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escribacat On December - 6 - 2009

On a cold Saturday afternoon in December, a group of 30 volunteers gathers in the lot of a large Denver park. Members of a greyhound rescue group, we are waiting for a “dog haul” from Oklahoma.

DSCN0338Right on schedule, a customized semi-truck pulls up in the parking lot. The load resembles a storage container, only it’s about half as high and lined with six small metal doors on each side. Behind these doors are 21 retired racing greyhounds.

The “processing” begins. The driver comes around — tired and grim-faced, perhaps indicative of the uneasy relationship that exists between the greyhound racing industry and the hundreds of rescue groups that have sprung up across the nation over the past ten or twenty years.

He opens the first door to reveal a large pile of thickly shredded paper. Emerging from the tangle is a skinny white-and-brindle greyhound. The driver quickly slips on a collar and leash and muzzles her. Volunteers mill around, check her body for injuries — there’s a nickel-sized gash on her left rear leg and a long tear on the inside of the same leg. They snap a quick picture for the greyhound adoption website, and read the tattooes in her ears. The tattooes indicate the month and year she was born and her birth order within the litter. In a week or so, volunteer veterinarians will spay or neuter the dogs and give them their first series of shots.

It turns out this first girl to come out is my new foster. Her racing name is Country Girl. After checking her for fleas and ticks, I slip a dog coat over her bony frame and take her for her first walk. I’m hoping she’ll pee but it’s too cold out and she doesn’t cooperate. She’s never been on a walk before, so she pulls this way and that, unsure about what to do. She walks on her tip toes and hops around because the ground is cold and she’s probably never encountered snow or ice before. She’s also never seen a park, a lake, a tree. In front of us, a flock of geese takes flight and she is spell-bound at the sight. However, after just a few minutes, she begins to “shut down” and I have to pull her along.

The foster coordinator I work with is an expert tick-remover so I ask her to have another look. The foster dog I got last summer was covered with more than two dozen ticks, but Country Girl seems clean. We say our goodbyes and I lift her into the back of my Subaru Forester. Teaching her to jump into the car will be one of my first chores, along with using the doggie door, walking properly on a leash and going up and down stairs.  As we take off in the warm car, she finally pees all over the dog blanket I have in the back, so I pull over, yank out the blanket, put up the backseats and get her settled in the far back where any further “incidents” won’t ruin my car.

The foster greyhound’s first night in a real home is always the toughest. Before this day, Country Girl has spent up to 22 hours a day sitting in a “sphinx” position in a crate. Her stomach and haunches are bald from rubbing against the wires. She knows nothing about the world, nothing about being a pet. Before the evening is over, she has peed twice in the house and has spent at least two hours pacing. She stares at the TV, whines at the cat (she has been tested “cat-safe.”), and sniffs my own greyhounds, who are annoyed at this dorky new kid who doesn’t know how to act.

I’ve got six vials of de-wormer and her first dose doesn’t go down that well. It’s a milky liquid in a large plastic injector and she spits it out as quickly as I squirt it into her mouth. All the greys from the south arrive with worms, ticks and fleas. Retired racers are also grossly underweight — Country Girl probably weighs 45 to 50 pounds — she will gain a good 15 or 20 pounds within the next two months, adding at least 25% of her current weight.

At the racetrack, they are fed a high-protein but obviously meager diet of 4-D meat from diseased livestock. This night she has her first meal of dog food, which will send her digestive system into a tizzy that might last the rest of her life. (After six years, I still haven’t gotten the digestion of one of my own dogs stabilized). I give her acidophilus and stewed pumpkin which will help. She’s too excited and confused to eat much at first, but before the evening ends, her bowl is empty. By tomorrow, when she has settled down, she will begin a period of ravenous eating.

When it’s time for bed, I put her in a large wire crate filled with soft blankets. I turn on the nearby desktop computer and leave it streaming a classical station all night, with the monitor turned on and facing her. Despite these “comforts,” she cries all night long. I get up once at five in the morning, bundle her up in a coat and take her out to the backyard. It is snowing and beautiful out. She runs around the yard, shivering and wagging her tail, jumping up to get her feet out of the freezing snow. Finally, she relieves herself and I praise her lavishly. The first sign of house-breaking!

Country Girl is only three years old so she’s been retired early. Retirement comes when the greyhound doesn’t win enough — that is, when the owner is not making money off the dog. This particular kennel owner has taken the trouble of driving his rejected dogs all the way to Colorado. Many greyhound racing dogs are not so lucky. According to the Greyhound Protection League, “Over the last two decades, hundreds of cases of abuse have been documented including greyhounds that were shot, starved, electrocuted and sold for research. Industry insiders report that this is only the tip of the iceberg.” Those that aren’t killed are sometimes sent to Juarez and other racetracks in Mexico, where the outlook for the a dog is notoriously bleak. Other greyhounds are sent to research facilities and veterinarian schools where they are used for experiments and “training” exercises.

