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PJ is our retired racing Greyhound. His real name was System Ponga Jim, and folks were calling him Ponga. But Carole and I just couldn't bring ourselves to go around calling a dog Ponga. Besides, it just didn't fit him. It took us about a week to decide on PJ. We often refer to him affectionately as Mr. PJs. PJ is the first Greyhound either of us have ever owned. Retired racing Greyhounds make fantastic pets and I wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone. They are some of the sweetest, most loving dogs you'll ever come across. They are kind and gentle, and want nothing more than to spend the rest of their lives in a loving home where they can prove they're just as good being couch potatoes as other breeds.
But, there are some things about racers that are different from house pets or even "stray" dogs, and if you get a dog from an adoption organization that does not put their dogs through a socialization process, you will be in for some surprises when you first get the dog. The organization we went through, Homes For Hounds, generally does not put their dogs through any sort of program. When you get a dog from them, you get it directly from the track in most cases. Racing Greyhounds need to "learn" what life in a home is like, because their lives up to now have been very different. This process can take several months and can require a lot of patience and love. But the rewards are well worth it. To read more about this issue, check this out. Here is another good guide on what to expect when adopting a Greyhound.
Adoption agency's procedures vary, but almost all groups will put you through some sort of interview and home inspection. If you're talking to a group that doesn't, I'd probably look elsewhere. Not only is it in your best interests to have people familiar with Greyhounds check out your house and yard, it's in the Greyhound's best interest too. In addition to the home inspection, most groups will also try to familiarize you with Greyhounds and make sure you know what you're getting into, which will make the adoption process much easier. Most groups also do at least some follow up, to make sure the adoption is working out, and to try to help if there are problems.
PJ is a big Greyhound. When we got him he was about 85 lb. and since he has been living the life of luxury with us he has put on another 7 lb. to weigh in at 93 lb. For a Greyhound this is big, really big. Of course for us this didn't seem so big, having owned Great Danes for so many years. The adoption agency folks warned us about how big and hard to control PJ was, but when we went to see him we realized he was not going to be a problem for us. We were used to dealing with 160 lb. dogs and a "little" 85 pounder just wasn't all that worrisome. In fact his size was an asset as far as we were concerned. We were worried about our 120 lb. Dane, Gracie, hurting a smaller Greyhound. Gracie likes to play hard and showed how easily she could accidentally hurt a Greyhound during our initial interview. The interviewer brought over an available female Greyhound for us to meet and within five minutes Gracie had already sent her sprawling and squealing. While not really hurt in the incident, it made it clear to us that a 50-65 lb. Greyhound was just not going to hold up well to Gracie. While PJ does hold up much better to Gracie, even he is intimidated by her size and exuberance and he does not like to play with her unless he has a *big* yard where he can simply outrun her. It did take PJ a while to feel comfortable having another dog around all the time, especially one as gregarious as Gracie, but after the initial getting aquatinted period they became fast friends (still don't play much together, at least not yet). Update 1/20/02: since we got our new Great Dane puppy, Tank, PJ has started to play with Tank all the time. He will play side-by-side with Gracie, both of them play-fighting with Tank, sometimes even ganging up on Tank, but PJ still will not actually play with Gracie. Tank is only 6 months old now, but already he outweighs PJ by a good 10 pounds.
It took several months for PJ to get used to his new environment. From stairs, to mirrors, to sliding glass doors, there were a million things that were new to him. Most of them were so commonplace that we never even thought about them, like the sound of the TV, or a toilet flushing. PJ spent his first couple weeks panting all the time (from the stress) and constantly freezing in fear. That was one of the Greyhound traits we had been warned about. When frightened, Greyhounds either run away or they freeze. If you are trying to get them to do something, once they go for the freeze, you generally just have to give up on whatever it is you wanted them to do. The more you try to coax, force, or encourage them, the more they stand their ground. PJ would freeze at the stairs and for days the only way I could get him up and down was to carry him. Eventually he slowly learned to deal with the stairs, and now he's as much of a stair pro as any of our dogs, but for a while there the sight of stairs would just turn him to wood. As would his reflection in mirrors and windows, the movements and noises in the TV, the noise of the washing machine or dryer, the sound of the toilet flushing, the slick floors, anyone coming near him while he was walking on slick floors, having to get off and on our tall bed, any loud noise or sudden movement, etc.
Most Greyhounds are retired around four years of age. The way the industry works is that greyhounds and tracks are graded, and as soon as a dog starts loosing regularly, they are downgraded. Eventually they will "grade out" and be retired. Sadly for most Greyhounds retirement means euthanasia, as only a lucky few end up adopted into loving homes as PJ was. Greyhounds don't generally start racing until they are about two years old. If you think about this a bit and do some math you'll discover that most dogs have a career of 1-2 years. Of course these are just averages and some dogs will race for four years or longer, but some may only race once. On average a Greyhound's racing career is shorter than any other portion of it's life. This is one reason why the industry has to produce so many dogs.
