A NOBLE BREED
Text by Suzanne Brannan and photos by Deborah Schildkraut
The Greyhound is a noble breed, which has loyally followed man through history. Unfortunately, the greyhound's loyalty has often been repaid with abuse and exploitation. Bred for agility, speed, and intelligence, greyhounds have changed very little through the ages. Hounds appear often in art and literature, but, surprisingly, most of us know very little about their history, temperament and lifestyle.
Greyhounds were aristocratic dogs.
Pictures of the modern greyhound's ancestors can be found on tomb walls and in Ancient Egyptian art. Hounds were used for hunting and kept as companions. Many Egyptians considered the birth of a hound second in importance only to the birth of a son. When a beloved hound died, the entire family went into mourning. The favorite hounds of the upper class were mummified and buried with their owners.
Ancient Greeks probably bought hounds from the Egyptians sometime before 1000 BC. The first breed of dog mentioned in western literature was an ancestor of the Greyhound. In The Odyssey, written by Homer in 800 BC, the hero, Odysseus, disguises himself and returns home after 20 years of fighting with the Trojans. The only one to recognize him was his loyal hound Argus. Around 325 BC, Alexander the Great was reportedly accompanied on his military campaigns by a hound named Peritas. The Greek and Roman gods were partial to their hounds and were often portrayed with them. Diana, the Huntress, considered to be the patron deity of animals, is depicted in many art forms hunting with her hounds.
Greyhounds nearly became extinct during times of famine in the middle ages. Clergymen protected and bred them for the nobility. For this reason they were considered dogs of the aristocracy. In tenth century Wales and England, killing a greyhound was punishable by death. With the enactment of the Forest Laws, only persons belonging to the upper class could own a greyhound. If a commoner was found to be in possession of a hound, he was severely punished. The hounds were often mutilated to prevent any further hunting. If the greyhounds were a desirable color they would be confiscated for the noblemen. It became common among English aristocracy to say, "You can tell a gentleman by his horse and his greyhounds." The greyhound was always associated with knighthood, symbolizing the knightly virtues of faith, the hunt, and the aristocratic way of life.
Coursing races with dogs chasing live rabbits became popular during the sixteenth century. Both Queen Elizabeth I and King James enjoyed coursing. Queen Elizabeth I was known to be extremely fond of the breed, and was responsible for abolishing the more brutal sections of the Forest Laws. King James was known to prefer racing to hard work. He was an avid fan of greyhound coursing. What started as a private competition, between the greyhounds of King James and the hares of New Market, became the tradition of competitive racing.
King James enjoyed greyhound coursing.
The first English coursing club was open to the public in 1776. While attempting to create a greyhound with greater stamina, the English Earl of Oxford crossbred greyhounds with several different breeds. It is rumored his efforts included bulldogs and Afghan hounds, but there's no evidence that the bloodlines survived. The greyhound remained popular with royalty. Queen Victoria's husband had a pet greyhound, which appears in many court portraits.
During the mid-1880's greyhounds were imported to America in great numbers. These greyhounds were not brought over for racing, but to rid Midwestern farms of a jackrabbit epidemic. With their great speed and agility, greyhounds were also used to hunt down coyotes.
Greyhounds were used as scouts by the US cavalry. General Custer was known to travel with his 22 coursing greyhounds. It is said Custer loved to nap on the floor surrounded by a sea of greyhounds. He always coursed his hounds the day before a battle, including the day before the battle of the Little Big Horn. According to the Greyhound Hall of Fame in Abilene Kansas, racing is still the sixth largest spectator sport in the nation. It even outdraws the attendance of the National Basketball Association. But unfortunately, this multi-billion dollar industry has created a horrible system of breeding and killing for profit. In an effort to produce champions, the racing industry overbreeds these dogs, thus creating a staggering surplus. When a greyhound is no longer producing an income for his owner, he is either euthanized, used in medical experiments or worse. Some of the lucky few, are put up for adoption. Greyhounds can be retired as young as two years even though they have many loving years ahead of them. In order to end this cycle of exploitation, many organizations across the country are dedicated to raising public awareness and finding safe and loving homes for these magnificent animals. Retired racers make wonderful companions and have an enormous ability to show their love, loyalty and appreciation.
Suzanne Brannan is a realtor by trade and a greyhound lover by inclination who is the guardian of six handsome greyhounds rescued from racetracks.
FLEET OF FOOT AND IN THE AIR
Text and photos by Nancy Marano
The small blue and white, twin-engine plane angled earthward through the clear, blue New Mexico morning. Albuquerque was the 23rd stop on the Great Greyhound Goodwill Tour, but for two area families this was the most important stop pilot Maggie McCurry would make.
