Going, Conscientiously, to the Dogs

Going, Conscientiously, to the DogsGreyhounds, the sleekest breed of dog, happen to be cursed with also being the fastest. For centuries they've been bred and raced for sport, their physiology tinkered with, their nature as sight hounds refined — so much so that if one were to chase a pickup truck down a winding country road, away from its home, by the time it tired it might not be able to find its way back by its sense of smell.

The cruelties these animals commonly face at the hands of breeders are sad to think of, let alone the reported slaughters of dogs deemed profitless. These are things people should consider when thinking about going to the dog track.

Derby Lane, the world's oldest continuously operating greyhound track, opens its 78th racing season on Jan. 2. Admission is free and doors open at 6:30 p.m., with the first race at 7:30 p.m.

Among the dogs lining up to race this night are some of the hottest names around: Soul Cipher, a top sprinter from West Virginia, and Solitary Cal, a pup auctioned in October for $55,000.

It's the kind of race that draws a diverse crowd of greyhound breeders, moneyed weirdoes and habitual gamblers. And yes, the people-watching is going to be spectacular.

If you've never been to a dog track, this is the night to go. Your consciousness can rest easy because you won't be supporting the greyhound racing industry (unless you buy a program, get a beer or — egad — bet on a race).

Probably the most surprising thing to people who've never seen a greyhound race before is how much obvious joy the dogs get out of running. No, if they had it their way, the dogs wouldn't choose to be muzzled and confined in before and after their brief sprints, but they do love to chase that damn mechanized rabbit. Seeing the dogs in this context might soften one's opinion of the industry, or make them all the more averse.

If you find yourself seriously opposed to it all, perhaps the best thing you can do is support local greyhound rescue. Greyhound Pets of America, whose mission is to find homes for retired greyhounds, has a Largo branch that covers the Tampa Bay area. You can volunteer to care for the kennel's dogs, help raise awareness or even adopt a greyhound yourself. They tend to be very mild animals that are very quiet and clean, and you couldn't ask for a better jogging companion. For complete info on the organization, visit

Derby Lane is located at 10490 Gandy Blvd., St. Petersburg. 727-812-3339.

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