The National Greyhound Association’s annual Fall Bash took place Tuesday night as part of NGA National Wek, connecting greyhound breeders and racers with potential adopters and other members of the public.
Shannon Henry and T.C. Howard hosted the party.
It was a chance to swap stories with other people who enjoy greyhounds.
It was open to the public.
“It’s kind of a night for everyone to relax,” Henry said.
She said the turnout was lower than in previous years.
“It’s gotten smaller about each time,” Henry said. “It still surprises me how many people come to Abilene. And a lot of it (is) — they come to watch the dogs but they also come, I think, to see old friends that they don’t ever (see).”
Low turnout is what could spell the end of the annual NGA gathering. There have been rumors this might be the last year for NGA National Week.
However, Henry hopes this isn’t the case.
“We’re hoping not,” she said.
But she said it all depends on the number.
“We’re always up to race,” Henry said. “I think they’re going to try to have social gatherings as long as anybody’s interested. But we’re hoping it’s not the last year. So, I know they said it’s a ‘wait and see.’ This was a ‘wait and see,’ so there’s what — about 140 dogs racing this week?”
Henry has been in the business since about 1994 and she said two decades ago, there would have been thousands of dogs hitting the tracks in Abilene this week.
But people have aged and many of them have retired from the business.
“With the tracks closing down, there’s just not many left,” Henry said. “Which is sad, because this industry has done a lot for Abilene and Dickinson County and a lot of the businesses. The businesses look forward to all these people coming in — the hotels, the restaurants.”
In addition to breeders and people who enjoy the races, there were also adopters and adoption agency representatives present at the party.
Veterinarian and dog trainer Shelley Lake of Paola has helped to adopt out about 6,200 retired greyhounds in her life. When an area adoption program that had helped adopt out retired racers closed in 2008, Lake stepped up to fill the gap.
“There was nobody helping the farmers get their dogs adopted,” she said.
Because of her work as a vet and dog trainer, she already had the connections in the greyhound community that she needed to help place retired dogs with adopters.
Lake started coming to Abilene about once a month, profile retired dogs, cat test them, take pictures of them and put them up on Facebook for adoption.
“That’s why I call myself a ground coordinator — I’m not specifically associated with any farm and I’m just one person,” she said. “I just help them move the dogs to wherever they need to go.”
Lake is a longtime greyhound fancier who has worked with the dogs on and off the track.
“They’re addictive,” she said. “There’s something about the breed — and honestly what I think it is in my personal opinion — is here in Abilene, the way they’re raised.”
According to Lake, the dogs stay with their litter until they’re a year old and receive daily handling from farm workers during that time.
“They’re just handled from day one,” she said. “They’re socialized by their littermates, they’re socialized by their mom. There’s nothing like them — period, end of sentence.”
Lake said she intends to keep working with greyhounds for as long as she can.
In addition to placing the dogs, Lake also adopts them.
She has had many greyhounds in her life.
Currently, Lake has about 16 greyhounds of her own — soon to be 17 after Tuesday night’s party — and 55 “angels” — meaning dogs that have died. Often, she takes in senior dogs.
“Being a veterinarian, I’m not afraid to take in the sick ones or the old ones,” she said. “The shortest time I’ve had one was a whopping one day. To have one live 10 years in my house just doesn’t really happen, because I’m usually taking on the older ones. But who else is better equipped to take care of them than a veterinarian? So I take them and I love them — whether it’s one day, one hour, one week. It doesn’t matter. I’ll give them what they need for the rest of their life.”
Meg Davis of South Carolina has adopted four retired racing greyhounds in her life. Two of them are still with her. She came to the fall bash after attending a similar gathering in Abilene in the spring.
“I am here learning about my two retired racers,” she said. “I have two right now that were raised here and (I’m) just connecting with their trainers, their owners, seeing where they were born and raised and getting to know the people that loved my dogs during their careers as much as I love my retired racers now.”
Davis’ dogs former owners also attended the fall bash, as did the former owner of Lake’s newest dog.
Loribeth Wilson, who has been in the racing business since she was in her teens, has adopted out several dogs as well as taking on retired dogs as pets herself. She has one now, named Skippy, who she received from her fiancee, Lance. She sang the dog’s praises Tuesday night.
“He opened the door to my apartment and she went straight up the stairs, straight to the bag of toys,” Wilson said. “She just came off the track. Smart. She sleeps in my bed and she’s my best friend.”