Before Floridians voted last week to end greyhound racing by 2021, Maryann Tolliver would field maybe three inquiries a week from people looking to adopt a retired dog from St. Petersburg’s Derby Lane.
But in the days after voters gave the already diminishing sport its fatal blow in Florida, Tolliver said she heard from more than two dozen applicants who expected immediate fallout.
Despite the looming deadline and response by willing adopters, there has not been a frantic rush to place racing greyhounds out of the marked industry just yet.
Derby Lane, like many of the 11 tracks in the state, has committed to continue racing until the deadline. In the meantime, a nationwide coalition of 100 adoption groups, foster volunteers and transport drivers has united to help absorb the thousands of canine refugees that will trickle off Florida’s tracks — dogs that don’t continue racing at the nation’s six remaining tracks in five states.
“We’re not in a panic, we are not going to change the way we do adoptions,” said Tolliver, president of the Greyhound Pets of America Tampa Bay, the adoption arm of Derby Lane. “We’re not just going to be handing dogs out.”
The Florida Greyhound Association estimates there are 8,000 racing dogs in Florida and 7,000 puppies at breeding farms on deck to enter the industry, the same statistic used as far back as five years ago. But because the state does not track the number of greyhounds in the sport it regulates, independent estimates do not exist.
And data from within the industry indicate actual populations could be far lower. Last month, there were only 3,700 greyhounds in Florida reflected as active on the industry’s top racing website, according to an analysis by Grey2K USA, the architect behind Florida’s Amendment 13 and initiatives that have led to 30 tracks closing since 2001.
Although exact figures are not known, the number of greyhounds bred every year has declined over the past decade as public enthusiasm for the sport has diminished.
Tolliver said her organization adopts out between 200 and 250 greyhounds per year as they retire.
As trainers and owners prepare for the deadline, Tolliver said fewer dogs will be introduced to the state, setting up for a natural phase out.
“They know the end is coming in 2020 so they’re not going to continue to have fully staffed kennels as far as racers go,” said Tolliver.