Monday, March 8, 2010

A race straight for your heart: adopting a retired racing greyhound

Kim and her young family were looking for a perfect dog for their family. They thought long and hard about it, and had some very specific criteria in mind – a rescue, a bigger dog, one that would be good with young children, one that didn’t need too much extra exercise so it would fit into their already full schedule, already house trained, and with an aversion to chewing shoes – good thing she didn’t impulsively get a Golden puppy!

After looking at local shelters, nothing matched her needs. Kim’s friend recommended that she consider a retired racing greyhound. Originally, Kim thought they were high-energy and way too skinny for her taste, but she soon learned that a greyhound would be a perfect match. Retired racers are low-energy dogs who have been crated 23 hours each day, and like to sleep in soft places. They need a fenced yard so they can run for short bursts, and only require 30 – 60 minutes of walking each day. Many of them do not bark. They are even tempered. Their skin does not produce oil, so they hardly smell. They eat a lot, and may shed a great deal. They can never be let off leash in an unenclosed area, as their drive to run is incredibly strong. In spite of these potential drawbacks, Kim was intrigued. Her vet told her that because they are so calm and even tempered, U of S veterinary students often work on retired racing greyhounds – he also told Kim that they’re very sweet dogs.

Kim found Garfield at the Northwest Canadian Greyhound League. This gorgeous blue fawn dog with incredible toffee coloured eyes had been up for adoption for over three months. He was already neutered, and had been temperament tested for kids, small dogs, and cats, and was found to be safe with all of them. Kim talked with his foster mom, and as a final check NCGL arranged for a home visit from a local family who already had greyhounds. Kim’s family drove to Calgary, paid the $275 adoption fee, and Garfield was theirs.

When she first met him, Kim was intimidated. Garfield is incredibly well muscled, was scared in general, but more specifically of crowds and children, lacked confidence, and needed time to adjust. However, it didn’t take him long to decide that Kim was his. He wanted to be close to her – affectionately putting his head into her lap.

Shortly after, Kim and her children looked into getting a second dog. They turned to NCGL again. The group was looking for a foster home for Dawson, who didn’t like jumping on furniture. This time Kim’s family drove to Medicine Hat to pick up the pathetic looking Dawson. His coat was dull and he had a lot of dandruff. He was so skinny his ribs were sticking out. He had no muscle tone, and very little energy. Yet he leaned against her son, wanting to be petted. He didn’t know how to jump into the van, so Kim lifted him. They took him home, and put him on high-quality food. He was so loving and gentle, they fell in love with him, and decided to keep him. He still doesn’t jump up on couches or beds, but he has learned to enjoy car rides. Unfortunately, he enjoys getting into garbage and counter-surfing, things Garfield doesn’t do – so they have to be careful. He is very gentle and calm, and has been a good influence on Garfield, and he is very good with the kids.

Reading about retired racers really doesn’t prepare a family for one. According to Kim, Greyhounds don’t sit, and you really can’t teach them tricks. They are quietly affectionate – Dawson barks or leans into people when he wants to be petted. Garfield sticks his head in your lap or armpit. Garfield is very curious. Dawson is more inclined to let the world go by and trust that everything will be fine. They eat a lot, and need high quality food because their metabolisms are so fast. Kim gives them raw bones every week to keep their teeth and gums healthy, which is easier than brushing their teeth every day. She can leave them for 10 hours without accidents, and doesn’t crate them. Garfield waits on the stair landing, so he can see her come home. Both love running at the off-leash dog park. She finds them beautiful, inside and out – very different from the image of a competitive racing machine.

Kim and her family did everything right. Dogs are long-term commitments and they didn’t pick one up on impulse. They did their homework to get a temperament that matched their lifestyle, and they rescued rather than going to a pet store.

When you’re considering bringing a new dog into your home and into your life, take your time and do your homework. If you don’t find one that matches your family’s needs at your local shelter, check into breed-specific rescue groups. There are lots of them out there with thousands of beautiful dogs who are waiting to find their perfect new families, families just like yours.

A special thank you to Kim for providing so much rich information for this post.

- Louise

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