Retirement is Hard Work!

Greyhounds can only legally race until they are aged 5 years. Then they must be retired and, if they are lucky, they are placed with a rescue group where they find forever homes. Most dogs don’t end up racing that long however. Many things can happen to end a hounds career early including catastrophic injury, refusal to race (anything from running the wrong way on the track to refusing to enter the starting boxes), being a nuisance on the track (menacing other dogs, pushing, bumping etc), and most commonly, a downward slide in performance. Racing is, after all, a business and if the asset does not pay for itself, then it must be written off the books.

As cruel as the business of racing can be, many greyhounds truly love their jobs. My big lummox Blue is one of those boys. He was blessed to be born at a good greyhound farm with an owner who cared about her hounds. He ended up with a trainer who cared about all his dogs at a track that was, relatively speaking, among the best in the country for treatment of its racers. Blue has no bad memories of his racing career.

Retirement wasn’t easy on the old boy. He was retired because his performance began to dip and then slide and eventually bottomed out. I don’t think he was ready.

Blue the greyhound at a Sea Dogs game
Blue cannot hear the notes of the “Post” without going into full flashback mode. Every muscle in his body taught and quivering. He, on alert, looking all around for the starter’s boxes, wondering, I’m sure, when his race starts. We first discovered this, of all places, at a baseball game at which they allowed pets. I brought Blue and Girly Girl. Over the loudspeaker came the familiar trumpet notes of the Post (or Charge for those of you who may not know it as the Post, or Tally Ho for the polo set). Blue was frantic to get to the field and take his place in the box. When they played it again a while later, it was ‘sixty seconds to the next race, place your bets, place your bets.’ Diagnosis confirmed.

We had the opportunity to view some live greyhound racing when visiting Blue’s old stomping grounds. It was a reunion of sorts, so there were about 100 other retired greyhounds also watching. Picture this scene, if you will. The race is about to begin, the tired dirty ragged piece of fur that serves as the lure (fondly known as Senor Speedy we find out later during the Kennel Tour) has begun it’s course around the track. The humans cannot yet hear it. But like a wave, from one end of the grandstand begins a ruckus of barking and rooing and howling and dogs dancing and jumping around. At first you wondered why, then you caught sight of the lure and you heard what to the hounds was old news. It was a chain reaction down the crowd of hounds as each one caught the sound of the lure coming, ahead of humans.

Blue the greyhound back on Raynham race track
Then the sound got to Blue. I have no words to describe his reaction. The noises that came out of him. The gyrations and leaps. He managed to drag me and Girly Girl across the apron from the grand stand to the fence at trackside and nearly managed to clear the fence to get back on the track. Had I not sacrificed my rotator cuff, he would have made it. When I peeled him off the fence, not only were the rest of the humans staring at us, but all the hounds had stopped barking and rooing to stare at us as well. Strangely, there was a wide perimeter around us for the next race. I think Girly Girl was thoroughly embarrassed as she has no good memories of racing and finds these annual pilgrimages to Blue’s track singularly distasteful. She won’t poop for three days before the trip and waits until we get back on track for the parade. You can guess the rest. I’ve learned to bring a large shopping bag to accommodate the clean up. But I digress.

So my poor boy lives in a state of denial. Being forced into early retirement when he had many a good (in his mind) race left in him just didn’t sit well. In his dotage Blue is working harder than he ever worked when he was a professional. Blue is currently running a race just about every day. When its post time and he’s heading into the box his breathing gets heavier. When he’s getting jostled around he grimaces and growls a bit. When he wins, after he is done running, he wags his tail (he always wins). And then he always wakes up from his race with his tail still wagging. Now if I could just figure out a way to bet on those races….

Blue the greyhound napping at Best Western Smithfield Inn

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