Pet adoption agencies are pushing to find homes for a growing number of retired greyhounds amid a struggling dog racing industry and a weak U.S. economy that's left some prospective and current owners unable to afford a pet.
Many of the estimated 300 adoption groups nationwide are seeing increases in returns of adopted greyhounds and declines in new adoptions.
"There have been a lot of stress-related returns with people losing their houses or their jobs and more adoption groups are reporting new adoptions are down," said Michael McCann, president of The Greyhound Project Inc., a Boston-based nonprofit that provides support and information to greyhound adoption organizations and the public. "It seems to be related to the economy mostly."
The problem is compounded by more racetracks closing — at least seasonally — in the face of increased competition from casino gambling and the general economic slowdown, McCann said.
Most recently, Massachusetts voted earlier this month to ban greyhound racing, leading to the closure of two tracks there by Jan. 1, 2010.
"With some tracks having several hundred dogs, they have to go somewhere," McCann said. "Some of them can go to other tracks, but many of them are ending up needing to be adopted."
'They may have to be destroyed'
He said the problem is not confined to the continental United States. The recent closure of a racetrack in Guam left about 150 dogs needing homes, and animal rescue officials have been contacting U.S. groups for help.
"They may have to be destroyed if there is no place else to go," McCann said.
Nonprofit greyhound adoption groups and others trying to promote adoptions also are seeing a decrease in donations as potential donors become financially strapped.
Joanna Wolfe, president of Triangle Greyhound Society in Raleigh, North Carolina, said there has been a downturn in the number of people attending events held to provide information on greyhounds that allow adoption groups to raise funds.
"It can cost at least $300 just to get a dog ready for adoption, with the necessary shots and vet checks and having it spayed or neutered," Wolfe said. "And that doesn't include housing and feeding the dogs and trying to find homes for them."
Greyhound Friends Inc., located in the Boston suburb of Hopkinton, typically has about 35 dogs, with a few more in foster care. Executive Director Louise Coleman said the group has had a lot of dogs coming in from four tracks that closed for the season in New England.
"We have about 200 on a waiting list to come here," Coleman said, adding that the list is usually about half that number.
Adoptions stagnate in downturn
The National Greyhound Association, the registry for racing greyhounds in North America, estimates that 20,000 greyhounds are adopted annually.
"While adoptions have been increasing in recent years, we don't expect any increase this year and it might stagnate a bit in the current economy," said Gary Guccione, executive director of the Abilene, Kansas-based group.
He said the racing industry has been hurt by stagnant purses and the rising cost of raising a greyhound from birth until it can go to the track at about 18 months of age.
Guccione and McCann said greyhounds make wonderful pets because they are quiet, gentle, adaptable and accustomed to human handling.
"Twenty years ago greyhound adoption was nearly unheard of, and they were routinely put down at the end of their career," McCann said. "But adoption groups and the industry have worked hard and are still working hard to change that."