…adopting a child who has not had a good start in life. I once heard about a pair of Romanian orphans who’d been adopted by a well meaning couple in the UK. They decorated the bedroom, hung new curtains (spaceship patterns), bought the latest in bunk beds, changed the carpet and put an amazing lampshade around the overhead light which projected the stars and planets onto the walls. The children had a total meltdown and their new adoptive parents couldn’t work out why.
The children had come from an orphanage where they slept on the floor, covered in a thin blanket. They had very little food and the bare essentials when it came to water. There were too many children for the carers to give them any affection, they mostly spent the time cleaning up after the many ‘accidents’ which happened overnight. The dormitory was dank with urine and the smell of excrement hung permanently in the air. To arrive at a new home with all mod-cons and a luxury bedroom was the most terrifying thing ever to have happened to the poor children. After taking some advice, the couple removed the bunk beds, hung plain dark curtains over the window and allowed the new arrivals to sleep on the floor. It took a long time before they adapted to life in the UK and their parents had to take things very slowly indeed.
Now, try and apply this to the adoption of an ex racing greyhound. A dog which has known nothing except training, living in a pen or cage (they are usually paired so have some company), and racing. They sleep towards the back of the pen so are not used to anyone approaching them from behind when they are sleeping. If they’re lucky, they might have some nice kennel hands who give them the odd kind word or head stroke but mostly, they are working dogs and their chief purpose on this earth is to earn money for their owners and trainers. Then – boom, it’s all over and they are no longer of any use to either. Now what?
Well, you could kill them. Yes, that’s what I said, you could just put a bolt gun to his/her head and finish them off. Or you could cut off their ears so nobody traces them back to the owner/trainer via their unique ID tattoos. You could even stick them in the back of a tatty old van and drive them along a busy dual carriageway and shove them out of the back door when the traffic isn’t too busy so nobody sees you (not forgetting to cut off the ears of course…). Or, you could try and find them a new home.
The ex racing greyhound is a very different kettle of fish from the normal adopted pet dog. They are bred and trained to chase a lure, not to snuggle up on your sofa without a care in the world. There is a growing number of people who deplore greyhound racing and are fighting the good fight to see it banned world wide. It’s not going to be easy because countries such as Ireland are now exporting their second rate dogs to China and Pakistan and eventually, they will have enough dogs of their own to start a breeding programme and that will be that.
I sometimes lie awake at night, thinking and worrying about the situation. We have three ex racing ‘girls’ and knowing them as I do (gentle, faithful, funny, quirky), I cannot imagine any one of them being carted to the race track and shoved into the traps. It makes me feel very angry and very sad that these majestic, loyal dogs are treated as a commodity and when I hear about them being rescued from meat trucks in China and transported back to the UK, I actually shed tears because they DO NOT DESERVE THIS APPALLING LIFE. They have done nothing wrong except to be able to run at speeds of up to 42mph and this is why mankind has deemed them fit for nothing but running and winning them money.
My first greyhound, Saracen, had been thrown out onto the streets in Portsmouth once his racing days were done. He was missing half an ear so he had either been in a fight or someone had tried, unsuccessfully, to remove his ‘tats’. He was incredibly nervous and bit me once or twice because he thought I was going for him (something we now know as ‘sleep startle’). I soon learned to approach him from the front and to say his name until he opened his eyes and was aware I was there. When I was expecting my first baby, I was told (in no uncertain terms) by several well-meaning ‘friends’ that I had to ‘get rid of that dog, before the baby arrives’). I had NO intention of ‘getting rid’ of Saracen, he had suffered enough before coming to live with me. I just made sure to keep baby Dominic and Saracen apart until Dominic was old enough to understand the respect Saracen deserved and one of my favourite photos is of him holding Saracen’s lead, with Saracen towering above his 2 year old head!
They might wee on your carpet, they might jump up to the ceiling when you wake them up, they might try and steal every bit of food you leave lying around, they might chase squirrels/deer/cats/small dogs; they might remove the kitchen door handle with their teeth (yes, he did that too) so you can’t open the door the following morning. Saracen suffered such awful separation anxiety, it took a long time before he stopped whining and crying when I left him to go food shopping but we got there in the end and he would give me a sleepy stare from his bed as I jangled my keys and waved him “Goodbye sweetie, I won’t be long.”
When you adopt an ex racer, you need to know certain things and there are some very good books available which will tell you all about them in advance of adoption day. It’s wise to muzzle them on walks when they first arrive (they are well used to being muzzled, don’t worry) to get them used to seeing other breeds of dog (don’t forget, they’ve probably NEVER seen anything but other greyhounds since they were born and smaller breeds running around will trigger their chase instinct). You learn to timetable regular toilet breaks in the garden so they are not tempted to wee indoors. They can’t help it, nobody stopped them doing it in kennels and it’s what they are used to. You can walk them on extending leads for a bit of freedom until you are 100% sure they won’t run away OR you could find an enclosed pathway with gates at each end and give them a jolly good gallop before putting on their leads for the rest of the walk (we found one where we lived and we would gallop him several times – they are sprinters not long distance athletes, they tire quite quickly).
You can also make up your mind that, no matter what happens, you are taking on a rare breed of dog which will need a great deal of patience, understanding and love and you will find ways around their kennel behaviour until they eventually become the most loyal, wonderful, loving pet you have ever known. It’s no wonder they’re often known as ’40mph couch potatoes’, if they’re not running like the wind, they’re often found in the land of nod on the sofa or their designated dog beds.
I am so thankful I met Saracen in 1997. I had no idea I could adopt any breed of dog as I had always been so allergic to my parents’ Labradors, Staffies and Retrievers but interestingly, Saracen didn’t trigger my symptoms at all and since losing him in 2003, we have adopted three more beautiful greyhounds – Amber, Rosie and Cleopatra.
If you are interested in adopting a greyhound, please contact Kerry at Birmingham Greyhound Protection , she has lots of beautiful houndies, just waiting for you to offer them a ‘furever’ home and she’d love to hear from you!