Dog Racing Died Without A Funeral

Illustration: Angelica Alzona (G/O Media)

SARASOTA, FLORIDA — The sun hadn’t yet risen over the Sarasota Kennel Club, and Deb Linn was wrist deep in 100 pounds of bloody meat. She had been been up since 4:30 a.m., when she made the 45-minute commute south from Ellenton, a small town where the rent is more affordable than in the wealthy beach city of Sarasota. She was 18 years old when she first started working with greyhounds in her home state of Wisconsin. She’s 50 now and stood over a fiberglass trough inside her kennel, mixing white, powdered vitamins into the raw beef for her dogs’ breakfast. I could make out thin white lines on her tanned arms, marks from where the dogs had scratched her over the years. The dogs were beside themselves in anticipation of food, filling the room with their barking and rapping at the crates with their paws, but it was much quieter than usual. Just a few weeks ago Deb had 102 dogs in her kennel. Now there were half as many. By tomorrow, there would be no dogs.

It was May 4, the morning of the last race.

“My main thing is to get through today,” Deb said. “Doing the dogs just takes up all my time and I can’t even plan a future or take college classes until we’re done here.” The barking got louder and she softly told the dogs to hush, the food was coming. “It’s not a job,” she said, heaping gobs of meat into a bowl on a measuring weight. “It’s my life, it’s all I know. I have no idea what I’m gonna do.”

Back in November 2018, the people of Florida passed Amendment 13 with an overwhelming 69 percent of the vote. The amendment called for the banning of all dog racing in the state by the end of 2020. Florida was the sport’s last great refuge. Forty states already had laws prohibiting dog racing, and of the 17 tracks left in the United States, 11 of them are in Florida. The sport is now forbidden by the Florida constitution, more or less putting an end to dog racing in the United States.

Florida surprised everybody by doing the “right thing” for a change. The protracted battle between animal rights activists and the dog racing industry was over, and it appeared the side of righteousness had prevailed. Grey2K USA Worldwide, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit, led the charge along with groups like the Humane Society and PETA. They spent more than $3 million in their campaign for Amendment 13. The dog racing industry put up just over half a million dollars to fight it. Commercials in support of the amendment showed sad-eyed dogs locked behind steel grates, backed by ominous string music. Voters were urged to find their humanity and put an end to the cruel sport.

The dog racing industry claimed allegations of abuse were lies made up by crooked nonprofits, and argued that abruptly dissolving dog racing would overload adoption agencies and put the dogs at risk of euthanasia. Their message did not resonate with the voters of Florida.

The law ends a part of Florida history, the state where dog racing has its deepest roots. But it’s also the end of a way of life—particularly for the people who work in the kennels, like Deb, and the thousands of other low-income workers who know no other profession.

I grew up in Sarasota, just a couple miles south of the track, but not once did I go see the dogs. The track always seemed seedy and outdated, and the first time I’d ever set foot inside the Sarasota Kennel club was when I followed my more adventurous friends to play Texas Hold’em.

More than a decade later, I returned and managed the forbidden—I got to see the dog kennels a month or so before the last race. Deb let me in to meet her dogs one morning while she turned them out, cleaned their bedding, and hung plastic muzzles on the crates for the matinee races (I wasn’t supposed to be back there, per state regulations, but no one stopped me). Deb, like most trainers, does not own the dogs. The dogs are owned by investors throughout the country. She doesn’t own the kennel, either. She and more than a dozen other trainers are independent contractors who are hired to take care of the dogs.

There were 11 kennels, concrete structures about the size of a two bedroom bungalow behind the track, holding anywhere between 650 and 750 dogs. Outside of each kennel is a dirt plot—a “turn out pen”—bordered with chain link fencing where the dogs stretched their legs and went to the bathroom. The first thing I noticed was the smell—a sharp mixture of ammonia and warm dog oils. None of the people in the kennel noticed it anymore. Deb let the dogs out, females first. They bounded out of their crates, ears back, tongues lolling, and took turns pouncing on me. Greyhounds are weird-looking dogs, all sinew and bone with short-furred coats clinging tightly to their long bodies. They come in only a few different colors and patterns: white, black, and brindle, and some with mixed patches.

