Who’s a good boy then?

They’re born to race, but when their track days are over grey­hounds get a sec­ond life as man’s best friend

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - COVER STORY - PENE­LOPE DEBELLE M ATT T UR NER

WHEN

an el­derly nurs­ing home pa­tient at River­ton fell and frac­tured a hip, Bai­ley the res­i­dent grey­hound went to help. He nes­tled into her, of­fer­ing him­self as com­fort to ease her dis­tress. When the am­bu­lance came an hour later, staff had to move him out of the way so she could be treated. He fol­lowed her to the am­bu­lance and did not re­lax un­til she had gone.

Bai­ley be­longs to ev­ery­one but when some­one needs him he be­longs to them. When he finds one of the res­i­dents dis­tressed or un­well, he puts his head in their lap and stays with them. “I’m very proud of him,” says the head of South Aus­tralia’s Grey­hound Adoption Pro­gram, An­gela Webb. “He was our first nurs­ing home dog.”

Bai­ley is one of a grow­ing num­ber of re­tired rac­ers who are find­ing sec­ond lives as adored pets. Three are liv­ing in coun­try nurs­ing homes: Bai­ley at the Gil­bert Val­ley Se­nior Cit­i­zens home at River­ton, Rosco at The Pines at El­lis­ton and Dazzler at Bon­ney Lodge at Barmera. All show an un­canny affin­ity for those in dis­tress. When an el­derly man at El­lis­ton was dy­ing, Rosco moved into his room. Staff fed him there and brought in his bed and he stayed un­til the end.

“They re­ally are amaz­ing dogs,” says GAP fos­ter carer and se­nior trainer Jen­nie Alcorn. “They are a very pa­tient, placid, gen­tle, re­spon­sive breed and I do be­lieve they re­spond more to dis­tress than other breeds I’ve dealt with.”

Their pub­lic im­age works against them. A grey­hound on the track is a skinny and ap­par­ently fe­ro­cious dog snarling inside a muz­zle as it hurls it­self af­ter prey. At the end of a race they are al­lowed to catch the prize – a fluffy squeaky toy with dan­gling legs – and de­stroy it.

Up close, they are a reve­la­tion. In­stead of hy­per­ac­tive, snarling beasts they are gen­tle, bone lazy dogs who love peo­ple and like to spend most of the day draped over a couch. They are only muz­zled dur­ing races to stop them from nip­ping each other in ex­cite­ment. They are enor­mously af­fec­tion­ate and the de­fault po­si­tion of a grey­hound owner seems to be pat­ting the head of a dog that mag­i­cally presents it­self at hand height. They are sur­pris­ingly low main­te­nance be­cause al­though they like to run, they are sprint­ers, not stay­ers. They pre­fer about 10 to 15 min­utes ex­er­cise a day, or less. Any more and they are dy­ing to get home. “They have a 30-sec­ond sprint where they rush around the back yard re­ally quickly and spin in a circle for five sec­onds and then they’re done for the day,” says Webb. “I lit­er­ally walk mine around the block and that’s it for him.”

GAP be­gan in South Aus­tralia and Vic­to­ria about 15 years ago and is fi­nan­cially sup­ported by the grey­hound rac­ing in­dus­try which recog­nised the dogs’ po­ten­tial as pets. Word of mouth about them is build­ing and there are not enough trained dogs for the peo­ple who want them. There are plenty of grey­hounds but not enough vol­un­teers. Last year GAP found homes for 140 dogs with the help of 60 vol­un­teer fos­ter fam­i­lies. This year they ex­pect to process 200 but there is a wait­ing list.

To pub­li­cise their cause, Webb or­gan­ises two open adoption days a year. They are cu­ri­ous and keenly con­tested af­fairs, a cross be­tween speed dat­ing and a beauty pageant – with judg­ing on both sides of the cage. The dogs, some sham­pooed to look their best, arrive half an hour be­fore the doors open and set­tle in to their cages. Some are frankly bored and stretch out for a kip. Oth­ers look around war­ily and want to go home. One has a large El­iz­a­bethan col­lar to stop him from scratch­ing a leg wound, not a good look in the beauty stakes; an­other lies in a re­gal pose try­ing to look grown up next to a white fluffy toy.

A pretty, small grey called Tilly is a spe­cial needs dog who has been di­ag­nosed with pan­nus, a chronic eye con­di­tion that causes in­flam­ma­tion and ir­ri­ta­tion. It is in­cur­able and she will need drops for the rest of her life. She has al­ready been re­jected by one po­ten­tial owner and ev­ery­one is a lit­tle wor­ried about her chances of be­ing picked. “Those types of dogs are harder to adopt be­cause peo­ple don’t want that ex­tra thing,” says Webb, who moved to Ade­laide from the US 12 years ago and dis­cov­ered GAP at the Royal Ade­laide Show. “In the win­ter it’s not so bad; the drops are ev­ery other day, but in sum­mer the sun­light in­flames the eyes and makes them itchy so you have to make sure she has drops

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