Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Importance of a Population

By Dennis McKeon

I wish some of the late racing professionals who began the process and who envisioned the concept of comprehensive adoption for retired racing greyhounds, could see the way things have worked out. No doubt, they’d be pleased.

It was a quantum leap of faith back in the late 70s and early 80s, to imagine that racing greyhounds, a breed that had been publicly and raucously vilified by the jackrabbit crusaders and their media allies, could someday have become the sensation they are today in adoption.

This was a time when most young greyhounds, before they were trained to chase a lure on the training track, were allowed to course after live game, specifically the pestilence of jackrabbits. Even though a good “jack” can run a good greyhound right off his legs, even though greyhounds have been chasing hares since prehistoric times, this method of pest-control provoked an outcry from the animal rights activists of the era. The crusade to outlaw the coursing of live jackrabbits was successful in some states, but at a great cost to the greyhound.

He was said, by those activist minions of ignorance, to be “trained to kill”, and to be “bloodthirsty” and “vicious”. The public lapped up this nonsense, regurgitated by the old media at every opportunity. Needless to say, the great jackrabbit crusade and its attendant propaganda inhibited the progress of those early adoption pioneers, who were not only attempting to evolve culture within the racing community, but who now had to deal with re-educating a thoroughly misinformed public.

Fast forward to the present day, and we see the same sort of ignorant and willful misinformation prevalent in all forms of media. The most galling aspect of this mythology, to any of us who ever have worked 24/7, 18 hours a day, seven days a week, caring for greyhounds, would have to be the accusation that racing greyhounds are “abused” and treated cruelly, as a matter of routine.

This is preposterous for many reasons, not the least of which would be that greyhounds are very expensive, and require a significant financial commitment to be raised to the stage where they are track-ready, and finally able to win back some of that investment capital. The fact that this blanket condemnation still has traction, even as thousands of retiring greyhounds each year beguile and fascinate their enchanted, new adoptive owners, is a testament to the power of pure propaganda and shameless bias in media and pop culture.

The idea that such universally abused and cruelly treated dogs, who are not even “bred to be pets”, could have become the pet sensation of the canine world, flies in the face of everything we know to be true about canine disposition and temperament. Greyhounds have been universally acclaimed for their sweet and loving nature, and their unassuming, level temperament. These and other attributes manifest within a population, as a cause and effect of bloodlines, breeding, raising, training, handling and environment. Greyhounds, like all other canines, are the sum total of all these things. The racing greyhound is who he is, with all his affections, charms, instincts, quirks and foibles, because of his racing genetics, his racing background and his racing life experience--not in spite of them, as popular greyhound mythologists would have us believe.

It should go without saying, that making the complete life adjustment from racing athlete to family pet is no mean feat. Yet retired greyhounds do just that, by the thousands each year, to near unanimous acclaim. It could hardly be inferred by anyone of even modest critical thinking ability, that horribly abused and traumatized dogs would, without so much as a pang of conscience, make it their first order of business when beginning their lives as pets, to commandeer the living room couch.

Even though, when entering their new lives as pets, they are without their pack mates for the first time in their lives, they adjust. Even though they are facing brave, new, challenging and intimidating objects, environments and routines for the first time in their lives, they adjust. Even though they are among strange humans, whose voices, commands and mannerisms are unfamiliar to them, still they adjust. And they are able to adjust, because they have learned to trust the humans they have encountered during their lives. That has been the essence of our relationship with canines, from antiquity to the present day. Most retired racing greyhounds are charismatic exemplars of it.

Now, without a doubt, there are timid, nervous and skittish greyhounds, for whom this process of completely re-habituating themselves is more problematic. Some of these are “Omega” personalities, who, within their pack, were always the followers. Some of them are just high-strung, and hard-wired to be reactive. Much of greyhound temperament is highly heritable, and “racing temperament” is a fundamental feedback that breeders use to select which greyhounds will be bred. Yet we must remember that “pet-ability” is never a concern or a consideration among greyhound breeders in the process of selectivity, and “petability” has nothing whatsoever to do with racing ability.

Greyhounds are bred to be bold, tenacious, courageous and athletic race competitors. Some of the most dead game, aggressive and totally dominant greyhounds who ever set foot on a racetrack, however, were edgy, or skittish, or nervous submissive sorts when not competing. Yet many greyhounds of this type were also quite successful as breeders. Hence, those traits they expressed, both on and off the racetrack, were passed onto sons and daughters, and so to future generations.

One of the reasons for this Jekyl/Hyde conundrum we find in some greyhounds, is what they call in Ireland and the UK, “keen-ness”. The much-desired attribute of “keen-ness”, that is, being “keen” to chase and compete, is rooted in the greyhounds’ heightened powers of observation, his acute awareness of his environment and his surroundings, and his natural place in the evolutionary scheme of things as a sight, chase, catch and kill hunter.

