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A Greyt Way
Adopting a Greyhound often results in adopting a new lifestyle. And these guardians wouldn’t have it any other way.
Fifteen years ago, Claudia Presto was on the fast track in corporate America. Then she learned about the plight of the Greyhound dog and discovered her true passion.
“These wonderful dogs were being killed simply for not winning races,” she says. “When I met my first Greyhound, I knew I couldn’t sit on the sidelines. I had to do something.”
She could have written a check to a rescue group, volunteered time, adopted a dog. All of which she did. But it wasn’t enough. So, in 1993, she chucked everything: the country house in Connecticut, the convertible, the designer clothes—all the luxuries that come with a cushy corporate job. To replace them, she bought a Chevy pickup with a camper trailer and headed west with her Greyhound, Slim.
“I was looking for a better way of life,” she says. “I could no longer settle for a life less than extraordinary. My dream was to rescue Greyhounds.”
They landed in Kanab, Utah, where Presto established the nonprofit Greyhound Gang (www.Greyhoundgang.org). Since its launch in 1995, over 400 rescued Greyhounds have passed through the Gang’s doors. Today, Presto focuses on special-needs dogs—the old, the ill and those with behavioral issues—to which other adoption groups can’t devote time. Fund-raising pays the Gang’s bills and aids others involved with Greyhound rescue.
“People vacillate between thinking I’m crazy and being envious of my life,” she says, adding with a chuckle, “I have to agree with them. I am crazy and I love my life. There’s nothing like waking up with the soulful eyes and toothy grin of a Greyhound telling you always that you are loved.”
Presto is just one example of the extremes people go to when they acquire a “Greyt,” as the dogs are affectionately called. The Greyhound plight is particularly heartrending because these gentle, trusting hounds are bred almost exclusively for the racing industry. And when they don’t live up to expectations or outlive their usefulness on the track, they are often considered disposable. That’s what Dr. Heather Weir discovered when she entered veterinary school in 1991.
“The school had an agreement with local racetracks,” she recounts. “If the tracks wanted to donate ex-racers [for use as surgical subjects], we would euthanize the animals while they were still under anesthesia. That’s how I became acquainted with the Greyhound.” It was a sad situation, she recalls. “Students would exercise and take care of the dogs. We’d grow fond of them. Then the dogs would die.”
Dr. Weir adopted two while still in school. Upon graduation, however, she felt the need to do more.
“As a vet I decided [that] a better use of my skills would be to work with adoption groups in states that don’t have racing so we could work with more dogs. I take in large groups from the track, spay/neuter them and do a personality profile. Adoption groups give me profiles of families looking for dogs. I match profiles, then personally deliver the dog.” Which is no mean feat. These drives take the Colorado resident to Utah, Idaho, California, Nevada and Washington. On average, she logs around 35,000 “Greyhound miles” each year, during which she successfully places between 100 and 150 dogs.
Now an instructor at Colorado State University veterinary school, Dr. Weir is pleased to report that the school no longer accepts Greyhounds. Did she have anything to do with that? The good doctor is modest in her response: “Maybe,” she acknowledges, with a laugh.
Nationwide, there are approximately 300 Greyhound-rescue groups involved in everything from socials and reunions to volunteerism and activism. Activities and methods may vary, but everyone agrees: Life changes with a Greyt. And not just for the dogs.
Ask Stu and Barbara Homer. They first learned of the Greyhound saga 12 years ago, when Barbara read an article in People magazine titled, “A Greyhound’s Best Friends.”
“It was about a vet in Iowa,” she recalls. “Racetrack owners were asking him to destroy perfectly healthy, young Greyhounds because they were no longer profitable. Eventually, the vet got so disgusted he and his wife offered instead to take the dogs in and find homes for them.” The Homers had two dogs at the time, a Lab mix and a Doberman. “I told my husband our next dog would be a Greyhound.”
“I thought Greyhounds were hyperactive dogs that needed lots of exercise,” Stu remembers. “I was skeptical of her choice.”
But today, no advocates are more engaged in the cause than this husband/wife team. In 1994, the Homers got their first Greyhound, Candide. From that evolved the nonprofit Golden State Greyhound Adoption (www.goldenGreyhounds.com), based in their Walnut Creek, California, home. Averaging five to nine adoptions per month, the Homers and their volunteers have placed over 200 dogs since 2000. What drives these people to forsake almost all their personal time? The sight of a rescued Greyhound emerging from its crate.
“They exit [in] one of three ways,” Barbara says, clearly touched by the scenario she has witnessed many times. “Some will burst out and immediately run to snuggle in your arms, wanting affection. Others are shy and trembling; you have to coax them out. And others are perfectly stoic, like, ‘Okay, now what?’” She pauses. “We see these reactions and know that if they weren’t here to be adopted, that would be their same innocent reaction leaving the crate to meet their death.”
Barbara says when she originally read the People article, it made her cry. “But recently I reread it and this time, I smiled at the end. That’s because now I know we’re doing some-thing about it.”
As is Gary Pisciotto, who recently ran a 26-mile marathon to raise money for the hounds. “I would never have finished this race if it was just [for] me,” admits the 55-year-old former deputy chief of police. “But I was always thinking of the dogs. I was thinking of our Greyts—Lucky, who has bone cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy, and Raider, who still acts like a giant puppy. They have enriched our lives and I was thinking of all the Greyhounds yet to be adopted [who] will enrich the lives of their new families.”
Pisciotto knew he would receive the total amount, targeted for Golden State Greyhound Adoption, only if he ran the entire distance. Despite crippling cramps, he completed the marathon in five painful hours. “I said that I would go the distance even if I had to crawl across the line,” he laughs. “That’s just about what happened!”
Yes, indeed, a Greyhound is more than just a beloved pet. It often becomes a life-altering addition. And I should know: I recently traded in my sleek little sports coupe for an SUV to accommodate my own Greyt, Elvis. And that’s just for starters.
Because there is, indeed, no greyter love.