HEARTS and MINDS

by Dennis McKeon

couchsurfinggt2.jpgSocial media has been a boon to those of us who are Racing Greyhound enthusiasts. That’s the case, whether we breed or own active racing dogs, whether we are adopters of retired Greyhound racing athletes, or even if we are only admirers of graceful, powerful and elegant creatures, who are as unique and endearing as they are mercurial and ethereal.

The willing exchange of information is voluminous, generous and instantly forthcoming, relating to all aspects of Greyhound antiquity, history, bloodline, temperament, disposition, care and maintenance–whether about their lives as racers, as breeders, and in the hundreds of thousands, as retired pets. Greyhounds now compete, in retirement, at agility, obedience, lure coursing, and amateur straight racing. More recently, they have been well-cast as therapy and service dogs. Truly, they are a remarkable and diverse breed, with an equally remarkable and diverse ownership base, within and outside of racing–one which transcends many of the identity group barriers that society and media seem to have ordained for us.

There is one, big rub, however. The controversies that have swirled around the Racing greyhound and the business of greyhound racing, for the past half-century and then some, remain infamous, unabated, and bitterly divisive.

It used to upset me to the point of distraction, many years ago, to read the various newspaper reports of the era, which insisted that Greyhounds, who were often coursers of Midwestern Jackrabbits prior to embarking on their careers as track racers, were made bloodthirsty and vicious by engaging in this most elemental of their various functions–and that is why they needed to wear muzzles.

I would often read the morning paper while bolting down breakfast, or a reasonable facsimile thereof , sitting on the edge of a crate containing a sweet-natured, doe-eyed, ear-nuzzling female, who would be simultaneously looking over my shoulder–not at the newspaper–but at the donut bag on the grooming bench, knowing there had to be a treat somewhere in there for her. I wonder now, looking back on it, what she might have thought of such an egregious and unenlightened mischaracterization of her, and her brothers and sisters.

No matter. The people with the media bully pulpit, and who wouldn’t have known a Greyhound from Grey Poupon, won the war of words. If you wanted to call it a war, that is. As there was barely any response from those of us who worked our fingers to the bone and our feet to bloody stumps, seven days a week, with no time off for good behavior, caring for, waiting on, and doting over these magnificent but ever-needy, fellow pilgrims. Once in a while, one of the racing folks who had begun the then novel, formal process of adoption, would get a chance at some media exposure, to plead the case of an unfairly stigmatized breed, but the damage, for the most part, had been too deep and too grave. A breed’s reputation had been ruined to protect the pestilence of Jackrabbits.

Fast-forward to the present day, and not a lot has changed in that regard, in spite of the phenomenal popularity of the Racing Greyhound as a pet in retirement. Finally, triumphantly, he has been vindicated by a public, once so grievously misinformed. The pop narrative, nevertheless, is still being spun by those who know and understand the least about him, and who have no future vision for him, beyond the cushions of a sofa.

However, social media has allowed truly informed and Greyhound-knowledgeable people to at least get a word in edgewise, and to reach out to those who sincerely wish to know the truth about their Greyhound’s lives prior to retirement and adoption, and the existential realities of a meticulously bred population of canines, who still have a real purpose, and who are still a supremely functional breed.

Whether one approves of that purpose or not, should be immaterial to the polite and well-modulated dissemination of Greyhound related information or anecdotes, by Greyhound professionals, to the Greyhound’s public. I can’t stress this enough. Like you, I take extreme exception to having been stigmatized as a member of some sort of demented misery and death cult, due to my (former) professional association with greyhound racing as a trainer. Like you, I sometimes have to walk away from the laptop (or turn off the cell phone), when encountering ignorance so profound, that it almost burns the eyes to read the drone-like drivel and sometimes hateful spew.

No one said it would be easy. In that sense, it’s almost like training a litter of green, undisciplined, rowdy puppies, who reflexively go against the grain of every shred of structure and mannerly behavior into which you try to cajole them, and instill within them. As we well know, otherworldly patience is sometimes required.

The truth of the matter is, that social media has given the Greyhound professional the opportunity to undo 50 years of negative stereotypes, and Greyhound mythology. This entails, more than anything else, winning hearts and minds.

Knee-jerk and aggressive, angry responses to false clichés and outrageous generalizations, that we have all heard and read thousands of times, are counter-productive to winning those hearts and minds. They only reinforce the negative stereotypes, and serve as a barrier to the dissemination of the truth, and to the Greyhound’s public reaping the benefit of your most valuable experience.

For every pot-stirrer who is convinced that by reading propaganda and mythology, they have no need to listen to anything you have to say, there are hundreds following along, who will judge your veracity and credibility by how you deal with that sort of provocation. You may be entirely justified in wanting to lash out at the sheer bigotry of it. But those innocent bystanders have not walked a mile in your shoes, and you may very well be the first person they have ever encountered who deviates from that popular and patently false narrative.

There is more at stake here than livelihoods, the security of families and careers. There is an entire population of Greyhounds to consider, and any future populations of them, which will be utterly devastated, should we fail to win enough of those hearts and minds.

Lecture over. Go hug a Greyhound.

Copyright, 2015 Dennis McKeon

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