My Experience at the Macau Canidrome
I never expected to find any light in such a dark place as the Canidrome in Macau where 18,000 greyhounds had been killed over 5 decades just for being too slow, sick or injured............but I did.
The Canidrome greyhound race track was slaughtering 30 - 40 greyhounds a month, and routinely replacing them with a fresh shipment of greyhounds from Australia, even without industry passports. When Australian airlines agreed to stop flying them due to public outcry, heinous Irish owners had no moral qualms about being their next supplier and sending 9 there. When they tried to send 24 more of their greyhounds to a life of misery, they were thankfully turned away from Heathrow Airport when their flight crates were deemed unsafe. With a lack of supply from other countries came the Macau born greyhounds, the ones they started breeding in desolate, dark concrete cells.
When international pressure finally forced the Canidrome to shut down on July 21st 2018 leaving 532 greyhounds abandoned, my heart led me to Macau to help. A brave seven year battle to close the track led by the now legendary Albano Martins of Anima Macau to whom these dogs owe their lives, alongside partners GREY2K USA Worldwide and the Italian association Pet Levrieri, had been won against all odds.
The next daunting task lay ahead: to transport all of the survivors to safety and into loving homes.
Before I went to Macau I was fortunate to be asked by Pet Levrieri to character assess and photograph greyhounds heading to Europe and the UK for their bios, and equally honored when GREY2K asked me to photograph Brooklyn, the inspiration for the #ClosetheCanidrome campaign, for their newsletter. I was happy to have this focus as I am sure it is what kept me from completely falling apart. And it was a chance to get to know the dogs and to give them some attention outside of their cells.
However, if it wasn’t for Albano I would not have been able to get into the Canidrome because the government had seized control of the care of the dogs from Anima and were no longer allowing any volunteers inside to help. They decided to hire employees of a cleaning company to replace them, who knew nothing about dogs, let alone greyhounds! But through persistence Albano was getting volunteers back in, as I know he wanted outside eyes keeping track on what was happening inside that very dark place. On my very first morning he took me there to show me the ropes. I realized very quickly when seeing the dogs for the first time that they were not safe even though the track was now closed. Their only chance of survival was to get them all out as quickly as possible. The deadline to accomplish this enormous task had originally been September of 2019. It was shortened by the government to March 2019.
Reflecting back on my time at the Canidrome triggers Ane Brun’s song “All We Want is Love” to keep playing in my head and I can’t stop the tears from falling. All I keep seeing are the eyes of over 500 greyhounds all looking at me, half filled with hope and starving for love.....
and I still hear the thunderous voices of 500 greyhounds barking for attention as I arrived for each shift of the day. A sound that would have me rushing through the layers of security so that I could start walking them so they didn’t have to spend all day in their cells.
For many shifts during my 14 days there last November, I was the only volunteer and felt completely alone and distraught. I burst into tears so many times witnessing what these gentle souls had to endure. Dark, wet, concrete cells with decrepit rusty, sharp bars. Greyhounds lying on the cement floor with open wounds from lack of soft bedding and some without any bed at all. Greyhounds very underweight, with rotting teeth, some with mouths full of blood. Their only stimulation other than 2 meals and 2 short walks a day was chewing on their metal bars or scratching on the wall. Greyhounds with scars, ragged coats and red raw feet as their cells and the pavement for their walks were never dry. There were many old ones, who had somehow survived this living hell. And the adorable young ones still full of life who were born in their cells. Greyhounds being rough handled, hit on their walks and dragged along while trying to pee. And I will never forget the moment when one worker got mad with me because he thought I was too gentle with the dogs as I took them out of their cells. He corrected me by demonstrating how to forcefully grab one, as if she were some sort of wild beast. As he walked away I couldn’t see straight through the flood of tears that never seemed to end. How could they treat greyhounds, our beautiful beloved greyhounds, this way?
