Each year up to 10,000 greyhounds retire from the track in need of a loving home. These dogs, bred to race, can find themselves homeless as young as three or four-years-old. Fran Griffin, from Bedfordshire, is keen to dispel the myths about greyhounds and promote them as loving pets…
Almost a decade ago, Rosie the greyhound was a successful racing dog – winning 16 of her 63 races – but her last run out was in 2004, aged just four. But no one knew it would be her last race as she was involved in a freak accident shortly afterwards.
Now aged 11, Rosie – whose racing name is Regis Rose – is retired and living a happy existence with her loving owner Fran.
“I’m really proud of her. She only ran low grade races, she was no money winner and while I never actually saw her race I think that’s a pretty good record,” says Fran.
“Rosie had to come out of racing… she was in her kennel one day and then just couldn’t get up, she’d somehow injured her back and was unable to race. Rosie had nerve damage and, luckily, with rest she was able to walk again but she never raced after that freak accident. I took her on two years later in 2006.”
Rosie raced for just under two years but a greyhound would usually race for two or three years, depending on ability or injury, and from the age of around one. But at the age of three or four they could find themselves without a home.
‘It’s sad, some of these dogs are bred to race yet have incredibly short careers’
According to Northants Greyhound Rescue Centre, it’s estimated that each year around 10,000 greyhounds retire from the track or are unwanted for racing due to injury or their inability or reluctance to chase. And in 2010, the Retired Greyhound Trust, a national charity dedicated to finding loving homes for greyhounds, rehomed its 50,000th dog.
“Dogs are bred to race and the owners are in it for the money, in it for the sport, and if the dog is not fast enough they get passed on, and at such a young age,” adds Fran.
“The trainers have to make a living and while they do care, if the owner isn’t prepared to pay for a slow or injured dog they end up being rehomed, and it’s a sad fact that some are simply put down.”
But what about the greyhounds that never make it onto the track?
“Some are just useless at it,” says Fran, who’s been a greyhound lover for many years and is a registered kennel hand, so she knows the industry well. “They just don’t want to run. Others who turn their head during a race are passed on because this is seen as ‘fighting’, they’re not concentrating on the hare and are distracted by the other dogs so therefore a ‘fight’ risk. It’s sad, some of these dogs are bred to race yet have incredibly short careers.”
Is it cruel to race dogs?
“It’s what they’re bred to do, they rely on their natural prey, drive and chase instincts, albeit some aren’t very good at it. My old dog Sasha only raced twice but years later when she was back at a race course she yammered, she recognised where she was and was excited about it. If they’re bred for a purpose, to race, then they should show an aptitude for it.”
‘There’s a misconception that greyhounds need a lot of exercise because they’re racers but in fact this isn’t true’
And when a greyhound is forced into early retirement…?
“Well, they make excellent pets,” says animal lover Fran who also shares her home with two rabbits, two cats and two horses. Her previous dogs have been a greyhound and a greyhound-lurcher. She describes Rosie as a “love sponge” and is keen to dispel myths about greyhounds.
“There’s a misconception that greyhounds need a lot of exercise because they’re racers but in fact this isn’t true. These dogs are bred to between about 250m for a sprint to about 550m for an ordinary race, depending on the track. A sprint will be over in 15 to 18 seconds a 550 takes about 28 to 30 seconds, so they have the muscles of a sprinter; they don’t like 10-mile hikes. 20 minutes twice a day is all they need and they love to be let off the lead.
“Rosie gets very grumpy about formal lead walking so she spends most of her exercise time in self directed ambling around the horse field. It saves me a lot of time, and she actually gets more exercise than she would if I took her for a ‘proper’ walk.”
A good citizen
Another greyhound myth is that they cannot sit. Because they stand for racing so they can start quicker, greyhounds aren’t taught to sit. “But it doesn’t mean they can’t,” say Fran, “You just have to train them, to train their muscles.”
“There’s so much rubbish written about greyhounds and what they can and can’t do as a breed. Having raced, Rosie has then passed all three Good Citizen tests and now lives quite happily with cats and rabbits.”
A spokesman for the Northants Greyhound Trust added: “Nearly every rescue centre has greyhounds looking for homes and it’s often the case that the greyhounds remain in the kennels for longer than many of the other dogs. The public perception of this breed is usually the reason they are not chosen.
Addicted to the breed
“People are usually astonished at how easy greyhounds are to have in the home and many of those who adopt a greyhound return to adopt another and become totally addicted to this wonderful breed.”
“The Retired Greyhound Trust’s primary objective is to help find homes for retired racing greyhounds and strives for the day when no ex-racing greyhound is without a good home,” added RGT Chief Executive Peter Laurie.
A Greyhound Gala is held at Towcester Racecourse each year and anyone interested should keep an eye on the Northants Greyhound Trust website.