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The Arizona Republic http://www.michaelkorsoutletonline.me/ - michael kors outlet Hours before dawn, Tom McRorie climbs out of bed at his house in La Habra Heights and gently pushes aside a bevy of dogs eager to greet him.By 4:30 a.m., two volunteers are helping him hook up the long, low, specialized trailer with compartments for 14 greyhound racers to his Chevy Suburban, as they look forward to a quick stop for coffee on the road.Everyone checks to make sure they have their passports as they pull out of the driveway, beginning a monthly trek that McRorie has been making for 25 years: Driving to Tijuana to rescue greyhounds from the Caliente Greyhound Park there.A retired engineer who once worked on submarines, McRorie, 78, now has another avocation: helping dogs that have always lived as racing machines to find adoptive families who will give them the first homes they鈥檝e ever known.The sun comes up as the truck and trailer cross the border, drive through the deserted streets. By 7 a.m., McRorie and today鈥檚 volunteers 鈥?registered nurse Joe Umbrino and truck driver Ron Williams 鈥?arrive at the huge Caliente casino complex which, at one time, also featured horse racing.Pulling through the guard gate up to the dog kennels, the group is greeted by kennel manager Manuel Perez and track veterinarian Raul Guevara, who are out of bed early to turn over retiring animals, along with their health certificates and vital statistics.Although Caliente is in Mexico, it鈥檚 part of the U.S. dog racing circuit, which includes some 20 tracks in seven states and Tijuana. The fastest dogs compete at the top tracks, then as they slow, eventually end up at less lucrative tracks, due to age, injuries or simple disinterest. Caliente is the lowest ranked track on the circuit, where many dogs end their careers.Track veterinarian Guevara said that dogs can be retired at any age for a variety of reasons, including poor racing performance.Greyhounds are taught racing young by chasing a lure. But even young dogs won鈥檛 be successful if they don鈥檛 love it, said Guevara, who has worked at the Caliente track for 28 years.鈥淒ogs must have the spirit. They do not run with their feet. They run with their hearts.鈥漈he sport has been controversial in the United States from its start. And many track owners distrust rescue groups if they perceive them as hostile to the dog racing industry.FastFriends worked hard to develop its rare partnership with racetrack officials. McRorie remembers when he and his wife, Joyce, started rescuing dogs 25 years ago, as part of a different group, and weren鈥檛 even allowed into the Caliente track enclosures.When they did find a trainer who was willing to surrender a dog, they would have to meet him in the parking lot.Over time, track officials began to trust the McRories and, eventually, their new organization. And as space became available, they were offered an adoption kennel, a place where trainers could dump animals they no longer wanted. FastFriends paid for materials to build the kennel, and pays for dog food, but the track pays the salary of kennel manager Perez.The trainers like knowing their dogs will be going to a home 鈥?and that they no longer have to feed them. The rescue groups like having the animals ready for them to pick up.Today, FastFriends and other trusted rescue groups are allowed to come and fetch dogs from the kennel as they are able.DECLINE OF RACING Once, dog racing was popular. The first U.S. dog track opened in Emeryville, north of Oakland, in 1919, after the invention of the mechanical lure, but it was never operated legally and shut down in 1922. Florida was the first state to sanction dog racing, in 1931, and it still has the most tracks.Some 20 tracks remain in seven states plus the track in Tijuana, the only location in Mexico. Greyhound racing is outlawed in California.More tracks might have closed if not for several states requiring live racing as a condition of providing other, more lucrative forms of gambling, such as simulcast wagering or slot machines.鈥淓ventually, there will be no greyhound tracks and no racing greyhounds,鈥?said Joyce McRorie, who partners with Tom in running FastFriends.She notes that few people still attend racing at the track.鈥淪ometimes, we are the only people watching.鈥滾ike other greyhound tracks, Caliente has lost business in recent years, as gamblers who once bet on dogs have slipped away to Indian casinos and other alternatives. Guevara said Caliente keeps about 375 dogs these days, down from about 1,000 at its zenith.For those dogs that remain, life is spartan.They live in metal crates kept in barracks-like kennel houses operated by trainers who work for the dogs鈥?owners. They鈥檙e taken out several times a day for exercise, food and elimination, but spend most of their time in the crate, not interacting with other dogs or people.They eat a mix of dry kibble and horsemeat, but their daily intake is monitored; like jockeys, greyhounds are most efficient when they鈥檙e light. Most racing greyhounds weigh 45 to 95 pounds with virtually no body fat. They have long bones. Their skin is thin and