Culture

The Greyhound Racing Industry Has Robbed Me Of The Ability To Grieve My Dog Quietly

"I have heard many people in the greyhound racing industry say that they truly love their dogs. That is not love to me."

Greyhound racing ida

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At the end of J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, a novel about, amongst a lot of other things, the pain of non-human animals, the main character decides to put down the dying dog that he has formed a brief, powerful bond with.

His decision is born from a simple pragmatism. He has seen the dog’s suffering; understood that there is nothing to be done. Keeping the dog alive would be selfish. And so he lets the dog lick his face, slowly lifts his pained body, and leads him into the surgery where he will be put down. “You are giving him up?” The vet asks him.

“Yes,” the main character says. “I am giving him up.”

This week, I made a similarly pragmatic decision on behalf of my greyhound, Ida. The cancer had eaten away most of her bones; already spread to her lungs. The vague heuristic that the vet had given me for when to make the hard decision — when there are more bad days than good ones — had proven difficult to follow.

She still wagged her tail, if only occasionally. She still hobbled to the door to greet friends. I watched the side of her face, and guessed at the great mystery of the dog mind. Is this still good for you, I wondered? Was it ever good for you?

Ida

For the two and a half years that she had been mine, one of Ida’s guiding loves — along with pats, a warm place to sleep, bananas, and the kind of quiet that greyhounds curl up into the centre of — was pizza. So that’s how I made the decision. I ordered a Margherita that I had no appetite for, offered her a crust, and then, when she did not raise her head, I picked up the telephone and made arrangements.

I wish I could tell you that what I felt was an overriding sense of calm, akin to Coetzee’s hero. But I felt no such thing. Even as I made the decision, I was consumed with an overriding, near blinding sense of anger. Not the vague anger that romantic poets write of — an anger directed at the senselessness of the universe, and the fragility of the mortal form. But a very specific anger — an anger directed at the evils of the industry that had raced my beautiful dog around a track for two years, spraining her shoulder in an injury that would never really heal, and then kept her in a cage for eight more.

I know what these cages look like. I know because my love for Ida has always expressed itself, in part, with a desire to understand the cruelties inflicted upon her in her former life. These cages are designed with their own kind of pragmatism. But not a pragmatism to reduce suffering. A pragmatism that only increases it, one driven only by the attempt to increase profits, and consolidate space. A greyhound can turn one tight circle in such cages, which are often double-stacked on top of one another. That’s it.

Even as I made the decision, I was consumed with an overriding, near blinding sense of anger.

I have heard many people involved in the greyhound racing industry — even Ida’s old trainer, with whom I shared a few brief text messages just after I adopted her — say that they truly love their dogs. Love is different for all of us; for the most part, I don’t believe we get to decide what other people feel, or what names they give those feelings. But I will not allow a love that can lead someone to keep a dog in a cage for almost a decade, interacting with them only at feeding time, and even then, with an eye for maintaining health instrumentally, never for its own sake, sneak into the definition of love as the rest of us use it.

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Those in the industry do not love their dogs in a way that makes any sense to me. They love their dogs even less than people who say that they love their cars, because such people almost always maintain their cars with care. You cannot love something that you send running broken circles around a track. You cannot love something that you so consistently, and carelessly damage.

Ida was damaged in many ways. I gave her the best two and a half years that I could, but she still lived with the scars inflicted upon her by people who have the gall to say that they understand such beautiful creatures. She had never lived in a house before. She was terrified of the toilet flush. When she came to me, she had a thick, rough coat, one that she shed quickly, no longer requiring it now she was warm, and not sleeping on the bars of a cage.

Her eyes were bad. Her breath was awful. Her teeth had been neglected. Her body was weak and bony. I could quickly undo some of this suffering. All she needed was a good diet, regular exercise, and care — the things that all dogs need, and many dogs get, because it’s so easy to look after something you love.

But I could not undo all of it. She had never been socialized while young. She was bad with all dogs, but particularly with greyhounds — she would let out low, pained growls whenever she spotted the vague shape of an animal like herself.

It’s easy to guess at what causes such a response. How often she must have fought with those she was caged up alongside; how afraid she had grown of them. Packed in tight together, denied space and the ability to socialise, greyhounds in captivity will resource-guard and frequently bite one another.