That, however, will not be the fate of Country Girl, this skin-and-bones greyhound from Oklahoma, nor for the other 20 dogs from yesterday’s haul. Today, Country Girl will get her first flea bath, followed up by a towel rub-down and a doggie treat. After that, she’ll pace around the house for awhile, sniff at the kitty, who will hiss at her again, and then she’ll do the greyhound stretch/bow, then curl up on a soft doggie bed for a nap. She will follow me around the house, leaning against me whenever possible — she has already shown signs of being a “velcro dog.” In two or three weeks, an excited family will come along and take her away to her “forever home.” My two greyhounds will jump for joy that the dork that took so much of my attention is finally gone, and I will  feel the loss — as I always do — for a long time after.

Categories: Animal Rights

65 Responses so far.

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  1. Crafting4greyhounds says:

    I stumbled across your post and was very moved by your beautiful writing. I have my own greyhound Tillie and also foster other greyhounds. We are looking after Foster No 11 at the moment -- Rocky nearly 7, an ex hare courser, a handsome gorgeous boy who after a long time found his forever home but them found himself unwanted again after 2

    • escribacat says:

      Hello Crafting. I only just saw your post. I’m always glad to meet another greyhound lover! I’ve taken in a few relinquishments too. I will never understand that!

  2. nellie says:

    Rescue work is so emotional — but so important. Thanks, ecat, for doing this for these sweet animals.

  3. Chernynkaya says:

    Escat-- that was amazing! Great writing and a wonderful, wonderful post. I am a dog lover myself, but even if I wasn’t your writing was gripping.

    I noted that the first thing you did when you met Country Girl was to walk her. Do you watch The Dog Whisperer? I love that show because it’s all about understanding the essence of dogs and treating them with respect for the wonderful creatures they are, instead of laying our own needs on them.

    I have one of the best dogs ever now-- Zorro-- who I got from the shelter as a pup. He grew to over 100# and so tall he can easily rest his chin on the dining room table (how convenient). A big Shepard mix who wants to be a lap dog.

    Thank you so much for the work you do with greys!

    • BigDogMom says:

      Cher, you’ve got big dogs too! I have two that rest their chins, like Zorro, on the dining room table, makes for interesting meals….LOL.

      • bitohistory says:

        My Afghan Hounds did that chin on the table thing. They were good about going to “their room” when eating, but don’t leave the butter on the table!!!


      • Chernynkaya says:

        Plus, he’s really warm to lay next to. (Don’t tell my husband! He disapproves of dogs in the bed.)I love my pets so much. But Zorro is special-- maybe because he was so young (about six weeks old) he never takes his eyes off me. Knows my every move before I make it. I’ll shut up now, but I bet you have a million wonderful stories about your “kids” too.

        • BigDogMom says:

          Lawd, I could go on and on….this morning I had to rush the younger one to the Vets, a small stick was caught in his upper palette and I couldn’t get it out, took two to hold him down and the Vet with some kind of pliers to remove it…dogs fine now, silly thing was smiling after it was removed, but Moms not smiling after the $100 bill!

    • escribacat says:

      Cher, Thanks. And you are absolutely right — I am a huge fan of the Dog Whisperer and that’s why I walked her first! That is one of the few programs I watch regularly. I love Cesar!!

      There are some major animal lovers on this site, as you will see. I am just getting ready to take my little foster girl to the vet to get her spayed. More good folks involved — volunteer vets.

      • BigDogMom says:

        Ta Da! Got one of the Big Dogs up as my avatar!

        How’s Poppy doing? Better with the housebreaking I hope…has it warmed up a bit for her outside?

        Love Cesar, his methods truly work, that’s why I call myself BigDogMom, hey I’m in charge not the dogs…my husband gave me this t-shirt that says:

        Big Dog Mom…She who must be obeyed.

        • escribacat says:

          BDM--Hehe. Great t-shirt. Now that little redhead looks familiar! My girl Chica takes off with redheads when we meet them on the hiking trail. One time I had to turn around and hike down the mountain looking for her. She had attached herself to a family with a golden retriever.

          I just took Poppy to the vet to get spayed. We will have two quiet nights and a chance to clean up the house — what a mess. Doggie toys scattered everywhere and the “accident” spots not quite gone yet. It’s still too cold to even walk the dogs so we’ve all got cabin fever.