fragile.Typically, dog tracks like Caliente promote 10 races a day, each featuring eight dogs. Track sizes vary, but most are a quarter- to half-mile long. The dogs are supposed to be given four days rest between races.Although the public perception is that racing greyhounds are mistreated, Tom McRorie says he thinks trainers and owners at Caliente often invest too much money in their animals to let them slip.NEW LIVES On Saturday morning, at Caliente, Perez brings out 14 dogs who have been waiting in the exercise yards, separated into males and females.All the dogs are leashed and wearing muzzles, a way to protect their thin skins in the event they should play with other dogs.The dogs, which range in age from 18 months to five years, are soon loaded into the trailer by volunteers Umbrino and Williams. Greyhounds typically live to around age 12.Finally, a trainer brings out a lively, red-haired dog whose racing name is Chaching Babling. She is limping on a bandaged broken ankle.On the greyhound racing circuit, a broken leg means instant retirement. And when a dog stops running and winning, it can mean death.But not for the dog that the men start calling Cha Cha.At other tracks, or without intervention from FastFriends or another rescue group, Cha Cha鈥檚 injury almost certainly would result in her being euthanized.鈥淭he dog鈥檚 owner is never going to spend $3,000 to get a dog鈥檚 leg fixed when it will never race again,鈥?Tom McRorie said.His point is simple: Greyhound racing is a business. And for greyhound owners, spending money to heal injured dogs is a money loser.That fact is part of why greyhound rescue groups like FastFriends have popped up near the dog tracks still operating in the U.S. and Tijuana. They step in and take dogs that are too old or too slow or too broken to sprint around a track.Not all the rescue groups have the money to heal all the dogs. And not all the tracks are friendly with the rescue groups, preferring to not work with people they perceive as hostile to their industry.It鈥檚 why FastFriends is careful not to take a position on the industry.Instead, they focus on placing regal, loving greyhounds in the first true homes of their lives.FINDING NEW HOMES While Tom McRorie is driving 15 dogs back from Mexico to La Habra Heights, Joyce, 76, is at home, preparing their horse property for the dogs鈥?arrival. It鈥檚 a monthly ritual they call 鈥淩etirement Day.鈥漎ears ago, the couple moved from their house near the beach to this larger horse property, suitable for raising dogs.She and a small army of FastFriends volunteers begin gathering outdoors, setting up stations to help the dogs in their conversion from working animals to family pets.Although they have conspicuous muscles that help them sprint 45 miles per hour, non-working racing greyhounds typically are gentle, affectionate couch potatoes. After a life spent in small cages, greyhounds need about the same amount of exercise as any other large dog.On the trip back to La Habra, Cha Cha rides in the back of the Suburban, looking curiously out the window but never complaining about her wrapped, broken leg.After a short wait to cross the border, including a trip to secondary inspection, the dog train arrives back in La Habra Heights around noon. There, more volunteers are waiting.In a system honed by decades of practice, the dogs are quickly unloaded and taken to individual stations around the horse paddock area.Each station is manned by experienced volunteers who check the dogs for fleas and ticks and trim their nails. The dogs are bathed, vaccinated and given a medical exam. They also are tested to see how they react to smaller dogs and cats (neither of which they鈥檝e encountered before), which later helps with placing them in homes.Later, Joyce McRorie will look up each dog鈥檚 history, which is recorded by its racing name and numbers tattooed inside its ears.Cha Cha鈥檚 records revealed she was born Aug. 2, 2012, in the U.S. Four of her litter mates, from parents Gable Sour Cream and Share the Glory, were also racing at Caliente; two others race in Iowa.Typically, after Retirement Day, the greyhounds are taken in temporarily by foster families who help the dogs acclimate to living with people and to handle unfamiliar tasks, such as walking up and down stairs. Dogs are neutered and receive any necessary medical care. After that, they鈥檙e available for adoption.FastFriends charges $270 to adopt a greyhound, and requires a home check. The key factors, Tom McRorie said, are that the animal will be safe and a loved indoor pet.On the same Saturday she was returned from Mexico, Cha Cha was taken into surgery to repair her broken leg, which usually costs around $3,000. Joyce McRorie said the group still struggles to raise the money to pay such bills.Meanwhile, between their monthly trips to Tijuana, the McRories, whose three children are grown, live with a house filled with their own greyhounds.鈥淎 man at the Caliente track asked my husband how long it took to turn these racing machines into family pets,鈥?Joyce McRorie said.鈥淭om told him, 鈥楩rom here to the border.鈥欌€滳ontact the writer: 714-796-7994 or
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