Brooklyn Goes Home: The Rise and Fall of American Greyhound Racing and the Dog that Inspired a Movement
by Christine A. Dorchak & Carey Theil
224 pages. $8.99 Kindle; $17.96 paperback.
Lantern Publishing & Media, P.O. Box 1350, Woodstock, NY 12498
Reviewed by Merritt Clifton
Don’t judge this book by the cover. The pastel painting of a greyhound on the cover of Brooklyn Goes Home: The Rise and Fall of American Greyhound Racing and the Dog that Inspired a Movement suggests a warm-and-fuzzy light novel or even a story for children.
There are scattered passages about the retired and now deceased former racing greyhound Brooklyn that might live up to that promise, but most of Brooklyn Goes Home is about how Boston lawyer Christine A. Dorchak, then not yet even in law school, together with more-or-less fulltime animal advocate Carey Theil, took on the once mighty greyhound racing industry in 1997 and over the next 26 years have reduced it to the verge of extinction.
Multitudes of others had tried and failed to stop greyhound racing, including Earl Warren, the then future Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, when he was still a young district attorney in Alameda County, California, and greyhound racing itself was just getting started in first Emeryville and then El Cerrito, California.
Rescuers turned activists
Beginning in the 1980s, a generation of greyhound rescuers including Greta Marsh and Louise Coleman of Massachusetts, Joan Eidinger of Arizona, Susan Netboy of California, the Nardone family of Connecticut, and Dierdre Heathrington of Ireland, among many others, realized that just rescuing retired racing greyhounds who would otherwise have been euthanized was not enough, would never solve the surplus greyhound problem, and began mobilizing in direct opposition to the greyhound racing industry.
Activism stopped expansion
Greyhound track owners and trainers responded by trying to cut off their access to former racing greyhounds, but somehow many of the greyhounds who were surrendered for euthanasia to the former Massachusetts SPCA shelter in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in particular, and to various other New England humane societies in lesser numbers, found their way to the rescuers whom the greyhound industry meant to boycott, and were rehomed.
Former racing greyhounds made a lot of friends at pet fairs, dog shows, and outdoor adoption events.
Each of those ambassador greyhounds also helped to build public pressure against the industry.
Long before either Dorchak or Theil became involved, grassroots activism stopped greyhound industry expansion.
Green Mountain Raceway
The turning point came in Vermont. The greyhound industry invaded in 1976, taking over the Green Mountain Raceway in Pownal.
Opened as a thoroughbred horse racing track in 1963, the Green Mountain Raceway struggled to break even for 13 years, transitioning briefly to harness racing before converting to greyhound racing in 1976.
Initial economic success there encouraged the Delaware North, the biggest player in the greyhound industry, to invest heavily in schemes to build a track in St. Albans, Vermont, to try to attract gamblers from Montreal, Quebec, an hour and forty minutes northwest via newly built freeways.
Success in New England
Scotti Devens, founder of Save The Greyhound Dogs, and Sharon Bucklin, president of Greyhound Rescue of Vermont, led the ultimately successful campaign that ended dog racing in Pownal in 1992 and won passage of a statewide ban on greyhound racing in 1995 that finally kept Delaware North out of St. Albans, after 15 years.
Dorchak and Theil more-or-less took over from there, initially focused on closing greyhound racing in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. To date they have shut down greyhound racing in every U.S. state and territory except West Virginia, where two tracks struggle on, and in several foreign venues, including Macau, the former Portuguese colony on the southern coast of China where they rescued the Australian-born greyhound named Brooklyn.
Greyhound racing goes the way of Custer
Dorchak and Theil open Brooklyn Goes Home with a chapter describing the history of greyhound racing which amounts to a condensed edition of Going to the Dogs: Greyhound Racing, Animal Activism and American Popular Culture by Gwyneth Anne Thayer (2013.)
Dorchak and Theil do not omit much that matters. While they do not mention George Armstrong Custer, Custer was engaged in hare coursing with greyhounds, a “field sport” ancestral to greyhound racing around tracks after mechanical rabbits.
Custer had long since made his last stand when parimutuel betting on greyhound racing originated in Emeryville with promoter Owen Patrick Smith in 1907.
Gambling & drugs
The beginning point for Dorchak and Theil was the commercialization of greyhound racing, which took a previously atrocious pursuit of a relatively few sadists, like Custer, and by introducing gambling, turned it into a vice of millions around the world.
Brooklyn Goes Home, after the historical opening chapter, is mostly a blow-by-blow account of the many individual campaigns that Dorchak and Theil waged against greyhound racing in state after state, with credit duly given to many other activists and legislators who helped along the way.
Particular credit goes to undercover investigator Pete Paxton and others who helped Dorchak and Theil to expose drugging and live-lure training by greyhound trainers.
(See Greyhound racing drug dealer goes down with the industry, Humans snort coke 170 times more often than racing greyhounds, “Live lure training” likely to survive greyhound racing, for the sadism of it, and Secret agent for animals: Pete Paxton.)
Brooklyn Goes Home is not a single smoothly flowing narrative because, since greyhound racing was and remains regulated almost entirely at the state level, essentially the same campaigns had to be waged again and again, mostly against the same opponents.
The opponents mostly remained the same because, while the greyhound industry was regulated at the state level, the major players were national companies, like Delaware North, and national associations of track owners, trainers, and greyhound breeders.
