15 August 2011

It's a dog's life - A look at greyhound racing kennels (Pt I)

As anyone who reads this blog will know, I love my greyhounds and generally anything that is greyhound related too.  However, there is one greyhound area that really polarises opinion – greyhound racing. 

I’ve heard all the horror stories and read some of them too in the national press but as with anything in life, I wanted to make my own mind up and see for myself. 

It’s not often a ‘civvy’ gets to see behind the scenes of greyhound racing however, my university studies presented with me an opportunity to do just that. As part of my degree I have to undertake a good chunk of dog related work experience: 56 hours to be precise.  I’d thought quite carefully about what experience I wanted to gain and kept coming back to what had inspired me to pursue a canine career in the first place– greyhounds.

Jasper snoozing away
It’s fair to say I’ve only really dealt with greyhounds after their racing careers and I have often wondered what has shaped the behaviour of the snoozing hound at my feet.  I want to be able to help retired greyhounds adapt to their new lives after their racing careers and felt the only way to do this is to see first-hand how they’re nurtured, raised and trained.

Whenever I told anyone that I was planning to do my work experience at racing kennels, I was constantly warned of how “tough and distressing” it would be, how “soul-less” racing kennels were, how I wouldn’t last and how upsetting I would find it.  I decided I would make up my own mind and carefully researched greyhound trainers in the area.

During my research I came across a female trainer, who along with running kennels, runs a schooling facility, with a purpose built schooling track. The trainer, Jane Houfton, places great emphasis on the welfare and training of the greyhounds in her care and after an initial meeting in April, my work experience was agreed.

Life in a racing kennel
Following all the warnings people had given me about racing kennels, I half expected the them to be a mix of Alcatraz meets Colditz – cold, grey and faceless with uncaring staff.  Nothing could have been farther from the truth.
The real Alcatraz NOT a racing kennel

The Kennels were set up exactly like many boarding kennels although, as the case in the UK, greyhounds are kennelled in pairs.  Each kennel consists of an indoor sleeping area, with a raised bed and plenty of bedding, and an outside run.  Contrary to popular myth, the greyhounds were not confined to their sleeping areas for 22 hours out of 24.

What really struck me was the dedication of the staff and the evident love and affection for the greyhounds in their care.  All the hounds received regular, positive human contact and plenty of affection from kennel hands.  I didn’t witness any incidents of rough or callous handling – quite the contrary. 

Cleaning, feeding, caring for and schooling over 100 greyhounds is no mean feat and for someone who’s normally based in an office – like me – it’s hard, physical and demanding work.

Breakfast is served!
The greyhounds’ needs are top priority and the first job of the day is letting them out after their night’s sleep and giving them breakfast.  So, at 7.30am on a weekday (8am on Saturdays – hounds need a lie-in too) breakfast is served!  Breakfast is a blend of dried dog foods (a bit like doggy muesli), which is covered by special milk compound.  Working as a team, the kennel hands start with breakfast service.  Outside each kennel two bowls are put down, the next person goes down and puts in scoop of the muesli, followed by next person who covers this with the milk.
Tonto & Ranger look forward to breakfast

Then we start feeding the hounds.  There are three kennel blocks and each block is provided with their breakfast service in turn.  The kennels are opened up and dogs are fed on a one in one out basis - one eats in the outside run/paddock area to their kennel and the other in the sleeping area.  Once they have all eaten, bowls are cleared and the dogs are let out into their kennel’s paddock area.
Then we start over on the next kennel block, and once that’s completed the third and final block.  At the same time this is happening, the pups are being fed and taken into the exercise paddocks.

The kennels

Once all the hounds have been fed, it’s poop, scoop and clean on a massive scale!  All kennels are cleared of poop and any dirty bedding.  This is back-breaking work (and rather smelly too).

Unlike the well practised kennel hands, I couldn’t seem to master the art of just being to scoop and flick the poop onto the shovel (well, not unless I wanted to flick it over myself) and had to use a scraper to help.  Once all poop had been cleared away, sleeping areas and the outside run were brushed, disinfected and hosed down and beds were topped up with clean, fresh bedding.

