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
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