By the time the rooster starts squawking at the Palm Beach Kennel Club compound, Danny Williams has already been awake for an hour. Pale of face but clear of eye in the predawn darkness, he guides his truck over the hard-packed sand to his kennel, ready after four hours of sleep to begin his normal 20-hour day.
The greyhounds are singing in their cages, an eerie, lonesome, Twilight Zone music halfway between a howl and high C, waiting for their morning release into the dirt pen behind the kennel, waiting for Williams to walk among them, hard put to keep his balance while they jump all over him, high-strung and surging with more energy than they can control, crazy for the touch of his hands.
"These dogs are killers," he says, surrounded by greyhounds pushing toward him, calling each by name and wrestling with them until both he and the dogs are grinning and sweaty. "They'll kill anything that moves away from them except humans. They'll chase and kill horses, cows, dogs, cats, anything. Once they taste that live rabbit when they're pups, they're killers for life.
"Now, you take these yo-yos in the humane societies carrying on about how many greyhounds are put to sleep every year. Figure it this way. You got thousands of greyhounds born every year, and most of them can't run. So thousands of greyhounds are gassed.
"What else can you do with them? You give them away as pets, and a neighbor lets his cat out of the house, and that cat is gone, ripped to shreds just like the live rabbits these dogs are trained on. The yoyos in the humane societies look at a greyhound, and he looks skinny, and they start screaming that we're starving him to death to make him kill-crazy for the rabbit, to make him run faster.
"What they don't know is that these dogs eat better than most people. Chopped meat, egg yolks, fish, fruit, vegetables. You take one of them Afghan idiots and you run your hand on him and he's all bone and hair. You run your hand on one of these dogs, and he's all muscle. They're not kill-crazy 'cause we starve them. They're kill-crazy 'cause they're trained on live rabbits. People like to bet, and greyhounds like to kill. It's natural."
It seems natural to Williams because it has been part of his life since he was a child on his grandfather's 160-acre farm in Marlow, Okla. where greyhounds were the reason to wake up early on a Sunday, drive to the crossroads store, sit around talking tall all morning about whose dog could walk on water and, finally, when the talk turned as flat as the land around the talkers, get up and go coursing.
Coursing, Williams explains, coaxing his pickup from kennel to breakfast at Joan & Jerry's Restaurant, is turning two greyhounds loose in a big field, giving a jackrabbit a 100-yard head start and seeing which of the dogs can turn the rabbit first, grab it in his jaws and break its spine.
Inside Joan & Jerry's, Williams forks down his fried eggs without wasted motion, anxious to return to his dogs. If someone were to suggest to him that training greyhounds by encouraging them to tear apart live rabbits is a repulsive and vicious process, it would evoke from Williams the same reaction that the waitress would evoke if she were to grab the fork out of his hand and accuse him of unnecessary cruelty toward fried eggs.
What Williams and his fellow greyhound people know, and what the general public has not been made aware of until recently, is that racing greyhounds have been trained on live rabbits since the beginning of greyhound racing in Egypt around 60 B.C. And that without the killer instinct, a greyhound would not chase a toy rabbit around a racetrack, and people would not bet, and Florida's general fund would have been $43 million poorer in fiscal 1974.