This mirrors the structure of many other animal use-and-abuse industries, both legal, like horse racing until the passage of the Horseracing Integrity & Safety Act of 2020, and illegal, like cockfighting.
That aspect, in turn, makes Brooklyn Goes Home a useful tactical playbook for animal advocacy campaigners. Dorchak and Theil learned strategic thinking as they went.
Their opponents in the greyhound industry started out as a lot of arrogant blowhards with more money than brains, appear to have learned little during the next 20-odd years, resorted increasingly often to dirty tricks that blew up in their faces, and had already lost in the court of public opinion a decade before the struggle was over.
The hard part, for Dorchak and Theil, was mostly just getting the issue before the public, and elected representatives thereof, to be decided on merit.
Help from unexpected places
In that regard, they got a lot of help from unexpected places, such as former Animal Rescue League of Boston president Arthur Slade and former Massachusetts SPCA president Carter Luke, neither of whom had much history of political activism.
Dorchak and Theil received much less cooperation from several major animal advocacy organizations that make a big show to donors of being politically active.
For instance, Carey and Theil recount, “In 2019 Christine drafted a federal bill to outlaw dog racing,” called the U.S. Greyhound Protection Act, which would for the first time have regulated dog racing at the federal level, as horse racing has been regulated since 2020.
HSUS, ALDF, & ASPCA go AWOL
On second reintroduction, the Dorchak bill had by spring 2022 gained “100 congressional co-sponsors and endorsements from hundreds of animal protection groups, local animal shelters, anti-gambling organizations, international nonprofit organizations, and even rabbit rescues,” Dorchak and Theil narrate.
However, Dorchak and Theil recount, “Sadly, certain humane organizations refused to publicly support the U.S. Greyhound Protection Act,” as it was called.
“When the greyhounds needed them most, the Humane Society of the U.S. and the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the American SPCA, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund were nowhere to be found.
“These groups chose to distance themselves from the greyhound campaign because Wayne Pacelle and his new group, Animal Wellness Action, endorsed our federal bill first.”
Wayne Pacelle, to be sure, had been ousted from the presidency of the Humane Society of the U.S. four years earlier, in 2018, as Dorchak and Theil mention, during a sexual harassment scandal that exposed rot from the top of the organization to the bottom.
What Dorchak and Theil do not mention, though, and perhaps do not personally remember, in that similar corrosive rot was already evident at HSUS, especially at the top, five years before Pacelle was hired in 1994 as director of legislation.
Pacelle was first at national level to lead against greyhound racing
Promoted to president in 2004, Pacelle cleaned house. He failed to keep it clean, and eventually made his own major messes, but as of 2022 the Animal Legal Defense Fund had also had a recent major internal meltdown.
Nor is the ASPCA in any position in point fingers, inasmuch as president Matt Bershadker is reportedly now paid $1,117,171 per year, nearly three times the compensation of the next highest-paid executive in humane history.
Meanwhile, it is also a matter of record, as Dorchak and Theil acknowledge, that Pacelle was the first person of national prominence in animal advocacy to encourage their efforts, and as HSUS director of legislation, continued to do so as despite some resistance from higher-ups who did not see greyhound racing as either a winnable campaign or a good national fundraising issue.
At last, Brooklyn the greyhound
Brooklyn Goes Home finally introduces Brooklyn the greyhound in earnest more than halfway through the book, in a paragraph including the only factual error of note that ANIMALS 24-7 discovered in a critical reading from the perspective of having reported at one time or another about practically everything Dorchak and Theil mention:
“For decades, Macau was home to the only legal dog track in China, the Yat Yuen Canidrome; it had initially opened in 1931, then closed seven years later due to a lack of interest, only to then reopen in 1963.”
In truth, the Yat Yuen Canidrome closed in 1938 due to the Japanese Imperial Army having invaded China in 1937, touching off World War II. Refugees flooding into Macau, then still a Portuguese colony, were housed in a tent city on the Canidrome grounds until after the war ended in 1945.
The Communist takeover of China in 1949 again flooded the Canidrome with refugees, for a time.
Later, after China took back control of Macau in 1967, the Canidrome was used during the Cultural Revolution to stage rallies in support of Mao Zedong, sometimes featuring public executions.
After that era, the Canidrome became notorious as the last stop for racing greyhounds who were no longer competitive in Australia. The slowest 30 each month, according to Dorchak and Theil, were killed and replaced by more imports from Australia. Tabloid news coverage persistently alleged that the slowest 30 were sold to dog meat restaurants.
Either way, Dorchak and Theil, along with Macau activist Albano Martins, led the campaign that in 2016 permanently closed the now demolished Canidrome.
Brooklyn finally went home
The greyhound Brooklyn, photographed in 2011 beneath a kennel sign that translates “Bountiful Harvest,” but metaphorically means “Profitable,” was poster dog for the campaign, but was believed to have been killed years earlier when the Canidrome kennels were finally evacuated and the surviving dogs sent to rescues.
Incredibly, though, Brooklyn turned up alive, having successfully run for his life for eight years. Adopted by Dorchak and Theil, Brooklyn spent his last years in their home.
(See A greyhound named Brooklyn, 2008-2022, by Carey Theil, same title as the book but all about the dog.)