Injuries account for a fair number of racer retirements. Our boy PJ was retired due to a broken hock. This is a fairly common injury for Greyhounds. It is also not uncommon for a retired racer to look a bit "shop worn." PJ is probably a worst case scenario as he is scarred all over, especially on the right side of his rump, but a racer's life is not always the easiest on the old body, so don't be surprised if your retired racer shows some wear and tear. We had a very hard time getting any history on PJ so we don't know for sure what all his scarring is from, but it is appears to be from fighting with other dogs. While PJ does get a bit testy about some things, he is not really aggressive, and his scars seem to indicate he was not the winner in any of his fights, perhaps he was picked on as a pup or something. It isn't too surprising PJ is not prone to pick (or apparently win) fights, since one of PJ's other wear and tear issues was the lack of canine teeth. His have been filed down to the level of the surrounding teeth. Again, we can't get much history on him so we aren't sure if this is related to his fighting, was done intentionally for some other reason, or is the result of his having worn his teeth badly, chewing on his cages. Whatever the case, it certainly puts him at a disadvantage in any dog fight. It also has a humorous side effect. Because he has no canines, his tongue tends to wallow out the sides of his mouth. He often looks like a caricature of a drunken dog with his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth. He also often ends up sleeping with his tongue draped all over the floor. While the more you know about your Greyhound's history the better, how much history you can get on a specific dog will vary with the adoption agency and the dog owners.
Racers are bred for only one thing, racing. That means the breeders are concerned with strength, speed, health, and stamina. Racers are not regulated by the AKC, as show dogs are, so they are not required to meet a breed standard. Color, appearance, size, and all the other typical conformation standards applied to AKC show dogs are irrelevant to racers. Because of this, and because Greyhounds have been around for so long as a breed, the racing greyhound is one of the healthiest breeds alive. They are prone to almost no genetic based diseases and have few of the genetic based faults, such as hip dysplasia, that show dogs have developed. While I do not like the dog racing industry, I do have to give the racing Greyhound breeders credit for having developed an extremely healthy and robust breed. Perhaps the show dog world could learn a lesson or two from them, however you have to remember that part of the racing breeder's success comes from a ruthless approach to breeding that most dog enthusiasts would not be able to emulate.
I have very mixed emotions about dog racing. On the one hand, I deplore much of how the industry is run and how the dogs are treated. On the other, I see a breeding program that has developed a breed that has many superior aspects. While I would like to see dog racing eliminated, or at least severely regulated, I am concerned that if the industry is eliminated these wonderful dogs will disappear, or be sucked into the show dog whirlpool and deteriorate as other show breeds have. I am not sure what the solution is, perhaps there isn't one. But one thing is for sure, the industry as it stands now is a bad thing and needs fixing. Too many dogs are being bred, because only a small percentage will be fast enough to race let alone be regular winners, and because of how short a racer's career is. And that means too many dogs are either being adopted out (if they are lucky) or, more likely, are being abused, mistreated, used in labs, or killed. One of the cornerstones of the industry, that allows it to treat its dogs the way it does, is that racing Greyhounds are not classified by the law the same as other dogs are. They are not classified as pets. Instead the law classifies them as livestock, much like a pig or a cow. If this were changed, I think much of the abuse and mistreatment of the dogs could be controlled.
Did you know that Oregon is a no-kill state and that by law retired Greyhounds can not be killed when their racing careers are over? This is not an ultimate answer, as there are many "loopholes" in the law, but it is a beginning. Not all states are like this and THOUSANDS of perfectly good dogs are killed each year for no reason other than they are not competitive on the track.
Does this upset you?
Or if you prefer, get involved with the Greyhound Protection League or GREY2K USA, and help stop dog racing entirely. In the 1980s, nationwide more than 50,000 greyhounds were being killed every year when they were not profitable for their owners/breeders. Now, 35,000 greyhounds a year are being bred, with euthanasia estimates ranging from 7,500 to 20,000. Over 200 volunteer greyhound adoption groups exist to find homes for these elegant, loving hounds.
While I believe adoption is good for both the
dogs and the people, it is not a solution to the problem. "As long as
large-scale greyhound racing is allowed to exist, thousands upon thousands
of greyhounds will need to be produced. While placing the dogs as pets saves
lives and educates the public about the breed, it is often used as a front
to make the public believe that few dogs are killed. In reality, thousands
of greyhounds are destroyed annually." - Greyhound Protection
We got a call from our vet today at around 5:00 PM. They had a sick dog that
badly needed blood and the local "blood bank" was not yet in operation. They
were calling to see if we could bring PJ by to donate some blood. Greyhounds
are the universal donor of the dog world, so a donation from PJ would work
even though the dog was another breed entirely. PJ was most understanding
of the whole thing and took it all in stride, with the all dignity possible.
He went home a quart low (just kidding) but happy to have gotten out for a
trip, and to have been the center of all that attention. Hopefully his
"civic duty" helped save that dog's life. Another good rationale (as if one
was needed) for ensuring retired Greyhounds are placed in good loving homes
rather than euthanized. They can give all dogs the gift of blood and life.
Because of their temperament, their comfort level at being handled by humans, and their athletic training, racing Greyhounds make excellent blood donors. Their cardiovascular system is more developed than other canines. This concept is similar to that of a professional athlete being in much better physical shape than the average person. The racing Greyhound heart is large for its body size and in comparison to other breeds. The heart accounts for 1% of a racing Greyhound's body weight. Part of this is due to genetics and part is a result of the Greyhound's racing and athletic training. The average racing Greyhound has 5-7 pints of blood circulating throughout the body every 30 seconds. This volume represents approximately 10% of the total body weight. Within the blood composition itself, there are volume differences between racing Greyhounds and the canine population at large. Racing Greyhounds have an average packed cell volume of 50%-60% and higher. The general canine population has a PCV of 40%-50%. Additionally, Greyhounds, with their limited body fat, hold their veins close to the skin surface, allowing for easier access to the blood." --