01 August 2011

Adopt a retired racing greyhound and help save the planet

One of the most sustainable, energy renewing substances on the planet has four legs, a long tail and one of the oldest and most challenging canine histories known. According to John and Susie McQuade, co-founders of the Greyhound Adoption League of Texas (GALT), the retired racing dogs are an untapped source of unconditional love and happiness, a superb pet for any kind of home and a seriously great way to help the environmental recycling effort.

“We’re not creating another entity to be cared for,” the couple said. “It’s already here. Until you adopt a greyhound, you have no idea that this is the best dog in the world.”

Sadly, it‘s only within the past 10 years that these gentle, inquisitive dogs have been adopted into homes as family members. Ironically, the greyhound has a noble bloodline that can be easily traced back to the Egyptians and is the only dog mentioned in the Bible. Egyptian tombs dating back to 2200 BC have murals of hounds that are greyhound relatives and many times, the remains of treasured family hounds reside within the same crypt as their owners because the birth of a hound was considered second only to the birth of a son. When the pet hound died, the entire family would go into mourning.

How the breed has slipped so far down in society’s esteem is the true question. The previous two decades during the dog racing industry’s heyday brought horror stories about greyhound deaths that were so outrageous, the natural reaction was one of disbelief. Even now, GALT brings in dogs from Ft. Worth and Dallas in seizures from individual homes where the animals are kept in horrific unsanitary conditions. Most of these greyhounds are not connected to the track because their ears are not tattooed (a racing industry standard) and as such, have no traceable lineage. In many cases, the seized hounds are covered with parasites and weighing a fraction of what they should weigh. In the past year, 11out of 52 seized dogs that GALT accepted were tattooed and registered with the racing industry.

Unfortunately, lax Texas laws allow owners to consider their dogs as “personal property” meaning dog owners can treat the dogs as they please without much intervention from authorities. GALT has been involved in several events where the conditions the dogs were kept in were so outrageous, animal authorities were finally allowed to step in. Jennifer Vilches, foster coordinator for GALT, has seen every kind of sad situation.

“The first Ft. Worth Animal Control seizure last year was the first time I had ever seen that many ticks. That was a real eye-opener,” Vilches said. “I've gotten a lot better about picking ticks since then, but seeing a heavily infested dog always gets to me.”

The Associated Press reported that in May, 2002 the remains of approximately 3,000 greyhounds from Florida racetracks were discovered on the Alabama property of a former racetrack security guard who had been “retiring” unwanted greyhounds with a 22-caliber rifle for more than 40 years.

In July, 2006, the Sunday Times in the UK published a devastating account of the discovery of 10,000 greyhound carcasses buried on a one acre plot of land owned by a man who had been killing healthy dogs with a bolt gun because they were deemed to be “too slow” by their trainers. He had been electrocuting and burying them over a 15 year span. Other reports of “mountains” of greyhound carcasses and track incinerators were also written about in the news and the tide began to turn for the sensitive, mild mannered dogs who until recently were never allowed to live past the ages of three or four.

GALT sprung into existence as an alternative agency for greyhound adoption. The McQuades’ experience in greyhound rescue started with Greyhounds Unlimited of Texas where the couple made contacts with tracks and breeders and learned the basics of the breed. The husband and wife team and about 20 volunteers left the organization, though, to open GALT so that they could approach the adoption process their way and run it more like a business.

“We decided that we can do this differently,” they said. “It’s been a hell of a ride.”

The two agencies still work together to bring greyhounds in from the track and various breeders and have a good working relationship. Through the efforts of GALT, the ignorance about the treatment of greyhounds in mainstream America has begun to change. The McQuade family adopted their first greyhound after the deaths of their much loved Westie and Scottie and found that because of the sight hound’s laid back personality and predilection to couch potato status, it was easy to have more than one.

“Once we get our hands on a dog, it’s hard to move them. They’re ours,” the McQuades said. “We’re dealing with beating hearts and living things. It’s very emotional.”

