Before Floridians voted Tuesday to end greyhound racing by 2021, Maryann Tolliver would field maybe three inquiries a week from people looking to adopt a retired dog from St. Petersburgís Derby Lane.
But in less than a week since voters gave the already diminishing sport its fatal blow in Florida, Tolliver said she has heard from more than two dozen applicants who expected immediate fallout.
Despite the looming deadline and response by willing adopters, there has not been a frantic rush to place racing greyhounds out of the marked industry just yet.
Derby Lane, like many of the 11 tracks in the state, has committed to continue racing until its deadline 26 months from now. In the meantime, a nationwide coalition of 100 adoption groups, foster volunteers and transport drivers have united to help absorb the thousands of canine refugees that will trickle off Floridaís tracks ó dogs that donít continue racing at the nationís six remaining tracks in five states.
"Weíre not in a panic, we are not going to change the way we do adoptions," said Tolliver, president of the Greyhound Pets of America Tampa Bay, the adoption arm of Derby Lane. "Weíre not just going to be handing dogs out."
Throughout the debate over Amendment 13, which passed with a decisive 69 percent of the vote, racing advocates warned the ban would trigger a massive flood of dogs in need of homes.
The Florida Greyhound Association estimates there are 8,000 racing dogs in Florida and 7,000 puppies at breeding farms on deck to enter the industry, the same statistic used as far back as five years ago. But because the state does not track the number of greyhounds in the sport it regulates, independent estimates do not exist.
And data from within the industry indicate actual populations could be far lower. The National Greyhound Association had 9,488 total dogs registered in all six racing states in 2016, down 25 percent from 2009. Last month, there were only 3,700 greyhounds in Florida reflected as active on the industryís top racing website, according to an analysis by Grey2K USA, the architect behind Amendment 13 and initiatives that have led to 30 tracks closing since 2001.
"Itís a constantly changing number," said Grey2k executive director Carey Theil. "The dog population at Florida tracks today is different from the population yesterday because many dogs are coming in and leaving."
At Derby Lane, which opened in 1925 and is owned by the founderís great grandson, there are between 900 to 1,000 dogs that live in the kennels year-round, Tolliver said.
She said her organization adopts out between 200 and 250 greyhounds per year as they retire because of age or injury.
Although exact figures are not known, the number of greyhounds bred every year has declined over the past decade as public enthusiasm for the sport has diminished. Since 1990 the amount wagered on greyhound racing in Florida has declined by 74 percent, according to state figures.
The total amount wagered at Derby Lane alone has plummeted to less than $21 million, down from $80 million in 2006.
As trainers and owners prepare for the deadline, Tolliver said fewer dogs will be introduced to the state, setting up for a natural phase out.
"They know the end is coming in 2020 so theyíre not going to continue to have fully staffed kennels as far as racers go," said Tolliver, who has led Derby Laneís adoptions for 20 years.
When the 100 private greyhound adoption groups and volunteers formed the Greyhound Adopters for Racing earlier this year, it was to oppose the effort to end racing in Florida. With Amendment 13ís passage, coalition vice president John Parker said the groupís mission now is to assist trainers, owners and tracks in adopting out every last dog leaving the industry.
"Iím very confident the adoption community wonít just let any greyhound be left behind," said Parker, a lawyer in Atlanta. "We donít want them going into general animal shelters, we donít want them with groups with no experience with greyhounds. They are a specific breed and need a specific kind of home."
Parker said this mass relocation will be done gradually, mostly through coordination via Facebook networking, where hundreds of volunteers are coordinating information.
But a long festering rift in the adoption community is also complicating some of the efforts.
Longtime greyhound welfare advocates like Kelly Faircloth, president of Greyhound Rescue and Adoptions of Tampa Bay, said those who have spoken out against what they consider blatant abuses within racing have been blacklisted from receiving retiring greyhounds from tracks across the country.
Since its founding in 1993, Faircloth said her organization has taken in greyhounds with such severe dental disease they could barely open their mouths, dogs with broken bones that didnít heal correctly, chemical burns from trainers using pesticides to treat fleas, and dogs with tumors or lymphoma gone untreated.
As efforts to end dog racing in Florida escalated over the past five years, Faircloth said groups like hers that were not outwardly pro-racing, or neutral on the sport, were banished.
At the same time, alleged abuses were continuing to be brought more to public consciousness. The state only began requiring tracks to report dog deaths in 2013. There have since been 483 deaths reported from broken bones, heart failure and electrocution mid-race from the high-voltage moving lure the dogs chase around the track.
"I firmly believe racing is inhumane and cruel and thatís why we did what we did," Faircloth said. "When we spoke out against it, they immediately labeled us as extremist people ruining livelihoods and wanting to destroy the breed, that we actually wanted the breed to be nonexistent, which is completely ridiculous."
For renowned Derby Lane trainer Cal Holland Sr., the passage of Amendment 13 marks a heartbreaking end to his familyís five generations in the sport.
He points to his 50 years of dedication to his animals to counter allegations from the other side that racing is inherently inhumane. Holland, 74, said reports that greyhounds typically spend up to 23 hours a day in their crate are exaggerated, although he acknowledges his kennelís 64 dogs get out "a few hours a day" between their four to six turn outs, schooling sprints, and twice a week races that last about 30 seconds.
"They absolutely love racing," Holland said.
By Jan. 1, 2021, Holland said he expects to be retired in Hernando Beach, where his boat is waiting for him at his dock. The handful of customers who own the 64 dogs under his care, will be split between those who decide to gradually adopt out their greyhounds and those who move on to other states.
Even with the end in sight, he said heís going to hold on for as long as he can.
"As long as they keep training and working we will keep racing," Holland said.
Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.