfare disaster.
Problem 1: The Right Hock
The first thing to know about greyhound racing is that the racing part of greyhound racing is not safe for dogs. Every single year, thousands of dogs worldwide get injured while racing, some so badly that they’re immediately killed. These, for example, are self-reported numbers about this from Irish greyhound racetracks in 2019.
It shows the number of injuries, the number of greyhounds PTS, which stands for “put to sleep,” fatalities, and what kind of injuries they suffered. In total, 254 greyhounds were injured, 84 were put to sleep, and two died while racing. If you look at the breakdown of how they were injured, the most common injuries by far with 101 instances, are hock injuries.
The hock is the joint on the hind leg of a dog, and it typically breaks when they make turns around the track and they have to push hard on their outer legs. Because race tracks turn counterclockwise they have to push hard on their right legs when turning, which is why if you see photos of injured greyhounds, it’s typically their right hock that’s hurt.
And this is not just an Ireland issue. Dogs get hurt and die on racetracks everywhere. This is a table of injuries reported in the U.S. between 2008 and 2014. In total, 11,722 injuries were reported. Leg fractures were the most common, and in the same period, 758 greyhounds either died racing or were killed immediately after because of how bad their injuries were.
And in Australia, there’s an organization called the Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds that keeps track of greyhound injuries and deaths by looking at publicly available reports from the industry. In 2021, they tracked 10,195 injuries and 213 track-related deaths. And this year in 2022, they’ve already tracked over 5,000 injuries and 80 track-related deaths. For perspective, that averages out to 28 dogs per day getting injured in some sort of way.
The point is that greyhounds getting cripplingly injured while racing is a normal thing in this industry. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.
Problem 2: The Vanishing Pups
Wherever greyhound racing takes place, there are organizations that regulate it. And in Ireland, that organization is the Irish Greyhound Board, which recently rebranded to “Greyhound Racing Ireland.” In 2017 they commissioned a consulting group called Preferred Results to audit their industry and come up with ways to improve it.
According to Preferred Results’ website, they help with stuff like “business modeling, organization restructuring, process mapping, blah blah blah…” you know, by “adopting a holistic approach that encompasses lean methodologies.” In English, that’s like regular, innocent, business stuff. But when they investigated the Irish greyhound industry, they found something shocking. And they wrote all about it in this report.
What they did is they started by making an estimate of how many dogs are bred in the industry. Going off the number of litters registered with the ICC, or Irish Coursing Club, in 2009, there should be about 15,334 new greyhounds who entered the industry. In 2010, that number is 14,550, and so on and so forth. You get the idea.
And after that, they tried to track those dogs. They looked at all the normal stuff that happens to greyhounds after being born like being used to replenish the dog pool, being used for breeding, or being exported. And what they found after doing the math is that every single year, there were thousands of dogs who couldn’t be tracked.
In other words, thousands of dogs were born, but they were never exported, never showed up on a racetrack, or anywhere else for that matter. Somewhere along the line, they just vanished into thin air. So what happened to them?
Preferred Results did some further calculations. They talked to insiders in the industry and they concluded that these missing dogs were, in fact, being killed.
You see, greyhound racing is a sport, a competitive one. And like any other competitive sport, making it means winning. That’s where the prestige and money are. And as a result, there simply isn’t any place for second-rate athletes. Think of it like basketball, for example. While every aspiring basketball player dreams to make it in the NBA, only about one in 10,000 ever actually make it.
And similarly, while every greyhound is theoretically created to race, only some portion of them actually ever make it onto the racetrack. The difference is that while basketball players choose to play basketball, greyhounds have no choice but to compete. And while players who are not good enough for the NBA just move on with their lives, greyhounds who are too slow for the track are made to pay with their lives.
And again, just like injuries, this pattern crops up everywhere.
In the U.S., a nonprofit called GREY2K USA Worldwide looked at similar data from the National Greyhound Association, and found that between 2012-2014, some 8,422 puppies disappeared. And in Australia, multiple mass greyhound graves have been found, and an internal Greyhounds Australasia report revealed that between 13,000-17,000 healthy greyhounds were killed every year.