The dogs start racing at around 18 months old. Some will race until they’re six. Though the males are considerably bigger than the females, the genders compete against each other, and I asked Deb if that gave the males them a competitive edge.

“No, not really,” she said. “It usually comes down to who has the most heart.”

She led me outside so that she could smoke one of her Pall Mall Blacks while she washed the dogs’ bedding—she’d never smoke in the kennel around the dogs. She turned on a hose and dipped the bedding into a barrel filled with soap. I asked her what she’ll miss the most. “The dogs,” she said. “Greatest dogs you will ever meet. I wouldn’t have any other breed.” She turned to me and asked, “Did those dogs look abused to you?”

I said no.

“They love to run. If a dog got out of one of our buildings, they’d come right back to the track. You can’t make a dog run. These dogs have had it in their DNA since ancient Egypt. They’re born to run.”

I never did tell Deb that I voted for the amendment.

Trainer Hazel Copeland takes a drag from her cigarette
Trainer Hazel Copeland takes a drag from her cigarette
Photo: Isaac Eger (G/O Media)

The greyhound has the most enthusiastic description of any dog in the American Kennel Club’s Complete Dogbook:

Swift as a ray of light, graceful as a swallow, and wise as a Solomon, there is some basis for the prediction that the Greyhound is a breed that will never die…His was the type the ancients knew, and from time immemorial he has been a symbol of the aristocracy. Yet the Greyhound is a dog that needs no fanfare to herald his approach, no panoply to keep him in the public eye. His innate qualities give him admittance to any circles, high or low.

Many fans of the greyhound claim that it is the oldest breed of dog. Like parents, people who love greyhounds have a habit of adorning the dog with superlatives. They’ll tell you that the first evidence of the greyhound can be found in the ancient Egyptian Tomb of Aten, who lived sometime between 2900 and 2751 BC. The evidence is based on hieroglyphs that show “dogs of unmistakable Greyhound type” hunting. They’ll say that the head of the god Anubis is a not a jackal, but a greyhound. And that heart-wrenching passage in the Odyssey where Odysseus returns home to Ithaca in disguise, and is only recognized by his loyal dog, Argus, who wags his tail at the sight of his old master and then immediately dies? That was a greyhound, too. In the 10th century, King Hywel of Wales decreed the killing of a greyhound to be punishable by death. The Spanish introduced the first greyhounds to America during their conquest of the New World. That the dogs were used to hunt down and torture Indians is left out of most histories. Recent DNA sequencing reveals that modern greyhounds are more closely related to herding dogs and that these ancient dogs are actually Saluki—sighthounds that resemble the greyhound’s profile.

The concept of pure breeding dogs is fairly recent. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century, which brought the creation of kennel clubs, stud books, and breed standards, that dog categorization took on any real methodology. The modern racing greyhound appears in 17th-century England with the sport of coursing. Coursing sets two greyhounds after a live hare that has been given a head start. You could bet on either the dogs or the hare. This sport democratized the greyhound as it was an affordable alternative to the more expensive sport of fox and stag hunting, which was done on horseback by British elite.

By the late 19th century, artificial lures that raced along mechanical tracks began to replace live rabbits in England, but this “coursing by proxy” proved unpopular and was abandoned. It wasn’t until 1905 that the sport reappeared in America due to the efforts of a South Dakotan businessman named Owen Patrick Smith. He was tasked with popularizing coursing, but believed the sport’s slaughter of a live rabbit at the end of the race by the dogs was too cruel. In 1910, Smith patented the “inanimate hare conveyer,” a trolley that carried a stuffed rabbit around a track. In 1919, with new financial backing, Smith displayed his invention on the first commercial dog track in Emeryville, California. The venture was popular, but lost money. It wasn’t until Smith brought the sport to Florida that it hit its stride. The first track in Florida was built in 1922 in Humbuggus (today the area is known as Hialeah). Tracks started popping up all over the state—St. Petersburg in 1925, Miami in 1926, Miami Beach and Orlando in 1927, Sarasota in 1929. The success of the sport in Florida likely had something to do with the fact that the state was a nexus for organized crime during prohibition. Dog racing became associated with mobsters, and betting on the dogs was technically illegal throughout the decade. But once Florida politicians noticed that revenue from dog racing could add to the state’s Great Depression-ravaged coffers, parimutuel betting was legalized in Florida in 1931.