Cutter Aviation is located in a small building behind the Albuquerque International Sunport, a world away from traffic and jet noise. On Sunday morning, July 21, 2002 the lobby overflowed with members from the New Mexico Greyhound Connection, television crews, and dogs. At least 15 retired racing greyhounds were on paw to meet the passengers arriving in the Wings for Greyhounds plane.
Welcome to New Mexico, Prince and Hana.
Among the human visitors, Loretta Martin and Lisa and Kent Elrod, waited for the two passengers, Prince and Hana, who would go home with them to start new lives of retired luxury.
The Elrods, who live in Albuquerque, never had a dog, but did have three cats, aged 5, 11 and 12 at home. Lisa saw a segment on CNN that featured Maggie McCurry talking about the importance of adopting greyhounds to save them from being killed when their racing days were finished.
"I couldn't get that story out of my mind and I thought it would be a good idea to adopt one," Lisa said. "We visited with Candy and Jerry Beck, adoption coordinators for the New Mexico Greyhound Connection, and saw their dogs. The more we talked to them, the more we thought this was the right dog for us. We're homebodies and like to camp so a greyhound would fit in with that lifestyle."
Meanwhile, Kent read the book Retired Racing Greyhounds for Dummies to get pointers on what to do when their dog arrived from the Pueblo, Colorado racetrack, where he spent two months being retrained. "We learned these dogs are very intelligent and sensitive but might be frightened by many things in a house. They aren't used to mirrors or stairs or glass doors," Kent said.
Loretta Martin and her family live in Glorieta. They’d had a greyhound before along with four horses, three cats and a Rhodesian Ridgeback dog. "We live in the country and there's lots of room for the animals," Loretta said. "Our other greyhound died in a freak accident. He jumped a stream, fell, and broke his back. We were devastated and knew we needed to get another greyhound right away. We asked for a gentle male because our Rhodesian Ridgeback is a very dominant female."
When word came that the plane was landing, people and dogs crowded through the doors onto the tarmac. The engine was turned off; the door opened and Maggie McCurry, a blond woman dressed in jeans, a "Great Greyhound Goodwill Tour" t-shirt, and baseball cap, emerged with Prince and Hana. She relinquished the dogs to their new companions, after receiving the requisite dog kisses.
Maggie McCurry of Wings for Greyhounds.
Maggie McCurry decided to make the 25 city, 8000 mile Goodwill Tour to raise awareness of greyhounds and promote greyhound adoption. "There's something about flying greyhounds that attracts the media. The dogs get off the plane and put their faces in the cameras. Basically they are their own PR," McCurry said in her clipped, British accent.
She heads Wings for Greyhounds, an organization based in Sedona, AZ. Prior to this tour she usually flew dogs from the Tucson racetrack to cities in California. Requests from adoption groups in other parts of the country sparked the idea for the national tour, which was sponsored in part by the ASPCA, PetsMart Charities, The Ark Trust and the National Greyhound Adoption Program.
"The racing industry is beginning to feel that adoption is a necessary part of the racing scene. Breeders and owners are keeping more dogs to go to adoption groups. And, due to increased adoptions, the industry can't go back now," she said.
There are 45 dog racing tracks in the United States with 17 in Florida alone. 45,000 greyhounds are in the system at any one time because it takes 1000-1200 greyhounds to run a full race card at all the tracks for one day. Greyhounds usually race every third day for several years, but they can live to be 14 years old, which means they might have 10-12 years of retirement. It's estimated that 25,000 dogs leave racing each year. Some of the dogs are euthanized; some are used in research, and as many as half go into adoption programs.
McCurry grew up around greyhounds in Britain where greyhound racing is second only to soccer as a popular sport.
"God made the greyhound and then he ran out of sugar. These are very sweet dogs that are bred to be quite gentle. Sometimes I think of them as Velcro dogs because they stick to people," she said.
The most difficult flight, but best experience she's had flying a greyhound, was with Zeke. He was seriously injured in a training accident sustaining a broken elbow, a broken upper jaw, a severed artery and a number of lacerations including a large open wound on his side with damage to the muscle. Fast Dogs-Fast Friends of Phoenix took the dog into their program and underwrote his medical care. Although Zeke's leg was amputated, he recovered and appeared at a recent adopted racers' reunion. "They ran some races and Zeke beat the four-legged dogs. He ran at 31 mph on three legs," McCurry said. "It's rewarding to see a dog that was so badly hurt pull through and succeed at what he was meant to do."
