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Adopt a retired greyhound

How would you like to adopt a retired athlete? No, Mia Hamm doesn't need a home, but thousands of retired greyhounds and race horses do once their careers on the track are over.

I have a new man in my life. He has big brown eyes and loves to cuddle. He is loyal, always happy to see me and he loves me unconditionally. He also has a cold, wet nose and a cute little bobtail. No, not the boyfriend of my dreams; I'm talking about my 7-year-old retired greyhound, Marley. That's right, for a mere $150 I adopted a former racer. He has quickly become the love of my life and adheres to the greyhound creed that goes something like: "Zero to 40 mph in less time than it takes to sneak on the couch or into your heart."

There are thousands of athletes just like Marley, ready to sneak into your heart, too. The animal racing industry retires thoroughbreds and greyhounds when they can no longer run fast enough to make the tracks money. But not all of these animals make it to loving homes. No one knows the exact number of greyhounds euthanized each year because they aren't successful on the track, but many are put to sleep.

However, there is a ray of hope for greyhound lovers. Thanks to breed adoption programs, many retired racing dogs do get second chances. Since 1990, an estimated 152,000-plus greyhounds have been adopted as pets into homes, according to the National Greyhound Association.

Reduction in racing
Jacque Schultz, administrator of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' greyhound fund in New York, also notes that the greyhound racing industry is declining year-to-year. Tracks are closing and purses are getting smaller. "People are more aware of animal issues and the sport seems to be downsizing," she says.

She also attributes the increase of legal gambling venues, such as riverboats, to the decline in the popularity of animal racing. "If they are going to gamble their money, they feel better doing it where no animals are harmed," Shultz says.

This doesn't mean that there is a shortage in "grey-t" dogs ready for adoption. "Greyhounds make very good pets. There are few other breeds that lived in these conditions and adapt so well to being couch potatoes," Shultz quips.

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Though they are big dogs, typically 55 to 80 pounds, they are trained on the tracks to walk on a leash. This is a good thing, because if they weren't controlled, you could find yourself skiing behind your canine.

Shultz says that there are groups all over the country that help place greyhounds. There is a cost, but with most groups the adoption fees include flea and tick treatment, shots, and spaying or neutering. They may even polish the dogs' pearly whites. That's no guarantee they won't have dog breath, though.

Do I have to go to the baptism?
If you can't afford to care for a greyhound yourself, don't dismiss the ability to parent these animals. Operation Greyhound, in El Cajon, Calif., has a "Greyhound Godchild" adoption program. Colleen Browne, a volunteer for Operation Greyhound, created the Godchild program so that there is a constant source of money to care for the dogs while they are in the kennels, even when adoptions drop off.

For a minimum $10 per month donation, you'll get a photo of your greyhound and a letter describing the dog, including his or her background and racing name. Browne says that once the dog is adopted, "The story has a happy ending and then the donations go toward sponsoring a different dog."

Besides heading the Godchild program, Browne has eight greyhounds herself. "There's just something about greyhounds that's different than any other animal. I brought my first one home and I was hooked."

Debra Raskin, founder of New Beginnings Greyhound Adoption, in Davie, Fla., knows what it's like to be hooked on greyhounds. She has successfully placed thousands of greyhounds in loving homes over the years. "It's so part of my life now. We live together; the greyhounds and I are one," she says. Raskin admits that it's a lot of work to care for the dogs she has in her kennel.

Raskin takes the dogs to local festivals to give her organization and the dogs exposure. "The greyhounds sell themselves," she says. She isn't exaggerating. These dogs are attention-getters. I often warn anyone that comes out with Marley and me that everyone we pass will either talk to us or about us. Raskin dreads the summer, as the festivals and venues are fewer, limiting her ability to display her pups.

While some greyhound adoption groups require prospective families to go through a lengthy adoption process including applications, home inspections and bringing the dog to the family's home to see how they will adapt, Raskin prefers to trust her instinct. "I have to see the people. I love these dogs. They are not merchandise to me, and I have to meet the people to know if they are really going to be able to care for the dogs," she says.

Raskin is sure to list the negatives about bringing a newly retired greyhound into your home. "If they can deal [with the negatives], then we can talk," she says. Some negatives that Raskin notes are the amount of time you have to dedicate to your pooch, and that due to of the lack of body fat, greyhounds cannot handle extreme heat and cold, so your greyhound will have to live in the house. She isn't afraid to admit that she turns down people all of the time because they don't meet her criteria for adoption.

If you are leery of the cost of adoption, Raskin warns, "Then forget about it. You won't ever be able to afford to care for the dog."

Now that's a horse of a different color
Raskin not only finds time and money to care for her greyhound service; she has also adopted a retired racehorse. She rescued a horse that was living in a pasture with no food, no coat and no clean water. "He was just bones, like a dead horse walking," she says. She adopted the horse from a man that bought horses cheaply from horse auctions and then sold them, either to caring people like her or to dog food plants. "He just wanted the money for the horses. He didn't care for them," Raskin says. She paid $700 to rescue her horse, and nine months later, "He looked like a $10,000 horse," she says with pride.

Raskin warns that adopting a horse in distress is an expensive undertaking. "I don't think a lot of people can afford to do this," she says of the vet, food and housing budget her horse required. "But I wish everyone would get one."

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF), based in Shrewsbury, N.J., started its rescue foundation for race horses in 1981, and began private adoption programs in 1984. Over the years, it has not only been able to place winning horses, but also some that never won a race in their career. "[A horse] doesn't have to be rich and famous to come here," says Mary Ratcliffe, a volunteer in Manhattan for the TRF. With the adoption program, there is the promise of lifelong care for the animal.

I think it's easier to adopt a child
According to Diana Pikulski, executive director of the TRF, there is a lengthy adoption process that includes applications, reference checks and visits from the foundation to check the new home. Also, the agency checks to make sure the animal is being properly cared for with routine visits and biannual updates from the horse's vet. The TRF also asks that if an owner can no longer care for the horse, it be returned to them for placement into another caring home. "It takes awhile sometimes to find the right horse for someone," Pikulski says.

The foundation provides thoroughbreds for adoption for a fee, ranging from $500 to $2,500, depending upon the horse you choose. Before a horse is adopted it receives a checkup and shots, as well as a test for its handling skills and ability to walk, trot and canter.

"Thoroughbreds are an awesome breed, and because [racers] have been handled a lot, they are great horses for their second career off the track," says Pikulski.

-- Updated: Dec. 13, 2004

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