Glorious Greyhounds

“Swift as a ray of light, graceful as a swallow, and wise as a Solomon, there is some basis for the prediction that the Greyhound is a breed that will never die. His fame, first written in the hot sands of Egypt, can be traced in the varying terrains of almost every country, on every continent on the globe. His was the type the ancients knew, and from time immemorial he has been a symbol of aristocracy. Yet the Greyhound is a dog that needs no fanfare to herald his approach, no panoply to keep him in the public eye. His innate qualities give him admittance to any circles, high or low.”

—The Complete Dog Book of the American Kennel Club

In the early eighties, when I first started regularly walking a dogTop of third Paragraph -- on the right side in Central Park, I met an older man with an incredibly beautiful but very shy Greyhound. We stopped to chat as dog people do in the Park, and I learned that this Greyhound had just been adopted from an organization that rescues former racers—something I’d never heard of before. Over the next several months I watched that dog become more and more socialized and adjusted to metropolitan life.

Yes, I decided, when I have that dreamt of house someplace beautiful, I will certainly share it with an adopted Greyhound (along with, of course, some Pugs).

Alas, the house never happened. I have maintained, however, a great affection for the breed and was delighted when Emily Bowden, one of my oldest and closest friends, introduced me to Jerry Tucker, a man with whom she’d worked and who has had a lot of experience with several Greyhounds—all retired racing dogs, rescued from tracks.

Jerry grew up on a farm in central Nebraska and talked about this background.

“We all loved animals,” he recalls. “And naturally we had dogs. We had inside dogs—Pugs, Chihuahuas, mutts. We also had outside dogs: Labradors for hunting, herding dogs, and more mutts. Generally, we had several dogs at a time. But never Greyhounds. There were a couple of farmers in the area who had Greyhounds for ridding the farm of coyotes and rabbits, but I had no exposure to them.”


Years later, Jerry and his wife, Kathy, were living in New Canaan, Connecticut, and were mourning the loss of Buffy, their seventeen-year-old Cocker Spaniel. Thinking about a successor to the Cocker, and considering a wide spectrum of breeds, they decided to attend a large local event sponsored by all the rescue groups in the area.

“We saw several Greyhounds at the REGAP (Retired Greyhounds As Pets) booth,” he remembers. “We knew nothing about the breed, but one in particular caught my attention. Recently off the Plainfield, Connecticut, track, she was so gentle, elegant, peaceful, and affectionate that we were immediately smitten. We asked a lot of questions, but were concerned about ex-racing dogs and what they would be like. Eileen McCaughern, the founder of REGAP, suggested we read the book Adopting the Racing Greyhound by Cynthia A. Branigan and then let her know. She would keep the Greyhound for a week.

“We read the book. We adopted the dog. Less than a year later we adopted our second Greyhound, a male. Greyhounds are like potato chips, you can’t have just one.”

And that’s how his love affair with them began.

Center of page -- after paragraph And that's how his love affair with them began.

So, Jerry, what do you like about the breed—particularly those who are retired racing dogs?

Without hesitation, he lists a series of characteristics.

“Elegant, loving, affectionate, gentle, stately, social with people and other dogs and some cats, favorite pastime sleeping (often called 40-mph couch potatoes), minimal shedding, easy care, almost never bark, a great way to meet people because you are often stopped and asked, ‘What kind of dog is that?’ They are excellent house and apartment dogs. Because they were bred to be sprinters and not marathoners, they need very little exercise. They have little body fat or oily skin and give off almost no doggy odor. They have very few if any inherited illnesses (e.g. hip dysplasia) because of culling at the kennels. And on top of all these wonderful characteristics, they are very intelligent.

“One point that should be remembered, however—and it’s certainly not a negative—is that these dogs are trained to chase from an early age. Once adopted, they should be on a leash when not in a fenced yard. Remember, they can be at 40 mph in six bounds.”

OK, fine. But can you think of anything a potential Greyhound owner should consider before adopting?

