The Greyhound Life

I recently heard a rumor that the greyhound is going extinct. That might sound crazy, but when you learn of the circumstances surrounding the breed in this country, you’ll see it’s a genuine concern.

My base knowledge of greyhounds is not personal, in that I have never shared my home with one. I met them first as fascinating medical specimens with really large hearts, terrible teeth, and more blood than other breeds of dog. Because of their very slim build, they react uniquely to certain medicines. Their lab tests come out kind of wonky. Wound repair is challenging, because of their thin and delicate skin. They have to be leashed, because they short circuit when an opportunity to sprint presents itself. Looking into the eyes of a greyhound can give you the odd sensation that you are looking at another human.

I’ve never met a baby greyhound, because all the ones I know are retired professional athletes, Only a tiny fraction of American greyhounds have been raised in standard “pet” fashion; all the rest have spent their first four years on a racetrack. At that ripe old age, they start falling behind the younger dogs and thinking of retirement as pampered pets. At last, they have time to pursue their true passions of marathon napping, competitive tooth decay, and donating blood to emergency clinics. 

Even apart from their generosity in doling out blood for use by other dogs, greyhounds are really cool animals. They are, almost without exception, gentle and tolerant dogs that are revered by their new families. Despite their propensity for medical tomfoolery, they tend to be pretty healthy. The thinking is that greyhounds have an advantage over other purebred dogs because their appearance has never been a priority in breeding. Racing greyhounds are selected exclusively for strength and temperament, the two essential qualities that allow them to prevail on the track. You might know that other breeds of dog have been steadily pressured over hundreds of years to have bulgier eyes, squashier faces, more wrinkles, a different coat pattern. When those qualities are emphasized over many generations, good health and temperament usually suffer. The result is a “cute” dog that can’t produce tears, suffers with lifelong ear infections, or has difficulty breathing in temperatures over 75 degrees. Or has an incurably evil temper.

At the moment, greyhound genetics and the first 40% of their lives are orchestrated by the racing industry, and that is inarguably how they ended up becoming the dogs they are today. As of January 2021, however, only four racing venues remain open in all of the U.S. The sport is taking its last gasp. Greyhounds won’t actually vanish afterwards, but some of their defining qualities are likely to change. Cosmetic factors will start to play a role in their breeding. We may discover that an 18-month-old greyhound is more of a handful than the average pet owner can manage. Greyhounds will always be with us, but only time will tell if the popularity of this breed can survive the changes in their sourcing.

Dr. M.S. Regan