Shades of Grey
There are many dogs
out there trained to help us---fire dogs, bomb and drug-sniffing
dogs, seeing-eye dogs, even hearing dogs---man's best friend,
for sure. They rescue us from everything imaginable-natural catastrophes
to loneliness. But what happens when our loyal, four-legged friends
need help? Who runs to their side? You're about to meet a few
of those valiant individuals who rank high on the canine's top
ten list---their adoptive parents and rescuers. The objects of
their affection are greyhounds, greyhounds and greyhounds.
One enthusiastic Annapolis resident and greyhound owner is Lisa
Hillman, vice president of development and community affairs for
Anne Arundel Health System. She remembers exactly when she fell
for a greyhound. "One day, after hiking with a friend and her
greyhound, we opened our car door. Immediately, the dog jumped
into our car and stretched across the back seat. It was at that
moment that I knew I could have a dog like this. He just fit---into
our lifestyle and our car. He was just right."
The Hillman family took seriously the responsibility of adding
a greyhound to the family. They did their research, had family
discussions and, after deliberation, decided to adopt a retired
racing greyhound. "To be honest, it seemed like sort of a selfish
thing to do," says Lisa. "I mean, they have already been through
puppyhood, they're housebroken and incredibly well trained."
To begin the process, "We did web searches for greyhound rescue
organizations online and found Greyhound Rescue, Inc.," says Lisa.
This is a non-profit organization that places dogs in Maryland,
D.C. and Virginia. "We contacted them, went to visit, and just
watched the dogs for hours. We gave the rescue organization a
few requirements. We wanted a fawn-colored male who was good with
cats," says Lisa.
"It also had to be bilingual and do housework," jokes Dick Hillman,
Lisa's husband and mayor of Annapolis from 1981-85.
Shortly thereafter, they were contacted by Greyhound Rescue and
asked to come over and meet the candidates. "When the dogs were
brought outside, one of them came right to me, jumped up and put
his paws on my shoulders," Dick recalls. "And that was it." They
had found their first greyhound, whom they would name Larry.
As the Hillmans headed home with Larry, they were given the name
and number of a woman who would become their coach and mentor.
They were told she was available 24 hours a day to help with the
transition. Darlene Riden, greyhound expert and active volunteer
for Greyhound Rescue, Inc., would end up becoming a friend of
the Hillmans for years to come.
Larry adjusted quickly to his new home and family, although there
were a few learning experiences. "[Rescue] greyhounds truly are
ready-made pets," says Lisa. "But they have never been in a house
before, have never seen steps and must be taught to use them.
They're also unfamiliar with glass and windows. One day Dick brought
Larry to see me at work, and he walked right into the glass door."
As the Hillmans enjoyed their new family member, Dick made an
interesting observation. "It seemed that whenever we saw photos
of greyhounds and their owners, they never seemed to have just
one greyhound---there were always at least two or three," Dick
says. They began to think Larry would enjoy a companion.
Meanwhile, a gentleman with a greyhound of his own moved into
the Hillman's neighborhood in downtown Annapolis. "We often walked
our dogs together," Lisa recalls. "Then one day he told us he
was leaving town and was not going to take his dog with him. This
announcement was followed by a presumptuous, 'Do you know anyone
who will take him?' We now have two greyhounds, Larry and Roman."
"Larry is 6 years old, and Roman is 9," says Lisa. "Larry raced
for four years, but Roman's career was much shorter---just one
year---I guess Larry was a better athlete." "I just think Roman
is smarter," says Dick. "He knew the sooner he performed poorly,
the sooner he would get adopted and move into a home."
Now completely captivated by the dogs, the Hillmans cannot imagine
life without Larry and Roman. "They are wonderful friends, wonderful
companions, and they have enriched our lives in a way that I never
could have imagined," says Lisa. "Sometimes when we're out walking,
people stop us to ask if we rescued Larry and Roman. We usually
reply, 'No, they rescued us.'"
But just where do these greyhounds begin their lives, and how
do they progress to racing and retirement? Darlene Riden has the
answers---she also has five greyhounds. "There are mating farms
throughout the country that are equipped with several breeding
buildings. Once a female is ready to give birth, she is moved
to a building that's filled with baby pools, and her babies are
born there. When the puppies are weaned and able to crawl out
of the pool, the entire litter is taken away from the mother and
moved to a run which is located outdoors and measures 12 feet
wide by 100 feet long. It is there that dogs have their first
experience with respect to competition as they chase up and down
the runs in a race against neighboring litters. They stay there
until they are at least 1, then are moved to heated and air-conditioned
kennels. (Kennels are established in conjunction with, but are
separate from, greyhound racetracks.) Every day, the kennel owner
takes the greyhounds to the track where they are trained and eventually
begin to race. There are different classes in greyhound racing,
A through E, with A being the best. As the dogs begin to lose
they are moved down the rung, then are retired either when they
continue to lose or reach the age of 5.
In retirement, they will hopefully find a home. "There's usually
one rescue group associated with each track," Riden explains.
"There are tens of thousands of greyhounds out there and about
20,000 are put to sleep each year because they are not adopted.
It's really heartbreaking."
Shortly after adopting their first greyhound, Riden and her husband
became active with Greyhound Rescue. "Sometimes I ask my husband,
'Are we really making a difference?' He tells me, 'One dog at
a time---that's all we can do.'" Greyhound Rescue places about
five greyhounds per week.
"Our website now has a pet section complete with pictures and
bios," says Riden. "That has really helped, but there are just
so many dogs who need and deserve homes." Riden goes on to say,
"The nature of greyhounds is very docile. They don't slobber or
shed and barely even bark. When outside, they love to run, but
when inside, they make themselves small by curling up into cozy
little balls and repose. After all, they have been working hard
for half of their lives. Now they just want to relax and be retired."
Susan Adams recalls when she became a believer. "I had seen an
adopt-a-pet sign at Petsmart and was told a date to return," she
says. "I thought I wanted a little dog, but when I sat with Darlene
Riden (who happened to be the representative that day) and petted
her greyhound, I fell in love with him and wanted one too. Shortly
thereafter, I adopted my first, and now I have two. They're like
potato chips---you can't have just one." Adams is now a rescuer
for Greyhound Rescue and a representative for the Annapolis area.
For those who adopt greyhounds, there seems to be a full circle
of benefit, and the question unexpectedly becomes just who rescued
whom. Ancient civilizations placed dogs in infirmaries with the
sick because they believed a dog possessed natural healing power.
Even modern science claims that a pet can add years to your life.
So why not take the plunge---or, in this case, the leash---it
just might prove to be "greyt" for you too.
To adopt a greyhound, contact John and Denise Davis at 410-796-2803
or visit www.greyrescue.com.
Edwards, an avid reader, traveler and yoga practitioner,
enjoys the adventure of life and writing about it. She lives
in Annapolis with her husband and her dog.