In 1944, the Sarasota track burned down, and a car salesman and sheriff’s officer named Jerry Collins bought the place for $5,005 worth of back taxes. Collins was a model of the enterprising entrepreneur of the early 20th century. He had moved to Sarasota in 1919, and then became a sheriff in Ft. Myers, a town south of Sarasota, where he was one the bodyguards for Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. He was a gambler and he’d frequent the tracks in Tampa and St. Petersburg. At one point he owned 12 tracks throughout the country.

Illustration for article titled Dog Racing Died Without A Funeral
Photo: Isaac Eger (G/O Media)

Now Collins’s grandson, Jack Collins Jr., owns the Sarasota Kennel Club. Under the new law the place could have stayed open for one more season, but Collins Jr., 55, decided to just rip off the band-aid. The end of dog racing in Florida didn’t come as a complete surprise to him.

“The only weird part is knowing you’ve done it for 75 years, and after this year you won’t,” he said. “Back in the ‘80s, live racing could bring in a million a day here. For the past few years, we were lucky if we got $200,000.” Collins Jr. is at the track nearly every day, but I only ever saw him at the poker room bar, where he sat in a dark corner and sipped on bottled water.

“Our business changed when the state changed the lottery laws in 1986,” he said. “Before that, we were the only place where you could gamble legally. Once the lottery came in, it took a lot of money out of circulation. We used to get so many people that those 17 acres behind the track were used for additional parking.” The palmettos and thick Florida wild have since taken the acreage back.

“People still come on Fridays,” Collins Jr. added. “We have 50 cent beer and hot dogs, and so you’ll see people in the stands.” The 30-acre lot is mostly empty, though, and the club’s restaurant, Miss Whirl, closed two years ago. You used to have to make reservations weeks in advance to get a table there.

Amendment 13 isn’t responsible for the death of dog racing. The sport has been in decline for nearly three decades. In 1991, the total amount of money gambled on dog races in the United States was $3.5 billion. By 2014, it had dropped to $500 million. In Florida, between 2007 and 2017, the amount wagered dropped from $406 million to $226 million. During that same period, card table receipts increased from $91 million to $157 million.

For a while, dog racing was kept on life support by a 1997 state law meant to reduce the amount of gambling facilities in the state. The new law required card-room licenses to be tethered to existing parimutuel betting facilities—jai alai, horse tracks, and dog racing. To make matters more complicated, the legislature tacked on the “90 percent rule.” That meant that in order to keep the profitable poker tables, the tracks had to run at least 90 percent of the live races they ran in 1996.

Efforts to reduce the amount of dog racing would always stumble in the state’s capital. “Every year at the legislature [the track owners] would try and phase out dog racing,” Collins Jr. said. “And then someone would say, ‘Well, we want slot machines or blackjack or we want more and more.’ So you’d get a bill that could pass and then everybody would attach something to it so that it would ultimately fail.”

It wasn’t until 2017 that Tom Lee, a Republican state senator from Tampa, proposed amending the state constitution to get rid of dog racing entirely. That effort became Amendment 13, and now card tables no longer need to tether their game to dog racing. The track owners got to keep the cards and get rid of the money-draining races.

“Personally, I’d hate to say it, but for us owners, we are going to be financially better off, no doubt,” Collins Jr. told me. Collins employs more than 300 people at the track. The vote will cut that down to 60.

