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A KWWL Special Report: Greyhound racing: Going to the dogs?

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KWWL) - Right behind the cheetah, greyhounds are the second fastest land animal on earth, bred for hunting and racing. But is the greyhound's racing future going to the dogs?

Through the 1940's and 50's, greyhound races became a chic way for many to gamble.

Although live lures have been nearly universally replaced with mechanical rabbits, not much else with the sport has changed.

At Dubuque's Iowa Greyhound Park, the dogs are currently kenneled, waiting for their next training run. But activist groups like GREY2K have long-advocated for an end to greyhound racing, calling the sport "cruel."

A federal bill, brought before the House in July by a lawmaker from California, means to ban bets on greyhound racing broadcasts, effectively ending the sports over two years. The bill has been shelved for the year but the sponsor of the bill says he'll try again next year. Many have their fingers-crossed.

"It's time for a thoughtful, gradual phase-down of this industry nationwide," said Carey Theil of GREY2K.

But some argue the end of greyhound racing has already begun.

Five years ago, tracks existed in only a handful of states. Florida voted to ban races after the 2020 season. When the season ends next month, just three race tracks plan to stay active: One in Texas, one in West Virginia, and, yes, the Iowa Greyhound Park.

Those heavily involved with the Iowa track know that change might be coming.

"Greyhound racing's future is kind of blurry right now," said Iowa Greyhound Park's manager, Brian Carpenter.

Meanwhile, two casinos in Iowa made a deal to cut ties with greyhound racing in exchange for cash - a lot of it. $5 million a year to be exact. Those deals expire in 2022 and the subsidies end.

"The handle is so low to begin with, that they're not even in the ballpark of being economically viable...lighting and electricity, and maintenance, it's a huge facility," Theil of GREY2K told KWWL.

For now, park workers say they're taking it day by day, season by season.

"We've seen for years this cycle of, tracks close, the tracks that survive are temporarily strengthened, the total gambling continues to decline, tracks close, the tracks that survive are temporarily strengthened, gambling continues to decline. That's happening here again," said Theil.

Iowa's Racing and Gaming Commission granted a license allowing Dubuque to keep broadcasting for one more year. But the park's worries go beyond the financial aspects.

"It's not even just financial we're worried about. With Florida closing, there's gonna be a shortage of greyhounds. People have stopped breeding," said Carpenter.

KWWL asked Carpenter if he's concerned about what comes after that.

"I started at 16. I've done every job. I got married and raised five kids, so I can't complain."

The future is less certain for the dogs themselves. At the adoption kennel by the casino's back lot, retired greyhounds await new owners. For dogs like Renée and Jimmy, the real finish line for them is a forever home.

Interesting in adopting a retired greyhound? Click here.

AJ Capuano

Dubuque bureau reporter, KWWL

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