William Shakespeare (1564-1616) mentioned greyhounds in a number of his plays. In Henry V Henry's speech to his troops just before the Battle of Harfleur compares people to coursing greyhounds.
Greyhounds remained a familiar sight among the royalty and nobility of England in the nineteenth century. The husband of Queen Victoria had a pet black and white greyhound, Eos. Eos appears in many court portraits.
The popularity of greyhound coursing in Britain increased greatly in the nineteenth century, as the Industrial Revolution gave the manufacturing classes the wealth and time to enjoy such activities. Formal coursing meets reached their peak of popularity in the late 1800s. Some of these meets, such as the Waterloo Cup, are still held today.
The Waterloo Cup was considered for over a century to be the ultimate test of the coursing Greyhound. By the second half of the century, coursing had become a premier attraction by itself. Modern Greyhound enthusiasts, whether of track or coursing sport, have little idea of how important this meet was. In fact, simply to be nominated for entry was a matter of prestige, and early advertisements for stud service or puppies would have a line reading "Waterloo Cup nominator" referring to the sire/stud. To actually win the Cup was to be the top dog of the year. To win it more than once was nearly unheard of.
Spaniards brought greyhounds with them to the new world. One greyhound accompanied the conquistador Coronado all the way to present-day New Mexico.
A few greyhounds existed in North America from colonial times. A greyhound kept the German-born colonial military leader, Baron von Steuben, company through a long winter at Valley Forge. Greyhounds were imported to North America in large numbers from Ireland and England in the mid-1800s not to course or race, but to rid midwest farms of a virtual epidemic of jackrabbits that was ruining their farms.
About 1912, Owen Patrick Smith invented the mechanical lure. He then opened the first greyhound track in Emeryville, California. Six years later he owned many tracks around the nation. The first track race in England opened in 1926. Greyhound racing became very popular with the working classes in America and Britain. Before long it spread to Ireland and Australia as well.
For the first year of their lives greyhound pups live together with their litter mates and are frequently handled by the breeders and other staff at the "farm” but they are not exposed to other dog breeds. As a result, they often do better with unknown humans than with other dog breeds. They are exercised extensively in large pens allowing them to run at full speed. Training starts at around 8 weeks of age, and they race each other in dog runs. They live in individual crates in the kennel between 4-18 months of age, where they spend most of their time when they are not exercising or training. That crate becomes the dog's refuge from other dogs and home. At 6 months of age their training starts in earnest.
Training with the drag lure begins around 10 to 12 months of age. By age 18 months, their training usually is over and they are sent to the track. They may be given up to six chances to finish in the top four in their maiden race. If they do not, they are retired--put up for adoption or euthanized. The best runners go to the most competitive tracks.
Most remaining racetracks in America have a large kennel compound which houses up to a thousand greyhounds which are needed to operate the track. Each track has 16-20 kennels which may operate there. Greyhounds must be leased to one of those kennels by their owners in order to run at that track.
Greyhounds used to moved from track to track as various racing seasons ended. Year-round racing now keeps many dogs in one geographical area. A consistent racer may spend its entire career at only one or two tracks. However, dogs whose performance improves or declines still may be moved to higher or lower-graded tracks. Typically, the last stop for racing greyhounds is Caliente, Mexico, just south of San Diego, CA.
Greyhound racing has hit hard times in the late twentieth and twenty first century. In Britain, its popularity declined in the 60’s. Many tracks closed in the 70’s and 80’s, and the industry has experienced ups and downs in the 90’s. In America, greyhound racing flourished in the 80’s but has lost popularity in the 90’s, due in part to the rising popularity of other forms of gambling. Many more tracks have closed their doors since the 90’s and continue up to today.
Thank Goodness for Greyhound Adoption Groups!
Fortunately there are many private groups and nonprofit organizations, such as Greyhound Adoption Center (GAC), that specializes in the rescue, nurturing and adoption of retired greyhounds a well as those that are considered unwanted by the racing community. The result is thousands of families that enjoy the companionship of these sleek, deserving and graceful hounds as they are now a part of a playful and loving family.