East Bay: On track to
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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."
Golden State Greyhound Adoption, (925) 946-0426, www.goldengreyhounds.com.
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. (www.pjcc.org).
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Copyright 2005 San Francisco