Life After The Track
Local organization finds homes for greyhounds after racing career
Story by Lindsee Gentry
Photos by Michael Hensley
Gliding around the track at roughly 40 miles per hour, the greyhound’s elegance is unmistakable. Week after week, breeders train the dogs, cultivating their inherent racing ability. Fans gather to enjoy the physicality of the animals and the spectacle itself. But after three to five years of this high-speed lifestyle, the racers retire to their kennels and begin a new life, learning to become man’s best friend.
Mid-South Greyhound Adoption Option based in West Memphis works with Southland Greyhound Park to facilitate the so-called retirement of the track stars. The organization is funded by the Park to ensure that each greyhound finds life after the track.
Though MSGAO receives funding from the Park, they also hold fundraisers to help care for the dogs and raise awareness for greyhound adoption, according to Jeff Brasher, who has adopted two greyhounds from the organization. From a spa day aimed at pampering the pups to meet and greets with the stars themselves, MSGAO works endlessly to showcase the dogs’ gentle temperament to those in search of a furry addition to the family.
For $250, families can adopt a crate-trained, spayed or neutered and vaccinated greyhound. “It’s like buying a Ferrari,” Brasher says. “They are quiet animals, don’t slobber, aren’t smelly like other dogs, and they sleep all day.” The traits of greyhounds may seem counterintuitive at first, Brasher says, but the pets have been trained well and are much smarter than people may first assess. Working with many dogs, MSGAO has taught the dogs to operate nearly like humans, eating and relieving themselves at specific times of the day. Each day at 3 p.m., the dogs respond to the cleverly named “Happy Hour” call and feast on their promised snack. To this day, Brasher says his dogs rejoice when “Happy Hour” arrives.
While the saying declares that you can’t teach an old dog a new trick, Brasher thinks that statement doesn’t apply to greyhounds. He was able to teach his girls fun tricks while skipping the messy and frustrating task that puppy training can be. “Some people are looking for a companion but don’t have the patience to train it,” he says. “They make a good fit.” Surprisingly the high-energy pups, though majestic in stature, don’t have to occupy large amounts of space. Because of their past crate training and laid-back personality, greyhounds can find happiness in an apartment. The 50 to 80 pound dogs are really just “big couch potatoes” according to Brasher. “They’ve evolved the ability to store up energy all day long; cheetahs do the same thing,” he says. “About once a day, they expend that energy in about two minutes so it’s good to have a place for them to run.” Greyhounds may love racing and playing outdoors, but they are inside pets.
Having been bred for thousands of years to race and hunt, the breed’s skin is thin to expel heat and keep them moving, much like marathoners. Therefore owners should expect the large but lazy dogs to live indoors like another family member.
The incorporation of these pets may seem daunting, even more so because of their background, but the dogs adapt rather quickly, Brasher says. In most cases, the dogs assimilate well with both humans and other pets. MSGAO assists future owners by testing the dogs with children, dogs and cats before they are adopted. The testing usually proves the animals harmless but owners must bear in mind the dogs’ heritage as sighthounds. That is, because of their speed, the dogs hunt by sight and can sometimes be dangerous around small animals. This characteristic also requires owners to maintain the greyhounds on a leash unless within an enclosed area. “They can see up to half a mile away.” Brasher says. “They hunt by sight and can become fixated on a small object, and take off.” Covering up to a half mile at 40 miles per hour, the dogs can soon become lost or in danger of being hit by a car if not on a leash. This and other responses by greyhounds prove their inherent racing ability, contrary to the stigma that typically accompanies racing of any species, Brasher says. “You can spend five minutes with the animals and see they love to race,” he says. “They’re extremely fast and physically fit to race.”
The “need for speed,” as it may be described, can be traced through their lineage and has been witnessed firsthand by owners like Brasher. He describes an event held at the track for adopted greyhounds and their owners. As guests enjoyed a white-tablecloth dinner, the pets lay quietly at the feet of their owners until they heard a familiar sound — the horn. At the horn, which signals the start of the race, the dogs’ ears perked up in anticipation and Brasher’s dog, Jersey, dragged him toward the gate. “You can’t make a greyhound race,” he says. “They want to.”
And just as great as the dogs’ desire to race is the desire of the breeders for the dogs’ success. The race dogs, themselves, cost breeders $25,000 or more, not including supplies, food and other fees. “They have so much time and money tied up in it,” Brasher explains. “They aren’t mistreating the animals.”
Further, according to Brasher, every track has an affiliated adoption agency for retired dogs. Because breeders must be licensed to own the dogs, outlets such as MSGAO are essential in allowing non-breeders to purchase them after the dogs’ careers end. “Each dog must be licensed and registered,” he says. “The dogs have tattoos of their birth date and serial number. You can track them like a car vending number, see races they’ve won, their lineage and other cool things.” Brasher and MSGAO believe there are numerous “cool things” about adopting a retired greyhound, even if prospective owners are not interested in the races. “We were never as interested in the racing as much as they’re just good dogs,” he says.
People interested in adopting their own majestic, endearing “couch potato” can find more information at midsouthgreyhound.com.