Saturday, March 27, 2010

GONE TO THE DOGS - the bitter end

Wayne was partying like a rockstar and I was doing all the work. I didn't have the experience to do the work though and the kennel stopped running. The more it didn't run the more depressed he became and the less he would show up. When he did show up he did nothing but complain and we smoked a lot of dope. The work was getting done because I was doing it (kennel maintenance) but I didn't have the skill yet to get any run out of the dogs.

Then Wayne's girlfriend left him and Sal sold the kennel. I still feel to this day that Sal didn't actually sell the kennel, I think he had someone fronting for him because he gambled too much and owed thousands of dollars around the track. The couple who bought the kennel were out of Alabama and I had met them many times because they were Sal's friends. They were good sturdy people but one of the first things they did was to tell me I had to take a pay cut or they would let me go.

There went the good old days of me being the highest paid help in he compound. I was putting in an astronomical amount of hours (70 or 80 weekly) which is why I they pay salaries instead of hourly wages in the dog business. I stayed because it was my first kennel and I couldn't bear to leave my babies. I had yet to discover the art of kennel hopping - an art which I perfected later on.

The Alderson's kept Wayne at first. They were more hands on than Sal though and they quickly saw why the dogs weren't running. He wasn't doing the work. So they fired him. The new trainer brought his own help with him and I was promptly fired and I immediately was hired into another kennel.

Wayne got another job in a bottom kennel. "You can't make a pig fly," as they say in the dog business especially when you have the kind of attitude Wayne had. One day I watched him picking up dogs and I thought to myself, "that is the most depressed person I ever saw." He went up to the kennel to do turnout.

ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE! There were police cars and ambulances and nobody was allowed in or out of the compound. Of course word spread fast...Wayne was dead. He hung himself in the kennel. He died with his dogs

Friday, March 26, 2010

GONE TO THE DOGS - a problem I couldn't handle

For the first month Wayne and I worked together I did get my time off. After the dogs started running he started to miss work. At first I was picking up a little extra then I was doing extra turnouts and then I was only getting one turnout a week off and sometimes not even that. Basically it was no different from working with Sal except that the dogs were winning. In the meantime he was missing days at a time except for weigh in's which he was required by law to do and I couldn't do for him.

Then there was a dog fight. One of the dogs had her ear cut which wasn't severe but when a dog's ear gets cut it bleeds like crazy. He was there when it happened and I watched him doctor it. That afternoon when we came in for turnout she had gotten the bandage off and Wayne redid it. This time he wrapped the bandage around her whole head instead of just her ear so that she couldn't get it off.

That night when I went in to turnout the dog was wheezing. I looked for Wayne at the track but I couldn't find him. I did my work for the evening and went home thinking that he would stop by the kennel after the races like he sometimes did. The next morning I could see that he had not been there.

I did my morning work. I talked to his friends who assurred me that Wayne intended to be there, so I went home again thinking Wayne would be there. He was not. That afternoon there was a note for me at the guardshack to take the racers down and somebody else would be weighing them in. I did this and I let his friends know that Wayne needed to come to the kennel because one of the dogs had a problem that I couldn't fix. I had redone the bandage and she didn't wheeze when it was off but as soon as I put it on she started having problems again.

Still Wayne was a no show. I wished Jeff were still around but he had taken a job at another track. I talked to a trainer I trusted that night and at first he wouldn't help me. He didn't want to interfere in Wayne's kennel. I finally got him to tell me to cut a slit in the bandage at the base of her neck and that would help her breathe. I did this and she seemed to get better.

The next morning still no Wayne and the dog was in as bad a shape as ever. I was becoming furious by this point. I went to one of his friends and I told him I needed help. At first he refused. He refused until I told him that if he didn't come help the dog I was going to the track vet and telling her about it and the fact that Wayne had not been to the kennel in 3 days. Reluctantly he accompanied me to the kennel.

As soon as we opened the kennel door, we could hear the dog wheezing. He looked at me with alarm in his eyes and he was a veteran trainer. I knew for him to express worry was a big deal. We took the dog out of her crate and he gently doctored her and the wheezing stopped. He wrapped the bandage around her head but it was much looser than what either Wayne or I had done. Apparently I had been slowly strangling the poor dog.

Wayne showed up that night, apologizing profusely for leaving me. He had also thanked Bill for taking care of the dog when I couldn't. He was mad that I threatened to go to the vet. He trusted the trainer I had forced to help me and believed him when he told him just how bad the situation was.