And what does the industry have to say about this? Well, I can’t say this represents the entire worldwide industry, but in 2017, this guy, Paschal Taggart, a former chairman of the Irish Greyhound Board, was asked on a radio program if he thought it was okay for thousands of dogs to be killed for entertainment. And this is what he said.
Interviewer: “Do you believe it’s ok for thousands of dogs to be killed in the name of entertainment?”
I…Sorry? I [?] I-I-I-I absolutely do because [?] there’s racehorses around the world killed [???] It’s not killed, I mean they put — Most of them are kept alive, uh, sorry, some of them are kept alive and there are ones who at the end of their time, they’re injured or that…I do! I mean, look, you can’t have a sport. You can’t have camel racing, you can’t have horse racing, you can’t have dog racing without, uh, a euthanasia problem but it has to be done properly and correctly. Absolutely.
Paschal Taggart, former chairman of the Irish Greyhound Board
Problem 3: Drugs
This is Jon Stidham. He’s been breeding and racing greyhounds since the 80s and recently was on the board of directors for the Iowa Greyhound Association. Here he is in 2014 showing a reporter around his greyhound supplies business, where he sells all sorts of stuff from muzzles to feed and supplements.
I always had a passion for the greyhound because just the look of them are sleek and they’re athletes and they’re fast…An Iowa-bred pup at 6 months old can sell anywhere from $3000-$5000 a piece.
Jon Stidham, former board member of the Iowa Greyhound Association
Earlier this year, in 2022, Jon Stidham was caught illegally selling performance enhancing drugs for greyhounds. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa, between 2015 and 2018, he made over $324,000 selling methyltestosterone, and over $200,000 selling 50 other prescription drugs. In total, this guy, who’s been in the industry for 40 years and who was on the board of directors for an organization that’s supposed to regulate greyhound racing, made over half a million dollars illegally dealing drugs for greyhounds.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to drugs in the greyhound racing industry.
Let’s start with methyltestosterone, that thing that put $324,000 in Jon’s pocket. Methyltestosterone is actually used in humans, but in the greyhound racing industry, it’s used to get more mileage, specifically out of female greyhounds. Female greyhounds periodically go through this thing called an estrus cycle, which is when they go into heat and are available to mate. And why does this matter? Well, because according to this greyhound care manual, a greyhound’s estrus cycle lasts 15 weeks, but of those 15 weeks, they can only race for three of them.
That means that every time a female greyhound goes into heat, she is out of commission for 12 weeks. That’s 12 whole weeks where you still have to feed her, house her, and take care of her, but 12 weeks where you can’t make money off of her.
So, what do you do if you’re a greyhound owner with female greyhounds? Simple: You look for ways to interrupt that estrus cycle, and one of those ways is to use anabolic steroids, methyltestosterone being exactly that. And while this does succeed in making those female greyhounds more profitable, it also hurts them. In fact, because this practice is harmful to dogs, it’s been banned in Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K. But again, this is not the only drug that’s used in the industry.
In the U.S., dogs in the industry have been getting tested for drugs since the 30s, when the sport first became a thing. Back then, the industry actually tested dogs themselves, but today, testing is outsourced. What they do is they take urine samples and send them to independent labs who then return reports that look like this.
And the results of those reports are generally public information, which brings us to this table. This is a table that GREY2K USA Worldwide put together about every documented greyhound drug case in the U.S. between 2007 and 2017.
In total, there were 847 documented drug cases. And among the most used drugs, there’s stuff like dimethyl sulfoxide, a pain reliever, with 77 cases, ractopamine, a growth hormone generally used to fatten pigs up for slaughter with 100 cases, and then there’s cocaine, with 71 cases.
According to the report this table is a part of, this probably is not the full extent of drugs in the industry, because reports are not always public, and not all dogs get tested. And again, it’s not like these drugs are doing the dogs any favors. People are not giving cocaine to dogs as a treat to reward them for their performance with the high of a lifetime. No. They are using these drugs to make their dogs more competitive, and make more money off of them. And like the injuries and the missing dogs, this is not just a U.S. issue. After all, if a drug makes a dog more competitive in the U.S., it will make dogs more competitive anywhere.