“Keen” greyhounds are hyper-sensitive to everything going on around them. They are super-focused. They are the alpha-predator in any given moment. They are always on the lookout for something that offers the possibility of a chase, or anything that constitutes a threat. In an unfamiliar environment fraught with novelty, this aptitude can sometimes be paralyzing, or even render them oblivious to their owners. The latter situation is especially so, when something they feel might be fair game is interpreted by them as being afoot.

The Racing Greyhound pack is all things canine, from the stalwart alpha personalities, to the ebullient and envelope-pushing betas, right on down to the timid, supplicating, sometimes even pathologically fearful omega types. His diverse and ancient bloodlines assure us that there will be a plethora of personality types in the racing and adoption colonies, none of those personalities the result of fashion or fancy, and all of them sharing the common heritage of pure, unadulterated functionality, breathtaking speed and thrilling athleticism.

In pop culture today, the Greyhound holds a unique place. He is widely viewed as a victim of human greed and ruthless exploitation. This, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, in the form of hundreds of thousands of loving, well-adjusted, retired greyhound pets. This is still the misconception, despite the fact that not one greyhound from among that remarkable population has ever been bred to be a pet. The Racing Greyhound is still regarded by many low information and/or propagandized enthusiasts, as an object of pity, rather than the brilliantly adapted athlete and superbly tempered hunter he is.

Some even wring hands and gnash teeth over the supposed indignities, cruelties and abuses poor little Snowflake has been subjected to, without truly knowing anything about their greyhound's history. Their concern is touching, but most times unfounded in the greyhound’s reality.

Nevertheless, there is a chasmic “disconnect” among many greyhound lovers, between the individual greyhound(s) they love so dearly and the greyhound population. Without a genetically diverse, splendidly adapted and supremely functional population, we cannot have an individual greyhound who expresses those many attributes that emerge from such a population—which are the very things that endear the greyhound to all of us. At the cellular level, your greyhound is the embodiment of nearly a century of the genetics, the inputs and the feedback of racing alone. Racing is the one and only thing that supports the Racing Greyhound population.

When a population contracts to the point whereby irreplaceable DNA strains and entire female families of greyhounds are lost forever, we have irreparably damaged that population. For each one lost, we have reached the point of no return. The more a population contracts, the more problematic the breeding of sound and well-adapted specimens becomes.

So while it is heartwarming to see all the love and concern that is showered upon individual greyhounds by their adopters, we have yet to see that concern translated, within the popular greyhound culture, to the greyhound population--which is the wellspring of all greyhounds, past, present and future.

Those original pioneers of greyhound adoption understood this unbreakable interconnection. They cared for the individual greyhound, but understood the crucial importance of the population, and from where, how and why the objects of their affections came to be.

You can’t have one without the other.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

When Is a “Charity” Not a Charity?

By Dennis McKeon

Having been educated by Dominican Nuns in my earliest youth, I was made quite familiar with the Biblical verse from 1 Corinthians 13:13.....

"And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."

Some people dedicate their lives to performing works of charity. Charity can raise the fallen from the floor of the darkest and most hopeless of places. Charity can liberate the self from destructive self-obsession. Some people, regardless of their circumstances, refuse to accept charity. And some people make a great show of paying lip service to the concept of charity, cloaking themselves in the warm-hued tones and vestments of it, while seeking only to promote a hurtful and mean-spirited agenda.

Contributing to charitable organizations and to those who provide charity is as American as Harley Davidsons and Baconators. Americans, to their eternal credit, are always soft-touches for a good cause, no matter what the state of the economy or their own personal finances.

In contemporary society, it is easy to conflate “tax-exempt” organizations with charitable organizations. The ever more schizophrenic tax codes exacerbate this problem. For example, a lobbying group might be classified as a tax-exempt 501c4…as opposed to an entity that provides hands-on charitable services, which could be classified as a tax-exempt 501c3.

To further muddy the waters, the tax code reads like this, concerning the 501c4 designation:

“501c4s are:

*civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare

*or local associations of employees, the membership of which is limited to the employees of a designated person or persons in a particular municipality

*and the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.”

A non-profit, non-charitable organization can be classified under a definition which also describes an entity whose “earnings are devoted exclusively to charitable…purposes”. Confusing, isn’t it?

Certain tax-exempt, radical, animal rights lobbying groups like PETA and the HSUS (Humane Society of the United States), have come under increased scrutiny for their perceived lack of charitable activity and commitment, and for what could be interpreted as insidious implication and self-portrayal as charities. These organizations take in stupendous amounts of money in donations, yet provide little in the way of actual animal welfare, services or animal charity. Instead, they spend much of this money on salaries and perks, self-aggrandizing commercials, luxurious office complexes, and of course, on lawyers and lobbyists. Their true objective is to promote, by increments, “animal rights”, which is an extremist political agenda, not to be confused with traditional animal welfare. There is a vast and crucial difference between the two. The latter concerns the humane treatment and well being of kept animals, while the former, fully implemented, demands the complete extinction of all domestic breeds of all species, and would forbid legal animal ownership for any purpose.

