Track closing leaves greyhound group to find homes for dogs

Saturday, July 26, 2008 | 5:57 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Janie McBride started her Friday by opening an e-mail that said 35 greyhounds would be killed at The Woodlands.

"I don't know where these people are getting this information," said a clearly miffed McBride, who runs Pups Without Partners, the greyhound adoption program at the track.

"I can tell you, anytime there is a track closing, there is mass hysteria."

The track announced this week that it would cease operations after the last races on Aug. 23. In addition to the 250 humans out of work, hundreds of greyhounds will be jobless - and homeless.

Greyhound adoption groups across the country are now on high alert, waiting for the chain reaction - "a real scramble," one group official said - about to go off.

"If anyone at the racetrack wants you to believe it's simple, it's not," said Marilyn Varnberg with Greyhound Adoptions of Florida. "If something happens at The Woodlands, there is a domino effect that can possibly touch every adoption group in this country."

Woodlands officials are well aware that they are being closely watched. The track's general manager, Jayme LaRocca, said some of the dogs would be transferred to other tracks, some would be returned to their owners and others would be adopted out.

LaRocca said that after the track closes, The Woodlands will take care of the dogs, which it does not own, at the track's expense.

But for how long?

"As long as it takes, until we get them suitably placed," LaRocca said. "Our employees will be taking care of them, feeding them, changing their bedding. We are very serious about the welfare of the greyhounds."

That came as good news to adoption groups. Based on experiences with other track closures - as many as 11 in the last three years - the groups say finding new homes for the dogs could be complicated.

For one thing, the dogs The Woodlands will send to other tracks will displace other dogs. And adoption groups already have more dogs than either kennel space or adoptive homes.

In Kansas City, greyhound adoption groups regularly haul dogs to other parts of the country to find them homes.

"This puts a big stress on the whole chain," said Rory Goree in Phoenix, president of Greyhound Pets of America. "The economy just stinks right now. We have 60 chapters across the country, and just a few weeks ago I sent out a letter asking how adoptions are going."

"The picture I'm getting is that adoptions are down and fundraising is down. This is not a great time for tracks to be closing."

As president of the Greyhound Protection League, Susan Netboy has an unabashed love-hate relationship with dog tracks, as do many adoption groups. She had suspected things weren't going well at The Woodlands. Still, the announcement shocked her.

"Nobody thought this was going to go down this quickly," she said.

When news broke about The Woodlands, Netboy spared little time issuing a news release from her home in northern California. In her 20 years in the greyhound adoption world, she has watched many of the nation's dog tracks close. The release raises the specter of dogs being shuttled out the back door of The Woodlands, never to be accounted for again.

Kennel owners say it's a false scenario, because any time a dog leaves the track, papers must be filed with the state on its whereabouts. Track officials also are working closely with the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission to place the dogs.

Netboy says The Woodlands' closing becomes a "crisis of national proportions" because it's highly unlikely that all of the dogs will remain in the Kansas City area.

No one knows yet how many dogs will wind up at other tracks. That depends on evaluations of each dog that have already begun, said Darren Flahive of De Soto, owner of Full House Racing Kennel at the park.

What track will their running style fit best? Do they run on the rail? Outside? Do they have early speed? Late speed? Do they win?

Flahive said that most of his dogs are younger than 3 and have two to three more years of racing in them. Because Kansas City is known as a relatively tough track, other tracks are "chomping at the bit" to take the dogs that perform well here, Flahive said.

"Kansas City dogs can usually find another place," he said. "I would guess that out of the 66 dogs that I have in my kennel right now, that 50 to 55 will continue on.

"I have owners who already have bookings at other race tracks. The other 20 percent will stay here and go through the adoption process."

Still, Netboy is keeping tabs on how many greyhounds The Woodlands says it has.

LaRocca said the dogs live at the track in 14 kennels, each with a capacity of 66 dogs.

He said the track has about 500 active racing dogs. LaRocca said he was unsure, however, how many dogs at the track are inactive - dogs that are not ready to run, have been sent back for more training or are injured.

He guessed there could be as many as 900 greyhounds at the track.

"I don't have an exact number," LaRocca said. "They're in the process of tallying that."

Netboy said the inactive dogs were most at risk.

"A lot of those dogs won't be able to go to another park," she said.

If the owners take the dogs back to their farms, it's up to the owners to decide what to do with them. LaRocca said dogs going back to farms could be used for breeding or as pets.

But there's no guarantee.

"I won't sit here and lie and say no dogs will be put down," McBride said. "That's probably not the truth. But we will do everything we can to find them homes.

"But if the owner takes a dog home, we can't help that."

Netboy hopes the dogs that do go back to the farms will eventually be adopted.

"A lot of the owners nowadays really want to see their dogs have a life after racing, but they have to have the financial backing to do that," she said. "With breeders and tracks going out of business, a lot of them don't have the resources to hold on to 20 adoption dogs for however long it takes."


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