Creature Feature: Saving Retired Greyhounds

By Elizabeth Schaffner | October 10, 1996

Gale and Bob O'Gorman have a lot of dogs currently living at their Springs house. Twelve, to be precise. But only one of these dogs, an Irish wolfhound, is actually theirs. The other 11, all greyhounds, are temporary residents awaiting permanent homes.

Several years ago, Mr. O'Gorman owned a part-share in a racing greyhound. While spending time at the dog track the plight of dogs retired from running became apparent to

Mr. O'Gorman laments the faddishness that has begun to accompany greyhound adoptions, which seem to have become the "politically correct" dog to own.

him. Unlike racehorses, who can go on to a number of other careers after retirement from the fast lane, racing greyhounds don't have a lot of options.

In fact, there is only one option open for these dogs - adoption into private houses as pets. For the past six years, the O'Gormans have worked tirelessly to find homes for these canine retirees and to promote public awareness about the considerable virtues of greyhounds as companion dogs.

Gentle And Loving

"They make wonderful pets," said Mr. O'Gorman. These strikingly beautiful dogs are well-known for their gentle, loving dispositions. What isn't as well known is how easy they are to live with. Perhaps because of their racing heritage, people often assume the dogs are hyperactive, but actually nothing could be farther from the truth.

Mr. O'Gorman points out that greyhounds are sprinters, not marathon runners. "If you let them run for 10 to 20 minutes in the morning, they'll go home and sleep for the rest of the day," he said.

The shorthaired, sleek coat of the greyhound requires little maintenance. And, over all, greyhounds, at least those bred for racing, are free from the array of genetically transmitted diseases that plague so many other breeds. These dogs were not bred for good looks, though they certainly have them, but for ability to perform on the racetrack. Physical soundness has been of the highest priority in the development of the breed.

Whether hunting live prey or a mechanical rabbit on the track, greyhounds have raced throughout history. An Egyptian carving dating back 4,900 years clearly proves the antiquity of the breed. Their influence as a foundation breed can be seen in the borzoi, Irish wolfhound, Scottish deerhound, and whippet, to name a few.

Greyhounds are tall dogs, measuring between 27 and 30 inches at the shoulder. But with their lean, deer-like physiques they usually weigh considerably less than the much shorter Laborador retriever. The coat of the greyhound comes in many colors. In fact, said Mr. O'Gor man,"They come in every color except gray!"

The name of the breed is actually a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon word grie, which means fine or beautiful.

These graceful, sweet creatures can pose certain challenges to their owners. Greyhounds are sight hounds, which means they are genetically hardwired to respond to visual stimulation by chasing after it.

Hard To Train

Bred for thousands of years to work independently, greyhounds are not the easiest of dogs to obedience train. But it is possible. Mr. O'Gorman notes that in recent years greyhounds have been showing up and placing at obedience trials.

Training a greyhound not only requires persistence but also great gentleness. Though not high-strung, these dogs are exceptionally sensitive. Mr. O'Gorman knew of one greyhound trainer who banned all staff members from arguing in the kennel within earshot of the dogs. This trainer insisted that raised, angry voices so disturbed the greyhounds that their ability to race successfully was compromised.

With their incredibly strong chase drives, some greyhounds can be a menace to cats, small dogs, and other pets. The vast majority of these dogs are fine with other animals, but it is wise to introduce them to one another in a controlled environment so that, in the unlikely instance that mayhem does ensue, it can be quickly nipped in the bud.

Cause Celebre

The plight of ex-racing dogs has become somewhat of a cause celebre. And though this attention has been a help in finding homes for some of the animals, Mr. O'Gorman feels the unsubstantiated and unfounded ac cusations of cruelty to the dogs at the track leveled by some individuals has alienated many racing professionals, which is ultimately counterproductive to the welfare of the dogs.

He knows a trainer who vowed never to work with greyhound rescue groups again after reading an article containing sensational descriptions of supposed abuse at the track leveled by the owner of an adopted greyhound. The trainer knew the accusations to be untrue since the dog had come out of his own kennel.

The PC Dog To Own

According to Mr. O'Gorman, the National Greyhound Association has very strict bylaws about breeding, kenneling, and care of greyhounds, far stricter than the laws upheld by the American Kennel Club or the United States Department of Agriculture, the agencies that monitor the breeding of most other breeds of dog. The N.G.A. also enacts sanctions against anyone convicted of cruelty and bars them from participating in greyhound racing.

Mr. O'Gorman also laments the faddishness that has begun to accompany greyhound adoptions, which seem to have become the "politically correct" dog to own. "There are people who adopt these dogs to make a statement about what animal-loving crusaders they are. But then the glamour wears off and they're returning the dogs to me after four months."

What these dogs need, he said quite practically, are not people with well-meaning but grandiose plans to save all greyhounds but people who want to give a good home to a good dog.

And good dogs they are indeed, if Miller and Daisy, two racing dogs just months off the track, are any indication. Very good dogs! The two lovely doelike creatures swept lithely along the windblown beach, thrilling onlookers with their tremendous speed and grace.

However, excess steam blown off, they quickly decided that schmoozing was a higher priority than sprinting and spent the remainder of our visit standing at our feet soliciting affection and adulation. Clearly, dogs this trusting and affectionate have always been treated with respect and consideration, and with the O'Gormans on their side, they always shall. Anyone interested in giving one of these splendid creatures a home can contact the O'Gormans, who live on Lilla Lane, East Hampton.