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YOU ARE HERE: Greyhound News > East Bay On Track To Saving Greyhounds

East Bay: On track to saving greyhounds
Rescue group saves ex-racing greyhounds from certain death

Dana Perrigan, Special to The Chronicle

Friday, July 8, 2005

While the late arrival of Frontier Airlines Flight 659 from Denver to SFO may have ruffled the feathers of a few of those winging their way home Memorial Day weekend, two passengers appear unfazed by the delay. Staci and Power -- siblings from the eastern plains of Colorado whose resemblance to each other is uncanny -- stand in the baggage area, calmly surveying the bustle of a busy airport with the aplomb of seasoned travelers.

Moments earlier, the pair had emerged from the confines of their plastic kennels, tails wagging, and graciously accepted a welcoming pat on the head by Stu Homer and Sheldon Satnick, the two men who had come to meet them.

"What beautiful dogs," says a passer-by, who sets down her suitcase to stroke Staci's short fur. "Are they greyhounds?"

The short answer, which Satnick gives her, is "yes." The longer one is that these two particular greyhounds, long and lean with the powerful legs and deep chests characteristic of the breed, were bred on a farm and trained to race, flat-out, at speeds of more than 40 mph on a track; that they have spent most of their relatively short lives confined in a cage; that because they were not competitive in a contest in which the winner is often determined by no more than several-hundredths of a second, they were considered expendable and were scheduled to be killed.

With the help of Golden State Greyhound Adoption -- an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization founded in Walnut Creek by Homer and his wife, Barbara, in 2002 -- Staci and Power have managed to escape that fate.

In a few hours, Staci will be adopted by Robin Terasaki, 29, of San Jose. Power will begin his new life with Maggie LaRocca of Lincoln (Placer County).

While Satnick, a volunteer with GSGA, takes the dogs outside to relieve themselves at a sandy area under construction, Homer sterilizes the two kennels and readies them for immediate shipment back to Colorado. There are more dogs, he says, waiting to be rescued. He got a call that morning asking him if he could find homes for nine more dogs that had just become available.

"It's a lot of work," he says. "We're always improvising. A lot of people think that this is what we do for a living, but Barbara and I have our own businesses."

"When we got married," Barbara says, "I had horses and a cat. I told my husband -- horses and cats are fine -- but no dogs."

That resolve changed 10 years ago, shortly after Barbara came across an article in People magazine. The story was about a vet, she said, and how people were bringing him perfectly healthy dogs to kill. The dogs, which she thought looked kind of funny with their long legs, narrow bodies and beautiful eyes, were racing greyhounds. They reminded her a little of a skinny Doberman.

"It broke my heart," she says. "We knew nothing about them. We just knew that we wanted to help."

They soon adopted an ex-racer, Maxie. They took Maxie to "Meet and Greets, " events designed to educate the public and, hopefully, create an interest in adoption. After volunteering with a couple of other adoption organizations for a while, they decided to found their own group, Golden State Greyhound Adoption. There are six members on the board and a loosely knit, growing number of volunteers.

"Everyone has their own model," Homer says. "When we adopted, there was really no support (for adopters) like we have. We wanted to create a community."

Since its inception, Golden State Greyhound Adoption has rescued 400 dogs. Last year, it found homes for 124 dogs. It has also, with the help of a loyal and growing number of volunteers in California and Colorado, created a support network for those who adopt.

The group's Web site includes extensive information on training, medical issues and other topics designed to help adopters with their new pets. Events, such as "Meet and Greets," reunion picnics and volunteer opportunities, are also listed.

Adopters are invited to join a private Yahoo group online bulletin board, where they can ask questions, create chat groups and share information on life with an ex-racing hound.

Terasaki, who works in the marketing department of Genitope Corp., a biotech firm in Redwood City, consulted the Web site when she was thinking about getting a dog.

"I really wanted a companion," Terasaki says. "I didn't want one that barked a lot. A friend suggested a greyhound. I did some research and, from what I read and heard, they're a great breed."

It is an ancient one. A hound bred to hunt by sight, descended from southern wolf strains and closely related to Afghans and Salukis, its image is found on cave drawings made more than 8,000 years ago. The Egyptians worshiped the dogs as gods. Shakespeare made numerous references to them in his plays, and they are the only dog mentioned in the Bible.

"They're known as 40 mph couch potatoes," Homer says. "They don't really bark. They don't shed much. They're very nonaggressive dogs. They're lovers, not fighters."

The laid-back nature of retired racing greyhounds, he says, makes them suitable pets even for those who live in apartments. As long as they're taken out for a walk each day, they're perfectly content to lie about while their owner reads a book or watches television.