Many smaller and less well-funded animal activist organizations have followed the basic template of these two main players, seemingly doing little to discourage public perception of them as “charities”, when in fact they are nothing of the sort. PETA, perhaps the most infamous of all animal rights groups, has even been listed by the USDA as a “terrorist threat”. (Huffington Post, 3/18/10)

Let’s have a look at the anti-greyhound racing activist group, Grey2k, based in Somerville, Massachusetts. For the 11-plus years they have been in existence, they have provided almost nothing in the way of actual, hands-on Greyhound welfare, while exhorting the public to “help us help the greyhounds”--by donating to them. They take great pains to portray the Racing Greyhound as a pathetic object of pity and the victim of cruel and inhumane enslavement…and themselves as “greyhound emancipators”.

The way they “help the greyhounds”, however, is to spend the public’s donations on almost anything other than materially or physically administering to those greyhounds. Their agenda of outlawing wagering on greyhound racing, moreover, necessitates the destruction of businesses and jobs that involve breeding, raising and caring for greyhounds. In so doing, the greyhounds they are supposedly emancipating are forced into premature retirement from racing, placing tremendous burden and stress on the existing charitable adoption networks and infrastructure, as well as the greyhounds themselves.

At that stage, Grey2k seems to be no longer interested in “helping the greyhounds”. They provide no direct greyhound adoption or welfare services, and never have, despite having begun only recently--perhaps in light of increased public awareness of the true agenda of mentors like PETA and the HSUS--paying any significant lip service to such things. Perhaps they have finally been shamed into acknowledging that real greyhound welfare groups, with whom they compete for donations, actually exist.

It has recently been brought to light, that from 2006-2011, Grey2k received over $2.2 million dollars in donations. Of this, their actual charitable contributions during this period, per their IRS 990 forms, amounted to just over $31K.

That is, for those who are and should be keeping score, just 1.4% of total Grey2k revenues given to actual charities.

Which charities those parsimonious donations specifically supported is unknown. It is known, however, that an officer and a board member of Grey2k each happen to sit on the board of the anti-gambling activist group, Stop Predatory Gambling. The Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation is—oh snap!--a 501c3 tax-exempt, non-profit organization.

If that doesn’t raise an eyebrow, then consider this. Grey2k is fond of condemning the breeding of greyhounds for the purpose of racing, contending that the yearly retiring greyhound population displaces dogs in the general population, who might otherwise find adoptive homes. However, they themselves have diverted, since 2006, well over 2 million dollars that might have been used by real greyhound charities to provide real welfare for the greyhounds Grey2k professes to care so much about. Instead, much of that money is used to pay the salaries of Grey2k’s officers, for lawyers and lobbyist fees, and for endless and shameless self-promotion.

Far from being anything akin to a greyhound charity, Grey2k manages to negatively stereotype and works toward disenfranchising an entire class of working people and their families, whose sole focus in life involves caring for the Racing Greyhound. It works to destroy their businesses, their breeding programs, their careers and their jobs, and if Grey2k is entirely successful, it will eventually destroy the Racing Greyhound. They are still, thanks to their racing heritage and activity, a genetically diverse, athletically adapted, thriving population of dogs, but one whose sole means of support is the revenue generated through racing.

St. Paul describes charity:

“it is not jealous or boastful… it does not rejoice at wrong”

Grey2k describes itself:

“GREY2K USA is the largest greyhound protection organization in the United States. Since our formation, twenty-six dog tracks have closed for live racing all across the country, and the number of states with dog racing has been cut in half.“

St. Paul describes charity:

“if I have not charity, I am nothing…charity is superior to all the virtues”.

Grey2k describes the cornucopia of options the public has been provided with to donate--to them:

*ONE TIME DONATION--make a secure online gift or send a check today…

*PLANNED GIVING--leave a bequest through the Hope Fund…

*MONTHLY GIVING--join the Gracie Club by pledging a monthly donation…

*HONORARY GIFT--give in memory of a loved one or commemorate a special occasion…

*OTHER WAYS TO GIVE--shop or sell online, search the web, or donate a vehicle to help the greyhounds.”

St. Paul describes charity:
“Charity does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful”.

Grey2k describes its agenda:

“Greyhound racing is cruel and inhumane, and should be prohibited.”

Please support real providers of real animal charity and welfare—such as your local, no-kill animal shelter, or if you are inclined to help greyhounds, your local Greyhound adoption group. Don’t assume that simply because an organization asking for your money is tax-exempt, that they are providers or supporters of animal welfare or of charitable works--or that they aren’t competing with those who actually perform those charitable works, for your hard-earned, charitable donations.