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Why Muzzle A Greyhound?
by Judy Kody Paulsen, Founder, GCNM
(Excerpt from Winter/Spring 2002 issue of GCNM News)

Over the years of doing greyhound adoptions, I have had the misfortune of seeing and hearing of the tragic results from greyhounds running unmuzzled in groups of dogs. Many of the articles I have written over the years (published in the GCNM newsletter and web site) refer, at least in part, to aggression in greyhounds. It is not that the greyhound has more of a predisposition to aggression than other breeds, it is that they have been trained to compete with other dogs, particularly running dogs.

The purpose of this article is to alert all greyhound adopters that injuries to the dogs are not the only product of aggression or competitiveness among dogs. An equally traumatic and increasingly more common outcome of scuffling among dogs is the ever-present threat of legal action.

Last year, one such case developed after a group of greyhound adopters had gathered to allow their dogs to run and play in a fenced area. Some, but not all of the dogs were muzzled. In a sudden flurry of play that escalated into a pack fight, one dog was gravely injured, others had multiple superficial wounds and two people were injured trying to intervene. This group of people and dogs had been meeting for several months to enjoy the beauty and enthusiasm of greyhounds running freely and had never observed any aggression among the dogs. Months later, all dogs had recovered completely, however the emotional suffering of their adopters was beginning to take its toll.

The couple who owned the dog with the worst injuries sued the adopter of one of the unmuzzled greyhounds that was thought to have done most of the damage. The adoption group that facilitated the adoptions for all these people also was sued. The case was settled out of court, but the defendants ultimately paid more than monetary damages as so much emotional and physical stress was encountered during the legal process, that life will never be the same for any of them. The defendants have since avoided all gatherings where people let their dogs socialize, even though their own greyhounds had no history of aggression until that fateful day at the park.

The moral to this story is "stuff happens". Always be aware that animals, just like people, can have disagreements over things that in the past had not created conflict. Given the right circumstances, a friendly exchange can develop into a heated argument. Take into consideration that dogs often rely on teeth and claws to demonstrate their enthusiasm while playing. If an errant tooth or claw should strike an unsuspecting recipient, that dog will likely attempt to defend itself against what it perceives to be an attack because it caused pain.

In the case of racing greyhounds, the fact that they have been trained to compete can alone be the catalyst for play to erupt into a serious sparring match. These dogs have been discouraged from playing while in training for racing. Their job was to chase a lure with the intent to catch it. No matter how long these dogs have been away from the track, you cannot predict when or if the urge to pursue will take over its actions. In human terms, you could relate the racing greyhound’s personality to that of a person with post-traumatic stress disorder, wherein past memories can invade one’s mind unexpectedly and produce unpredictable consequences. Memories of training procedures used to increase the prey drive of racers could conceivably engage at any time the dog is exposed to situations that may mimic that training.

In the words of one of the defendants in the above described case, "It’s about accepting responsibility." Humans must take it upon themselves to anticipate situations where they may find themselves and/or their animal companions in compromised situations leading to a less-than-desirable outcome. Educating yourself about the characteristics and tendencies of your pets can be of great benefit. Knowing what to expect before you adopt or purchase any animal is paramount in behaving responsibly around other pet owners and their pets. Read and heed information to help in determining if a particular pet is appropriate for your home. In the case of adopting a retired racing greyhound, consideration should be given to the fact that you must be willing to implement certain safeguards if you wish to share your home and recreation time with one of these unique dogs.

Ultimately, the safest environment and the least litigious conditions for you and your pets will be found in the confines of your own property. But, if you should choose to allow your animal companions to interact in public with people and/or other animals, you need to do it responsibly. Muzzle your greyhound any time it is allowed to run freely with other dogs, but keep in mind that a muzzle can come off especially during rough play or in the case of a fight. If you are in the company of other dogs that appear to play aggressively, don’t allow your dog to participate, even if it is muzzled. The problem with the last statement is that not all dogs are predictable in their behavior and one may seem perfectly sociable most of the time, but can change in an instant if the conditions are right.

The larger the area to which they have access for running and play, the more likely you are to have an incident if one should experience pain from any source and then turn upon its playmates. The more obstacles there are in a running/play area, the more injuries and fights you are likely to encounter. A "pain-response" fight can happen anytime, anywhere, even among animals that have shared the same living space in apparent harmony.

Our animal companions rely on us to be sensible in our actions and reactions that affect their lives as well as ours. It helps to understand that whenever you have animals, especially when there is more than one present at any time, there is the possibility for disputes. Only we can observe situations that may ultimately lead to problems among our animal companions. We must be prepared for any outcome if we choose to allow conditions to persist that may cultivate aggression between our pets. Even under the best of circumstances, there will be the occasional disagreement among pets at home, but it is possible to avoid public situations that could escalate into a vicious brawl among normally compatible animals and an eventual showdown in the courtroom.

The adopter/defendant involved in the above lawsuit describes her experience as a 15 month nightmare from which she has not yet recovered. She states that "It doesn’t matter how well you know the people or that they all agreed to allow their dogs to run together. It doesn’t matter if the dogs have always gotten along without any problems in the past...reason often leaves the scene when pets are involved. People are as unpredictable as a dog fight...". She hopes that anyone reading this article will learn from her experience.


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