From Track to Couch pt. 1

The Track

Our greyhounds start their trip to the couch when we pick them up from the Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico. Some wonder why we don't pick up dogs from an American track. First, dog racing is not legal in California. Second, the Caliente track is part of the American racing circuit. The dogs there are bred and raised in America. The photo to the left shows the starting gates for the dogs at the Caliente track.  As the photo shows, up to nine dogs can race at one time. Races there are run in the afternoon and at night, so the track is usually pretty deserted when we pick up dogs early in the morning.

Many greyhounds have spent only a few months in Mexico when we get them. Some come directly from breeders, while others come from American tracks that have closed or where they weren't performing sufficiently well. Caliente is an end-of-the line track for most greyhounds; dogs that wash out at Caliente, if not adopted out, are usually euthanized. So our group's top priority is to find a home for every dog that is retired from the Caliente track.

At left are the greyhound kennels at Caliente racetrack. Each barracks-style building represents a different kennel business. Each is independently owned. Some owners manage their kennels, while others pay managers to care for the kennels. Each of these buildings houses about forty dogs. The kennels are arranged on two levels on either side of a central aisle. They measure about three feet wide by four feet deep by three feet high. The dogs enter the upper-level kennels by jumping up three feet.

Each of the kennels has turnout pens in the rear, as depicted at right. The dogs are turned out four times a day to relieve themselves. Males are turned out separately from females, and all dogs are kept muzzled when turned out. Caliente has a conditioning area on the other side of the track where dogs are taken periodically for ongoing training. Some kennels readily deal with Greyhound adoption groups.

In September of 1997, we were able to make a major change in our operations. Instead of contracting for temporary dog housing with a kennel in the California high desert, we are now able to keep dogs in a pet kennel set up on the Caliente track with some financial help from GPA/CA OC&GLA. At right in the foreground is part of the new turnout yard. The building in the background is the track grandstands.

This pet kennel currently can house 44 dogs. It is maintained by dog track personnel at track expense. Our greyhound adoption group has agreed to supply dog food, and cleaning supplies. We generally take down food on our trips to pick up dogs. Other adoption groups have made donations to the pet kennel, as well. Even some of the track kennels have brought extra food to the pet kennel!

Some of the dog handlers at Caliente are very needy folks with families to support. We take used clothing to the employees as a gesture of friendship and compassion. Let Joyce McRorie know if you can donate clothing. 

The fenced turnout area for the pet kennel dogs is separate from those for the dogs currently racing. It is quite large, allowing the dogs to get more exercise than is possible in the track kennels.

At left is a view of the new turnout runs. The two runs keep males and females separated. These runs are the envy of all the racing kennels.

Because this is not our kennel, the dogs there will be made available to any rescue group. That's just fine with us, since our goal is not how many dogs our group can adopt out, but getting as many Caliente dogs as possible into homes regardless of what group places them. We're also hopeful that some kennel managers, who don't deal directly with rescue groups, will take their dogs to this pet kennel.

At far left is Carlos Duran, track manager at Caliente. He has been very supportive of the pet kennel concept. Here Sr. Duran and two kennel workers help GPA volunteer Becky MacKenzie (second from left) bring a group of dogs from the pet kennel run to our trailer.


The Hintzke Hound Hauler

Below is our dog trailer, parked in front of the Caliente pet kennel. It has made a big difference in our trips to Mexico. It allows us to transport as many as 22 dogs at a time.  In the past, volunteers had to load 5 or 6 dogs in a personal vehicle.

One volunteer drove while another watched to make sure the dogs didn't relieve themselves or get into altercations. Usually we had to send two vehicles to get the available dogs. The trailer is a safer way for the dogs to travel. Each dog has a separate compartment. The trailer also makes for less wear and tear on vehicle interiors and on volunteer's nerves. The dogs are muzzled to prevent injury during transport. The border control guards are usually a bit surprised to see a load of dogs, but they are always cooperative and supportive once we explain the situation.

After nearly two years of hauling dogs between the Caliente race track in Mexico, to a kennel in the California high desert, and back to our home base in the Los Angeles area, our volunteers and vehicles were showing signs of the strain. We put out a call for donations to fund a dog trailer that would let us transport the dogs more safely and with less hassle.

A number of folks donated to the trailer fund, but Herb and Berle Hintzke went above and beyond the call of duty. Their donation paid most of the costs of having a trailer built for us (used trailers didn't cost much less and came with certain risks). We received the trailer in the fall of 1997. At left, Herb brings a couple of hounds from the trailer to their new lives in retirement.

The Hintzke's donation made such a difference in our ability to buy this trailer that we had to find a way to pay tribute to their generosity. So we came up with a name and printed it on the back of the trailer: "Hintzke's Hound Hauler."