One Woman's Crusade to Ban Greyhound Racing

By Anderson, Cynthia | The Christian Science Monitor, October 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

One Woman's Crusade to Ban Greyhound Racing

Anderson, Cynthia, The Christian Science Monitor

As Christine Dorchak and her dog Zoe enter a meeting for about 70 volunteers at the MSPCA-Angell animal hospital, the room begins to buzz. Zoe bounds ahead, commanding her share of attention - especially after she dons a red, white, and blue jacket that reads "Vote for the Dogs." But eyes soon swing to Ms. Dorchak, who is accorded near-hero status in the greyhound protection community.

Carey Thiel, the executive director of GREY2K USA, a greyhound advocacy group, introduces her as "the rules queen," there to explain how to obtain signatures for a proposed state ballot measure in Massachusetts that would outlaw greyhound racing. It's immediately evident, though, that Dorchak is more than a procedural expert.

The place grows hushed as she tells the story of how she became a crusader for greyhounds, one of the nation's most ardent. On Sept. 10, 1992, while walking her dog in Boston, Dorchak was struck by a train and thrown under the wheels. Paramedics pronounced her dead at the scene. Her mother was contacted to identify the body.

Somehow, Dorchak reclaimed life during the ambulance ride to the hospital. Some might credit her overall health or relative youth at the time with enabling her to survive, but Dorchak believes a greater force was at work. "I was brought back," she says. "I was reborn that day for a reason."

That reason, Dorchak would come to believe, is advocacy for the state's 2,600 racing greyhounds, which in its most recent manifestation has taken form as the Greyhound Protection Act.

The bill, which will appear on the November 2008 ballot if the requisite signatures are gathered, seeks to phase out commercial dog racing in Massachusetts by 2010. Two tracks - Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere and Raynham Park in Raynham - face closure if it passes.

As someone poised to help bring down the industry - first in Massachusetts, she hopes, and then elsewhere in the nation - Dorchak isn't popular among those who love dog racing. Her stance is characterized by "excessive rhetoric and misrepresentation" and "hysterical animal rights claims," Vera Filipelli, a spokesperson for Derby Lane in St. Petersburg, Fla., wrote in a letter to the editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Such criticisms don't faze Dorchak. Like many crusaders before her, she is single-mindedly resolute. Yet, in many ways, Dorchak seems an unlikely zealot. As she makes her rounds between signature drives and meetings, she favors pinstriped suits with pumps. Her laughter comes easily and often, and she's as comfortable in the Massachusetts statehouse as she is in the Somerville, Mass., offices of GREY2K USA, which she founded in 2001.

* * *

Several factors combined to turn Dorchak from a self-described "Miss Perfect," a Type-A personality intent on "getting a PhD in French, being rich, and living in a mansion," into a greyhound activist. She was always an animal lover: As an undergraduate at Boston University, she commuted 20 miles to school so that she could live with her beagle, Bunny, in a place that allowed pets.

But after the accident, Dorchak came to believe the dog she had been walking that day, a Black Russian Terrier named Kelsey, had saved her for a specific purpose. Kelsey prevented her from being hit head-on by managing to pull her slightly out of the path of the oncoming train. The dog survived but broke her hip.

When Dorchak woke from a several-week coma, she felt preternaturally close to Kelsey. She began to question her life choices: "My priorities weren't right. I decided that if I ever walked again, my life was going to be different. I was going to look beyond myself."

Dorchak now even dates her age from the time of the accident: Although she's 41, she considers herself 15. Since her transformation, which included struggling to regain her memory along with finding work in the animal-protection movement and, most recently, attending law school at night, Dorchak has been revered in the animal rights community. …

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