Problem 4: “Possums, Pigs, F**king Everything”
Interviewer: “In 2015, then, modern-day greyhound racing, what would you say is at the forefront?”
That’s Deborah Arnold. At the time of this interview, she was the president of United Queensland Greyhounds Association and a well-known breeder and trainer. This footage is from “Making a Killing,” a 2015 documentary by Four Corners on the dark underbelly of dog racing in Australia. Here, Deborah is showing the reporter around her facility.
Arnold: “All the kennels have to be RSPCA Racing Queensland, umm, approved, so they’ve gotta be a certain size, certain height, they’ve gotta have their beds…”
Interviewer: “And this makes the—”
Arnold: “Yup. Definitely meets your requirements.”
And then the reporter reveals why she’s there. She’s there to ask Deborah about the practice of live baiting, and if she knows if people are still doing it.
Reporter: “Do you think people still do it?”
Arnold: “Umm, if they do, I don’t know about it and I don’t really want to know about it, umm, but yeah, so this is like—”
Reporter: “Why? ‘Cause it’s just not—”
Arnold: “It’s cruel. Yeah, yeah, it’s not…yeah.”
Live baiting is this training method where you take small animals like piglets or rabbits, tie them up alive, and have greyhounds chase them. Why? Well, because some trainers believe that this will give their dogs an extra edge by making them more aggressive. Thankfully, because it’s so obviously cruel, this practice is illegal virtually everywhere. That’s why Deborah doesn’t know anyone doing it. For her, it’s a thing of the past. Something we moved on from. Even talking about it sends shivers down her spine.
But, unfortunately, it turns out that Deborah Arnold, president of the United Queensland Greyhounds Association, with her big heart for animals and RSPCA-approved cages, was being played.
This is footage from a training facility in Churchible, Queensland, that was investigated by Animal Liberation Queensland. Here, live baiting is not a thing of the past, it’s just business as usual. In the clip, they take two possums out of a bag: a mother and her baby.
They rip the baby from her mother, they tie the mother on the lure, and they then stick the baby’s head in the sand to kill it while the mother is watching, all the time laughing and joking about how amusing it is.
Hayley Cotton, Animal Liberation Queensland
Now, live baiting is so horrific, that when I first learned about it I thought to myself that, surely, this can’t be a common thing. Surely, this has to be some rare thing that only a small minority of inconsequential trainers on the fringes are doing. Right? Unfortunately, it turns out that I was wrong.
This documentary alone revealed four different training tracks where live baiting was the norm. And the people doing the live baiting? They were not a minority of inconsequential trainers on the fringes. They were some of the biggest names in the industry.
First, there’s Tom Noble — he’s the guy who owns the track where they killed the baby possum. He’s been training greyhounds for 50 years, and his peers celebrated him as a top trainer. Then, there’s Reg Kay. He was caught live baiting on that same facility, the one that belongs to Tom Noble, and at the time he was in the Queensland Greyhound Hall of Fame. He won three “Greyhound of the Year” titles, and in 2008, he was named “Greyhound Trainer of the Year.”
In Victoria, almost 2000 kilometers away, Derren McDonald was also caught live baiting. This guy was named “Greyhound Trainer of the Year” not just once, but twice. And throughout his career, he won over four million dollars of prize money. And on the same track, they also caught Paul Anderton. Paul Anderton was not just a long-time trainer, he also used to be a steward for Greyhound Racing Victoria. His job was to make sure that people in the industry are following the rules. In other words, he’s the guy who was supposed to bust the people doing the live baiting.
This list goes on and on and on. The movie exposes six other big names in the industry, and even that is far from the full list of people who were caught live baiting. But how are they getting away with this? How is it that someone like Deborah Arnold, president of the United Queensland Greyhounds Association, hasn’t caught wind of this? Well, in her case, it turns out that she was just in on it.
And this is not just an Australia thing. In the U.S., GREY2K documented cases of live baiting, or “live lure training” as it’s called there, in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and Colorado as recently as June 2021. This is John Lashmet — he’s the guy who was caught in June of 2021. Here he’s being confronted about it by officers from the local sheriff’s office.
