ONLY A DECADE AGO, greyhound racing was the sixth most popular spectator sport in the nation. But mounting opposition and complaints from animal rights advocates may just break the back of the industry. Regulated state-by-state, greyhound racing has already been banned in adjacent Idaho and Washington, leaving the sport legal in only 16 states, including Oregon.

"The amount of killing and suffering that these dogs endure for the sake of entertainment is amazing," says Connie Theil, the animated director of the Oregon Defenders of Greyhounds. It is estimated that 20,000 greyhounds are killed each year by starvation, electrocution, or simple abandonment. For example, at the end of last year's racing season, as a load of 54 greyhounds were in transit in a Ryder truck from Oregon to Florida, six died from dehydration.

Theil points out that greyhounds are considered livestock, not pets. As such, they do not enjoy the same legal protections in Oregon as other dogs. Moreover, the litters--usually around six puppies--are likely to only produce one or two winners; what happens to these additional dogs is a primary concern for animal advocates. A conservative estimate, based on the current number of breeders and racers, yields that at least 6,000 additional dogs are bred annually. Ensuring that these extra dogs are placed in proper adoption programs instead of being killed is problematic, claim advocates.

"Oregon does have one of the most stringent systems for tracking and protecting greyhounds," says Kevin Friends, a former volunteer for the Greyhound Pets of America (GPA). "But that doesn't prevent breeders or owners from going out of state to end a dog's racing career," continues Friends. "If the dog's career ends elsewhere, it can be put down or sold for scientific experiments."

The GPA is an organization that seeks to place dogs in homes once their racing careers are over. Friends has personally fostered two dogs. One had been left at a breeding farm for three months with a snapped tendon before coming to an adoption kennel. The GPA has paid over $2,500 for her treatment. The other dog is on constant pain medication.

Carl Wilson, President and General Manager of Multnomah Greyhound Park, claims "violators are treated harshly and usually are out of the business forever."

Wilson also explains that the Greyhound Park takes responsibility for its dogs, tracking them from whelping to adoption. But, he admits, if they leave the state, there is a "problem."

To address these problems, racing opponents are looking to outlaw greyhound racing in the 16 states that currently allow the sport. In Massachusetts, a group called Grey2K sponsored Question 3, a ballot measure that would have banned racing in Massachusetts. It was narrowly defeated 51 to 49 percent.

"It was very difficult to lose by that margin," says Carey Theil, spokesperson for Grey2K and son of Connie Theil. Grey2K's campaign was outspent four to one by the racing industry and now faces a defamation lawsuit by a racetrack owner.

In spite of her son's setbacks, Connie Theil hopes to place a measure on an Oregon ballot within the next few elections.