Greyhounds and our Shifting Culture
Many people think of greyhounds as wild racing dogs. But myths about this unique and fascinating breed are being debunked as more and more of them are adopted into U.S. homes. Through education and our culture’s shifting attitude about the breed and dog racing, we expect to see big changes ahead. Run Those Dogs has cared for many of these sleek sweethearts, so we put together this blog to help clear up any misunderstandings about this fascinating breed with a deep and quickly changing history within our culture.
The first records of greyhound type dogs appear about 8,000 years ago. In ancient Egypt, greyhounds were revered as gods, and only royalty were allowed to own them. All sight hounds that we know today (dogs that hunt by sight rather than scent) descended from the ancient greyhound. Since the early 1990’s, many thousands of greyhounds have been adopted as pets after their racing days are over.
History Facts About Greyhounds (courtesy of Bay Area Greyhounds):
- The greyhound is the only breed of dog mentioned by name in the Bible. King James Version, Proverbs, 30:29-31.
- Greyhounds appear in both Greek and Roman mythology. Alexander the Great’s favorite dog was a greyhound. In Homer’s Odyssey, the only one who recognized Odysseus after his 20-year absence was his faithful greyhound, Argus.
- During the Dark Ages, a time of disease and famine, greyhounds were saved from extinction by priests who bred them for noblemen. Until around 1700, owning a greyhound was the exclusive right of the nobility.
- Greyhounds became the first European dog in the New World when they accompanied Christopher Columbus on his second expedition, which set sail from Spain in September 1493.
- In the 14th Century in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the greyhound was the first breed of dog that Chaucer wrote about. Shakespeare mentions greyhounds in Henry V.
- Every greyhound alive today can trace its lineage back to one dog, King Cob, whelped in England in 1839.
- General George Custer coursed his pack of 14 greyhounds the night before the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
You can read more about the history of the greyhound in The Reign of the Greyhound by Cynthia Branigan.
Although greyhounds have traditionally in the U.S. been known as racing dogs, our culture has recently been taking action to change that. Greyhound racing tracks still operate in five states– Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Texas and West Virginia. While more than half of all active American tracks are in Florida, on November 6, 2018, that state’s voters passed Amendment 13 to end greyhound racing in the state. That measure, which passed with an overwhelming 69% of the vote, will phase out racing by the end of 2020. Florida will be the 41st state to ban the practice. As a result, 11 of America’s 17 racing facilities will close by 2020. It is difficult to know whether the remaining five states will soon follow, or whether racing in those states will increase to fill the void.
Like other parts of the animal world, some dog tracks practiced inhumane care and treatment of their racing dogs. But others have treated their racing dogs like the princes and princesses they are, long ago initiating careful adoption programs to get their retired racers into safe, loving, quality homes.
This cultural shift away from dog racing, in part, could be due to an increase in education about compassion for animals, as well as pressure from animal welfare groups. Attendance at dog races has decreased gradually and over the past decade, gambling on dog racing and greyhound breeding has declined by 66% and 57%, respectively (ASPCA).
There will likely be a lot of greyhounds available for adoption throughout this transition in the coming years. Greyhound Pets of America is one of the major groups of rescue organizations that will be assisting in this effort. There are Greater Northwest Chapters is in Spokane, WA and Hayden, ID and others including Greyhound Pet Adoption Northwest in Portland, OR. The National Greyhound Association has also long had an adoption program in place.
We’ll likely see more in the news about this transition as the 2020 deadline approaches.
Myths About Greyhounds
You’ve heard the myths before–from friends, from people who’ve never owned a greyhound, and in the media. You might have heard that greyhounds are hyper and need a lot of exercise. That they don’t like other dogs or are dangerous around cats and other small animals. That they are aloof, love to race and not suited to living indoors. All are not true of the breed in general.
Just like all dog breeds and mixes, greyhounds only exhibit negative behaviors if they aren’t socialized and trained properly. Our experience (and millions of others) has been that greyhounds can be some of the laziest, sweetest, most loving companion animals around. Research has also shown that compared to other breeds, greyhounds are considered less aggressive than many breeds that people consider ‘family dogs.’
Like any breed, behavior varies widely from individual to individual. As with any new dog, pet parents should get to know the animal very well before placing them in situations where they could get themselves into trouble. If you have other pets, make sure you do a slow, careful introduction with a new greyhound who has tested appropriately for living with your existing pets.
As sight hounds, greyhounds are easily distracted by fast moving things in the distance. So don’t take them to public places off-leash until you’re sure you have them under full voice control, especially in an unfenced area. But, of course, this can be said for every new dog.
Contrary to popular belief, greyhounds can also be excellent swimmers. Like all dogs, some need a flotation and some don’t. Each dog is an individual, and may or may not take to water willingly. But most enjoy at least going in for a wade and lying down in a shallow pool to cool off in hot weather.
Their lack of body fat, long thin bones, fragile skin, and sensitive souls also mean that they need to be protected from extremes of temperature, rough environments and inappropriate handling. But these precautions can also be said about a whole host of other breeds.
For every breed, try not to get sucked in to believing the myths. Instead get to know the individual dog you’re considering for adoption.
As the U.S. transitions away from Florida dog racing through 2020, we’ll likely hear more about this controversial topic. We’ll also see more and more greyhounds appear in dog parks and on the sofas and dog beds of U.S. homes. We at Run Those Dogs will continue to champion fair treatment of animals and the compassion and education that will ensure a quality of life for all animals.