by Melani Nardone
Thanks to Ms. Nardone of the Greyhound Welfare Foundation and GPL for providing the following thought provoking essays.
Neu-tral-i-ty (n) The state or policy of nonalignment with, support or favor of either side in a dispute, war or contest.
In my travels, I have found that most groups active in greyhound rescue and adoption who refer to themselves as "neutral" on the subject of greyhound racing are anything but. These groups may have begun with noble intentions, but can no longer be considered neutral, for their practices clearly favor and promote dog racing.
Historically, groups that chose neutrality did so for a variety of reasons, including a fundamental belief in the basic premise that there is an ongoing controversy that demands they take sides. For reasons that seem unfathomable to me and the majority of the thinking public, neutral greyhound adoption groups believe that dog racing, an activity responsible for decades of documented animal suffering, exploitation and death, is controversial, rather than patently wrong. What could possibly influence an animal welfare group to adopt such a disturbing and dangerous ethical position in light of such overwhelming evidence? The same sociological factors that shape an individual and/or group in the development of any belief:
Occupying the mythical middle ground will enable one to maintain a friendship with everyone.
A preoccupation with a desire to please, and/or discomfort with peer/societal disapproval.
Denial that abuse takes place because the person/group is not aware of the existing evidence or is aware and cannot cope with the responsibilities associated with defense of a position.
Someone who has a vested financial or other interest in misguiding or lying to followers.
Fear of reprisal if one were to tell the truth or complain about the poor physical condition of greyhounds they receive for adoption.
Fear of taking a stance against an opponent thought to be more powerful, i.e., "I'm not the soapbox type."
Rationalization that whatever is being done is better than nothing.
Perceived lack of empowerment to effect change.
Naïveté about the exploitation and disposition of animals used by man/woman for his/her economic benefit.
Undeveloped empathic abilities.
To understand how such forces could determine a group's ideology, let's take for example the organization and running of a hypothetical non-profit greyhound adoption group, "Mounds of Hounds" (MOH).
MOH is founded by two individuals, Ms. X and Ms. Y, one of whom adopted her first greyhound from a local adoption group; the other adopted her greyhound from a track adoption program while living in another state. Both adopters agree they need to start up a rescue group in order to deal with the volume of greyhounds grading off from the local dog track. Both founders have some inkling that some greyhounds die every year, but no knowledge or documentation of "all this abuse people speak of." It makes them uncomfortable to even talk about it, so they don't. They form a board of directors that consists of five individuals. Our two founders, plus a former member of the racing industry who claims to have never put down a dog unless he had to, a dog-loving volunteer from a local shelter and an individual who inherited his greyhound from a relative who died years ago. The board member who once raced his dogs frequently emphasizes to the other board members how important it is to not get involved in the "politics" of greyhound racing. After all, he stresses, "we're only interested in placing retired racers aren't we? Let's keep our opinions to ourselves." Several board members concur, concerned that they may not be able to get dogs if they speak out against racing. One board member sums up the majority opinion as "catching more flies with honey than with vinegar." The shelter volunteer, a Ms. Z, does not agree and expresses concern that this philosophy may be deceptive to the public. A vote is taken and the board decides to incorporate into its bylaws, a statement that the group is neutral and that no volunteer shall be allowed to dwell upon any negative or unsavory aspects of greyhound racing.
They draft an adoption application, guidelines and lots of rules. They soon file for their nonprofit status and decide that one of the board members' homes will be the future site of the adoption kennel, "Grounds For Mounds of Hounds."
Within three months, Ms. Z grows increasingly impatient with the board members who will not allow her to distribute pamphlets at tabling events that contain greyhound death statistics. She confronts the board at a meeting but feels intimidated by the other members who accuse her of sounding "extremist." Ms. Z resigns in a huff. She is replaced by a woman, Mrs. T, who only recently adopted a greyhound from MOH, but who has had greyhounds for years. Mrs. T adopted all of her previous greyhounds from a local, rival group that she once was quite friendly with, but now openly criticizes. The board enthusiastically allows Mrs. T to handle all the public relations for the group.
The business of adoption proves rigorous and time consuming for MOH. Volunteers come and go, but the core group grows and does well, averaging the placement of 4-5 greyhounds a week. The local track allows MOH to come and pick out the dogs they want from a holding pen once a month and reimburses the group for traveling expenses. MOH befriends several racing kennels who give them the small, young, female dogs they can place easily.
Each new zealous adopter is encouraged to volunteer for the group, and many do. Most of the new volunteers do not know that MOH considers itself neutral. Those that do know about the group's position dismiss it as "not important, in light of all the good work they do." Hundreds of new adopters are not told the facts about greyhound racing and know nothing about what goes on behind the scenes in the industry. The local town's folk speak well of the group.
Local papers do articles about the group's success in placing "all their greyhounds." In early newspaper articles, much of the emphasis tends to be on what wonderful pets greyhounds make. If reporters ask about rumored abuse, the group alleges they know nothing about it and have never witnessed anyone abusing a greyhound. As the years pass, an increasing number of print articles and letters to the editor appear in the town's paper about how the racing industry is cleaning up its act.
