Bob Mowery gives away prize racing dogs — some worth as much as $30,000. "I have a couple in the kennel right now that are superstars," he said.
But he has not seen a dime from these greyhounds.
Mowery, president and founder of Race the Wind Greyhound Adoption, takes in, kennels and finds homes for retired greyhound race dogs. He has found homes for more than 100 dogs in each of the past three years through the local nonprofit, which he founded in 1999.
Race the Wind takes in only retired greyhounds, and gives them up only for adoption as pets, despite offers to adopt some for breeding or racing. Would-be adopters must go through an application process to ensure they can provide a good home for the dogs, Mowery said.
The recent closure of several dog tracks has flooded adoption agencies nationally with dogs needing homes.
Mowery, who has personally adopted 17 retired racing greyhounds since 1990, said that despite the industry's reputation for mistreating dogs, all the dogs are accounted for and are taken care of when a track closes.
"The word 'rescue' gets overused in this industry," he said. "These dogs are extremely healthy and beautiful."
When a track shuts down, the dogs are either moved to a different track, bought by a dog farm for breeding, or put up for adoption, said Tim Horan, assistant director of the National Greyhound Association. In Kansas, all retired greyhounds are tracked by the state's Racing and Gaming Commission.
Race the Wind worked closely with the Wichita Greyhound Park, where nearly 500 dogs were kenneled until it closed in 2007. Mowery said most of those dogs were taken to race at other tracks, while Race the Wind was left to find homes for the remaining 58 dogs.
When the track closed, he also had to move Race the Wind's dogs from the park to a private kennel east of Wichita. The kennel, owned by LaWanda Duncan, one of the Race the Wind's board members, is now nearly at capacity, with about 75 dogs.
In 2009 seven greyhound tracks closed their doors, three in December alone. Now 23 tracks are operating in eight states, compared with 2001, when 46 tracks in 15 states raced greyhounds.
Some of these tracks were victims of the recession, Horan said.
"We're funded by entertainment dollars," he said, "and we're competing for entertainment dollars with everyone else."
Three Kansas dog tracks have shut down since 2000.
"One of the problems is the government is too greedy," Horan said. "Look at Kansas. We could have two or three racetrack-casinos running in the spring if the legislation would come through."
In 2007 Sedgwick County voters narrowly decided against allowing slot machines at the Wichita Greyhound Park.
Voters approved the machines for the Woodlands, a track in Kansas City, Kan., but it closed as well.
The law allowed track owners to keep 40 percent of the revenue from the machines, which dog racing proponents said was not enough to make the tracks profitable. Racing proponents hope the issue is revisited this year to allow track owners to keep more of the revenue.
Along with track closures, a decreased demand for greyhounds as breeders has put more retired dogs in adoption agencies. The National Greyhound Association, which registers all racing greyhounds, has recorded a steady decrease in annual breeding since 2007. In 2009 an estimated 16,000 puppies were born in the U.S., compared with an estimated 23,000 puppies two years before.
Nationally, adoption agencies have had trouble finding retired greyhounds homes as economic hardship has kept many dog lovers from adopting or forced them to give back a dog.
The Kansas Humane Society, which works with about 70 animal adoption or rescue groups — including Race the Wind — has seen an increase in the number of pets that need homes, from about 17,000 in 2008 to 18,000 in the first 11 months of 2009.
"For some families, a pet is one of the first things they will give up to adjust their lifestyle to deal with the economy," said Jennifer Campbell of the Kansas Humane Society. "But for others a pet is the last thing they would give up."
Mowery, who was recently contacted by someone from Canada who wanted to adopt 15 greyhounds, said he has no trouble finding homes for his dogs.
"They're addictive," he said. "You can't own just one, and most people don't."