“Don’t know what these kids are gonna do,” James Avery, the head of maintenance, said from his office. He started working here back in 1996, and his office was well-worn. He had a lit cigarette in his hand and a flyswatter next to the ashtray. “Trying to steer them in the right direction,” he said.

The Sarasota Kennel Club is located not far from Newtown, a historically black community, and has employed many black residents over the years. James is black. Nearly all the lead outs are young black men. Their job is to walk the dogs from the weighing station to the box, and do little things in between.

“It keeps us out of trouble,” said 22-year-old Atmar Washington. “I’ve been here four years and I’d still work here if they weren’t closing down. We might end up trappin’. Shit, I dunno.”

It was Khron Turner’s third year working here, and he wasn’t sure where he’d go next. “Maybe McDonald’s. The dogs are more fun, though,” he said.

Willy Williams drove the tractor over the track’s dirt to smooth it out between races. He’s 31 and has been at the track for more than 14 years. He started as a lead out. “I’m sad, but not surprised,” he said, adding that he’ll miss the dogs.

Back in James Avery’s office, he told me nothing surprises him. “I knew it was coming a long time ago. They should have just stopped the dog breeding and let the rest race out.”

He was pretty sure he’d get to keep his job. “I’m the only one who knows where everything is in the whole damn building,” he said.

Dog Racing Died Without A Funeral
Photo: Isaac Egers (G/O Media)

Nobody received a severance. The kennel folk are independent contractors. They don’t have a pension or a 401k. No healthcare, either. Deb Linn invested all she made back into the dogs—into the equipment, into the custom trailer that ferried the dogs from track to track. “Who’s gonna wanna buy this stuff now?” she asked. A roll-up dumpster, where most of the trainers’ things would eventually end up, sat parked next to the kennels.

It’s hard to imagine money was ever a motivating factor for the trainers, because the money’s no good. They work 80-hour weeks and might make $30,000 in a season, and that’s before covering their own feed and vet bills. Many of the trainers are a paycheck away from being homeless. They’re paid on a points system, which means only the top four dogs in a race of eight make money. Though the trainers take pride in their dogs’ success and like the cash, they don’t root against each other.

“The dogs are in competition with each other, not us,” said Crystal Zwart. She’s 35 and has worked at dog tracks since she was a 13-year-old in Connecticut. “We are a family. A dysfunctional family.”

Crystal invited me to attend the goodbye BBQ that she and the other trainers put on a week before the last race. They had it under the covered area by the track where trainers normally wait for the dogs during matinee races. Crystal worked the grill while wearing a pink shirt that said I Make This Shirt Look Good. Similar novelty T-shirts were everywhere, and the people wearing them tended to be smoking Pall Malls.

The BBQ was served out of the back of a truck where fried tacos, mac ‘n’ cheese, way-too-sweet sangria, bacon ranch dip, pulled pork, and taquitos warmed in the sun. People filled their plates and got tipsy in between picking up dogs after races. All of this unfolded under a sign that read, “NO SMOKING, NO BEVERAGES, NO FOOD—DEPT. OF BUS. REGULATION.”

I watched the dogs alongside the trainers from the southern point of the track. Reinvesting in a dying sport wasn’t good business, so the track was run down and rusted. Many of the fences were broken. The mechanical lure, which started right in front of us, was a plush toy white bone made dirty from all the rain and mud. It sparked along the track as it approached the boxes where the dogs yelped in excitement. The announcer said, “Heeeeerreeee’s Swifty!”

The gates opened, and out the dogs flew. Only cheetahs can accelerate faster than greyhounds. The dogs can hit speeds of up to 42 miles per hour, and the dirt kicked up like water in a boat’s wake behind them. The dogs run three-eighths of a mile and usually finish in under 30 seconds. They run tight, their haunches occasionally grazing one another.