Like the place mat in the diner that invites people to name what's wrong with this picture, most people can easily spot the situations and relationships within this fictional greyhound adoption group that could reinforce a "neutral" position. But is such a group really neutral, or should it realistically be referred to as supportive of racing? It's time that everyone involved in greyhound rescue and adoptions consider the ramifications of their policies. The ethical consequences of a neutral position are far reaching and inevitably contribute to the continued suffering and destruction of this gentle, wonderful dog.
One can start being an advocate by merely telling the truth.
The Ramifications of Neutrality
by Melani Nardone
Thanks to Ms. Nardone of the Greyhound Welfare Foundation and Greyhound Protection League for providing the second part of this thought provoking essay. In part 1, the Myth of Neutrality (Fall/Winter 1998), the author discussed the possible reasons why a group might believe it beneficial to label itself neutral on the subject of dog racing despite the existing evidence that dog racing is inhumane. In the second of this two part series, Ms. Nardone points out the inherent dangers of assuming that a neutral philosophical position is benign.
Many greyhound advocates consider the definition of the phrase "neutral adoption group" an enigma, for they know there is no real neutrality going on: behavior clearly favors dog racing or it does not. The average person unfamiliar with what goes on behind the scenes in greyhound racing however may genuinely wonder what the fuss is all about. After all, who cares what a group's philosophy may be as long as they're still accomplishing something worthwhile by saving greyhound lives, right?
While it may be true that any sincere effort made by any group to find homes for unwanted greyhounds is admirable, neutral adoption groups undermine all their good work by passively and/or actively assisting an industry responsible for the immense suffering and destruction of greyhounds by either innocently or purposely engaging in the following behavior:
Neutral groups are likely to perpetuate myths to the public that have no basis in truth or refrain from giving any information at all. The result? The public has no way of knowing that there is anything wrong with dog racing, or that there is anything we can do to stop/prevent it.
An example would be telling adopters that all greyhounds are "well-taken care of" when greyhounds continue to come to most adoption groups with signs of both physiological and psychological neglect. Rescued greyhounds are frequently loaded with ticks and fleas, worms, have ill-kempt coats, often have gum and tooth disease, a multitude of scars and more serious conditions such as the presence of tick borne diseases and broken limbs. Behaviorally, greyhounds tend to be socialized to a limited range of experiences and exhibit behavior indicative of having been live lure trained. Many adopters unwittingly bear the burden of responsibility by putting in the extra time and effort to both socialize the dogs, as well as guard against their predilection to kill perceived prey animals.
Another misconception is telling the public that the numbers of greyhounds being killed yearly has been drastically reduced by an industry that places animal welfare concerns above all else. In this instance, neutral adoption groups reiterate racing industry propaganda that is designed to convince the public that they have sincerely changed their ways.
The truth is, animal welfare concerns could never supersede the economic bottom line if greyhound racing is to exist. Disposition figures have been declining yearly due to a number of other factors-primarily competition from an increase in alternate forms of gaming such as casinos and economic pressures forcing many breeders and dogmen out of the business. Though there are industry people who do care about the disposition of their dogs, such an attitude is not the norm and there are not enough of these people to make a difference. The economic bottom line insists that they too eventually cooperate or get out of the business.
The sin of omission - Not giving the public any information whatsoever about why there is a need to rescue and adopt out greyhounds suggests that the problem of dog racing is manageable. When groups give the message that they are only concerned with adoption (and all else is well), the public is likewise convinced that dog racing is a reality we must live with.
Groups taking a neutral position on racing is caused and prolonged by the acceptance of dogs, goods or services from industry members in exchange for silence or for helping to spread industry propaganda. The cycle of misinformation and rationalization continues while the industry survives on this assistance.
There are some adoption groups who take money/dogs/benefits from certain greyhound racing industry members and then feel obligated to not speak out about industry abuses for fear of losing these "resources." Especially prevalent is the fear that certain industry members will no longer "give them dogs" if they speak out against racing (what does this say about an industry who would rather see the dogs die than give them to adoption groups?). Such groups are scared into a vicious silence = compliance = reliance cycle. Some groups believe they cannot change the system and do not feel empowered enough to even try. Others have come to rely on other benefits they derive from the industry and decide that silence is not such a bad "trade off," rationalizing that at least they are able to save some dogs by their silence.
No one is thinking about the big picture.
This bartering of silence for dogs, or goods for propaganda constitutes a form of free public relations for the greyhound racing industry and tends to deceive the public. This behavior serves to encourage the breeding (and eventual death) of more unwanted greyhounds.
The ramifications of neutrality are far from benign. Particularly in those areas of the country where there are no other greyhound adoption groups that oppose racing or who are educating the public, the resultant humane awareness quotient remains devastatingly low.
If, in addition to saving the dogs that need saving, neutral adoption groups are simultaneously working toward further establishment and legitimization of dog racing in our society, then they are on a dangerous treadmill, sabotaging their own efforts in the long run and insuring the future breeding/destruction cycle of greyhounds. If for every life that is saved, we watch helplessly as another is lost, the cycle will never be broken. A commitment must be made so that both a meaningful service is rendered to the greyhounds and no compromise of ethical principles takes place. The goal of any responsible rescue organization should be to address and eradicate the need for the group's existence.