Coincidences happen. But how strange they can be. In the space of two hours I had a conversation about Greyhounds with two women: one was taking bloods from me and one took a bag of cat litter from me. And to add more coincidence, I had spoken to Greyhound advocate, Katie Corcoran, who is a member of Greyhound Awareness Cork less than 24 hours previously. All three ladies connected by a shared passion they have. A passion by the same name but it’s akin to that road that suddenly splits in two: one is the ‘road less travelled’. It takes courage to choose this road. Those who do often have a purpose: to explore, expose, and enlighten. Not everyone makes it to the end. No, not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ especially if in this case you are on the other road, enjoying and monetising from the thing that is being exposed by people like Katie. There on the other road looking on is the Greyhound Industry: that insatiable machine for multi-million euro funding. Their raw material are baby Greys and their finished product? Well, that is a bone of contention. You see, not every Grey passes quality control, some do and then don’t quite make the mark or go on to sustain a track injury. And we all know in most cases where faulty goods go. It is no different for a lot of these greyhounds, they are products, unless they are lucky enough to be picked up by a rescue.
‘Don’t be wasting your time or tears… I went to see it for myself you know! A while back!’ The nurse in front of me was talking about coursing and I was really surprised. I knew she had a rescue cat. I didn’t think she was the type of woman to get into her car and go on a solo mission of enlightenment. But she proved me wrong and she wanted to make up her own mind.
‘Even Priests are there. Money. Lots of Money. In the bars and hotels afterwards. You’ll never change these people . . . Just be glad you’re not one of them.’
And that was it.
‘On the scales, now, Missy!’ I forgot about my need to see had I lost weight (without trying) and wanted to continue with the bombshell she dropped in the prep room beside the consultant’s.
‘Did you look at…?’
‘God no, couldn’t look! But I had to see the people who attend that awful coursing.’ Her eyes rolled towards heaven and she muttered a word I’m sure her boss next door would frown on in the workplace. ‘I find it hard seeing what these people get enjoyment from…I really do.’
I left the medical rooms in the heart of Galway City, thinking how strange it was to hear her talking about coursing when I had previously talked about it at another appointment, but I felt as an animal lover, it just didn’t extend to Greys with her. I even felt she wasn’t listening. She was and she knew all about what I shared with her. She just didn’t want to talk about it.
An hour later. . .
‘Excuse me, I heard you say in the shop you had lots of cats! We just got a kitten from a rescue!’
I took my head out of the boot that I was attempting to sort out before I packed the partial week’s shop from Pet Stop for the rescues.
‘Hello,’ I smiled as I began throwing in the bags of wood pellets that makes great litter. ‘I have a few alright!’
I actually don’t know how the conversation came around to greyhounds but this lovely chatty lady was telling me how she grew up with greyhounds and how they practically lived at stadiums as kids. She recalled racing days and her face lit up, as if she was reminiscing about Funderland. As she talked, my conversation with Katie pretty much debunked everything she was telling me when I mentioned the cruelty of the industry.
‘Here we go… sure there is bad in every industry,’ she replied politely with an air of conviction.
‘True, but it doesn’t make it OK though!’
Then that look of ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ That steely certainty of righteousness and entitlement. ‘Sure, if we closed down everything because of a minority…’ she continued.
I have a really poor memory but the thing about memory is, we often remember with ease things that make us really happy, sad, afraid or any other strong or difficult emotions. Right there infront of this lady, so many points Katie outlined over the phone were now becoming part of the tug of ‘opinions and facts’ between us. Two strangers in a car park having a heated debate.
She quickly brought it back to cats and litter and I offered her a bag of wood pellets to try. In my early days of rescue I learned a lot from a man,decades rescuing horses and dealing with difficult owners, he always taught me ‘never go empty handed if you think there might be trouble.’
Yes, there in the car park our conversation was being pulled back and forth by ropey opposing opinions, to the edge of hostile disagreement.
‘Do you want to try this litter?’ And our ‘going no where’ debate about the greyhound industry found it’s full stop when I passed the bag to her!There was something lovely about this lady in manner and she was quite glamorous but isn’t it funny how all that goes out the window when someone is OK with cruelty or anything else that doesn’t just sit right in the part of us that feels deeply and is empathetic. Yes, she was adamant that I did not have a clue or maybe she did know and that’s why she used the only defence she had again, ‘Sure it’s everywhere – in every walk of life! But it’s a minority!’
It’s like NIMBYism, nope, not happening here! There is a deadly denial that’s hard to penetrate. They rubbish facts and often sneer at personal (witnessed) stories of greyhound cruelty. Yes, that’s their armour and it’s working. They are not in the industry to gain respect or make friends, sure by the looks of it, there are no shortage of friends at the track. They are like tradespeople but sadly their tools are their Greys: they give them an identity, a career and that makes them money. A lot of money apparently.
Facts are a powerful weapon for changing (some) minds. The type of mind that wants to know truths and be educated. And Katie is not short of facts. They roll off her tongue with ease because I’m guessing when she is in her advocacy role, she knows you only have one chance sometimes to change minds. She is deeply passionate about Greyhounds, not just her own adopted Molly, and is determined to change the way most people see them. This is clearly evident when she told me over the phone ‘when you love one Greyhound, you love them all!’