Ida couldn’t be touched while lying down. She was terrified of needles, muzzles, and more than anything, flies. She would shake when they buzzed through the front door. Another non-mystery. You can’t escape those big, mean horseflies that descend upon the rural areas in which dogs like Ida are kept if you’re locked into a cage that allows you to turn only one tight circle the length of your body.

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And Ida was probably one of the luckier dogs tortured by the industry. Others are killed on the track, their bones broken and wrenched out of place. Some are put down while perfectly healthy. “When you’re euthanising these dogs, they’re not old dogs, they’re completely healthy, and most of them are still standing there wagging their tails and licking your face while you’re actually euthanising them,” a vet told the ABC back in 2013.

Because greyhound blood is of a universal type, it is very valuable. In recent years, it was discovered that trainers throughout both Australia and America, two countries where dog racing is prevalent, had been bleeding out dogs before euthanising them, taking two pints of their blood and then putting them down. This practice is called ‘draining.’

How can I know that word and accept the platitudes from those in the industry who say that they love their dogs? How can I know that word, and then watch my beautiful Ida — the kindest, most wonderful dog I have ever known — die gently in my arms, and feel anything but overwhelming, terrible rage? The industry didn’t just rob my dog of a decade of her life. It robbed me of the ability to grieve her calmly.

I have heard every imaginable excuse for why greyhound racing must continue. All of them are insulting. It’s classist to dismantle the industry, we are told, a defence that is in itself classist, a means of lumping the desires of an entire socio-economic group into one big box. Some defenders will even threaten more suffering. Dogs will die if we shut down racing, it is said: trainers are not to be trusted to deal with the surplus of animals that now have no use to them.

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Such defenders must lack any awareness of irony. They do not realise the ways in which their reasons for continuing cruelty are proof of cruelty in the first place. They are not arguing against shutting down greyhound racing. They are arguing against letting the industry handle its own shutting down. Fine. There are other people who can more humanely do what the industry itself cannot.

The quiet-eyed vet who put Ida down gave her two shots. The first was to calm her. Because of Ida’s fear of needles, I fed her a banana while it went in.

“I’ve never seen a dog who loves bananas so much,” the vet said, surprised.

Before Ida was given the second shot, the vet left me alone for a moment to say goodbye. What are you meant to say? I looked down into Ida’s eyes and asked her if I had done right by her. Then I apologised. What I was apologising for was waste, for the ten wasted years my beautiful girl could have spent eating pizza crusts, and running through parks with me, or with someone like me, and living free, and with joy. I felt haunted by the better life she could have led away from those smiling, jaunty representatives of an industry who know that they have to smile, and be jaunty, because their cruelty is now out in the open; because it is now broadly understood what happens to these dogs.

And then the vet came back into the room, and gave Ida the second shot, and that was it.

On her way out, the vet hovered at the front door.

“I’ll always remember the greyhound who loved bananas,” she said, and then turned away.

Ida5

I know that eventually this is how I will remember Ida too. There were so many good days that we spent together. She brought me so much joy. I have many beautiful photos of the two of us alongside each other; in one, I am sitting next to her on the couch, the two of us chatting, as we often did. She was so loved, not just by my friends, but by the people who she met on the street. She is the greyhound who loved bananas, and who I loved with my whole life, and given enough time, that is how I will think of her.

But until then, I will be angry. Ida’s wants were simple, and her last two and a half years were happy ones, so I’m not asking you to do anything on her behalf. I’m asking you to do it on mine. If you want to protest this industry, do not do it passively. Write letters to your local member. Sign petitionsVolunteer with charities. Be loud. And please, please, do not listen to those who tell you they love these dogs and then kill them, one way or the other, in droves.

My house is very empty now. You can’t stop yourself from imagining your dog at the door waiting to greet you in the days after they have gone. Yesterday, I practiced entering and re-entering the space, walking sad circles around my block, so I could get used to the obscene silence of my home, free of the pitter-patter of her soft greyhound paws. There is a pile of her old toys, her bedding, sitting by my back door, waiting for a council pick-up. Yesterday, it got rained on. Taking out the bins this morning, I walked past the damp collection of things that my dog had left behind.


Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Junkee. For a happier article on Ida’s life, read this piece written for her birthday.