GALT’s intake process usually begins with a phone call from the track, breeders, animal rescue agencies or just someone who has picked up a stray grey. The agency responds immediately and takes the healthy dogs to boarding and finds immediate foster homes for those who need medical attention. The dogs are evaluated by volunteers and given baths to check for fleas and ticks plus they are given standard medications for worms and other parasites. Blood is drawn and a panel is done for the new dogs to check for any immediate health issues that would threaten their lives. Dr. Jeffrey Ellis at VCA Preston Park Animal Hospital in North Dallas is the “home base” where most GALT dogs are processed.

“Our vet bills are staggering and at the same time, we’ll be the first to say that some people don’t think we need to do as much as we do. We do more for our dogs medically than 95 percent of the rescue shelters out there in the way of blood work and other testing. That’s a standard that we started with,” the couple said.

Vilches, who is in charge of finding foster homes, says there is a bit of “wheedling and begging” that sometimes goes into finding willing homes especially in a tough economy. GALT uses several boarding facilities for the dogs that don’t have foster homes yet and feels the economic pinch from the dogs’ living expenses but that’s all just part of the process,

“Besides winning the lottery, foster homes are our greatest need,” the McQuades said.

It costs $350 to adopt a GALT greyhound 7 years or less, $275 for GALT Cheerleaders, ages 7, 8 and 9, and $225 for GALT seniors, age 10 and over. A $75 deposit is required with submission of an application ($50 of which is refundable and $25 of which is non-refundable). The remaining applicable adoption fee donation is due when the greyhound is adopted. Once the application is filled out, references are checked and veterinarians are called to make sure the applicant is going to care for the dog properly. The foster family delivers the dog to the new forever home and if the physical conditions are also favorable for the dog, GALT chalks up one more successful new life for a well deserving greyhound.

Stephanie LaNoue, a greyhound “foster parent”, has hosted up to 14 dogs at one time in her home in Plano. She says that fostering can be perceived as a thankless experience at times but that as an all volunteer group, the foster homes try to squeeze in as much "rescue time" as they can.

“We are paid in dog kisses and wagging tails, not paychecks. The thing that keeps me coming back is knowing there is another dog in need right around the corner. That's one way I can rationalize not keeping every single one of them--realizing that another wonderful, deserving hound is in need of its first dog bed. Watching the dogs evolve into loving, trusting companions is worth every hairball in my house,” LaNoue said.

One of the most important standards that GALT officials live by is remaining neutral in their attitude and acceptance of the dog racing industry, in general. Because GALT works closely with the tracks, breeders and trainers, GALT officials say they are non-judgmental and only want to do what is best for the dogs. Since the organization is only involved with the dogs after their racing career is over, it is important to have a working relationship with everyone so that they will always receive that phone call about the next dog who needs a home.

Vilches said that GALT also spends a lot of its time educating the general public about why these dogs are so deserving of a loving “retirement.” When she walks her greyhounds around her neighborhood, she is usually stopped by one or two people who ask questions about the breed and voice some of the misconceptions still circulating such as whether greyhounds are hyperactive and need a lot of exercise. (The answer to both questions is a big “NO”.)

“The thing I think most people don't know is just how many greyhounds there are in the racing industry,” she said. “It always surprises people when I tell them how many we have in our adoption system,“ Vilches said.

Since it formed 10 years ago, GALT has either sent out to other adoption agencies or found forever homes for close to 2000 greyhounds. The McQuades and GALT have no intention of stopping any time soon. For them, the quest to help this particular breed of sight hound is personal and extremely rewarding.

“You’re taking an existing life and extending it. You’re making it count. You’re taking something that for years has been considered to be disposable and it’s not,” the couple said.

Kathryn Lorusso
Kathryn is a former journalist and English teacher who now counsels and mediates teenage drama on a daily basis in the Dallas, Ft. Worth metroplex. Time away from school is spent cooking up new macrobiotic/vegan specialties, writing various blogs and newsletters and taking as many bikram yoga classes as possible.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/xt0ph3r