Once all 60 kennels have been cleaned the humans get a chance for a coffee break and a bite to eat.

Grooming and health checks
After coffee break, it’s time to groom the hounds, check their health and weight and give them any treatments.  How many pet dog owners can truthfully say they thoroughly check their dogs on a daily basis? At the kennels, every dog is weighed on a daily basis and their weight recorded.  For racing dogs their weight can only vary within 1kg of their last race weight.

Dogs are groomed, teeth are brushed and any worming or flea treatments are also given.  For any dogs that may have an injury, these are also treated. An ultra sound machine is used on any sore muscles (I tried it too and it really helped my back) and for any hounds that may have a cut or laceration there is an amazing laser machine which helps to promote healing.

During this time, many of the dogs are also exercised in the grassed paddock areas.

Once treatments have been completed it’s soon time for lunch – but this time the humans get to eat before the hounds! Once the human lunch break is over, it’s time for the hounds’ lunchtime service.  The food is weighed according to individual dog’s needs and put into a bowl with the dog’s name on it and the feeding routine begins again.  Each dog is fed a specific amount depending on a combination of their weight, age, whether they’re racing or retired and their specific nutritional needs.

After lunch, poop scooping takes place again and the hounds are free to run in their outside run/paddock areas.

Treats and walkies
Over a weekend many racing owners come and visit their dog(s), bringing them treats and taking them out for walks.  Owners are actively encouraged to come and visit their dogs and I met several, very dedicated owners who religiously visit their dogs on Saturdays and Sundays and, when their racing careers are over, take them home with them to live out their retirement on a sofa.

Challenging my perceptions
I realise I’ve only had a snapshot of what life is like for a greyhound in a racing kennel but I have to say, although it challenges my perceptions of the life my pet ex-racing greyhounds have, it is a different life but not necessarily a bad one.

So, is life in a racing kennel bleak?  In my opinion – no.  Yes, it is different to that of many pet dogs (my own hounds included) but contrast it to the millions of pet dogs that are left alone at home for hours at a time whilst their owner goes to work, with no-one or anything for company; or the working dogs that are kept in outside kennels and not allowed in the home; or even the breeds that struggle to adapt to modern family life as it’s not what they’ve been bred for.  Which dog has the better life?

In my next blog post I’m going to look at how the greyhounds are schooled and trained for racing and my final post in this series will look at what happens behind the scenes at a greyhound track. 

I hope that by sharing my experience it will provide a balanced view of such an emotive subject.  Please do feel free to comment and share your views*...I look forward to reading them.

*Please keep responses polite.  Everyone is entitled to their views.  Any abusive posts will not be tolerated and will be removed.

PS You can read my previous posts on my work experience here:

It's a dog's life - A 'school' for greyhounds (Pt II)
It's a dog's life - The other side of the greyhound track (Pt III)


  1. Well done Susan,

    A very interesting and reasoned article.

    Can you remember Denver? He is coming into our Boston kennels tomorrow (Tuesday 16th) for rehoming.


  2. Well done, really enjoy the blog and look forward to next episode, you deserve massive credit for taking the time to get a real experience and then make up your mind.

    All the best

    Mick Livesey

  3. That's really encouraging to hear. I know my hound Tessie came from a very good kennels where they were well treated too, so I know it's not all bad news but there are many less decent ones out there unfortunately. Great post, thanks for sharing.

  4. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Yes, Kev, I do remember Denver - he was a real favourite of mine & a very handsome hound. I knew he was going to LGT & just wish I had the space for him at home :-)

    Thanks Mick for your comments too. I really did want to see what life was like for racing greys & the experience has been invaluable.

    notSupermum - yes, I think there may still be some bleak kennels out there but I think they're on the decline. Certainly, all the trainers I met/saw at the track had a genuine love for their hounds.

