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On the right track

Florida group finds homes near and far for retired racing dogs

From Animal Sheltering magazine May/June 2012

Dennis Tyler, third from left, helps deliver dogs from Florida to members of the Philadelphia Greyhound Connection at a stop in New Jersey. Dennis Tyler has devoted much of his retirement to transporting greyhounds from tracks in Florida to rescue groups throughout the eastern half of the United States.

Dennis Tyler spends a lot of time at the dog track, but what he’s betting on is a happier outcome for the greyhounds who have run their last race.

As president of Greyhound Pets of America Central Florida (GPACF), Tyler helps find new homes for dogs who, due to age or injury, no longer qualify to race at a track.

His organization, which runs the adoption program at Melbourne Greyhound Park, evaluates the dogs’ fitness to become family pets, gets them spayed or neutered, then adopts them out either locally or by transporting them to partnering greyhound rescue groups in the United States and Canada.

Tyler and his wife Claire, who are both retirees from Kennedy Space Center, make the long-distance delivery runs themselves, driving a 22-compartment, stainless-steel trailer to such distant locales as New Jersey (21 hours) and Buffalo, N.Y. (23 hours). They typically don’t stop other than to refuel and drop off dogs with rescue groups along the way.

The drives are long, but the rewards are great: Since 1996, GPACF has helped move more than 7,200 greyhounds into homes.

Greyhound Pets of America is a nonprofit that ’s neutral on dog racing—a business decried by many animal welfare advocates because, among other problems, the dogs are bred excessively and spend much of their lives in crates or pens.

The industry is waning; there once were more than 50 tracks nationwide, but now only 22 remain, Tyler says. Thirteen of those tracks are in Florida, but that number could decrease if the state legislature passes a bill—pending at press time—that would nix a state requirement that facilities offering other types of gambling also offer live greyhound racing.

The Tylers got hooked on greyhounds after acquiring an injured female racing dog from their next-door neighbor who worked at the track, and discovering that they’re “not the hyper race dog that everybody thinks they are,” Tyler says. They were struck by just how nice greyhounds are, and they learned about the greyhound surplus at the track. “We saw that there was a need,” Tyler says. “There [were] a lot of dogs that weren’t getting adopted out.”

Tyler got involved in GPACF in 1991 and became president in 1995. In 1996, the group became the official adoption agency at the Melbourne track. Track officials “asked if wecould move 70 dogs [a year], and I about fell out of my chair,” Tyler recalls. Florida is inundated with greyhounds, making local adopters tough to find.

Tyler recalls his first year as a “baptism of fire,” but the group learned about shipping greyhounds to other parts of the country, and managed to move 160 dogs. The adoption ef for t s grew from there. The following year, four kennels went out of business at the end of the racing season, and GPACF moved 509 dogs.

“The track manager used to ask me, ‘How you gonna move all them dogs?’ I said, ‘One dog at a time.’”

Tyler volunteers nearly full time for GPACF. “Every day you walk into all these kennels … and you see all those faces and everything. That’s what keeps you going. They all need homes,” he says. There are about 9,000 dogs racing in Florida, and on any given day there are probably 400 or 500 who need homes, according to Tyler.

Tyler sometimes visits other tracks in Florida with a “shopping list” from the rescue groups he works with—one might want a female, brindle greyhound who’s good with children and cats, for example. “There’s some dogs that we’re looking for, some dogs that we need, and then we’ll see dogs that need us—one with a broken leg, one with no hair on their back, one that has some kind of a medical problem,” Tyler says. “And we say, ‘We’ll take that one, too.’” A broken leg can cost $1,200 to repair, but GPACF has beefed up its fundraising over the years to cover such expenses.

The dogs he’s helped save aren’t shy about expressing their gratitude, even years after their rescue.

When Tyler visits the annual picnic fundraiser held by GPA’s Maryland chapter to showcase dogs enjoying life after racing, greyhounds “will drag their owners across this huge park,” says Ethel Whitehurst, the group’s president. “They catch sight of him, and they’re pulling and pulling … and they remember him, and they whimper. When they get to him, they just go nuts.”

“That’s really the payoff. They do remember you,” Tyler says. “… At least one time [the group gave me] a shirt, and by the end of the day I had paw prints all over it.”

 

For more information about Greyhound Pets of America Central Florida, visit floridagreyhounds.com.

About the Author

James Hettinger is the assistant editorial director for Animal Sheltering magazine at The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). He's responsible for editing copy and managing the production of the award-winning quarterly publication aimed at shelter and rescue personnel. Prior to joining The HSUS in 2008, James worked for several local newspapers and trade associations in the Washington, D.C., area. He shares his home with three cats: Edgar, Dana and Vinny.