“They are thin-skinned and must be protected from heat and cold; they can be easily cut because of the thin skin; they are bony so must have soft beds or couches around; and they are very sensitive and can easily be trained by a gentle voice and hand—but not by yelling or abusive training techniques.”

Clearly, the gentleman is devoted to his breed so the next questions were obvious.

How many Greyhounds have you rescued? What were their names?

“We have been involved with many rescues in our work with a Greyhound rescue group. Personally, we have rescued six.”

Well, let’s hear about them.

“Our first was Bessie,” begins Jerry.

“She was a very sweet, happy dog. That is why she hooked me as the first. She loved to be around people and loved to be the center of attention, especially if there was a camera around. When she saw a camera she would seemingly move to be in the photo. She appeared to smile for the camera. I was reminded of Sunset Boulevard: ‘All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.’

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“Baxter was our second. He came from the same track in Plainfield as Bessie and, I believe, the same kennel. He was a big guy—85 pounds and very quiet—always a man’s man. He came to us as a very handsome, strong type. When he arrived, Bessie immediately became alpha and seemed to control the household. However, over time we could see where Baxter, in his own quiet way, became alpha. He never snapped, growled, or forcefully did anything. He just ‘became.’ Baxter also had a funny walk and way about him. Everyone used to comment that he reminded them of John Wayne.

“Zoola was our fourth. She was a rebound—brought back to the rescue group because the family didn’t feel she suited them. She died early and the vet believed it was related to the anabolic steroids given to female racing Greyhounds to keep them from going into estrus and able to race longer.

“Zoola was a very funny dog. She loved to sleep in the ‘roach position.’ She was beautiful, big (80 pounds)left side -- center of Paragraph Zoola was a very funny dog_1, and could act goofy. She had little of the finesse of other females we’ve had; she was more of a ‘tomboy.’ For her to begin to run, it wasn’t a leap forward like the others, but more of a windup getting her legs under her. However, once underway, she was quick, but stopping took a little more time and often ended in a sort of a crash. She was very happy, fun loving, and a real joy until she heard thunder. Then it was ‘everyone out of the way I am headed for the bathtub in the guest room.’ When we had guests, we would warn them that if we have rain and thunder the bath tub belongs to Zoola—even if you are in it.

“Mahalo arrived next. Named after the Hawaiian blessing/good wishes, he started out as ‘Mr. Cool,’ the escape artist, the lover boy, the socialite. Now he is, perhaps, the sweetest dog we have ever had and that is saying a lot.

“One thing we were warned about is that Mahalo is very intelligent and could escape from almost any enclosure. We learned that this was all too true. The first few days we had him, when we would leave the house, we would put him in a large dog crate/kennel. Alas, when we came home we found him out of the crate/kennel and resting on the couch.

“We eventually discovered how he accomplished this: first, he would raise his body up and that would unlatch the spring-loaded kennel clips; this action would then collapse the end of the kennel inward; then, somehow, he was able to work his 85-pound body over this collapsed end; and out he’d go!

“We decided Mahalo didn’t like kennels so we would let him have a room in the basement and, since there was no door, put up a child gate. Not surprisingly, when we would come home he would be upstairs.

“At that point, we decided he was safe with the run of the house. He’d won.”

Clearly smitten with this amazing creature, Jerry goes on to tell more about him.

“When we have guests, Mahalo insists on laying on the floor in the middle of the group. He doesn’t move, doesn’t cause any fuss—he just wants to be among the humans.

“Nothing bothers him—noise, thunder, sirens, nothing—he doesn’t flinch. However, when we sit down to watch TV, he wants to lie next to us and insists (by slapping you) that you hold his paw. We call it holding hands. Even guests will get the ‘hold my hand’ treatment. When they arrive he is there to quietly greet them—never barking, whining, or jumping. He is just there with a smile on his face. After a few minutes he will lie down and slap them with his paw until they take it in their hand. Then he closes his eyes and relaxes.

“Interestingly, Mahalo also loves to dress up. Perhaps he just enjoys the attention.”

Center -- after paragraph Mahalo also loves to dress up

Not all the Tucker Greyhounds have been quite such extroverts.

