For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved greyhounds. Captivated by their mixture of quintessential Britishness, fragility and quirkiness, I thought for many years about giving one a home, but because I was a working single parent, I thought it would be unfair. Then I discovered more about the plight of this wonderful, gentle breed.
Despite the introduction of The Welfare of Racing Greyhound Regulations (2010), the racing industry is not known for its compassion. Once dogs are of no use, the luckier ones are put up for adoption or dropped off outside rescue homes, but others are simply destroyed or sent to breeding farms. The fate of many is unknown and, based on some of the stories I’ve heard but will spare you from here, unimaginable.
All dogs have an admirable ability to live in the moment, but what really moves me about greys is that they expect so little. Simple blessings such as a regular meal, fresh air or a little affection bring them - and their owners - joy in abundance. Such a welcome and well-deserved contrast to the life many of them had before. So if you’re considering whether you’d welcome one of these beautiful animals into your home before going to a breeder, let me help you by tackling a few of the common misconceptions:
- They need loads of exercise: You’d be forgiven for thinking this was true given that the majority of greyhounds have racing backgrounds, but let me assure you, they’re bone idle. As long as my dog Ozzy gets two walks a day, he happily spends 90% of his time asleep on his beloved bed. That’s why greys are such fantastic dogs for working households. While we do enjoy long walks, Ozzy doesn’t need them - just ten minutes is fine. If it’s 100% safe for him to have a run, (safety if you do go off-lead is essential), after five minutes he gets tired and wants to come home!
- They’re not affectionate: Greys are the warmest, most loving dogs I’ve ever come across. Although probably far too big to hop onto your knee, they love to be stroked and are wonderful with children as long as they’re treated with respect
- Highly strung: Gentle and calm, greys couldn’t be less diva-like! They don’t even bark routinely and are exceptionally quiet and laid back, although they do sometimes make a strange singing noise when they’re particularly excited (something Ozzy only does in the company of other sighthounds)
And there’s more. Greyhound are spectacularly, charmingly unique for reasons which include:
- Burping: because of their size, greyhounds can achieve the depth and volume of a grown man during any bodily emission, which is great fun when you’re on conference calls and haven’t pressed mute, or when they do it in your face to thank you for their sardine breakfast. They also emit lengthy and very amusing grunts when they get really comfortable
- Greed: these dogs are greedy to an extent I have never seen in another animal. When we first brought Ozzy home from our local rescue kennel, he was pretty subdued, with the exception of his insatiable love of eating. Although much much more mellow now, I still don’t leave food unattended. He knows the sound of cheese being sliced, the rustle of the wrapper for his daily chew stick - even the sound of his food cupboard being opened - at a thousand paces and will appear in the kitchen, nudging me with his nose in .5 of a second. And please keep lids on bins, unless you want to come home and find the content of yours emptied across your living room floor (always fun)
- Off lead behaviour: If you’re lucky enough to find a safe, fenced off area, there is no greater pleasure than watching a dog born to run do so with efficiency, breathtaking speed and unbridled joy. But because greys don’t need a huge amount of exercise, please don’t feel compelled to let them run loose. Impeccably behaved on the lead, greyhounds will elegantly amble along beside you, making walks an absolute pleasure, but if you do go off lead, you’ll need to be 100% comfortable that they can’t escape if they ‘lock in on’ something they fancy chasing, and that they will respond to your command. I fell foul of this on a beach in Northumberland when Ozzy would have run to Scotland if it wasn’t for the pesky intervention of the North Sea
- Nonchalance: greyhounds are unable to sit down, probably because of their huge thigh muscles, but it’s probably just as well as they’re not the type of dog to respond to any command that doesn’t involve eating food. And why should they – many of them have spent their whole lives being forced into doing something they didn’t even want to do, for zero reward. Ozzy came to me for rest, love and care – I expect nothing more
- Aversion to stairs: As is the case for many ex-racing dogs, Ozzy didn’t understand stairs when we brought him home. But thanks to my son’s patience and ingenuity, he learned how in just one evening (involving quite a few strategically placed treats)
The huge potential to love and live has never been realised in many greyhounds who have raced. That means they when they join your home, it can take them a little while to understand things other dogs might take for granted. This is something I was utterly charmed by. Imagine a dog that has been so neglected that it doesn’t know how to play, and the subsequent joy you feel when they start to engage in activities such as throw and fetch. In our case, this is actually ‘throw’ as Ozzy loves running after the ball, but I have to run after him to get it back. When it comes to toys, Ozzy simply takes every single one out of his basket, chews it half-heartedly for ten seconds, then ignores it, unless it involves shredding card and he’s all over it.
The lack of accountability for the racing industry to support our hardworking rescue homes astounds me, but the good news is that as we get better-educated about the racing back story, the industry is declining. Although there will be even more greyhounds in need of care, my hope is that more people will consider one of these wonderful creatures before going to a breeder. After all, a grey so callously discarded after racing is infinitely better snoozing on a comfy bed in your home than adding to the load of one of the many dedicated but hard-pressed rescue homes around the UK. If you choose to rehome a greyhound, you will get a beautiful, elegant and kind animal that expects very little and will flourish in return for any love you give.
Last year I was decluttering and I found this gift which my dear Grandad made for me as a child. He clearly knew greyhounds were in my future too.