It is difficult to express how much I love greyhounds; however why I love them is something I can explain. The particular greyhounds I love are ex-racing ones. I have come to respect them for the amazing creatures they are, and for numerous different reasons. Many have been raced and injured and are no longer able to run, so are of no use to the people who own them. Of course not all owners are the same and some do keep them once they can no longer race, but these people are still in the minority. Instead, most are transported to a rehoming centre after they sustain injuries that affect their ability to race. That is where they stay until a member of the public steps in, picks a greyhound and takes him/her home. Many greyhounds have no concept of the world outside their kennel. What most dogs perceive as ‘normal’ is totally alien to them. Being in kennels is tough for many reasons. In my experience many greyhounds are required to share a kennel, which often means that only one of them is able to sleep flat out. The other one has to make use of the concrete floor if they do want to stretch out. The floor may have a layer of shavings on it, but this is usually not enough to cushion delicate joints; and even then this area may not always allow them to stretch out fully. As most kennels are not big enough to comfortably accommodate two fairly large dogs, space becomes a commodity, and the dogs can get used to telling their kennel mate off into order to get the space they need. They also frequently get woken up when their kennel mate shifts around while resting. This can lead to problems when they do eventually go to a home, and in some cases they are labelled ‘aggressive’ because they are so used to growling and snapping if they are disturbed. The general public are often unaware of this, which can lead to greyhounds being returned to kennels after such an incident. This is often done on the premise that these behaviours will only get worse, which in reality they don’t if the dogs are left alone. New owners need to give their dogs a lot of space, and let them sleep in places where they are unlikely to be disturbed.
The ‘institutionalised’ nature of ex-racing greyhounds means that from the time they are born the only environment they know is the kennels they live in. This environment may change slightly throughout their racing lives; however there are generally no luxuries or home comforts in racing kennels. The ‘normal’ life of most puppies and young dogs just doesn’t exist for greyhounds that are destined for racing. They miss many important lessons that they need in order to live a safe and happy life outside this environment – they are only walked with other greyhounds, and the only new environments they encounter are usually race and trialling tracks. They are often fed on diets that are economic for the owners and not specific to their needs. They have absolutely no knowledge of the many aspects of life as a pet dog. What greyhounds are taught is how to race, and this training starts early. Some greyhounds never race – they may be ‘non-chasers’ or they may be injured early on. This means they are not worth investing further money on, and will therefore find a place in a rehoming centre and begin their wait for a home. Rescue greyhounds are all ages, sizes and colours and I can honestly say I have never met two identical looking greyhounds. Many are black, which as anyone who has anything to do with rescue dogs knows is always a disadvantage. Most importantly, 99% of them are amazingly adaptable, and this is the fact that I find mind-blowing. I have no idea why they are so malleable (a horrible word to use but I can’t think of another to describe how incredibly adaptable they are), but they all seem to learn incredibly quickly. Like all of us, some do learn the 'wrong things', however this is usually down to people taking them on as a first pet and not educating themselves beforehand. As with all dogs, certain considerations need to be taken into account. When I rehomed my first greyhound I had a real shock, despite having owned lurchers for years. She had no recall, and despite everything I had been told I was arrogant enough to just let her off lead. And what did she do? She ran like the wind directly across a large field away from me. I hadn’t appreciated exactly how fast she really was, and luckily one of my lurchers run after her and turned her twice, before I could put her lead back on. She also regularly broke into my fridge and ate everything she could find. It was only months later that I learnt she had been left on her own for long periods of time when she had been rehomed with a previous family, which explained some of this behaviour. Information does not always get passed on to new owners effectively, either at the fault of the rehoming centre or because the owners giving them up aren’t willing to admit why. The greyhounds that are retuned to kennels do not have awful personalities – they have just not been given enough time to adjust to a totally new world and life, and owners have often not done enough research about their new dog’s needs. Time and time again I have observed how horribly depressed these dogs become when they have to return to kennel life.
But there is an upside! If you look at the Facebook pages of the many greyhound owners out there you will see multiple images – mainly of dogs roaching and lying around, or sometimes clad in coats of various colours and styles. You may also see some rarer images of greyhounds curled up with cats. This is unusual in a dog that has been trained to chase small fluffy objects, but once they have relaxed and started to identify new things in their expanding world they can come to realise that small fluffy objects can actually be dogs, or other animals, and they aren’t required to chase them anymore. For some greyhounds, this isn’t possible, however many people are very accepting of this. It just takes education and understanding. While adopting an ex-racing greyhound can have its challenges, all they really need is a bit of understanding and lots of time. When they are given this they become the most astonishing companions for people of all ages. They are amazing and ever surprising survivors. Rehome a greyhound! Pennie Clayton works extensively with both dogs and horses in the UK, and is a qualified Bowen Therapist. www.horseandhoundschool.co.uk