“C’mon Delly, push these motherfuckers out of the way!” a trainer yelled. The race finished and the results were displayed on the tote board that stands over the track. The trainers rushed over to pick up their dogs as they all surrounded the lure and wagged their tails. The dogs were delirious and euphoric and gasping for air. The energy they showed before was gone, and they leaned against their trainers’ legs for support as their hind legs quivered. “The dogs ain’t retarded—they know when they got that bunny,” another trainer said. “They’ve got a different attitude.”

The tone of the conversation at the BBQ alternated between nostalgia and indignation. “We’re little gnats compared to horse people,” Doug McElwee said, sitting cross-legged in the waiting pen. “We easy-to-get-rid of normal people versus kings and sheiks.” He mentioned all the horses dying at tracks across the country and how many of them get sold to meatpacking plants in other countries, but doubts that sport will be banned any time soon. “There’s too much money. We’re the little guys and they threw us to the wolves,” he said.

“They just told lies, ridiculous stories,” Crystal added.

I asked her what lies.

“That they’re in cages 23 hours a day. Or that we use cattle prods at the box so that they’ll break out faster. That we’ll kill ’em if they don’t run fast enough.”

“Why would we put a dog down with so many adoption groups?” Deb added. “The business has changed. Years ago, some of those things did happen, and we’ll admit it. But the bad apples? They’re gone.”

The dogs pile onto the lure at the end of a race
The dogs pile onto the lure at the end of a race
Photo: Isaac Eger (G/O Media)

“Grey2K said the crates were too small for the dogs, so we changed them to their specifications,” Crystal said. “Now they’re saying the crates are too small again! I can climb in there with my dog. They feel safe in there.”

Rachel, a part-time trainer, said she used to work in the pet industry. “Pet owners are terrible. We treat these dogs better than most people treat their pets.”

“We got screwed,” said Doug. “Grey2K, those lying sacks of shit.”

Doug quit the business back in the ‘80s because he said it was bad back then. They didn’t treat the dogs right. He got back into the business when the conditions got better and adoption agencies assured high adoption rates. “We just love these dogs. We love this job,” he said.

Doug started to tell me a story about a trainer who died in his dogs’ turn-out pen at the Sarasota Kennel Club. He was in his late 40s or early 50s, no one knew for sure, but they all agreed he was a bit young to die. It was an aneurysm, they think. But everyone seemed envious of the death. To die with the dogs.

“I’m fine with dying as long as I’m drunk,” said Bill Lyman. He wore a Minnesota Vikings baseball cap and a tie-dye Minnesota Vikings shirt.

“Only the good die young,” Doug said. “You’re gonna live til you’re 120.”

Bill laughed. Bill’s a lifer. He doesn’t have a high school degree and started working with dogs in Colorado back in ’85. He’s been moving between dogs tracks around the country as they’ve closed. He insisted I follow him back to his kennel, where he took each dog out to prove to me that they weren’t mistreated. The dogs seemed happy enough to be out of their crates, but Bill was more curt and less affectionate with them than the other trainers I’d met. I asked if he knew each dog’s name by heart. “Of course I can name every dog,” he said, and began to point and name each one. He has 93 dogs, and his kennel partner, Hazel Copeland, has 90. “I can name them drunk or sober,” he added.

Away from Bill, the other trainers say they worry about his future. He’s not built for regular work, they said. Most of them aren’t, either.

“I’ll miss the dogs, not the people,” said Steve Zach. He’s in his 60s and was wearing a shirt that said This Beer Tastes Like I’m Not Going to Work Tomorrow, but he only drank Diet Coke. “I deal much better with dogs than with people, but I’m not going to own any—can’t have dogs in my community. After 40 years of doing this I’m just gonna sit on my butt.” He said the business has changed. “You used to have to be more committed and I made a lot more money 30 years ago. You’d think that we’d make more money, the way the economy is.”

