April 14, 2006

In praise of greyhounds

Greyhounds are the oldest breed of domesticated dog. As hunters, they are the eponym of the "sight hound" family, which includes afghans, borzois, Irish wolfhounds, and whippets. They can spot a rabbit from a mile away and, if trained to do so, have a good chance of catching it, since they can reach a running speed of 40 mph in two or three strides.

Alas, these graceful noble animals are now bred only to race for human betting. When they are around 18 months, they are tested for racing, and if fast enough go on to a full racing career. There they are raced every three or four days, until they are four years old or so or suffer an injury (broken legs and torn ligaments are common). Then they may be transfered to an adoption agency and if lucky retire to a home where they may experience love and companionship and comfort for the first time.

There is, obviously, a period of adjustment. The greyhound must adapt from a life in kennels with dozens of other dogs and a rigid, sometimes cruel, routine to a more relaxed though more complicated life in a home with perhaps more humans than dogs (not to mention stairs and windows and doors that they have to learn about). The greyhound is not used to the high level of attention and affection but quickly learns to enjoy it. They never had a chance to be puppies and are now free to be playful individuals.

They are incredibly smart and sensitive. They are already very well trained for the leash and to "go potty" outside. They must never be hit or yelled at (or laughed at). A firm word rarely has to be repeated more than a couple times. Because they run so fast, however, they must never be off a leash in an open area, and they can not be left on a tether, which could kill them if they ran to the end of it. Electric fences are useless against their speed. They need a decent-sized fenced area to run freely in. Watching them run for the sheer joy of it, and marveling at their astonishing speed, is one of the pleasures of bringing them into your home.

And so I urge people -- especially those who are not away from home all day -- to consider adopting a greyhound. They are large but very gentle. Some will go after your cats, but most ignore them. They don't bark. They smile (baring their teeth, which is a bit startling to see the first time) and bow down in affectionate greeting. They like to laze about, sometimes sprawling their whole glorious length, other times folding their lanky bodies into a compact ball when they sleep. They have astonishingly beautiful paws.

In January, we adopted a shy 2-1/2 year old female from Northern Greyhound Adoptions in St. Albans, Vermont. One by one, she worked us into her social circle. She quickly became a loved and loving part of the family. We plan to get another.

animal rights, Vermont