“Annie was the third Greyhound we adopted. She had no racing name and we believe she was a ‘poof dog.’ Those are the ones that are born and tattooed, but don’t show up on the racing database. Our guess was that she probably didn’t do well in the early trials.

“In fact, we don’t believe Annie ever raced. We do know she was born in a not-very-nice kennel in Tucson and although she had been tattooed for racing purposes, we could not find any racing data on her.

“When we found her, we had been looking for another greyhound. And she turned out to be our very own Eliza Doolittle.

“Annie was unusually young when she had been rescued and very timid. Any noise would frighten her, and crowds made her very nervous. She was frightened and had no self-confidence (even to the extent of hiding in her kennel when it turned dark and not coming out for any reason until the morning light). She would not play with toys nor warm up to people very quickly. Leash training was a challenge and she was afraid of anything in the sky—airplanes, big birds and later, even the moon.

right side -- in line with paragraph after 6months of care, gentleness and love...

“But after six months of care, gentleness, and love, Annie changed almost overnight into our ‘Fair Lady.’ And as her personality began to come out, she proved to be a real delight. She became very feminine, always very happy and loving. Cuddling was one of her favorite pastimes besides sleeping. Another one of her favorite things to do was go to a fenced area (ballpark or dog park—with no other dogs except other Greyhounds) and run full out directly at me, do a fake head butt, and pass by me as close as possible. As she looked back, it seemed as if she was laughing.

“Annie was with us for ten years. Unfortunately, the complications from cancer and kidney failure took her over the Rainbow Bridge. We miss her, but have her memories. She taught us that every dog (and certainly every Greyhound) has wonderful characteristics. Sometimes these characteristics are buried deeper than other times. but patience, love, and time will bring them out.”

More recently, the Tuckers have adopted their sixth rescue Greyhound, Sofia, and Jerry continued his story.

“The rescue organization that found her was the Southern Arizona Greyhound Adoption Group and it was this group that named her ‘Spirit’ because she really has a great spirit. Alas, she too was very shy and distrusting of people. We learned that she had come from a kennel in Arkansas through Oklahoma to Tucson with an incredible racing record. In fact, she raced 130 races and was a major contender in all of them. It was only when she came to Tucson that her performance began to decline.

“Expectedly, ‘Spirit’ (who we renamed Sofia) is very, very fast. Perhaps unexpectedly, she has a high degree of fear, especially of men (and particularly men with baseball caps).

“Sofia had been placed in a foster home for someone to work with her to help her overcome her fear of humans. Alas, she was in foster for one year and at the end of that year, it was determined that it would be almost impossible to place her—almost no one could get close enough to touch her.

“Kathy and I decided we might be the ones who could provide her the stable environment. After all, we had Mahalo—the peaceful, calm one—to help her gain confidence and trust.

“Without bragging, let me say that in nine months we have seen miraculous changes.

“Sofia is now much calmer. She loves to cuddle and go for rides in the car, is interested in other dogs and even willing to let some people touch her and pet her. She is a happy girl. Our friends call her Sophie Tucker—‘The Last of the Red Hot Mamas’—and she even sings. We are confident she will continue to grow, but realize she has some mental baggage caused by humans that she may never lose.”

After listening to these heartwarming stories, it was natural to ask how someone interested in finding out about rescuing a Greyhound should proceed.

“First, only adopt from a reputable Greyhound rescue group. Never buy from a backyard breeder.

“Second, do some research online and read about the breed to determine if they fit your lifestyle. If you travel a lot, or are very busy or just don’t have a lot of time . . . don’t get a Greyhound or any other dog. Get a fish or a plant.

“And finally, if you decide a Greyhound is for you, you should read one or more of these books for invaluable information: Adopting the Racing Greyhound by Cynthia A. Branigan; Retired Racing Greyhounds for Dummies by Lee Livingood; and Greyhounds (The Complete Pet Owner’s Manual) by Caroline Coile.”

Well, Jane, what do you think?

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Issue Twenty Two