“It took almost 40 years to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up,” said Jorja Alvarez. She had the least amount of experience amongst the trainers there, but the end hurt her all the same. She has two of her dogs’ kennel numbers tattooed on the back of her neck. “I was 32 when I fell in love with greyhounds,” Jorja said. “I first saw them at an adoption agency meet-and-greet. Then I started fostering them on a 14-acre farm in Michigan. I had 34 dogs at one point.” As she spoke, she wiped the boogers from her dogs’ eyes and kissed them on the forehead.

I noticed there were more women working the kennels than men. Crystal told me it used to be a man’s sport. “Back in the day the kennel people were all men and the adoption people were all women,” she said. “Then the women from the adoption groups started taking over the kennel jobs.” She said that was likely because all the old-timers who kept the women away either retired or died. I asked if women were more compassionate than the men. “No,” Deb told me. It just so happened that the old-timers were all farmers and viewed dogs as a means to an end. Today, she said, the people who work with the dogs treat them like children.

Bill Lyman introduces his dogs.
Bill Lyman introduces his dogs.
Photo: Isaac Eger (G/O Media)

The Friday before the last race, during the evening races, the No. 6 dog stumbled and broke its leg. It was a compound fracture, and the kennel’s resident vet put the dog down on the spot. Since 2013, when the state began requiring dog tracks to officially report greyhound deaths, 485 have been recorded. Not so long ago, things were much worse.

Back in 2002, on an 18-acre junkyard in Alabama near the Panhandle, Robert L. Rhodes was arrested by state police. Authorities had uncovered a mass grave of greyhound corpses. Over a period of 10 years, the 68-year-old Rhodes had killed somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 greyhounds with a bullet to the back of the head. He was a former security guard at the Pensacola Greyhound Track, and he said he was paid $10 for each greyhound he disposed of. “It was quick,” he told The Pensacola News Journal. “They didn’t feel a thing.” But the District Attorney said many dogs were shot in the mouth or neck. One prosecutor referred to Rhodes’s property as “Dachau for dogs.” Rhodes faced up to 10 years in prison, but died before ever setting foot in court.

“I just don’t think it’s our decision as human beings to force an animal to run for profit,” said Kelly Driscoll, an area board member of Grey2K. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, greyhounds love to run.’ Well, all dogs love to run. What we are saying is why are we forcing a dog to run so we can make a couple bucks off of it?”

Kelly first saw dog racing when she was 16. She’d gone to the tracks with her friends when she lived in New Hampshire. After the races, she asked trainers if she could see the dogs. “They were like, ‘Why do you wanna see the dogs?’” she recalls. “I told them so I could pet them. They were like, ‘No, no we don’t allow people to see the dogs.’ I thought, what is going on here that they have to keep a secret?” She went home and searched online. There, she found sites that spoke of the abuse and poor conditions that the greyhounds endured.

She disputed the claims of the trainers I’d spoken to. “It’s common practice for the dogs to be euthanized at a young age if they’re not profitable for their owners,” she said. “I learned about the hormones the dogs are given, the over-breeding, the way they are kept in their cages, how the females are forced to make litter after litter after litter. It makes me so mad.”

I asked her about the dog racing industry’s claim that more than 97 percent of greyhounds go out for adoption. “That’s their statistic,” Kelly said. “There are plenty of dogs that go unaccounted for. I like to do this math: If there’s 30,000 dogs racing in Florida [there are actually 3,700 active racing dogs and an unknown number of non-racing and breeding dogs] and 98 percent are adopted, that means that 2 percent are not. What’s that? A couple hundred dogs? Why is it even acceptable for one dog to die for this?”

I asked her if she had any sympathy for the trainers, who claim to love the dogs as if they were their own and who now are out of a job and a community.

She told me she’s heard it all. That when she was outside protesting at the Sarasota Kennel Club that people would call her a lying bitch. She received Facebook messages threatening to come to her home or her place of work. She claimed that Grey2K tried to work job retraining funds into the legislation, but that never materialized. It wasn’t the nonprofit’s desire to make people lose their jobs; it was to remove greyhounds from a cruel environment.

