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Busy Pets Feature


Making a Difference
By Kelley Hunsicker

The telephone rang at 3:00 a.m. It was Debbie Cone, a volunteer for Greyhound Pets of America-South Carolina (GPA-SC). The dogs were an hour away.

I woke my eight-year-old daughter, who wanted to come along, and we threw on hats, blue jeans and old T-shirts. We had ten minutes to meet with Debbie and her husband, Bill. We were riding with them for the 35-minute drive to get the retired racers. During the drive, Debbie and Bill explained the process of receiving retired racing greyhounds and getting them ready for adoption.

"They always come in this early," she said.† "It's cooler at night and less stressful to the dogs."

I found they make these early morning trips once a month -- and sometimes drive hours to get the dogs.

"It depends on where the dogs are going. The drivers pull off the highway at a designated spot along their delivery route, unload the dogs and then head out to make more deliveries," Debbie explained. "Three weeks ago, we had to be in Darien, Georgia by eight a.m."

Bill and Debbie are volunteers. After receiving the dogs and driving them to their temporary foster homes, they have to go to their paying jobs. Needless to say, they don't get much sleep on the nights that dogs arrive.

For Debbie and Bill, the volunteers of GPA-SC, and volunteers like them nationwide, this is a way of life. They spend weekends educating the public about greyhounds. They spend hours at pet stores doing "meet 'n' greets," have fund-raisers and speak at conferences about the dogs.

"Why do you do it?" I asked.

"If not us, then who?" Debbie asked matter-of-factly.† She and Bill are passionate about what they do. They adopted their first greyhound in '97 and have been a part of the organization since then. They now own three greyhounds and provide foster care for incoming dogs.

"How well do they adjust to home life after racing?" I asked. "Do they make good pets?"

"They adjust well," Debbie said. "Greyhounds are sociable and friendly and make great companion dogs."

She explained that even though greyhounds are fast (the fastest dogs in the world), they are short-distance sprinters and prefer to spend their time lounging on the couch. Most have low energy levels, are not barkers and are friendly animals. They make perfect pets for the elderly, apartment dwellers and anyone who wants a companion. She said, "If you want a dog to run with
or play catch, then you should probably look for a different breed of dog."

I was skeptical about the nature of these dogs. Especially considering the life they had just left.

"How long are they in foster homes before placement and what do they need to learn while they're there?" I asked.

"The dogs usually spend three to four weeks in foster care before placement. They have to be cat, dog and child tested. We want to make their transition to pet life a smooth one. We also evaluate the dogs for shyness and energy level." Debbie explained they do this to ensure the dogs and their new owners fit well together.

"Greyhounds are sight hunters. Some do well with cats and small animals while others chase them. And some greyhounds have a higher energy level than others."

As part of the adoption process, the volunteers visit the homes of potential adopters. They check the noise level, see if there is a fenced yard available (though not necessary) and look for household items that might seem strange to the dogs.

The dogs have never seen a pool of water and assume they can walk on the water's surface. They have never seen ceiling fans, sliding glass doors, heard dishwashers, used stairs or steps and have never been alone. The dogs are introduced to these while in foster care.

"What condition are the dogs in when you receive them?" Having read so much about the abuse of retired racers, I had to ask.

"The dogs we receive are in good shape. We are working hard to establish good relationships with dog tracks, kennels and owners. We don't want to say anything negative. We want them to trust us. If they trust us, they will continue to contact us to donate their dogs. This gives them options -- other than euthanasia."

She did add that she is not going to say the abuse doesn't exist. But while dog racing is legal, it may always exist. GPA is about finding solutions. Volunteers visit tracks and work with owners to place retired dogs. One of the biggest problems for owners is not having a place for the dogs once their racing careers are over.

We finally arrived at our destination. Now I would see the condition of the greyhounds, how they were transported and their mannerisms.

We waited. Another SUV pulled up with two more volunteers and two more kennels. The two women got out and joined us. There was an excitement in the conversation as we waited for the hauler.

"Here they come." Bill pointed to a low, silver trailer descending the exit ramp.

I watched excitedly as the brightly lit trailer drove past the Waffle House and turned onto the street towards the lot where we waited.

It was beautiful and new! Debbie explained how their group (and many others) had donated money for its purchase so the dogs wouldn't get hot while traveling. She proudly pointed out their group's name, printed on the back.

The air-conditioned trailer had straw on the bottom of the compartments for comfort and each compartment had water for the dogs.

After some paper-signing, the drivers unloaded the dogs -- two females and two males. The drivers went in to the Waffle House for coffee-to-go and drove away again.

The dogs seemed fine from their journey. They were alert and eagerly sniffing the ground, while leading the GPA-SC volunteers around the lot. They knew one another and stopped often to display their affection.

They were friendly, even in the presence of strangers and welcomed the attention, pushing their bodies into the volunteers. My daughter and I couldn't resist petting these sleek, muscled beauties.

"Do you see how thin and muscled these dogs are?" Debbie asked. "Ours look nothing like this. Once they become pets, they lose their muscle tone and put on weight."

It was at that moment (or maybe when I was petting one of the greyhounds) that everything Debbie told me made sense. By the GPA volunteers providing solutions, these dogs were now going into loving homes. I could see why these volunteers spend so much time educating the public about greyhounds and work tirelessly to find them new homes.

The dogs were healthy. They were friendly. And they were beautiful. Now it was time to deliver them to the foster homes and begin introducing them to pet life.

If you would like to learn more about this organization, provide a foster home, adopt a greyhound or give a donation, visit There is a page on this site that lists all the
local organizations nationwide.

Kelley Hunsicker is a full-time freelance writer and wildlife/animal lover. She writes for "," writes animal and wildlife articles for children's magazines and has a website about animals that is used by teachers and students at

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