Lashmet: “If you get a litter of dogs that’s just soft-mouthed as hell. Now I know you probably don’t know what that means, but they won’t chase. You gotta teach that dog to chase. Now you ask yourself, do I try to squeeze in a few live lures and save this litter of dogs that I got $3,500 a piece in, or do I just pet ‘em out?”
Lashmet: “Now say there’s 8-10 puppies in the litter, $3,500 a piece…You see where a guy can get a—”
Reporter: “Oh, I-I can see it.”
Lashmet: “I’m not going to admit to nothing.”
Translation: I paid $3,500 for each puppy. If some of them are not running, I could either cut my losses or sacrifice a couple of rabbits and get my money’s worth out of them. I mean, what’s a man supposed to do? Oh, and by the way, I’m not admitting to anything. I’m just saying.
Epilogue: Christmas With The Simpsons
On December 17th, 1989, the first ever episode of the Simpsons aired on TV. It was called “Simspsons Roasting on an Open Fire” and is also known as “The Simpsons Christmas Special.” In this episode, the holiday season is near, Christmas is fast approaching, and Homer wants to make this the best Christmas ever for his family. However, things are not going his way.
His children want impossible gifts like a pony and a tattoo. His neighbor Flanders humiliates him by outshining his broken Christmas lights and showing off the fat presents he got for his family. His in-laws shame him for not even having a Christmas tree, which pushes him to steal one out of desperation. And to top it off, his boss announces that this year, he won’t be getting a Christmas bonus, the one thing he was counting on to spoil his family.
However, that wasn’t enough to make him give up. Determined to make up for the loss, he applies for a Santa job at the mall, speed-runs Santa school, and works his a** off taking pictures with annoying kids. But then, as he goes to collect his pay for his hard day of work, it turns out that he’s only earned $13. The rest went to pay for his costume, training, insurance, and other expenses.
Thirteen dollars. That, and a few hours, is all he has left before the clock strikes midnight and it’s officially Christmas. As far as he’s concerned, it’s game over. He’s a failure of a husband, a father, and a man. But then, that’s when Barney steps in, and at the brink of defeat, offers Homer a glimmer of hope. Hey, Homer! Don’t worry that you only made thirteen bucks here. Come with me to the greyhound racing track. We’ll bet on the dogs and make a fortune.
This is his last hope. His last chance at redemption and at being the father his kids deserve. But then, with complete and utter failure being the only alternative, he says: “Sorry, Barney, I may be a total washout as a father, but I’m not going to take my kid to a sleazy dog track on Christmas Eve.”
That’s right. Even after hitting rock bottom, being ripped off, shamed, humiliated, stealing a tree, and being in a state where he should be the most vulnerable to making bad decisions, he refuses to make money by betting on exploited dogs.
Okay — he does actually end up going after Bart convinces him — but the point is that the first ever episode of the Simpsons is partly a commentary on how greyhound racing sucks. And since then, that’s been the general public’s attitude towards it, and it’s only gone downhill from there.
What happened is that our culture shifted. We went from seeing these animals as toys to play with to individuals who deserve a good life and even membership in our families. Remember Derby Lane, that track that’s been open longer than any other in the U.S.? Well, it turns out that now even that is coming to an end.
As of today, greyhound racing is legal in only 7 countries. In most of those places, the industry is in sharp decline, but there is still work to do. So if you’d like to help, I’ve left links to organizations that you can follow, support, and get involved with below:
At the end of the episode, Homer ends up losing all his money at the racetrack. He leaves with Bart, and together they search the floor for winning tickets, but they find nothing. And just as they’re about to call it a night and head back home, an angry trainer busts out of the stadium and chases out a dog — the dog that Homer bet on, and the dog that came in dead last. It’s because of him that Homer lost all his money.
The dog dashes towards Homer, who yells at him to stay away. But the dog keeps running, jumps into Homer’s arms, charms him in three seconds, and in a heartwarming plot twist, Homer immediately decides to adopt him. Just like that, “Santa’s Little Helper” became a Simpson and lived happily ever after, surrounded by people who love him unconditionally.
Personally, I think that’s the least he deserves, and I hope that one day, that’s just the norm for all greyhounds.