After their “professional” racing careers, retired greyhounds are typically either adopted or euthanized. Because greyhound racing is still a popular sport in the United States, thousands of these dogs pass their speed peak every year and face a grim fate unless they are adopted as pets. Most retired greyhounds are between three and five years old, meaning that their new adoptive owners can have companions for (usually) about ten years. Loveable and generally docile, greyhounds are surprisingly calm and relaxed when away from the track. There are some special issues that retired greyhounds can face, and potential owners must be well-informed before adopting one of these speedy pets. But if you choose to adopt a retired greyhound, you’ll be saving a life and gaining a friend – making the extra effort worthwhile. Here’s what you need to know about racing dogs as pets.
Greyhounds at the Track
While individual trainers and owners tend to keep greyhounds in other countries, most US racing greyhounds live collectively in a kennel setting during their track years, each with his or her own small cage. Both males and females serve as racing dogs, though they are housed separately. About one-third of states allow greyhound racing, and each of these jurisdictions regulates the sport to some degree – meaning that living conditions for the dogs can vary dramatically by location. The basics are usually the same, however: the dogs live in cages or crates and remain there unless they are exercising or racing.
Animal rights activists claim that racing greyhounds are frequently mistreated because the owners view them as disposable investments which can be discarded after their prime. Considering the condition in which some retired greyhounds are found (worms, fleas, poor teeth, etc.), there appears to be evidence substantiating these claims. Many greyhound adoption organizations are simultaneously working to end what they see as exploitation of the animals. Greyhound racing representatives disagree, stating that they follow government regulations and treat the dogs humanely, arguing that they would not harm dogs who earn them money. Whether you think greyhound racing constitutes valid gambling entertainment or amounts to cruel treatment of dogs, one fact remains: thousands of greyhounds retire every year and will face death before their natural time unless adopted into a caring home.
What Are Retired Greyhounds Like? What Should I Expect?
Because they are bred to race and do not spend time away from the track, racing greyhounds are different from other dogs. Each one is different, of course, but as a breed they tend to measure 25 to 30 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh about 60 to 70 pounds. Racing greyhounds bear a tattoo on their ear to indicate they are pure bred. The breed has somewhat sensitive, thin skin and a coat that typically present fewer problems for allergy sufferers.
Considering that greyhounds are confined to cages and crates at the track for most of their first years, greyhounds are remarkably friendly, docile creatures that show affection with lots of wet nose kissing. They are usually comfortable and safe with children because they snap far less frequently than other breeds and often shy away when initially teased. Greyhounds bark less than other dogs because they are more trusting, rendering them quieter than most people expect. Used to being handled by lots of people, these dogs adjust well to new humans and are guest-friendly. Retired greyhounds love their adoptive masters, but they may not always show the same kind of Lassie-like loyalty people expect from dogs. To some people, this characteristic makes them excellent family pets because no one family member will be the dog’s exclusive master.
Although they sprint up to 45 mph and were trained to race, greyhounds are not keen on running for long periods of time and do not make good jogging companions. In fact, retired greyhounds are known for being a little lazy: most of them enjoy sleeping and lounging around more than anything. They’ll play with furry toys because they were trained to chase lures around a track, but they may ignore other toys and aren’t used to frolicking like most other dogs. Greyhounds are comfortable around fellow greyhounds, but they require some time to adjust to other dogs and to cats, sometimes confusing small dogs or felines with their lures and chasing after them.
Greyhound are not outdoor dogs. They require surprisingly little exercise and do not need to run for long periods of time. This does not mean they should not be walked or occasionally allowed to run in a fenced-in area; it simply means they have a lower need for exercise and tire more quickly. Because they are used to cages and crates, newly adopted greyhounds do require time to become familiar with all the open space in conventional houses and are often confused by large amounts of glass or by stairs (both of which are extremely unfamiliar to them). Luckily, the intelligent greyhound breed is capable of adapting with a little guidance.
Most off-the-track greyhounds are housebroken or can easily learn. Perhaps the only “benefit” of being caged is that the greyhounds are disinclined to pee or potty in their little wire home, usually waiting until they are exercised by handlers. Once a retired greyhound understands that the adoptive home is like a very big cage, the dog will show good control. Remember, though, that greyhounds (like any dog) should not be left alone all day long just because they were used to it in their previous environment. Owning a greyhound as a pet is a commitment!
It is essential to note that some retired greyhounds end their careers with medical problems. Depending on the conditions at the animal’s track, the dog could have a flea problem, a parasite infection, or need some kind of special care or medication. Greyhound adoption organizations usually provide a medical screening as part of the adoption fee and treat the problems before sending the animal to its new home. Before adopting a dog, learn as much as possible about its history and current condition so you know you can care for it properly as a pet.
Most reputable greyhound adoption agencies have a screening process designed to ensure positive matching and encourage you to bring family members to meet the dog first. The typical fee is about $200-300, though potential adoptive owners must be willing to make an additional investment in supplies so that the greyhound can comfortably transition to a new home full of canine amenities.
For a directory of local organizations that provide greyhound adoption, visit www.adopt-a-greyhound.org.
Another organization, www.ngap.org (National Greyhound Adoption Program), is a notable greyhound advocacy group that is quite vocal in the anti-racing movement. They have their own adoption program for retired dogs.