Monday, March 1, 2010

There Goes Swifty!

February 27th was the 26th Worldwide SketchCrawl and I put out an invitation on Facebook for artists to spend a day sketching the betting establishments in town. The first stop was the Dog Track in Longwood. The morning of the Crawl it was pouring outside and I wondered if the dogs would be allowed to run under such conditions but I had made the commitment, and so I packed my art supplies in the truck and headed out in the rain. I also realized that I was running a bit late and as I got closer to the track I worried that I might miss the post time. The entrance to the dog track has cheesy white dog sculptures perched above the doorways so I knew I was in the right spot.

The ground floor of the facility had large plate glass windows that all face out on the now muddy track. I wandered around trying to decide where to sketch. There were multiple areas where fans could watch a wall of televisions all broadcasting different races. I finally made my way back to the bar where I knew patrons would most likely perch for an extended period. As I worked a woman walked up to every person at the bar and offered them "The Luck of the Irish". She was selling Irish themed candy to help raise funds to help find homes for retired greyhounds. When she approached me she became infatuated with the sketch and asked if I drew dogs. I of course said I have drawn dogs in the past. Mary LoBianco introduced herself to me and I offered her a seat. Her organization consists of 6 volunteers and they are responsible for helping the dogs find loving homes. She said 30 dogs were to be sent to Canada and each dog requires a $75 fee. Using any means possible these volunteers help raise the money needed. I gave Mary my card and told her to contact me so I can follow up and see more of the work they are doing for these dogs.

When I finished my sketch, I decided to go outside to watch one more race before heading back to the studio where I had work waiting. The dogs were walked out to the holding gate and then one of the handlers waved his hand in a circular motion and the announcer said, "There goes Swifty!" The yellow stuffed rabbit on the end of a metal pole accelerated and flew around the track. The metal wheels of the contraption were louder than I expected. When Swifty rounded the curve and went past the holding gate, there was a metallic thunk but the starting gate didn't raise as expected. All of the spectators groaned. The dogs thrashed around inside in a frenzy yelping, screaming and crying out. The announcer let everyone know about the mechanical failure of the starting gate. Handlers started taking the dogs out of the starting gate enclosure while the rabbit decelerated around the far bend. One dog managed to shake free of his handler and in a moment of glory he dashed out onto the empty and muddy track. One spectator shouted out, "Hey that is my dog!" With no competition the dog ecstatically ran towards the rabbit, finally guaranteed to catch his elusive prize. When he rounded the bend, the rabbit was dead still. He leaped forward and went to snatch his prize. His head hit the metal support pole at over 40 miles an hour and his limp body splayed out in the mud spinning to a stop. A handler slowly walked out on the messy track and lifted the limp form. Inside at the bar, men were saying that the dog had been a real champion, cut down in his prime. A fallen gladiator.

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Anonymous said...

holy shit. this is SO telling. well done.

Brian Feldman said...

When you first announced you were moving the sketch crawl to these betting establishments, I wasn’t too happy, as I had previously wanted to attend. I’m no fan of gambling; *especially* when it’s animal cruelty masquerading as gambling. And yet, the fact that you were able to witness and document this horrific event... in some ways, well, it was almost a good thing you *were* there. How many others in attendance that night even wrote this incident down? How many even care? Still, I gotta wonder, how often does this sort of thing happen? (Had I been there, I may have started crying.)

I appreciate the link you posted at the bottom of the post, though; by which I was able to learn that the oldest greyhound racing track in the country is only two hours west of here: Derby Lane in St. Pete, celebrating 85 years of creulty in 2010. That’s a lot of dogs racing to their deaths. Perhaps I’ll take a field trip out there at some point.

Speakeasy, that's who. said...

What Brian said. My girl and I have a rescued greyhound - an unbelievably mellow and friendly dog - and we've heard our fair share of horror stories. That last bit about the loose dog was wrenching.

By many accounts, the sport is dying. Not soon enough.

Thor said...

Brian, a field trip to Derby Lane sounds like a good idea. I will hopefully be sketching the good work being done to rescue greyhounds as well.