Pet Adoption Praised by Shrinking Greyhound Racing Industry

Market to Market | Clip
Jun 24, 2022 | 7 min

Greyhound racing hit its final stretch in the Midwest this spring – as Dubuque’s Iowa Greyhound Park, the state’s last remaining track, ended over 35 years of live races. 


Greyhound racing hit its final stretch in the Midwest this spring – as Dubuque’s Iowa Greyhound Park, the state’s last remaining track, ended over 35 years of live races. 

A strong kickoff in the 1980s paved the way for a casino gambling boom which took the financial lead.

Historical Track Announcer:  “Everything we do from now on is pure profit.”

Less than 10 years ago, casinos, local business and governments parlayed their influence into a deal with the Iowa legislature – to phase-out millions in state gaming subsidies which had kept tracks afloat even as dog racing declined nationwide.  This year the well ran dry.

Brian Carpenter/General Manager – Iowa Greyhound Park:  “It’s a great sport to bring your family and kids up and enjoy watching it, but it’s just, financially, we just can’t hold up anymore.”

General Manager Brian Carpenter began his career as a teenager leading out racers to the starting box.  He’s seen other tracks rise and fall, and additional forms of gambling peel off market share.

Brian Carpenter/General Manager – Iowa Greyhound Park:  “Florida, kinda, was the dagger in the heart.  When Florida closed…there was a lot of tracks, for people to be able to run down there, and when you bred, if it didn’t run very well at one of the bigger tracks, you could go down to Florida and get your money back.”

Carpenter estimates the Dubuque closure will impact local veterinarians, dog food and other suppliers – and over 70 track and kennel workers.

Brian Carpenter/General Manager – Iowa Greyhound Park:  “It’s going to be hard for a lot of the employees.  I have many of them who’ve been here as long as I have – 37 some years…and it’s something that you work and do.  It’s part of your life.”

A surge in attendance during the park’s waning days made for a bittersweet final run.

Vera Rasnake/Trainer – Plum Creek-Oxbow Trow Kennel: “All of us coming up here and weighing our dogs in, I mean, you know, we…we put on a good game face, but believe me, it’ look at the dogs, because the dogs do love this.” 

Now-retired Trainer Vera Rasnake says public misconceptions about how dogs are treated have hounded the industry.

Vera Rasnake/Trainer – Plum Creek-Oxbow Trow Kennel:  “I don’t think there was enough done to really educate on what greyhound racing really is.  And, you know, a lot of it – you just hear bad.”

Rasnake says Iowa Greyhound Park’s eight kennels are easy to regulate, and she designed conditioning around intensity of schedule and each animal’s individuality.  But animal rights groups like Grey2K say greyhound racetrack conditions are inhumane – and that dogs are subject to a host of potential athletic and career-ending injuries, poor diet and drugs.  The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission’s 2021 Annual Report revealed of nearly 1700 greyhounds tested, 8 were positive, mostly for muscle relaxants.

By next year, West Virginia will house the only two remaining dog tracks in the country.  And while Congressional action has stalled, a majority of states have already made it illegal. 

Track Announcer:  “This is a day we all knew was coming.”

Iowa hasn’t taken that step - and in fact - just passed House File 2497, which could expand simulcast betting options to more tracks outside the U.S.  The Human Society’s had requested a veto, but the bill was signed into law mid-June.

Preston Moore/Iowa Director – The Humane Society of the United States:  “Particularly of our concern is in Vietnam and in Tijuana, Mexico – some tracks that have some long history of animal welfare concerns.  But this bill that was passed, is worded in a way that the commission ‘shall grant’ simulcasting licenses.” 

Dubuque ran an abbreviated final season – in part due to a shortage of new dogs as national interest subsides.  But breeders like Gary Reicherts are soldiering on - and rebuke activists for taking credit for racing’s downfall – saying a proliferation of convenient sports gambling options is the biggest culprit.

Gary Reicherts/Owner – O Ya Greyhounds/Osage, Iowa:  “Every once in a while, in every occupation, there’s a person that just doesn’t do what they should be doing…and that’s the ones they dwell on…and then they lump us all together… They have so much money that people are donating to those groups, and none of it’s going to the greyhounds.  Nothing.  ”

Reicherts turns out about 50 racers per year and says his pups are raised in sanitary conditions, given ample space, freedom to move about, a solid diet, and plenty of love.  For him, its paid dividends.

Gary Reicherts/Owner – O Ya Greyhounds/Osage, Iowa:  “They’re supposed to be the best dogs in the United States that come there to race and we won it...  They run all day long.  They just love to run….Go!”


Gary Reicherts/Owner – O Ya Greyhounds/Osage, Iowa:  “Why would I want to abuse my dog – that I’m trying to make money off a dog?  We love our dogs and our dogs are almost like our kids and stuff, you know?  These are like family.” 

Drawing the ire of the greyhound trade, in the U.S., is the notion that once canines stop racing, they’re euthanized.   While extreme trauma or debilitation could lead to such outcomes, Reicherts champions wildly successful adoption programs that find good homes for former racers.

Kanya Petersen/Altoona, Iowa:  “We fell in love with Lucy when we met her the first time.  She showed up for a home visit and we were in the kitchen, and she came around the corner, and she had one of my slippers in her mouth.  So she said this was hers, and that we were going to be her family.”

Critics argue greyhound racing creates a population that needs to be rescued.  But many who’ve adopted them, and gone on to foster more, find the dogs’ demeanor fits right into domestic life.

Kanya Petersen/Altoona, Iowa:  “Lucy?  …They’re so gentle…good girl!”

Jody Phelps/President – Heartland Greyhound Adoption:  “I have had so many of our members come out, want to foster, help transport…and that was a really good feeling…particularly since the Dubuque track was ending.”

Jody Phelps is President of Iowa-based Heartland Greyhound Adoption, one of many such groups in over 40 states and Canada endorsed by the National Greyhound Association.  Dogs come to Phelps anywhere from 18 months to 5 years old.  She works with vets to determine any necessary rehab, and tailors a suite of options to mesh with new homes.

Jody Phelps/President – Heartland Greyhound Adoption:  “They’re just great pets to have.  We’ll still work with the breeders, in Iowa, that are running at other tracks.”

Phelps dismisses euthanization rumors, adding her organization has relocated nearly 4000 greyhounds – though numbers are dwindling.

Jody Phelps/President – Heartland Greyhound Adoption:  “We’ll be here until the last dog is ready to retire.”

For Market to Market, I’m Josh Buettner.