I even got a whole weekend off, partly for good work and partly for not going to track officials. He also quit not showing up for work although I didn't get anymore time off after that until he left the kennel.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

GONE TO THE DOGS - new routine

Wayne came in the next morning and helped to do beds, sprint dogs and of course we went to Shoney's for breakfast. As we were getting to know each other other trainers kept stopping by our table. I was fascinated that they all seemed to know each other despite the fact that they all came from different areas of the country.

We went back to the compound after breakfast and Wayne said, "This is where your training begins. I don't care what anybody has told you before you do things my way. You got a problem with that?"


"Good. First we are going to change second turnout to after we feed. It is crazy to turnout and then feed. If you turnout first then the dogs get to clean out and they don't have to wait until afternoon turnout at two o'clock."

"Two? We've been turning out at four."

"Well, now it's two. Like I said things are different now. When we come back for weigh-in we will kick out the racers and pissers again. It's more work but it will pay off in the long run. By the way, I give bonuses."

That brought a big smile to my face. Then he said, "I want you to mix feed today so I know what they've been getting. Tomorrow we do it my way." I proceeded to mix feed while he weighed racers. He surprised me by weighing the next days racers too. When I asked him why he said, "if you don't weigh them the day before you don't know you have a problem. You don't have time to fix it if you wait until the day they are in. I don't want to do something drastic to get them across the scale."

After feeding he went over the racers. I learned more from watching him check the first dog than I had learned in my whole time in the dog business. He also told me the secret to his "deadly juice." The "deadly juice" was his personal recipe for liniment. I was to later learn that many trainers would try to trick that recipe out of me. I never gave it to another soul - not even my husband.

Wayne had been working about a week when Kay was in. He checked her over to make sure she wasn't hurt but then he took her off the bench and said, "little D piece of shit, tonight you grade off." She was on her last line in D which meant that if she didn't run 4th. or better the track wouldn't let her race anymore.

Basically it was a death sentence and I panicked when I heard him say it," No! You can't do that!" I yelled. "She can run. She hasn't been running because she's afraid of Sal."

He turned to look at me and he could see the distress in my eyes. "What do you mean?"

"I mean Sal was mean to her. If he would lose money on a dog he would come in the kennel and take it out on her. Terri and I have been running interference for her but she cringes everytime he comes in the kennel. You can't let her just grade off. If she's treated right, I know she can run. You have to save her." I also let him know that I would have reported Sal but I didn't have proof and Terri was helping to keep Sal away from her too.

Wayne got a determined look in his eye and put Kay back on the stand. "C'mon baby, you get the special treatment today." He rubbed her down until she actually fell over on the stand, then he put a blanket on her to help drive in the liniment and put her to bed.

That night Kay won. I went to pick her up with a huge smile on my face and Wayne was there waiting for me. I thanked him with tears in my eyes and he told me not to worrry that she was going to be fine from here on out. And she was. She was never a great racer. She farted around in C and D but she made money for dog food and that was more than alot of dogs do. When she finally did grade off she was the first dog I ever found a home for. Trainers were laughing at me for doing it and they all told me I would regret it.

They were wrong. One by one I started to find homes for the greyhounds. I couldn't complain when one was marched off to the vet, but I was finding homes for more and more dogs and I saved the ones I could and refused to let it bother me when I couldn't. Then the old timers started coming to me. They would say, "I have a dog I want you to find a home for. If you tell anybody I will deny that I gave you the dog and they will be your responsibility. Do you understand?"

"Perfectly," I would tell them and take the dog and go on my merry way. They added up pretty quick. "One at a time." That was my new motto.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

GONE TO THE DOGS - Super Trainer Introduces Himself

Wayne Simpkins was the first super trainer that I ever worked for. Word got around the compound fast that he was coming and I was intrigued by the fact that all the "old timers" were in awe of him. Their reaction to the mention of his name was one of fear and glee all rolled into one. Fear because they fully expected the kennel to take off the second he hit the compound and glee because the man could party with the best of them. Apparently I had a rockstar coming to be my boss.

A good trainer is treated like a rockstar at the track. People swarm to buy them drinks and dinner and they hang on to every word hoping for a good tip. Women throw themselves at them. They are treated like celebrities. Some of them even have fan clubs. I learned early on to not get involved with a trainer on a personal basis. They have a habit of hiring young girls and passing them from kennel to kennel when they tire of them and most of the girls are too dumb to see what's happening to them.

I was doing afternoon turnout when up struts Wayne Simpkins. He was a ruggedly handsome man with blonde hair curling around his ears, dreamy brown eyes and a deep, gruff sounding voice. He really did have a nice smile. He looked me up and down as he introduced himself, "I hear I got the best help in the compound."

