BOSTON — The plight of the retired racing greyhound is fueling one of the most successful pet adoption campaigns ever, involving more than 150 separate organizations and thousands of volunteers. But the supply of greyhounds continues to grossly outstrip the demand.
If a dog races well, it may last as long as three years at the track. If not, it may be sent to less-competitive tracks or be "retired." Although homes were found for 15,000 greyhounds in the United States last year, some 25000 were killed or sold to animal-research labs.
"Greyhounds are a waste product of the racetrack industry," says Laurel Williams, the Greyhound Protection League's Massachusetts coordinator in Boston. "There is no after-market for these dogs; when they stop racing, they are left with no where to go."
Greyhounds are not the perfect pet for everyone; the transition from track life to adapting to home life isn't always easy. But many people find that these sleek, calm canines bred for speed do indeed make wonderful family pets.
Organizations worldwide, like the Greyhound Protection League and the National REGAP (Retired Greyhounds as Pets) in the United States, Greyhound Rescue in Belgium, England, and Germany, or the Greyhound Adoption Program in Australia, attract potential greyhound families, but it is the dogs themselves who are their own best advertisements.
"When you meet a greyhound, it's something you never forget," says Joan Belle Isle, greyhound owner and manager of the Greyhound Project in Newton, Mass. "I remember the time I saw my first greyhound. He was so intelligent and sweet, it was a touching encounter."
Retired racing greyhounds are known for their gentle behavior, and, unlike puppies, they rarely need house training.
It's good to remember, however, that their previous environment has conditioned them uniquely. They have all been kept in kennels and have been let out only a few times a day. It naturally takes them a while to acclimatize to a home environment.
"All the greyhounds I've adopted have been very shy at first and have followed me everywhere looking for guidance," says Frida Polli, an owner of four greyhounds who lives in Cambridge, Mass. "Ex-racing dogs can be very tentative at first - I've had a greyhound since puppyhood who acts quite differently, she's much more naturally exuberant."
When they first arrive home, greyhounds may not know how to sit on command, climb stairs, or play, but they will learn. "I carried my new greyhound up and down stairs for a week." says Ms. Polli, "But then a neighbor's dog came over and showed her how it was done; she wasn't scared any more after that."
Things such as sliding glass doors and swimming pools may also be a problem for them. Some owners suggest that they be "crate trained" for their first few days of home life. "Even though they're affectionate, they're very low-maintenance, independent dogs," Polli says.
Some greyhounds will also be prone to chasing small animals, since the pursuit of a mechanical rabbit has been drummed into them since puppyhood. Polli says that two of her dogs got hold of a cat one day and "put her in the [animal] hospital." Her advice? "Keep your greyhound on a leash or muzzled at first, if you think he might chase something."
Greyhounds are not, however, volatile animals, in fact, says Polli, many are naturally quite lazy.
Most of the 50 dog-racing tracks in the US are affiliated with adoption programs, and a dog owner-responsibility rule was established in 1997 by the National Greyhound Association (NGA), putting the onus on dog owners to find their dogs homes.
"Owners [of individual racing greyhounds] have to find their dogs homes or have them killed humanely" after their racing career, says Gary Guccione, a spokesman for the NGA in Abilene, Kan. "The industry now discourages the selling of greyhounds into research."
Despite the fact that greyhound racing is waning in popularity, tens of thousands of dogs a year are still being bred for racing in the US, Europe, and Australia.
Adopting a greyhound in the US costs about $150; that includes having the dogs spayed or neutered, their teeth cleaned, and giving them a physical examination.
Tips for the greyhound adopter
r Don't chain greyhounds up. The animal may try to chase something and break his neck on the chain.
r Socialize them - introduce them to people; it will help in their adjustment.
r Keep them warm. Greyhounds have no fat layer, so should be kept indoors for the most part, especially in the wintertime.
r Don't leave anything on the floor that they might chew, such as books or shoes.
r In most cases, keep them on a leash in open spaces, they can run away and be lost in seconds.
r Remember that greyhounds are trained to give chase. Keep them muzzled or leashed at first, if you are concerned they might go after small animals.
r If they are having trouble becoming housebroken, keep them in a kennel, and let them out at certain times to relieve themselves. Then gradually introduce them to the house.
r Adopt a greyhound that suits you and your environment. For example if you live in the city, don't adopt a skittish dog that may run away quickly.
* For further information on greyhound adoption, visit the Web site at: