The Guam greyhounds & "free to good home" ads.

February 11th, 2009 3:33 pm by Kelly Garbato

This morning, Mary at Animal Person blogged about the closing of the Guam Greyhound Park, a racetrack which was “home” to about 250 greyhounds. Animal rescue groups were not consulted beforehand or involved in initial efforts to place the greyhounds; instead, the owners/management of the Guam Greyhound Park simply gave the dogs away, for free, to anyone willing to take them.

From www.guamgreyhounds.org:

On November 7, 2008 the 32 year old Guam Greyhound Park, with approximately 250 greyhounds at the racetrack, abruptly closed. The closing was in response to the results of a failed initiative on the November 4 ballot which would have permitted casino style gambling on the racetrack property. John Baldwin, owner of the racetrack, who had tried to get similar initiatives passed three times in the past six years, claimed the racetrack was losing $100,000 a month.

On November 24,the Guam Greyhound Park started a public giveaway of 150 of the racetrack’s greyhounds. Dogs were given away free to anyone who came to the track. None of the greyhounds were spayed or neutered. No record was kept of who got the greyhounds, how many each person took and no legal transfer of title was made. Obviously, no standard adoption process was in place: no home check and no information about greyhound behavior or care.

It has been reported that many people took the free greyhounds believing they would make good guard dogs. Some of the islands dog fighting “fans” took greyhounds to bait fighting dogs or to breed, thinking it would make the fighting dogs faster or quicker. It didn’t take long for the greyhounds to show up stray or in very bad circumstances. The following updates from Guam Animals In Need (GAIN) volunteers, Dave and Noni Davis, tells a vivid story of this immense tragedy. GAIN (the only animal rescue on the island) has now found these giveway greyhounds starved and even dead.

GAIN’s stories of trying to rescue these discarded dogs are striking:

We received a call from a passerby about two dogs tied to a boat in Umatac – down at the very southern part of the island. I spoke to the owner and he said he got them from the race track in the first week when they started giving them away. He took a male and female to breed them for later on and also to guard his fishing boat. They were both emaciated and when I questioned him about feeding them, he said he didn’t know how to care for them anymore, because they wouldn’t eat what he gave them. With some friendly persuasion I convinced him to sign them both over to GAIN. He wanted to be assured that we won’t use them to race and then ” make money out of them”. I informed him that they are now officially retired and will never race again.

As both Mary and Stephanie have noted, this is indeed an unnecessary, unavoidable and heartbreaking tragedy. Had animal rescue groups been involved at the outset, many (all?) of these dogs could have been saved, so much suffering, avoided. This didn’t need to happen.

Additionally, this is a compelling – if somewhat extreme – illustration of what can happen to animals (dogs, cats, rats, snakes, you name it) who are discarded, re/freecycled, and otherwise given away for free. People – some of them well-intentioned, others not so much – take in an animal on a whim, because hey! – “it’s” free, so why not? Some of these animals become family “pets,” while others are used as breeding dogs, guard dogs, vivisected dogs, fighting dogs, even bait for other dogs. Once they’re used up or become inconvenient, they’re discarded like yesterday’s trash. Again. Because these sentient beings were “free” to begin with, their “owners” have little financial investment in them, making it easier to throw them away when they’re no longer needed or wanted. For these and many other reasons, most rescue groups will tell you – it’s a bad, bad, bad idea to rehome an animal without charging at least a nominal fee. “Free to good home” ads sometimes result in a good home, but many times they do not.

The reason I bring this up is because, as many of you already know, I moderate a local Freecycle group. The issue of whether or not animal listings – which, by necessity, must be 100% free (hence the name FREEcycle) – shall be allowed is left up to individual groups. Many (most?) group members/moderators are not very well-versed on animal concerns, and see no problem with “free to good home” ads.

Well, here’s the problem.

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We received a call from a passerby about two dogs tied to a boat in Umatac – down at the very southern part of the island. I spoke to the owner and he said he got them from the race track in the first week when they started giving them away. He took a male and female to breed them for later on and also to guard his fishing boat. They were both emaciated and when I questioned him about feeding them, he said he didn’t know how to care for them anymore, because they wouldn’t eat what he gave them.

Granted, given its unique conditions, the Guam situation is a somewhat exaggerated example of what can happen to “free” companion animals. But because it’s also happening en masse, in an isolated area (read: a small island), it serves as a sort of microcosm through which one can tease out the many pitfalls of “freecycling” animals. For example, the problem of not knowing how to care for your new, free animal is obvious in the above anecdote; and it’s only exacerbated in the case of “exotic” or unusual animals (e.g., ferrets, snakes, birds, pigs) given away on Freecycle.

And of course the same goes for animals given away for free in your local Pennysaver classifieds, on Craigslist, etc. I only single out Freecycle because of my longstanding involvement with the group.

Anyway, if you’d like to donate some cash to help the Guam greyhounds, Mary directs us to Guam Animals in Need (GAIN) (donate through Grey2kUSA here, and mark the donation appropriately) and Homestretch Greyhound Rescue & Adoption in California (donate here).

As for Freecycle, they’re generally unreceptive to complaints about their open animal policy, but there is currently a petition up on The Petition Site, which you can sign here.

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