  5. Greyhound racing depends on inherent cruel practices for its commercial viability.

    Greyhound puppies are over bred and culled in their thousands - deemed too slow or fail to chase the mechanical lure.

    Greyhounds sustaining treatable injuries - often minor are destroyed simply because the injury is deemed to be uneconomical to treat and healthy greyhounds are destroyed when they become too old or slow to chase the mechanical lure - all acceptable practices under the Rules of Racing.

    Every time a trainer or owner places their dog on a track - they are knowingly placing their dog in a dangerous environment - fast straights and tight bends - with little regard for the dog’s welfare.

    Racing greyhounds fail to be protected under the Animal Welfare Act and as a consequence are repeatedly subjected to unnecessary suffering whilst their abusers are afforded the freedom to train and race greyhounds in a self regulated gambling industry.


    The suffering and cruelty must stop!

  6. Great informative post! The only information that goes to the press is about the bad side of racing and never about the good. There is a good and bad side to everything. I sure hope they don't one day ban pets because some people are cruel to their pets.

    Jen & Never Say Never Greyhounds

    P.S. You'd get more comments if you change from the "embedded below the post". It does not recognized many of us as signed in.

  7. Dear oh dear greytexploitations I think the whole world knows by now you tell more lies than 'pinocchio'. Here we have a lady 'Susan' who instead of listening to lies from people like yourself she actually thought NO i will go and find out for myself. If everyone did the same your organisation would cease to exist and your donations would dry up. If anyone can be accused of expoloting greyhounds and misleading the public it is you. You should be welcoming things like this instead of trying to shoot them down, well if you really cared that is exactly what you would do.

    I won't post again Susan because i dont want your good work to become the scene of a battle ground, i think you deserve more respect than that, can't wait for the next chapter and wish you all the luck in the world.

  8. I enjoyed reading your blog, very well said.

  9. YAY! I can comment with my ID now. Luckily you allowed for anonymous so I was able to comment earlier. Not sure why the embedded below the post does not recognize some of us as signed in.

    I hope Mina heals up quickly and no more injuries for any of out dogs in 2011 or 2012. I've had enough!

    Well said Mick!!!

  10. Really glad I came across this post Susan (I found it via Facebook) - well done you for deciding to go & see racing kennels 1st hand. I too have done this, & in fact visit Liberton Racing Kennels in Edinburgh fairly frequently. This is because these kennel facilities are also the location of Edinburgh RGT, which my husband has recently helped to set up their own website, & for who my close friend is a volunteer. Like the kennels that you visited, Liberton Racing Kennels is a nice environment - the kennel staff/trainers clearly care about the dogs, they are fed & exercised well, their injuries are tended to, 'retired' dogs are kept until an appropriate home is found, & you can tell that the dogs living there are happy. HOWEVER, I do not feel that these kennels, their staff or the state of the dogs in them is representative of the (UK) racing industry in general. Why? Because I work in rescue & I see/hear about the thousands of greyhounds who have clearly not been treated to the same standards of care as those at Jane Houfton's or Liberton racing kennels. Furthermore, (& I'm looking forward to your coverage of this in your further posts on this topic) I feel strongly that anyone who subjects dogs to running on tracks which are purposefully engineered to be DIFFICULT (& potentially dangerous) for them to run on, knowing that they are risking injury each time, cannot care about these dogs at more than a superficial level. To me (a vegan) the situation is analogous to animal farming - yes, there are free range farms out there who treat their animals to better standards of welfare, but those are few & far between when you look at the bigger picture of factory farming which dominates here in the UK (& more so in the States), & ultimately the fate of all the animals is the same regardless of the welfare standards they are reared in: they are being reared for slaughter or so that we can exploit their resources at the expense of their own welfare & rights. I realise that many people will see my position as extreme, but it may interest you to know that I adopted my position as firmly AGAINST greyhound racing 1st, & my vegan lifestyle second, because I felt/feel that all animals deserve the same respect & rights as the greyhounds, who are particularly close to my heart. Sorry to rattle on, but I saw Greyt Exploitations had left a comment which really amounts to no more than a bland rehash of what they say elsewhere & fails to address the important issues that you have looked at in your post. I don't think what you have done for your work experience is invalid in anyway, but you do seem to indicate that you specifically sought out a 'reputable' kennels in the first place, so in a way you were setting out not to find an example of what goes on the racing kennels at large. I also feel that even if you hadn't, the less reputable kennels would never have agreed to let someone who clearly cares about dogs as much as you do spend time with their dogs, & exposing what goes on behind the scenes anyway. I look forward to reading your further posts on this, but hope you will consider that maybe what you have seen/are seeing at these kennels is not the 'full picture'.