  4. Val says:

    Dear Escriacat,
    What an amazing story! Thank you so much for being a greyt guardian to this dog, and for telling the tale of what these beautiful dogs go through when they are used for racing. The more people who know about the abuses that greyhounds face, the sooner greyhound racing will be a horrid distant memory.

    • escribacat says:

      Thanks Val. You must be familiar with greyhound rescue since you are using the term “greyt!” I think only greyhound lovers use that term. Welcome to Planet POV!

  5. Suzanne525 says:

    Someone else referred to you as “ecat”, which I like!!

    Anyway, you are truly a wonderful person to help out like that. I can only imagine how hard it would be to give up the dog to the permanent family, after having helped it adjust to life as a pet.

    My sister has a feral cat population behind her store in the Dallas area, and traps them to get them spayed/neutered and released back into thier colony. The kittens are removed from the colony fairly young and tamed,(she LOVES that part) then attempts to get them adopted. She is less successful with the adopting out part, so she has a lot of cats!

    I have quite a few cats and dogs myself, all adopted/rescued. Two of the dogs are getting quite old, and I’m steeling myself for the inevitable.

    Glad to see all the animal lovers here!

    • escribacat says:

      Hi Suzanne. I like that name, ecat. The comments on this story certainly show how many people are involved in animal rescue of one sort or another. It’s wonderful to read about.

  6. KevenSeven says:

    Man, what a complete freaking bummer. The dog is lucky to have you, but then again, there are plenty of humans in the world worse off than that dog.

    I might have guessed that greyhound racers were creeps.

  7. HITO says:

    Cat, that brought tears to my eyes.

    You rock.

    My sister is a board member at the county shelter, an SPCA, but of course, it get’s not one red cent of county gov dollars. She tells me stories that turn my hair grey everyday. My 17 year old raised $800 last late winter for it. That was amazing. Stood outside a grocery store with a sign that said “Can you spare ONE DOLLAR”.

    You and my sister are going to heaven. I am hopeful that someday when the kids are in college, I will join you in your mission.

    Thank you cat, for all you do.

    • escribacat says:

      Thanks HITO. And good for your daughter and your sister! Our greyhound group doesn’t get any gov’t money either — it’s all donations (and auctions, calendars, adoption fees etc).

  8. PepeLepew says:

    E’cat, your work reminds me of a few years ago when I volunteered at a wildlife rehab centre in the San Juan Islands for about three years. Very rewarding and very heartbreaking work.

  9. Kalima says:

    Well done escribacat, I read your story and felt as if I had been there waiting with you for the truck to arrive. It brought back many memories of bottle feeding kittens abandoned in brown paper bags on our doorstep. Of sleepless nights after hearing the first sneeze, of the glow I felt when they gained weight and the nervousness I felt vetting the kind people who came to adopt the tiny bundles, the loneliness I felt once I had handed them over, usually with cans of food, bowls, cat bed, litter box and many toys.

    Kudos to you, Country girl is a lucky girl to have you and whether they stay a few weeks or a few months, we will always remember them and hope that they might fleetingly, remember us too.

    Beautiful story, made me shed a few tears. Please let us know how she is getting on.


    • escribacat says:

      Ah, spoken like a true fellow critter lover. Your mention of those “tiny bundles” made me get weepy too! It is true that many humans do terrible things to animals, but many other humans step in to make up for it.

      • Kalima says:

        Yes and thank goodness that there are many of us, they need all the help they can get. People can be so cruel, many of my older ones had homes, some came with pretty collars attached but no name tags. Here people will just move to places where pets are not allowed and leave them outside to fend for themselves, this always breaks my heart, they are friendly but so needy. I’ve had little success finding homes for the older ones, everyone wanted kittens. The remainder moved into our garage, they have all the houses they need, food, water and shelter. When they are sick it’s off to Uncle doctor, when they pass they are collected by a temple an hour away to be cremated. My own cats remains are returned, I have a special place to keep them, a few of my outside ones share the honour, the last one, my favourite little ginger bobtail, who died in July at the ripe old age of 18yrs 4 months. You might be wondering about the remains but I have a plan, they will be scattered in my coffin when my time comes.
        I hope that we can play and cuddle for eternity.

        • escribacat says:

          Kalima, the age of dogs is also an issue with greyhound rescue. I have never even seen a greyhound puppy. Some of the hounds are kept on after their racing days and used for breeding. Those are always hard to adopt out when they are 8, 9 or 10 years old. Greyhounds have a reputation for being very catlike — around the house they are mostly lying around and snoozing. They don’t bark (my big boy has barked about half a dozen times in the two years I’ve had him) and they’re not the type that run around the house going crazy.

