THE TALE OF TWO GREAT GRANDCHILDREN
by Tim O'Brien
2006 will mark the 100th anniversary of the first time Owen Patrick Smith viewed and organized his first coursing meet. It was in South Dakota that he would meet his destiny and conceive the idea in which we would see greyhounds run as we see horses race. In my first thoughts about the greyhound racing industry, I had felt completely detached from it, as I was born and raised in California which had outlawed Greyhound Racing. The legislation had been brought to a vote with the help of Earl Warren, district attorney of San Francisco, and later the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He was famous for his involvement and facilitation with the President Kennedy assassination investigation better known as the Warren Commission. Because of such events and throughout my childhood my family spoke little about dog racing. You would think that the descendants of the Founder and Inventor of Greyhound Racing would be very active and interested in its continuing history. Not that we were disinterested. No, we always had reminders of the past at home; like dog statues, figurines, and racing trophies of winning family dogs. Once my brother received, for Christmas, a Guinness Book of World Records, I believe that it was the 1979 edition, containing a greyhound record for the fastest mile and a quarter. The dog’s name was Ladylike, and it so happened that this was my grandmother’s dog. You could only imagine the excitement of each of us kids opening the page to read this fact. We practically wore out the spine on the book. This was one of the few indulgences with the history of our family that we experienced.
It wasn’t until 1999 that I became really interested in our ancestry. Although the internet was pretty new it had many sites of interest. Almost out of pure curiosity I put my great grandfather’s name into the internet search and the first site that came up was an Animal Rights/Greyhound Rescue site from Northern Nevada. The headline read, “It is all Owen Patrick Smith’s Fault,” and a gruesome picture of a greyhound hanging from a noose and tree stared at me from the screen following these words. I sat there speechless. I knew that some people felt strongly about animals, but to have it come to this! I felt betrayed, appalled, angered, and at the same time had an amazing motivation. The first purpose of this search was to find the roots of my family tree, but it spurned another quest for information and, personally, I felt I needed to stop this madness.
A letter was sent from our lawyer asking that the use of my great grandfather’s name and reference on the site to cease and desist, or print the truth. Without any acknowledgment they obliged my request, but it was an unacceptable end to the situation. Since then I have been very active in trying to find out more about the industry from its history to breeding, whelping to training, schooling to racing, and adoption to retirement. Throughout my research I have come in contact with some amazing people, one being the Greyhound Racing Hall of Fame director Ed Scheele. He helped point me in the direction to spread the truth of its history. Apparently, my grandmother had a lot of greyhound memories in some trunks, which never talked about and never seen! I took it upon myself to start unraveling the history of the very beginnings of Greyhound Racing. The first thing that I found out was an ironic point that the sport’s beginnings had been completely altruistic. Fact: Owen P. Smith invented Greyhound Racing to stop the killing of the rabbit in coursing! In my opinion, it was this little known fact that changed the contents of the website.
In 2002, my wife, Julia, and I moved to Sacramento, California. We were really brand new to this area and found some comfort taking our Jack Russell Terrier to the dog park. Every once in a while I would come across a retired greyhound, an ex-racer. In conversations with their owners I found that they had a very negative opinion about racing and really no concrete facts to confirm what they were stating. In almost every instance these owners would say that they “rescued” the dog. I usually would not refute these claims because at that time I did not know enough about the racing industry to argue on its behalf. I also would not tell them how I was related to the industry, not because I was ashamed, but because I did not have the facts to positively back the industry. It was also because of the negative press and I never really wanted to start an argument. I had in the back of my mind to try to get a retired racer in my own home. Groups that “Rescued”/Placed greyhounds in homes would seldom call back or when I told them who I was and who my relations were they rarely had anything good to say about racing. Suffice to say we never received a dog, well, not yet. I continued my research about the industry and sireied the press for all types of opinions on Greyhound Racing. With all of this time and effort put into this endeavor, I still wanted to give a home to a greyhound, go through the experience and do my part to help this breed. If it was all my great-grandfather’s fault it was the least I could do, right? No, because I really wanted to open my home to another animal and if it had raced and was a champion or just a born couch potato, I desired to help.
We contacted a group out of Walnut Creek, California, that received dogs from Mile High racetrack in Colorado. We went through the interview process and inspection. During the in-house visit, they saw some of my family pictures displayed and asked a few questions. In the interview, since I had done my research, I no longer had the hesitation about my storied family history. In March, 2003, we got the call that our greyhound would be flown into San Francisco and we could come down and pick him up. Finally I was doing something for the perpetuation of the history of at least one greyhound. When our dog, Bevo, which we now call Foley, came into our home he looked like the spitting image of our Jack Russell, Darby. I mean everyone who saw these two together, even some that had never seen a greyhound, thought that the two dogs were father and daughter, but not twins. The coincidences and similarities did not stop with appearances. After some investigation I found that Foley’s great grandfather, HB’s Commander (1999) and great grandmother, Buzz Off (1998) had been inducted into the Greyhound Racing Hall of Fame. The reason why this connection is so meaningful is that my great grandparents, Owen P. Smith (1973) and his wife Hannah M. Smith (2004), have also had the distinction of being inducted into the Greyhound Hall. This is not a coincidence that is easily duplicated. Another reason for my resolve was to be stronger in my knowledge and that’s when the education of my fellow dog park goers began. After so much research into the owners, trainers, kennels, and races of our dog Foley, we found that there was one indelible fact that are very good people in the industry and throughout its history. Most people in this industry care so much for these dogs and get no credit. However, I also found out how much good is done by the adoption groups. How can two groups with the same purpose have such different outlooks, Rescue Vs. Adoption? It is true that in the past the greyhound industry was not giving a majority of these dogs for adoption and they needed a little push for this to happen. These groups have done it. So that is why when folks ask “did you rescue him?” I say “no, I adopted him because, the loving dog that we received had great owners and they give up every dog that can be adopted.” I have been in contact with the owners and respect them very much for the care that they give their dogs. I also have great respect for the adoption groups for all the work and care that they give in finding homes. I find that these two groups sometimes forget the fact that they both exist because Greyhound Racing exists and that these dogs need a home. What baffles me is that they both end up shooting each other in the foot, or paw in this case. Both need to get the credit and the media should be objective and tell both sides. So that is why I came to the conclusion that these regal dogs, when both sides have the same mission and it is working, don’t need rescuing and deserve the distinction of being adopted. As a descendant of the founder and inventor of the “Sport of Queens,” I not only try to be a steward and sireent of its history but an active voice in the fight to keep this breed known for its stature, speed, and beauty.