“Listen,” Kelly said. “Times are changing. We don’t even have cashiers anymore. It’s not like this happened overnight, Florida wasn’t the first state. They had to have known this would be their fate.”

Dog Racing Died Without A Funeral
Photo: Isaac Eger (G/O Media)

The day of the last race coincided with the Kentucky Derby, so the track was crowded, but not for the dogs. Most everyone had their eyes on the television to see if their horse had won. Women wore plastic imitation fascinator hats and the men wore seersucker shorts. Everyone wore flip-flops, Florida’s sartorial flourish.

Clark Isrel was there for the dogs. He was sitting in the bleachers with a program in one hand and a draft beer in the other. His face was gaunt and speckled with stubble around a thick, grey mustache. He was born in Georgia but he’s been coming to Florida for the races since he was seven. “Me and my daddy used to drive down here with a big white styrofoam cooler full of beer,” Clark said. “My job was to hand him the beers while he was driving on the way to the dog races.” At 16, he made his first bet at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg with a fake ID. He’s made his living off betting on dogs since then.

“When there’s no more racing,” Clark said, “Florida can kiss my ass. And I love it down here, but if there’s no live dog racing, what’s the point?” He said he’d go to the five remaining states where dog racing was still legal. “Birmingham, West Virginia, Arkansas…I’m not being prejudiced, but that’s three back-ass states.”

I asked him if he’ll end up betting on horses. He said he prefers the dogs. There’s a human on the back of the horse and that screws up the nature of betting. “I know that when that box opens up my dog is running as hard as he can, and if he gets shuffled in the turn, no human had anything to do with it,” Clark said.

He asked me if I had a dog. Before I could answer, he told me that the “PETA-heads” were going to take my dogs from me. Then they’d take my cat. I asked him if he thought the animal rights activists at least had their hearts in the right place. “No way, they’re radical fanatics,” Clark responded. “Just like ISIS.”

“Huh?” I asked.

“You laugh!” he said. “They’re worse. They don’t behead people, sure, but they killed 5,000 greyhounds, and that’s a fact, Jack. ISIS will eventually get defeated, but the PETA-heads are gonna be around.”

I asked Clark if he was going to adopt a greyhound. “Well, that’s the thing, I don’t like dogs. Can’t stand ’em. Absolutely hate ’em. They slobber, they’re needy, I have no use for them whatsoever. I’m more of a cat person.”

Both the kennel folk and the activists insisted that the dogs would be safe. Some dogs will head to the tracks still running for another year in Florida. Others will head to one of the five remaining tracks up north. Everyone at the Sarasota Kennel Club assured me that their dogs were spoken for.

So is the land where the track stands. It’s going to be a mixed-use project for an assisted living residence and apartments. Jack Collins Jr. said he had to find a new place for the poker room in six months. Somewhere cheap out east near the interstate, most likely. He wouldn’t tell me how much he got for the land, just that it was a “good number.” I looked up the value myself through the county property appraiser, and they assessed it at over $8 million.

The lead outs walked the dogs to the box for the last race. I went and made a bet on the No. 7 dog named JD Blosom. It was Jorja’s dog. Back in the trainers’ area, everybody leaned up against the fence. More than a few were wiping away tears.

Jorja’s dog won by 10 lengths.

There was no time to be funereal after the last race. The trainers would still have to show up the next day to turn out the remaining dogs. None of them were sure how they were going to get paid for the work because the dogs weren’t earning. I ran into Deb. I asked her if she was okay. “My truck broke down,” she said.

I reached out to give her a hug.

“I’m not a hugger,” she told me.

I did it anyway.

By the time the sun went down, the stands were empty. Ticket stubs were strewn across the ground and the vendors were packing up. The lights went off on the quinella board for the last time. I never did cash my winning ticket.

Isaac Eger is a freelance writer living in and escaping from the state of Florida. He travels around the world playing pick up basketball and writes about it. Follow him on Instagram @gluten_daddy and on Twitter @isaac_eggnogg.

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