Never once did these sweet, polite souls try to take off when I opened their gate. They gently, yet enthusiastically slipped their necks right into their leather collar, and waited patiently as I hurried to buckle it up. I walked 2 dogs at a time, while the workers walked groups of 5 and 6. We navigated around the other greyhounds who were relieving themselves after being locked up for many hours in their cells. I yelled at the workers who hit or pulled their dogs. We tried to avoid the puddles and constant spray of hoses to keep the pavement cool. After going twice around the kennel blocks, we returned them to their kennels where their leash was hooked to a high line off the ground which didn’t allow them to lie or sit down while waiting for their cells to be cleaned. Some cells would be hosed down while the dogs were still inside.
After all the dogs had been walked, including my sweet regulars in Kennel 2 (there were 10 kennels in all), I would photograph the dogs on my list whenever the gracious and dedicated local volunteers could be there to help. Not only were they devoted to the dogs, but they took care of me in the kindest ways, treating me to vegetarian restaurants they had researched knowing I was vegan, paying for my bus fare and showing me around the city in between shifts. The remaining time I spent going from kennel to kennel, greyhound to greyhound putting my hands through the bars to give them rubs and a kind word.
I tried to visit Kennel 4 everyday, the hospital kennel, where the dogs with open sores had to stand for long periods of time tied on short leads as their medications dried. I would stand with them giving them love till they could go back to their cells and lie down. And there were those like Very Fast, whose leg was permanently injured and who had been made to race this way. There was Midnight Terror who I held in my arms while he uncontrollably shook, his body had gone septic as he had been only thrown a blanket the three days he was shivering with fever in his cell. I kept crying out to get him some attention but by then it was too late. I felt so bad for his soon to be Hong Kong adopter, Kenny, who loved him so. Midnight Terror was one of 15 survivors who would never make it out. Others had died a lonely death in their cells.
But there were many bright spots too like the day Goodyear.com, who would soon become my Macau heart greyhound, escaped from her cell running to find me with K2 workers in tow. I had no idea what all the commotion was about until I felt a cold nose on my hand and a warm body leaning against me as I was walking another greyhound around the kennel blocks. Everyday she would pull her handler as she would come and find me and give me the biggest, most loving greeting of all. I often dreamed of getting her out and bringing her home. There was bossy boots Cee Magic in K4 who made the workers all laugh. She would bark and bark at me for attention when I would leave her to pet someone else. Not to mention the local volunteers who loved the dogs so much, they gave me great hope in knowing the dogs were not alone. There were a few workers too, who genuinely cared for the dogs. I remember one crying when he found out one had died in the night.
The send offs too were highlights of the week. This is where we said our farewells and wished happy lives to the greyhounds heading off to a new start. They were placed in flight crates and then into cars to begin their long journey by first crossing the new 55 kilometer Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macao bridge to the airport in Hong Kong. They were finally getting the second chance they so deserved.......a life of freedom, a loving forever family and a soft bed, something they had never known.
What I witnessed at the Canidrome will haunt me for the rest of my life, but I will be forever deeply touched by the light of these most gentle and kind creatures, and their unconditional love,......
starved for affection and a kind word, yet showering me with more love than I could ever return. So willing to forgive, despite the heavy hand of abuse they had suffered their whole lives. And so resilient and ready to move on, as documented by all of the wonderful stories and photographs shared by the families who have given them a forever home.
I am grateful for the global community too, so many who joined together in one powerful voice, and who never gave up fighting to save these precious souls…..for Anima Macau, Grey2K and Pet Levrieri, and for all of the animal advocacy groups who brought the plight of the Macau greyhounds to the forefront……for Albano who deserves a Nobel Prize for his graceful and skillful way of navigating through the messy politics and getting opposing forces to work together, for the local volunteers who devoted so much love and time to help the dogs, for all of the families and greyhound refuges who took them in with loving hearts and open arms including Greyhound Pet Inc where I volunteer in the US and who turned me into the greyhound advocate that I am today, for my husband who encouraged me to go and who looked after our pack while I was gone, for my parents who instilled in me compassion for animals by taking stray dogs off of the street and bringing them into our home while I was growing up, and for the gift my father left me when he died a few months before my trip. This allowed me to go and help these most gentle beings who have only ever wanted to be loved. And that has been the greatest gift of all. #savethemacaugreyhounds #themacaugreyhoundsarefree
For more Macau greyhound photos go to - The Macau Greyhounds