When asked the best part of her job, McCurry quickly replied, "Seeing their little faces in the back of my plane and knowing they'll be safe. I get paid in kisses."
Lisa and Kent Elrod get acquainted with Hana.
Prince and Hana have settled into their new lives easily.
"Prince is starting to play with toys and one of the cats adores him. He's still not comfortable sharing his food bowl with the other dog but the two dogs play together well. He sleeps in his own bed at the foot of our bed," Loretta said, "but he's still a little shy with my husband."
She believes the whole experience has been wonderful so far. "Greyhounds are loving, totally non-demanding dogs. They are by far the best dog you can have as a pet. They adapt to any size space that you have. Prince is a kleptomaniac though, just like my other greyhound was. He'll take my husband's slippers and hide them in his bed or take the pillows from the outside couch and put them in his bed outside. He never hurts anything; he just wants to have it with him. Our other greyhound took a five pound bag of flour and hid it in his bed. I think it's just a trait of the breed."
The Elrods named their small, fawn-colored dog Hana, which means "bliss" and "happiness" in Arabic. The name suits her.
"When we got her home, she checked out everything in the house, ignored the cats, then lay down and went to sleep. She's learned to let us know when she needs to go outside and has finally learned to sleep in her own bed. She's just discovering toys but she really doesn't have that concept," Lisa said. "Our cats have accepted her well. I believe they think she's a big, moving piece of furniture. "
Hana goes everywhere with Lisa. "She gets a lot of attention, and it's a great opportunity to talk about greyhounds. We haven't had any bad experiences with her. Sometimes I think she's a Stepford dog. But the best part of this is the good feeling I get from having saved one of these wonderful dogs. Now she runs for fun and not because it's her job."
Both the Elrods and the Martins hope there are many more greyhounds in their future. They totally believe what so many people said on that Sunday morning in July, "Greyhounds are like potato chips. You can't have just one."
GREYHOUND ADOPTION: WELCOME HOME!
Text and photos by Deborah Schildkraut
The awareness of the fate of retired racing greyhounds has touched a humane nerve in the American public. More and more families are deciding to adopt a retired racer. Knowing what to expect when you bring your newly adopted greyhound home will go a long way to ease the transition of the dog from track to home life and to ensure that the dog has truly found his "forever" home. As eager as you are to shower your new companion with attention, toys and new friends, you must first remember that this is a time of major adjustment for your greyhound.
Now Jake has a head up on life.
Prior to retirement, racing greyhounds have lived a strictly regimented life. Kennel life is all they have known. A typical non-racing day is spent in the crate with time out for exercise and bathroom relief. At some places, the dog may spend 23 hours a day in its crate, with two half-hour exercise periods. Greyhounds do not race every day. They are sprinters, not distance runners. They are usually rested for a few days between races.
Greyhounds are rarely alone. A racing kennel may house a hundred dogs or more. The open stainless steel crates allow the dogs to see, hear and smell each other. There are people milling about feeding, cleaning and exercising the dogs. It is important to keep your greyhound's former life in mind as you move through the homecoming and period of adjustment.
Introducing your greyhound to any other animals in your family must be done with care. Greyhounds are trained to chase a mechanical lure at the track. They are taught to chase until capture. Some greyhounds with high prey drives will chase any small fuzzy moving object-- a cat, rabbit, squirrel, small dog, etc. Some greyhounds are just fine with cats and small animals, but some are not. You should know what type your dog is before you bring him home to your other pets. Never leave your new greyhound alone with your other pets until you know for sure that the animals will get along. Sometimes this can take a few days to ascertain, but more likely it will take several weeks. Your new greyhound will relax as he gradually gets used to your home. At first the dog may show little interest in the family cat. But she may become an object of interest later on. Be cautious and be vigilant.
Bella and Jasper take five.
Since greyhounds have lived with other dogs all of their lives, they usually get along well with other dogs. There will be some sparring and growling as the dogs settle their places in the family dominance hierarchy. This is natural. Your role is as the dominant member of the hierarchy. You are responsible for making sure that the scuffles do not escalate to any serious fighting.
Because of their racing training, most greyhounds will chase any small fast moving animal until they catch him or until he disappears. In retirement, a greyhound will NOT stop and look both ways before crossing a street if he is in hot pursuit of a squirrel. The greyhound will NOT notice where he is going, so focused is he on the prey. For this reason, greyhounds must always be walked on lead. They may be allowed free play only in a securely fenced in yard or field. The sad story is that people who believe their greyhound is different and can be trusted off lead, find out the truth the hard way when the dog is lost or hit by a car.