          I completely relate to your ideas about burial and ashes of the animals. I also have a greyhound’s ashes buried in my back yard (my “heart girl” Betty who died suddenly in 2006--took months of grieving to feel somewhat normal again) and my old kitty Murphy is buried back there too — he died last summer at 19 yrs. I’ve lost two greyhounds — I also scatter their ashes at their favorite spots along special hiking trails (the water hole usually).

          I do not understand those people who abandon their animals. I’ve taken in several “relinquished” greyhounds as well — supposedly problem dogs. The problem is always the people. Always.

          • Kalima says:

            Sorry for your loss, it never gets any easier does it?

            I adore kittens but they too grow up and would always recommend an older, relaxed cat for first time owners.

            My cats are all spayed and neutered, as are any strays who wander in to share food when their owners have irresponsibly let them out at mating time instead of operating them when their first “heat” is due. I want to shake these people as I have seen an increase in feline AIDS in the last 10 years, it makes me mad.

            Legal or not, every stray that wanders into my garage more than once, is due for a trip to the vet. In the last 20 years I think that it comes to about 200, the last one just a few months ago, a big Tom terrorizing my male cats, I’ve just spotted one more and hope to catch him before the end of the year, who knows, he might decide to stay like the others, the more the merrier.

            Abandoning animals should carry a fine if detected but people are crafty, do it in the dead of night or travel miles to deserted mountains or forests to dump what I consider to be a family member in places they can never leave. How do these humans sleep at night?

            • escribacat says:

              Kalima, that must cost you a fortune, doesn’t it?

            • Kalima says:

              It certainly did in the beginning using my vet, then I met another German woman who had Abys kittens to give away just when I was looking for another male cat, we became friends and later she found a vet who would be reimbursed by the Ward Office and it became that much more cheaper. In the mean time I started with my health problems so didn’t go out much, the money I saved went to help the kitties.

              I don’t need much, I’m low maintenance now, so I have money put aside for any kitty emergencies, they seem to happen when you least expect them to.

  10. TanzaniteDiamonds says:

    Escribacat: What an incredible story! I’m speechless, and I’m in tears. From having read so many of your comments on HP, I always sensed that there was something really “extra special” about you. I just could never really pin-point what it was.

    But, after reading your incredible story above, I now know why I always had those warm and fuzzy vibes about you. Not only are you an incredible writer, you’re an angel, for helping these beautiful Greyhounds.

    I’ve also always wondered what happens to these wonderful dogs, when they’re no longer “racing”. My heart aches that they are so horribly treated, for nothing but a betting object, at the race track. There are, obviously, some pretty sick humans out there.

    So, it’s extremely heartwarming and impressive to know that people — like yourself — do something to help them find a “forever home”, to be loved for life. Foster parents for these incredible animals, are very special human beings, with really big hearts (understatement).

    It also makes me continually grateful to the foster mom, who took care of my kittens, before I adopted them.

    Actually years ago, I used to work as a volunteer in “animal rescue”. Sadly, I can no longer do so, due to the fact that I’m in horrible health. I wish I could do more, but physically, I can’t. Yet, my heart still wants to; so your touching story, really means a lot to me (others too, I’m sure).

    Thank you so much, for sharing this with us. Loved the photo with the cat, as well. Adorable!


  11. AlphaBitch says:

    Whew, Escribacat!

    What an amazing article, and what an amazing heart! That is one lucky Country Girl, and the “Forever Family” will also be lucky, to have you to help with her. Fostering is always hard; you grow to love anything you take the time to nurture. But giving things a second chance is one of the best feelings in the world…….

    Beautiful writing, and perfect for the holidays!

  12. PatsyT says:

    Escribacat, Thank you for sharing this. Rescue organizations are doing such great work and you have heart of gold to be taking this on. Bravo!

  13. choicelady says:

    I tear up every time someone mentions “forever home”. That’s such a wonderful term.

    Why are we so cruel to animals -- and humans, too? I cannot wrap my mind around people who’d race a dog for money but feed it diseased meat and let it get sick. That’s not even good investment sense. Thank you SO MUCH for being a foster parent to these poor critters. You and boomer and everyone else who takes care of “the last, the least, and the lost” have my undying respect.

    • escribacat says:

      Choicelady — I don’t get it either. The hardest part for me is just making sure I don’t sign up to be the forever home for all of them!

  14. Grabamop says:

    That was very touching E. Great post. Those poor dogs. I hate when animals are exploited this way.

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