I smiled back, " You do. I hear my dogs are goin' to fly now that you're here."

He smiled again and said, "that's the goal, you know, you are really very pretty" He looked the dogs over in the turnout pen taking everything in with just a glance, "You seem to have everything under control. What time's weigh in?"

"six o'clock," and I added, "I'm married."

"Ah, I see," he said as he straightned just a hair. "Well I've got to go make myself legal. I'll see you at weigh-in," he started to walk away. Then he turned and said, "I hear you been a little overworked. As soon as I get settled in we will see about getting you some time off."

I smiled back as I said, "that WOULD be nice. I haven't had a day off in 3 months."

"I know," he said, "that's what I hear and we are going to put a stop to that."

Monday, March 22, 2010

GONE TO THE DOGS - I'm getting some help

Weeks dragged into months. Three months to be exact. No days off, not even a turnout. I was working seven days a week, twelve to eighteen hours a day. I was becoming a burned out mess. About this time Jeff hired a new helper named Bobby. He told me to come to me with any questions. Bobby and I became good friends. He would come get me when I was done with the first part of my morning work. Instead of breakfast at Shoney's we would smoke a joint for breakfast and go have fun sprinting the dogs or playing with them in the turnout pen.

We knew we wouldn't get caught because our bosses were too lazy to get up in the morning. It was nice not to be the newbie for once and Bobby was fascinated that I could get through the morning routine so easily. We had the same background too. Our parents had money. Enough money for us to be pariahs around the good ole country boys who generally worked around the kennels. He lasted longer than I did with his preppy grooming. I quit after three days, he kept it up for a couple of months. I made alot of fun of him for it. He didn't mind.

One day Sal came in the kennel. He was his usual exuberant self. "I hired a trainer! The best in the business," he happily told me. "He's a super trainer. He will be here in two weeks and he is going to teach youse everything he knows. Youse should thank me for hiring such a high quality teacher for youse."

I was taken aback. I had spent the last couple months thinking he would replace me as soon as he found somebody willing to work for him. The only thing that kept me safe was the fact that nobody was willing to take his shit. I loved my dogs too much to go anywhere else and he took full advantage of it. The news gave me energy. Bobby (my husband - not the helper) and I celebrated all night long that night.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

GONE TO THE DOGS - Sal sinks to a new low

"Pam, I have to tell you something," Danford came to me with a serious look on his face. Something he hardly ever was.

"What?" He had my attention immediately.

"I saw Terri at the track last night."

"I haven't seen her in days." She hadn't been around the kennel since the day of the blow out but I hadn't mentioned this to Danford or anyone else.

"She had a black eye."

"A black eye! What happened?" Alarm bells started ringing in my head. I knew what had happened before he even said anything and I thought I was going to be sick.

"I don't know. She didn't mean for me to see her. She was getting out of the car and into the dog truck while I happened to be walking by. Do you know what happened?"

"No, Sal hasn't said anything about her being hurt." I didn't know what else to say. I knew he had beaten her up because of the whole weight thing and it was my fault for telling him about it in the first place. Sal had been a complete prick for days. I felt terrible. I just looked at Danford. I could see in his eyes that he knew that Sal had done it. He just didn't know if I knew about it.

"I gotta go, Danford." I turned away and went to my kennel. I crawled into a crate with Zorba and we laid there together with my head on his chest. I loved that dog and he loved me. He always made me feel better when Sal was too much to handle. I stayed there until it was time to load the racers. I met Sal at the track as usual. He wasn't in the mood to talk and I wasn't either. I managed to avoid him for the rest of the night.

From that night on I basically worked alone. I never saw Terri. Sal would tell me what he wanted done and if I needed help then Barry would come in. I did not see a turnout off in weeks and a whole day off was a distant memory. Then one day Sal came in and told me Barry had a heart attack and was in the hospital.

On top if everything else I had to take care of Nameless and Shameless. Those were the two puppies at the farm. I had named them because nobody else seemed like they even cared if they even had names. The names stuck because they seemed to fit their personalities. Especially Shameless, she was a mischievious little sucker.

I asked about Barry everyday for three days. Not with any great concern, just the general way you ask about a coworker who is ill. On the third day Sal told me that he had died. I didn't think anything else about it and I never asked about Barry again. The puppy farm on top of the kennel was too much for me to take care of. I was ready to quit. Luckily Sal came in one day and told me he was sending them to a farm in Kansas. I was glad. I needed a break.