What's Really Happening to Dairyland's Greyhounds

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Greyhounds racing at Dairyland
  • Greyhounds racing at Dairyland

If you're on Twitter or Facebook, you've probably already come across the message that Dairyland racetrack in Kenosha is closing and "900 Greyhounds need to be adopted or they will be euthanized." It's been shared and retweeted so many times by so many people that finding the original author is an exercise in futility.

But according to Ellen Paulus, president of the Wisconsin chapter of Greyhound Pets of America, the largest nonprofit group for greyhound adoption in the country, it's not true. "Wisconsin law mandates that no dogs can be put to sleep in our state just because their racing careers are completed," she e-mailed me. "Dogs have 3 options: transfer to another track to continue racing, go into adoption programs, or be signed back [to] their owners."

According to the Greyhound Racing Association of America, owners usually lease the dogs to the "contract kennels" that race them at the tracks; some kennels own the dogs they race.

Wisconsin law doesn't say explicitly that retired racers can't be euthanized. What it says is that “in the event . . . a greyhound is to be removed from the racetrack, unless the greyhound’s immediate destination is another racetrack, for racing purposes; or a breeding farm, for breeding purposes; or [an approved] greyhound pet placement program, the greyhound shall be returned to the registered owner."

The law also notes that no one but the owner can sell the dogs for scientific research—meaning the owner is free to do just that. Wisconsin's gaming laws were overhauled in 2003 to provide greater protections for the dogs, in part due to the case of a kennel operator who between 1996 and 2000 sold as many as 935 dogs to a cardiac research lab without their owners' knowledge. But it doesn't prevent owners from selling their own dogs for research because animals are considered private property.

Paulus does not have numbers yet on exactly how many dogs are at the park—or how many will go up for adoption—but both she and Rory S. Goree, national president of GPA, estimate that 300-500 dogs will need new homes. Dairyland has an adoption center, with a socialization program for the dogs, and in a statement posted to their Web site Thursday promised, "Our kennel compound will remain open until all greyhounds are properly placed." (No one from Dairyland's adoption program has returned my calls yet.)

In addition to Dairyland's adoption center, the Wisconsin Division of Gaming lists 51 adoption groups —including seven in Illinois—that have been approved to take the dogs. Paulus anticipates that "the majority of the dogs will be placed through the groups closest to the track: Dairyland's Adoption Center, GPA-Wisconsin, Greyhounds Only, Midwest Greyhound Adoption and Greyhound Alliance."

Fifty dogs are scheduled to be sent to adoption programs on the east and west coasts in early December.

To find suitable owners for the dogs, greyhound adoption programs do in-depth screening, even visiting the applicants' homes. Applications usually take about two weeks to process, but it's closer to three or four weeks now, given the workload attached to Dairyland's closure. Adoption fees for greyhounds generally range from $175-$200.

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