  11. Hi Jane
    Thanks for your comments and for taking the time to ready my rather lengthy blog post. I’m all for everyone sharing their opinions and debating my post topics and don’t consider your views extreme – they are your views and equally valid.
    Like you, Greyhounds are close to my heart and my three are the inspiration behind my University degree and work experience. I did research racing kennels and as previously I’ve worked for (as a committee member) and closely with LGT I was aware of a number of trainers who I could commute to. I specifically chose Jane’s kennels mainly due to reputation and facilities (there aren’t many schooling tracks, that I’m aware of).

    I can only really reflect on what I saw and experienced and whilst I recognise that there are a number of trainers who do not extend the levels of care that Jane does, I didn’t want to tar all trainers with the same brush. The media is very keen to jump on the bad (and quite rightly so) but never is the work of those like Jane highlighted.

    I learned so much from my work experience – it really has been invaluable in helping me understand what’s shaped the behaviour of retired racing greyhounds. I still have a way to go and would like to gain more experience but I do feel this has given me a good start.

  12. I just came across this and your post has explained why my ex-racer Eddie will only eat if his bowl is placed outside the back door. Clearly he has been fed in the outside run and associates going out with food. The sound of food going in the bowl or the clatter of bowl on stand doesn't get him excited at all (whereas our girl Nuala is drooling by the time these sounds are heard). For him, the back door being open is what he runs for. I never understood why until reading about your experience!

    It is good to read some positives about the industry. Both of mine have not been quite as lucky as the dogs you've come across, though they are both lucky to have had trainers who will pass them to rescues. Nuala had been abused and associated every human with someone who would hurt her. She'd been passed from trainer to trainer and clearly had never learned to trust. My first meeting was with a dull-coated shaking creature who was constantly searching for somewhere to escape from people. On early walks, she would try to jump into roads rather than pass close to a person on the footpath because she was so scared of them. She's learned to enjoy life now, thankfully, though she'll probably always mistrust male strangers.

    Eddie is clearly used to being treated kindly by humans but he was raced with an injury and quite seriously over-raced (he's been on the track as much in his 3 years as many dogs who last as racers until they're twice that). He's undergoing treatment with us but, because it wasn't dealt with when it happened, he'll probably always have trouble and will never be allowed to enjoy long runs like our other greyhound does.

    Thank you for sharing your experience, particularly as it's solved the meaning behind what I saw as puzzling behaviour. It would be interesting to be able to compare the kennels you visited to others to get an idea of the different levels of care, but I suppose those who do cause issues and who do treat dogs badly wouldn't let many people inside.

    You're right to show how the racing industry can do a good job and can ensure that dogs have good racing lives which lead to happy retirements.

  13. Thanks for your comments, Michelle, and for taking the time to read my blog.

    I'm sorry to hear that Eddie and Nuala weren't as fortunate. I was very lucky to experience working with a trainer who cared for her dogs and used positive training methods. As you say, it may not be possible to contrast the experience as those with something to hide are unlikely to allow me to work with them.

    I haven't touched upon it in my blog post, but I would be interested to know whether Irish dogs have a tendency for more fearful behaviours. One of my dogs is Irish and is much more fearful and reserved than the others. I only have it on hearsay, but I believe for a large number of dogs bred in Ireland, it's a case of survival of the fittest and a very barren upbringing as puppies.


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