It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than 20 years since my wild and crazy, ex-racing greyhound adoption days. And they were wild and crazy times. At its most crazed, three women jumped into a red BMW and sped off to one of the more questionable neighborhoods in the city of Rochester in search of a lost greyhound.
We looked like a female swat team out to make a drug bust.
At its most inspiring, those same three women stood at the top of an enormous, fenced back yard (it was easily the size of two football fields -none of it flat. All of it a steep hillside.) They stood at the top, watching as more than 20 retired greyhounds chased each other in wildly explosive bursts of speed.
We had ourselves some happy times, some sad times; some spitfully mad-awful, furious times. Some hilariously funny times and, some life-changing moments.
Here are the Cliff Notes – the shortened version – of the very best and the very worst that might just happen to you (if you take the journey into dog rescue) because it sure as hell happened to me.
You’ll fall in love. Well, you already knew this one, right? If ex-racing greyhounds are your first introduction to sighthounds, you will be absolutely starstruck
You’ll learn to think of yourself as invincible. This can happen on your first road trip when you discover that the 1976 Chevy Malibu wagon you’re driving has some iffy mechanical issues and you really should turn around and go home. But. You. Don’t.
You’ll get really good at thinking on your feet: What’s the best way to calm down 6 greyhounds all milling around in the back seat of that ’76 Chevy Malibu station wagon during a pee stop for one of the humans at a rest stop on the way back home with the engine running because if you turn it off, you might not be able to start it up again?
Just exactly what I did became an urban legend among those of us who helped to get this adoption movement up and running back in the day. Wanna know what I did?
You’ll see things you’ve never seen before: 1) the lightning bolt speed of racing greyhounds at the start of a race, 2) the inside of racing kennels and holding pens 3) greyhounds tethered to stakes near igloo dog houses in a farmer’s field in February with over 6 inches of snow on the ground and more coming down as you stand there in disbelief because you are not at a racetrack pulling dogs – you are deep in the back woods of western New York.
You’ll learn new skills: how to politely explain to a kennel owner why you are not going to take the 3 year old female greyhound that is shaking uncontrollably into your adoption program. Two years later, you’ll refuse to take another greyhound – this one a 12 week old puppy with a broken hip.
You don’t take it but, this time, before leaving the kennel, you’ll call around to find an adoption group that can and you offer to help with the transport. You reach Cynthia Branigan (Make Peace With Animals) with one phone call and she agrees to take the pup.
You’ll make new friends. I’m grateful for all of the folks I got to know on this 7 year journey. Some of us still keep in touch. Some not. What I’m proudest of is that 20-plus years later, this organization keeps going.
The group has re-invented itself many times: those of us who founded the organization are no longer involved; the group is no longer an affiliate of Greyhound Pets of America, and the cycle of placing retired hounds into pet homes has changed as the racing industry itself has died off.
All of that said, there is still a structure in place and dogs are still being adopted.
You’ll learn to speak dog. You’ll learn about dog behavior from other dog lovers and you’ll learn about ex-racing greyhound behavior from the people inside the racing industry, from the hard-core volunteers, from past owners and, most importantly, from the dogs themselves. Almost before you realize its happened, you just might be one of those hard-core volunteers yourself.
You’ll learn what to say to a foster family when they come home to find out that the dog they were fostering bit their 6 month old baby in the face.
You may find a new hobby or start a small business. One of the women who helped run this organization went on to competitive agility trials, getting out of living with sight hounds because she fell in love with Border Collies. Still another of us started an online greyhound boutique gift e-commerce store that she ran successfully for almost five years.
You’ll piss people off. You’ll piss off a potential adopting family that has 1) no fenced in yard, 2) no dog experience, 3) and three children under the age of 10 when you strongly suggest that they call you back when their youngest child is 12 years old and they’ve fenced their yard.
You’ll piss off some of your volunteers when you and the core founders of your merry band insist that a two year old male greyhound be euthanized because he bit a total of 10 times in less than a 48 hour time frame while in foster care.
You’ll piss off some of the general public when you insist on maintaining the neutral position on racing that the parent Greyhound Pets of America organization has incorporated into its bylaws.
You’ll get pissed off. You’ll get pissed off when dogs die because their owners were
Finally, when you euthanize three greyhounds (your own) over a 7 year period due to the ravages of bone cancer, you’ll decide that it’s time to go back to being a private citizen. You know that you’d do everything all over again just to have these three dogs. But, your very young son thinks that having a pet means bringing an adult dog into the house only to have it die three years later.
That’s too much heartache for a little boy. Too much heartache for anyone.
Would I change just one thing if I could go back in time? Hell yes! I’d listen more to what the dogs were telling me. Because, every single time I failed to hear them, something bad happened.
PS I’ve written a longer version of how I helped to start one of the first retired greyhound adoption programs in Rochester, NY as a chapter in my first book. If you want to know when that book is published (and how you can get it for free), opt-in to my subscriber’s box up at the top of my blog and stay tuned!