Given how many different dog breeds have Irish roots and how frequently hounds are portrayed in Celtic knot designs and illuminated lettering, one might assume that Ireland was a haven for dogs. Greyhounds have a noble history and were prized by the ancient Celts, who brought their faithful companions into battle with them. Hounds have an honorable heritage here, so surely a nation so proud of its heritage honors its best friends, right? Not so much.
Greyhound racing is a huge sport here. Gambling is popular, and a night at the dog track means friends can have a flutter and a bit of craic at the same time. In fairness, the folks cheering on their favorite four-legged runners often have no idea how bad it can be behind the scenes. Ironically, many charities host nights at the dog track as fundraisers for various good causes.
While a good racing dog is likely to be well treated and receive quality veterinary care, not all greyhounds are good racing dogs. And a racing dog’s career is short. More greyhounds are bred in Ireland than anywhere else in the world; The Journal reports that about 30,000 greyhound pups are born here annually. So what happens to those who don’t make it on the track and those who are retired? Sure, some will be used to breed little champs… but not many.
According to the Greyhound Rescue Association Ireland, 562 greyhounds were in Irish dog pounds in 2013, and 427 of them were put to sleep. Most of the survivors were taken in by dog rescues. What about those that don’t wind up in the pound? Many unlucky greyhounds are sent overseas to race or hunt in other countries. Others are found dead, usually with their ears cut off because their ears are tattooed to identify them. Some are shot. Some are just abandoned to die. Ireland exports a lot of rescued dogs, including other breeds, to overseas rescues where the dogs have a better chance of getting a family.
Do the Irish Hate Dogs?!
Does this represent how Irish people really feel about dogs? No, not really. The reports of canine corpses found without ears provoke outrage and disgust. Dedicated volunteers help restore these elegant dogs to health and find them human families of their own, whether here or overseas. As the heinous deeds of too many in the greyhound racing industry and puppy mill breeders come to light, more protections are being introduced for our four legged friends of all breeds. Next month, it will become mandatory to microchip all pups in Ireland and keep them registered with an approved database.
Greyhounds make wonderful pets. Many people assume they require a lot of exercise, but that is only true of the professional athletes. Like other sight hounds, when they aren’t excited about chasing something, their favorite pastime by far is hogging the couch. They are also remarkably quiet dogs. Their long, lean form means they don’t do stairs well if at all, but they are ideal pets for anyone with a lifestyle that can accommodate one or two short walks a day and lots of belly rubs, especially if there are neighbors who get upset about noise. Could a retired racing greyhound be the perfect pet to celebrate your love of Ireland?