Greyhound Awareness Cork are certain about the plight of greyhounds. And it is a plight. Katie knows that. She can offer you many anecdotes that illustrates a real ugliness to the industry and a desperately sad and often tragic existence for Greys. GAC are on the same battleground as all the other people who are giving a much needed voice to greyhounds but they decided from the start, whilst that spirited and determined roar for change is needed, they were going to be pretty smart about their position in what often feels like a gladiator arena: they were going to be mind changers. And we all know how hard that can be with those whose minds are rigid from that old conviction of certainty and righteousness that comes from the ‘you wouldn’t understand anyway… our way of life, our culture, our right to…’ So, they sought to change the minds of those who had formed a definite perception of a greyhound as a non-pet and those sitting on the fence. That is where Katie’s Molly came along. A pretty brindle, ‘Molly was going to help me help greyhounds,’ Katie explained. Molly, an ex-racer, which is hard to imagine when you hear about her sweet, gentle nature and look at her angelic face from photographs. I just asked myself after my conversation with Katie, ‘how do these sweet and gentle dogs cope when they are born into a ‘live factory’ of reproducing as many as possible and racing the ones who make it past the checks along the conveyor belt. Yes, some adapt but at what price? Imagine if you wanted to go at your own life pace; imagine being trained and forced to run when you want to walk, imagine having an injury and being forced to run? Imagine being pumped with drugs so you’ll go beyond your own limits or pain thresholds?Imagine never knowing what it’s like to be wanted or needed – aside from the kennel to the track and back again.
Molly’s journey to Katie is symbolic of the ‘cloak and dagger’ behaviour of those involved in the industry. You’re not sure who you can believe and less sure until you have the Grey, will they follow through with the surrender? It meant tossing and turning sleepless nights for Katie and every phone ping a disappointment if it wasn’t the trainer or news about Molly. A possible injury made the wait all the more difficult. Afterall so many thousand of Greys are unaccounted for in Ireland. Some get sold into countries that make us repulsive when it comes to their state of animal welfare. Some are driven and dropped into areas with no regard for any animal’s needs, sold for peanuts, and there starts ‘from the frying pan to the fire’ existence. Yes, how is this allowed by their governing body? Turn a blind eye perhaps and wave the token welfare flag when needed? ‘ But ‘people should know when they are conquered…’ (Quintus). However, with a steady supply of state funding, even when conquered, they will still exist. How would this industry exposed time and time again for cruelty exist without exorbitant funding?
Just when Katie had given up on rescuing Molly, she popped up again. There she was, the same beautiful brindle but in a different county and racing with a different trainer. Katie was perplexed: didn’t she have an injury?
The day before Molly arrived, Katie thought about Tara, their rescued lurcher, who was meant to be just passing through but lived happily for 5 years with her until her sad passing. Lots of fostered greys and lurchers passed through the doors of her house, but they knew their next dog who would become a forever member of the family had to be a greyhound. Katie and her friends had chosen ‘the road less travelled’ and a greyhound was needed to complete what they knew would be a long arduous journey with trainers and supporters looking on. And yes, it is a difficult purpose they have taken on but any worthwhile purpose will never be easy. But, ‘What we do in life echoes eternally…’ and what they are doing for greyhounds will too.
Katie went on to explain further the reasoning behind her new adoption. ‘When we adopted Molly the greyhound we were already fostering: a stunning black lurcher boy was booked for a home in Sweden. The thinking was that we could either adopt a lurcher and help one dog or adopt a sassy greyhound and help thousands of greyhounds! A few months after her adoption, Molly weaved her magic which resulted in the adoption of Robert The Greyhound and they have been a power couple ever since, leading an ever increasing number of rescued greyhounds at our strolls or meet-ups!’ Became of GAC and their very public showcasing of Greys, there are an increasing number of people enquiring about adopting a Greyhound.
So whilst Molly is part of their family and they love her so much, ‘she is part of a bigger love story for greyhounds,’ Katie reminds me.
I used to walk rescued greys for Rover Rescue – help out there, as they waited to fly to Italy. It is always emotional seeing them arrive where the red carpet is literally rolled out for them. From a rescue in Clare to being walked down a pristine red carpet to their new family waiting at the other end. That was 10 years ago and now looking back I can’t recall (as I would walk them through hotel grounds and onto a laneway adjacent to a golf course) anybody ever asking me their names or extending that friendly hand that we are used to when walking our own pets. I do remember some men laughing as they shouted over, ‘any winners there?’ Yes, winners alright: they won when they got away from the track.
What I remember about the Greys I met whilst volunteering at Rover Rescue were the ones who arrived covered in ticks, fleas, old wounds. They would usually be pulled from the back of vans or Deirdre would collect them from the pound. She fought for their right to live after being surrendered to the pound in Ennis. I remember these soulful, regal dogs in states of flight or fear. By the time they left on their flights, they were the same soulful and regal dogs but the cloak of fear and furlorn was not cloaking them anymore. They were pets as they were allowed to be with her: chasing balls, running for fun,relaxing in their beds, and being cuddled.
Katie clearly recalls the day before she went to pick up Molly. The feeling of ‘too good to be true’ stayed with her. She knew their eight year old black lab, Taylor, was not going to have any issues with Molly as she was used to the revolving fostering door in the Corcoran household but Katie would still follow the practice of introductions outside of the house that works so well.
Guilt did keep reminding her of the other Greys who needed her too. And more so the shyer ones; the ones whose colouring might not be as popular as a brindle. But Katie needed to stick to their plan. They needed a grey who would be great with people especially kids, stand out like a star, and Molly was that Grey. And how she has evolved as a bright star shining a light on a man-made dark industry. She says, ‘look at me, really look at me, I’m no different to your dog there on a lead, the dog that you have who is a member of your family!’ Yes, look at her: look at how she rocks up to the microphone with Katie as she did recently on RTE News to discuss the much debated Folens’ feature of Greyhounds as a topic in a Junior Cert book, asking the student to write a letter to see how things can be improved for them.
There is a place between right and wrong. It would be great if the good, bad, ugly of this industry were to meet Katie and her kind there. That’s a starting point.
No, no one asked me their names, funny that!
- You can follow Greyhound Awareness Cork on Twitter