Discussions about dogs can get quite heated. Anyone who frequents this blog certainly would be aware of this fact.
On another blog, a post appeared about possible end of greyhound racing as a commercial gambling enterprise. In the comment section, a great debate erupted about whether racing greyhounds’ high incidence of osteosarcoma was the result of breeding practices or injuries the animals receive while being pushed to the limit as racing animals.
Inherent in this debate is whether performance registries are necessarily better than show registries. I believe that in some of the comments there was an implication that because these animals are bred for an actual use, their registry was still better than the American Kennel Club.
Of course, the problem is that there is no consensus about what causes osteosarcoma in dogs. We do know that bigger dogs with relatively long legs are susceptible to this form of bone cancer, but exactly why it develops is still being debated.
Within greyhounds, there are two basic hypotheses, neither of which make the racing greyhound industry or its registry look particularly good:
1. Greyhounds get osteosarcoma because of the injuries they regularly received when they are being run at such high levels of competition.
2. Breeding practices have ensured that the genes that predispose greyhounds to osteosarcoma are deeply ingrained in the racing greyhound gene pool.
If the first hypothesis is true, then it is the racing industry that is to blame for the high incidence of osteosarcoma in greyhounds. The animals are simply being run too hard and injured too often.
If the second hypothesis is true, then the registry system for the racing greyhound (the NGA) isn’t much better than the AKC system. Indeed, it would actually be a worse registry. The AKC greyhound is generally a healthier dog than the racing strain–it’s just not as fast!
The leading authority on osteosarcoma in the greyhound is Dr. Guillermo Couto. Dr. Couto’s research on ex-racing greyhounds found that the injury hypothesis probably isn’t correct. Because of how the dogs are run, most injuries are on the right side of the dog. You’d expect osteosarcoma to appear on the right side more if the injury hypothesis is correct. Osteosarcoma appears on both left and right sides of racing greyhounds. (Correspondence with Jen Krebs who had discussed this issue with Dr. Couto.)
That means that there are genetic issues at play here.
It has become somewhat mindless in some working dog circles to suggest that working registries are the magic cure to all the problems affecting dogs. Working dog registries often get a pass in some circles, simply because they are an alternative to the AKC. However, these registries must be scrutinized as much as we scrutinize the multi-breed Moloch.
In this case, I don’t think one could make the argument that breeding greyhounds for racing has made them healthier.
Although I’m not going to paint every racing greyhound enterprise with the same brush, the market forces that affect the breeding of greyhounds are really not ones that encourage a breeder to select for health.
The animals are almost always retired before they are two or three years of age. Mandatory retirement age is five years old. These breeders do not know what diseases they are selecting for or against in their lines. They are selecting for animals that can perform for that narrow window of years. They aren’t into breeding dogs that can live 15 years.
It’s the same way with the meat animal industry. The goal of a hog farmer is to produce an animal that matures quickly and has the right kind of flesh. The goal isn’t to produce a long-lived animal.
It has only been with in the past decade or so that adopting retired racing greyhounds has been promoted. When this happened, we got a firm understanding of what sorts of disorders exist within those strains.
They aren’t the most healthy animals.
And they really didn’t have to be.
They just had to perform for those years in which they could be profitable racers.
After that, they got retired.
Now that sounds like the dogs go to a nice home and sleep on the sofa. Luckily for many dogs, this sort retirement is a possibility.
But for many greyhounds that have outlived their racing usefulness, retirement has meant an early death– euthanasia for the lucky ones, a bullet in the head for the less fortunate.
These animals are the equivalent of pro-athletes in the canine world. Human pro-athletes get paid a lot, because they give a lot in terms of their health, their family, and their emotional health. They rightly receive the money they earn from their occupations. They generate high profits for their owners .
Greyhounds do all of these things. It’s just that they don’t get to retire to million dollar mansions.
Some of them dog get to live the good life once their racing days are over. In a just world, they all would.
I would like to thank greyhound advocate Jen Krebs and Jess Ruffner-Booth for providing me information on racing greyhounds.
Jess is a regular on the blog, and she told me that it was the injuries that cause the incidence of bone cancer in greyhounds. I hope she can forgive me for disagreeing with her.
Jess is a great source for information on sight hounds. I check out her blog regularly for information on something called a “Halfghan.”
I know this debate will probably rage on for a while, but the genetic basis of osteosarcoma is currently being explored as part of the Canine Hereditary Cancer Consortium.
I have lost a dog to this particular cancer. She was a golden retriever/boxer x. There was no incidence of this cancer on her golden line, but on the boxer line, it did exist.
So I am very interested to see what the results are.
I am leaning toward it being a genetic issue, but I am willing to entertain the injury hypothesis.
But I think this information should tell us to scrutinize all working registries.
Maybe greyhounds will disappear if racing disappears. When was the last time you saw an otterhound?
But they are such good pet animals that they could be retooled for dog sports.
Otterhounds never were retooled. I do worry that they will disappear, although they could be used as griffon-type pack hounds for other game species (except for the UK, of course.)
But it seems to me that enough people love greyhounds to be able to do this.
And there are enough of them right now to actually get something started.
The most famous greyhound in the world is Santa’s Little Helper.
It’s the one case of Homer Simpson doing something socially responsible (kinda).
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