If you wanted someone to raise and train greyhounds, Kevin and Gina Dalton were the people to call.
He is the grandson of a long-time greyhound farmer who is in the Pioneer Section of the Greyhound Hall of Fame. She is the daughter of a racing legend, who has his name printed on four All-America and two Hall of Fame plaques.
Not too long ago, the Dalton’s kennel was full of greyhounds owned by Hall of Famer Keith Dillon, racing magnate Larry Birnbaum and other big-name owners.
Such was not the case last fall.
“We always had people calling here, asking if we could raise some pups for them,” Kevin said after Thursday’s finals of the National Greyhound Association’s Spring Meet. “I don’t know if they are gone but I don’t know if there is an incentive to raise a dog in Kansas anymore.”
Dalton says, sorry Dickinson County, but Kansas is not the place to raise racing greyhounds any longer, at least in this stage of his life.
“If you were an investor, where would you have your dogs raised? I’m asking the question,” he said. “West Virginia, Iowa, Arkansas: there are incentives in those places.”
Those states have breeders’ awards for greyhounds raised there. Kansas doesn’t have those because it doesn’t have racing.
“If there are investors out there owning dogs, they are not going to raise them in Kansas. Why would you? There is opportunity in this business. I just don’t know if it is in Abilene, Kansas.
“I told Gina two years ago, we either have to move or go back to the racetrack. I think there is still money to be made in this game. I don’t think this business is done. We could go back to the racetrack and run a kennel or move and race dogs in another place,” he said.
Dalton’s solution was to find another occupation, which seems to be the wave of the future for greyhound owners and trainers in the area. Dalton isn’t the first to hang up the muzzles for another instrument. In this case, it’s a stethoscope.
“Every since we’ve been here, the board dogs have run this place,” he said of the farm on Greyhound Lane now known as Deer Road. “The dogs we had of our own or partnerships have been extra. My intentions were, when I came here was to always have enough board dogs to run this place. So when I raise a dog I’m not at risk.”
Two things led to his decision to pursue a career in nursing.
“In December of 1999 there were 6,900 and some odd members of the NGA,” he said. “The December Review of 2011 said there were 1,400 members. The February Review of 2012 said there were 1,100 members. Where is it going to be in 10 years? Is there going to be anything left?”
The second thing can only be described as a message from God.
“Coming into last meet, I knew that we had to get some dogs.” Dalton said. “We hung up a few flyers. We did pick up some dogs. I told Gina we need to run an ad and let people know we are taking board dogs. We have space to raise pups.”
But that ad didn’t appear and two months later there was another miscue.
“This is a sign that God is telling me to go a different route,” Dalton said. “At first I was mad but it all worked out.”
Dalton said he was first going to drive a truck.
“If you look in the newspaper you have truck driving jobs and medical field jobs all the time,” he said. “Even in our Abilene paper, Memorial Health has an ad in there almost every day.
“I Googled CNA and I came up with some website that said that within four months you can be certified as a CNA,” he said. “I thought you had to go to college. All I have ever done is this (greyhound racing). I went to Memorial’s website. This was like on a Monday night. The next Monday they were starting a CNA class at Village Manor. I thought I’d attend and see what comes of it.”
He now works there full time as a Certified Nursing Assistant.
“My plan: I have some prerequisites I have to take care of and to start nursing school a year from June and go through a LPN program. You can be an LPN in a year. You are not a registered nurse but you still practice as a nurse. That R before that N just gets you more money. But I can do a lot of that online once I get through the LPN program.”
Dalton said he was going to return to the days his grandfather, Boyd Watkins, raised one or two litters a year while he farmed.
“We are NOT going to raise a litter and hope that we can sell them at the Nationals so we can eat,” Dalton said. “I could see that happening to us and I said we are not going to do that. We’re not going down to the bank and finance everything to HOPE that we can make it the next NGA meet. I’m not living that way.”
Thursday Dalton had greyhounds run four seconds and four fourths.
“A lot of dogs that we have, and a lot of our breeding, are distance dogs,” he said. “They don’t necessarily shine here. If you are going to be a 3/8 dog you are going to have a tough time here (at the NGA meet). The track is so fast if you get bumped or get behind it’s hard to make it up.”
Gina is the daughter of Wayne and Janet Strong. And while growing up, both attended many meets in Abilene.They didn’t actually meet until later in life.
The couple started making meet history in the spring of 1999 when they trained a litter for Keith Dillon. That spring six greyhounds in the litter sold for $171,000 in the auction.
They also trained Daring Trent which won the $40,000 Gold Cup in the spring of 2010.
Dalton was living in Trinidad in southern Colorado in the early 1980s. The summer before his sophomore year in high school he worked for his grandfather. Since he didn’t play football, he wanted to attend the fall meet in Abilene and see the greyhounds run.
“I asked my dad if I could take a week off from school and go to the nationals because I had never been before,” Dalton said.
Greyhound racing got into his blood when Flea Hopper won the Intermediate Consolation Flite III race.
“When it (the meet) was over I was ready to quit school,” he said. “I’m going to be a dog trainer. I didn’t need to finish school.”
Of course he did finish school and he also became a greyhound trainer.
When Flea Hopper won the race, a young Gina cut the trophy presentation picture out of the Reflector-Chronicle, a clipping she still has.
Dalton attended the meet for the next three falls. Then a month before he was to graduate from high school, he went to Pueblo Greyhound Park and knocked on doors.
Answering one of the doors was Cindy Unrein. Cindy’s husband Neil was training for the Dutch Koerner Kennel at the time and the main helper, the being Cindy, was eight month pregnant at the time, and they were looking for a helper.
“I didn’t know Dutch but they needed some help,” Dalton said. “They called Dutch and it didn’t hurt, of course, when we threw out Granddad’s name. Dutch knew my granddad.”
He got the job.
Gina and Kevin met in the early 1980s. He was training at Mile High and was sharing an apartment with Greg Strong, who was also training at Mile High. One day Gina paid her brother a visit.
The two greyhound families eventually merged in Florida. Kevin was training for Gordon Davis’ Kansas Kennel at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg, Fla. Gina was sent to the track on Christmas break to help out her father’s kennel.
“We moved back to Abilene specifically to raise our kids here,” Dalton said. “I loved Boston. I loved living there and I loved racing there. But Revere is not the greatest place to raise kids.”
“Kevin grew up all over the place,” Gina said. “He wanted a place to stay, a place to call home for the kids.”
Thursday night their daughter Meghan Dalton was the recipient of the $1,000 Jason Dean Hunt Scholarship.