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Wonderland, for instance, occupies only 50 acres just outside Boston, while Suffolk Downs sprawls over 200 acres. And dogs cost far less to house and feed than horses. On a dollar-for-dollar basis, says Bergstein. "Horse racing is at a disadvantage in almost every way."
Greyhound tracks have also been careful not to take their customers for granted. Admission prices, parking and program fees at dog tracks are much lower than at most horse tracks, and greyhounds are not permitted to race on drugs of any kind. Dog tracks are also enticing bettors with exotic wagers on every race, and with a race going off every 11 minutes, the action is brisker than at horse tracks, where there is typically 30 minutes of dead time between races.
Dog racing's small scale and simplicity are the keys to its success. Because the track is compact, it's easy to see the entire race without binoculars, and with no drivers or jockeys to file objections, payoffs are posted instantly.
Greyhound racing may be "good, clean adult fun" as Maisel proclaims, but there is a dark side to the game. While today's racing dogs run after lures as varied as stuffed rabbits, bones and even wind socks on the track, most of them are trained on live rabbits. Naturally, the prey inevitably loses the race and is often torn limb from limb.
"The older trainers think that unless the dogs taste blood when they're puppies, they'll lose interest in running," says George Johnson, executive director of the American Greyhound Track Operators Association (AGTOA). "But the younger generation of trainers doesn't believe that." AGTOA condemns the practice of using live rabbits and helps to produce films and videotapes on how to train dogs with artificial lures. Johnson puts the number of handlers who still train the old-fashioned way at 60%.
"I'm surprised he'd even admit to that," says Robert Baker of the Humane Society of the U.S. "It's more like 90 percent." Humane organizations are opposed to greyhound racing, and not only because of the 100,000 bunnies that are killed each year. According to the Humane Society, approximately 30,000 dogs are also destroyed annually, either because they are too slow to be successful racers or because they have outlived their usefulness.
It's a numbers problem. Although a mare can produce only one foal a year, greyhound litters average five to nine pups, after a gestation period of only two months. Pups are ready to race in a year and a half, but even before they reach that age, it becomes clear that many simply aren't fast enough to make money. Those that do make the grade can sustain profitable racing speeds for only about three years. Because the dogs are so prolific, few dogs are needed for breeding, and greyhounds that aren't either racing or reproducing are goners.
Though Gary Guccione, secretary-treasurer of the National Greyhound Association, which registers greyhounds, calls Baker's estimate of 30,000 dogs killed a year "ridiculous," a brochure put out by AGTOA says: "... an estimated 20 million animals are euthanized in the United States each year. Although the exact number of greyhounds in that total is not known, the number is certainly less than a quarter of one percent." So by the sport's own calculations, that's something like 50,000 dead greyhounds a year, a number that will rise as the sport expands.
"It's an issue we must face up to," says Maisel, although he does not offer an alternative to the killing. "Nobody likes to do it," says Pollard, "but there aren't as many dogs dying as they say." There are adoption programs to turn retired greyhound racers into pets, but these programs save only 2,500 dogs a year.
"Most fans are probably not aware of what happens to the dogs," Baker says. "But even if everyone knew about the atrocities, dog racing would survive."