Terasaki submitted an application to adopt on the Web site. A couple of days later, she was contacted by Homer. A GSGA volunteer then visited Terasaki's home to determine its suitability and address Terasaki's concerns. Not long after her application to adopt was approved, Terasaki was told she could pick up her new roommate on Memorial Day weekend.

Like all the dogs adopted through GSGA, Staci and Power come from farms and race kennels in Colorado, which has three racetracks. GSGA board member Diane Fox, a psychologist who lives in Golden, Colo., coordinates things from that end.

After being picked up from the kennels and farms, the larger of which may house several hundred animals, the dogs are taken to a veterinarian where they are spayed or neutered and vaccinated. Injured animals, which GSGA also accepts, are treated. The dogs are then placed in foster homes and, about a week later, flown to San Francisco.

The number of dogs that need to be rescued, says Fox, far exceeds the capacity of the organizations dedicated to saving them.

"It you wanted 100 dogs, I could get them for you this week," she says. "It wouldn't be a problem. We just simply can't handle the volume. We don't even scratch the surface."

Because of what the Humane Society of the United States calls the excessive breeding practices of the dog-racing industry, which serves 46 tracks in 15 states (not including California), an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 greyhounds are killed each year. Others are sold to research labs, kept for breeding stock or sent to tracks in foreign countries.

"These dogs are really amazing," Fox says. "They're really highly trained athletes." While the normal lifespan of a greyhound is 12 or 13 years, its racing career is usually over at 3 or 4 years of age. Retirement is mandatory at age 5. Many of the dogs bred on farms, for one reason or another, don't qualify to race at all.

Staci, says Fox, was from a litter of "fighters" -- dogs who, during a race, turn their heads toward the other dogs and lose valuable time.

Those who, like Staci, don't make the cut are quickly disposed of to make way for the next batch of dogs.

"It's a lot easier to put a dog down rather than wait for us," Fox says. "But the responsible farm and kennel owners are more than willing to wait."

Because the dog-racing industry has been in a state of decline, says Fox, the owners are under considerable economic pressure to produce dogs that are profitable. The amount wagered on dog races nationwide, currently about $500 million according to the American Gaming Association, fell during the 1990s by a staggering 45 percent. Thirteen tracks closed.

During the past few years, farm and kennel owners are estimated to have taken an 8 to 10 percent hit in annual revenue. That makes them less inclined to keep dogs that aren't profitable or, at least, potentially profitable. And those dogs will need to be rescued.

"It's one dog at a time," Fox says. "That's all you can do."

After a tedious drive through clots of holiday traffic on Bay Area thoroughfares, Staci and Power arrive at the Homer residence in Walnut Creek. The first order of business, since both will be going to homes where there are cats, is to make sure the animals will get along with their feline housemates.

Homer places a muzzle on Staci and, keeping her on a short leash, introduces her to his cat, Simon. Staci, who is curious but not aggressive, passes the first phase of the test. Next, he removes the muzzle. The valiant Simon is again brought into range.

"If she wasn't cat safe," Homer says, "she'd have that cat in her mouth right about now."

A few minutes later, Terasaki arrives. Homer brings out a photo album and gives her a synopsis of her dog's history.

"This is where your dog comes from," he says, pointing to photos of a farm where the animals are kept in cages stacked on top of one another. Typically, the dogs are raced every four days. They are kept in the cages for the intervening three days as long as 23 hours each day.

"This is the woman who got your dog," Homer says, indicating Diane Fox.

The remainder of the adoption process takes no more than an hour. At the end, Terasaki signs a contract outlining how she will care for Staci and writes a check for the adoption fee ($250) and a few other items she has purchased.

"People need to know that they shouldn't adopt dogs from an emotional standpoint," Barbara says. "They need to think the process through. They need to think long term. A 10-year commitment is not something to be taken lightly."

"And when you get a dog," Homer says, "your life changes."

Terasaki can already attest to that.

"It's changed significantly," she says a couple of weeks after driving home with Staci, now known as Bellini. "For one thing, I can no longer go out right after work. I have to go home. But it's fine; it's nice having someone to come home to."

Learn more

Golden State Greyhound Adoption, (925) 946-0426,

Stuart Homer is scheduled to speak from 1-2 p.m. Aug. 17 as part of the "Food for Thought'' series at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center, 800 Foster City Blvd., Foster City. $6 nonmembers, $4 members. (650) 212-7522. (

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Copyright 2005 San Francisco Chronicle