Many dog rescues and shelters do not adopt any dogs to families with children under the age of six years. The reason is not that the dogs are vicious. Rather, young children are often quick with their movements, invade the dog's personal space, pounce on him, wake him from sleep and annoy the dog without paying attention to the dog's signals that he has had enough. Any dog may snap or growl if those signals are not heeded. If you have young children, please take this into account as you decide to adopt a greyhound or any dog.
Retired racing greyhounds have mature bowel and bladder muscles. The job, when you bring the new greyhound home, is not so much to teach control as it is to teach the dog where to go and not to go. This can be done quickly and with few or no accidents if you are willing to put in the time. As a rule, dogs do not relieve themselves in their beds or crates. This is because these places are the domestic equivalent of the ancestral den. When a dog has learned that your entire house is the "den," there should be no more accidents. To achieve this, you need to help the dog learn room by room. First, take the dog out frequently. Take the dog out first thing in the morning, and last thing at night. Take him out after meals. Try to use the same door with your dog every time you exit and enter your house. Your greyhound will learn this is the place to stand to signal he has to go out. In the house, keep your greyhound in whatever room you are in. This is the only true way to monitor the dog. If the dog seems "antsy" take him out. If you cannot keep an eye on the dog--if you go out, take a shower or when sleeping at night--put the dog in a crate or exercise pen.
Jasper gets playful.
These places, when used appropriately, are akin to the dog's den. Remember that this is the way the greyhound has lived up until he joined your family. If used properly (never as a place to punish your dog), a crate is an excellent housebreaking tool. Over time you can work toward allowing the dog to have the full range of your house as he becomes full trained. You may also find that your greyhound will prefer a crate as a place to sleep or to retreat when needed. Leaving a crate with the door open in a secluded place in your house offers him the choice.
Most greyhounds have never encountered stairs. You may have to teach him how to navigate both up and down (down being a bit more difficult). Often the lure of a stinky slice of hot dog will be enough to coax it up and down. Remember that a greyhound is a tall dog. The roasted chicken in the center of your kitchen table may be too high for most dogs, but just an easy stretch away for your greyhound.
Choosing a vet for any pet is important but especially for greyhounds. Greyhounds have naturally slender builds, and virtually no body fat. Many drugs and chemicals are reacted to differently by greyhounds because of this, especially anesthesia and flea & tick repellants and shampoos.
Greyhounds are likely to have a slightly accelerated heart rate when compared to other types and breeds of dogs. Please make sure your vet is aware of these differences.
Sometimes people are alarmed because greyhounds are thin, but unless it Is extreme, it is just the nature of the breed. When you consider a greyhound for adoption, ask the people at the rescue about your dog's weight. It is not unusual for the dogs to be a little on the thin side when they come from the track. But it is not a good idea to think you have to "fatten" them up.
A heavy greyhound is not a healthy greyhound. Greyhounds are born athletes and burn up the calories fast. When racing greyhounds are retired from the track, they often eat huge amounts per day, as much as 6 cups or more of chow. This is due to the combination of their metabolism and the racing diet they are kept on at the track. Your greyhound will not always require that much food. Once the dog adjusts to family life and is no longer racing, the amount will settle down to four or five cups per day depending on your dog's size. The rescue from which you adopt can help you determine the correct amount for your dog.
It is a wise precaution to have your vet give your new greyhound a complete check-up. Bring any medical records that you are given by your adoption agency. If your dog is not spayed or neutered, make an appointment to have that done. A tick panel is advisable since many greyhounds travel to tracks all over the country, and may have been exposed to ticks which may not be local to your area. Learn what dog food and how much your greyhound has been eating. If you will feed a different brand at home, gradually change to the new food by mixing the foods over a period of days.
The eyes have it.
Each greyhound is an individual. You may encounter issues specific to your dog. If you do not know how to handle the situation, ask for advice from your greyhound adoption agency as soon as possible. Many adoptions have failed because people did not seek help promptly. The main ingredient to a successful greyhound adoption is TLC with a big dose of patience. Greyhounds are among the most affectionate of dogs. They want to give and are eager to accept love. Keep in mind your dog's previous life. Be patient, consistent in your treatment and vigilant in your training. Your reward will be the adoring look of your greyhound's big brown eyes as the bond between you is sealed for life.
Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D. is an animal behaviorist and educator who worked at the Boston Zoos for 15 years. She lives in Cerrillos with her husband, six rescued dogs (four greyhounds, two terriers) and two horses.
NOTE: If you would like to learn more about the horrific and tragic lives of racing greyhounds and what you can do to help, please click here: Greyhound Network News and Greyhounds.
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