Let me introduce Steve. He is a four-year-old male brindle who once raced under the name “Don’t Talk To Me.” He retired from the track after 65 races having won 8 of those races. His top speed was clocked at 32 mph. His pedigree traces back to 1812. But none of that is important.
What is important? Steve is in retirement on my couch.
Whether you agree with dog racing or are opposed to the practice, the sport is still well established in the United States. It began here in the 1920’s and peaked around the 1970’s. Unfortunately, the dogs did not face a happy retirement upon completion of their racing career. By the 1990’s it was estimated that 20,000 dogs or more a year were being killed after fulfilling their purpose on the track. That number raised concern and adoption groups were formed to place the dogs in homes. Since the early 1990’s the number of dogs killed has been drastically reduced thanks to efforts of adoption groups and track kennels.
Greyhounds are one of the oldest breeds of dogs; their existence has been traced back 5,000 years to Egypt. They were once reserved only for royalty. They are one of the fastest animals on land with the ability to reach 45 mph within three strides. They are incredibly special animals; even their blood chemistry is different than other dogs.
Having all of this pomp and history only makes their antics more amusing. Picture the noble greyhound flipped upside down on the grass with long legs flailing in the air or enthusiastically attacking a squeak toy. They are one of a few breeds of dogs known to smile by curling up their lips when they are happy!
A case for the greyhound as a house pet:
• After years on the track and in a little cage, the greyhound wants nothing more than to stretch out on a dog bed or crowd you on the couch.
• The greyhound has a very minimal exercise requirement compared to other dogs. A 20-30 minute walk each day is perfect. They are sprinters – short bursts of activity followed by exhaustion. A well fenced yard is the only place to let your greyhound off leash.
• While not hypoallergenic, greyhounds have a very short low-maintenance coat. Many people with dog allergies find that the greyhound does not trigger a reaction. A grooming mitt will remove any stray hairs.
• Greyhounds are not very vocal. Don’t let a kennel experience fool you – when on their own (or even in pairs) they are very quiet dogs, rarely barking.
• Greyhounds are already crate trained due to their kennel upbringing. A basic dog obedience course will only improve your relationship with the dog. They are trained to understand certain commands and most respond very well to a firm “no” when needed.
• Most greyhounds are not jumpers. Greetings are enthusiastic but will not likely knock you to the ground.
• Greyhounds generally do not have any major health problems like other big-breed dogs do. They are prone to teeth problems and may develop arthritis due to track accidents.
• Greyhounds do not tend to have that tell-tale “dog” smell. Once out of the kennel environment, greyhounds tend not to have much of a scent at all.
• Many greyhounds are excellent family dogs, faring well with infants, children and other house pets. Their mellow disposition should not be taken for granted, but they can be a very tolerant breed. The adoption agency may be able to give you information if the dog has tested “cat safe” or “kid safe” from their fostering experience. Some greyhounds have a strong prey instinct and will never be safe in a home with cats and other small dogs.
• Most adoption groups are very concerned with the well-being of the dog and making sure that the placement occurs with the right family. If a dog does not “work out” in your home, it is likely that the agency will be happy to take him back and find the right home for him.
Things to consider about the greyhound:
• The greyhound is not a guard dog and will not protect your home.
• The greyhound has a life-span that can reach 13-14 years.
• A greyhound can never, ever be let off leash unless it is a completely safe and contained environment. They are sprinters. While you may have an excellent rapport with your dog, a rogue squirrel may convince him otherwise.
• The greyhound sleeps and snoozes and then sleeps more. This can be disconcerting for people expecting a very active dog.
• Patience is crucial. These dogs have never seen the inside of a home. Things that we take for granted (windows, stairs, television, etc…) are brand new to a greyhound. Taking time to show your dog the home will ease tension.
• Some dogs will take to their new environment immediately while others will shiver for a few days, cowered in a corner. Each dog has a unique personality.
The most important step before adopting is research. Go to your local library or bookstore and pick up the following books:
Retired Racing Greyhounds for Dummies by Lee Livinggood
This is an easy to reference book that covers all angles of adopting the retired racers. It is broken down in a friendly format.
Adopting the Racing Greyhound by Cynthia A. Branigan
The author is an expert in all things related to greyhounds. Be sure to pick up the 3rd edition that was published in 2003.
There are many other books available on greyhounds, but these two are excellent during the decision making process. The online forum at www.greytalk.com is another valuable resource for learning about the greyhounds.
If you are considering a dog for your family, visit the adoption agencies and kennels. Play with a few dogs, talk to the trainers and handlers. Meet other greyhound owners, but beware – they are all converts! Many owners describe greyhounds as addictive.