A FLASH of white hare blurs by, traps fly open and six lean and lightning dogs set off as though the honour of their breed were at stake.
Which of course, it is.
Genes honed by thousands of years of breeding, hunting and chasing are driving half a dozen racing dogs on to speeds of almost 40mph.
Greyhounds have been working for the pleasure and need of mankind since the pharaohs ruled Egypt. They are the only dog mentioned in the Bible.
But none of that matters right now.
The only important thing to the 1,500 Saturday night revellers at Owlerton dog track is which one’s going to win.
And there lies the conundrum of dog racing.
Winning is all and in the past the dogs no longer able to earn their keep have suffered neglect, abandonment and an early death.
But that’s all changing.
While there will always be rogues where money is being made the licensed greyhound industry has gone to great lengths to clean up its own mess, so to speak.
And Sheffield is at the forefront of the improvement in the animals’ welfare and has been for the past 80 years.
It’s quite a leap from the poached salmon order of Owlerton’s plush Panorama Restaurant to the rustic Gosling Farm in Wortley but that’s where the Sheffield branch of the Retired Greyhounds Trust is situated.
Supervised by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain and run by Roy and Linda Cattlin the Gosling Farm Sanctuary homes a maximum of 20 retired greyhounds at a time and tries, usually successfully, to find homes for them.
“We have re-homed 1,000 dogs since 2006,” says 52-year-old former Porsche engineer Roy, originally from Worksop.
“Last winter’s bad snow knocked us back a bit but people love the dogs.”
They certainly do.
A flourishing dog-walking ‘scene’ has developed at the farm with as many as 80 volunteers arriving on Saturday mornings to take out the greyhounds walking on the hills above Wortley.
They meet in the yard, chat, have tea and a bacon sandwich then go off along the wooded lanes, stopping to talk to returning walkers as the dogs have a sniff around.
Meagan and Philip Yeomans from Brinsworth are hooked.
“We have quite a few people who live around us who own greyhounds and some of them come here to walk the others,” said teaching assistant Meagan.
“We were going to get a rescue dog but we started researching on the internet and found this place. We came along and fell in love with them. We took a dog out walking every day for a week to get to know if it was the right one and he was.
“We come most weeks to walk him with the others. They are such lovely dogs and this is a great place.”
Owlerton Stadium managing director John Gilburn is in no doubt that the industry is on the right track.
“We have made huge strides in the last five or 10 years,” he said.
“There have been problems in the past but we are working towards ending them and we have made huge progress. Owlerton puts £150,000 a year into Gosling Farm and it is a wonderful set-up here.
“In the past the industry has ignored what’s happening to the dogs when they are away from racing.
“But Sheffield has been a leader in the new approach and we have been for the last eight or nine years.”
Back in the farmhouse greyhounds laze on chairs and sofas in the home of Roy and Lynda Cattlin – and it’s all part of their training.
“We have them in the house so they can get used to things like the sound of washing machines, vaccuum cleaners and televisions before they are taken in by families,” said Roy.
“They have been in kennels most of their lives and they need to get used to it before they can be re-homed.”
Gosling Farm is open on weekdays and at weekends for volunteers to give donations or walk the dogs.
Go to www.sheffieldretiredgreyhounds.co.uk for details of how you can help.
HEARD the one about the greyhound and the comedy festival?
They have in Wortley.
Ron is the dog in the flat cap in the Grin Up North posters.
He’s become the star turn at the retired greyhound sanctuary at Gosling Farm, Wortley - though he doesn’t get the star treatment.
Ron and his whippet mate Holly were chosen by comedian and BBC Radio Sheffield presenter Toby Foster to be the long faces of the Sheffield Comedy Festival.
“Toby is a greyhound lover,” said sanctuary manager Roy Cattlin.
“He lives near here and he contacted me about getting a picture of an old greyhound in a flat cap telling jokes. He’d obviously come to the right place..”
Eight-year-old Ron was a racing dog until he was six then had to retire through injuries and was taken in at Gosling Farm.
“They got a cap made up for him and as soon as we did the first shots we couldn’t get it off him, he loved it.”
Holly apparently just wandered into the picture as the cameras flashed. Everyone liked the look of her, so she stayed in the final poster.
DOG-lovers walking the quietly elegant greyhounds in Wortley is a long way from the cruelty and euthanasia allegations of the anti-racing lobby.
The greyhound industry insists the activists are deluded.
But unconfirmed and unattributed figures like ‘1500 greyhound deaths’ a year can be found on many activist websites claiming to reveal the ‘truth’ about greyhound racing.
Horror stories abound of dogs being put down at the end of their careers and being euthanised because they don’t make the grade as racers.
Enough court cases have been recorded and enough unscrupulous breeders and trainers fined and banned from owning dogs for there to be substance in some allegations.
But there is more to it than that.
According to a GBGB spokesman the vast majority of British-bred greyhounds go on to be registered for racing on Great Britain Greyhound Board-licensed tracks.
“Greyhounds who don’t make the grade are welcomed by the RGT and other rehoming charities, as finding them a loving home is significantly easier,” he said.
Does the industry feel any obligation to check where owners source their dogs and the conditions the dogs live in before they become racers?
“As the regulatory body for licensed racing, our remit does not cover greyhounds that are imported from Ireland or by unlicensed persons in Britain,” said the spokesman.
“Such breeders fall under the auspices of their local authority, as is the case with all other breeds of dog.
“However, greyhounds bred in GBGB licensed kennels have their welfare protected as is the case for those racers and retired in the kennel, through regular inspections by vets and stipendiary stewards”
According to the GBGB just over 7,000 greyhounds are registered each year to race at licensed racecourses which is matched, they say, by a similar number retiring from racing each year.
The Retired Greyhound Trust has 74 branches nationwide and rehomes over 4,000 greyhounds annually.