Retired greyhounds are being given a new lease of life as family pets. Rachel Jones reports
As Minky and Amy flop on the living room carpet, it’s hard to believe they were once thundering around a track at over 30mph.
The racing greyhounds are living out their retirement in the lap of luxury at their new Farlington home.
Amy, a winner of 23 races, likes to either stretch out on the floor or recline into her favourite spot on the living room sofa. Minky also loves to spend the day dozing in the warm house.
But they love going out too and owner Mariane Simpson is so dedicated to her pets she rents a field so they can race around at full pelt.
‘I just like to give them a good run once in a while,’ says Mariane, who rents the field from dog training school Scallywags, near Shedfield.
‘I used to let them off the lead but they will chase smaller dogs. They’re very sociable and only want to play, they just nudge them a bit. And I made sure they were wearing muzzles. But people didn’t understand.’
In the field they can reach their full stretch of about six feet, Mariane reveals, looking at her laid-back pets now in full stretch on the floor.
‘When I call them, even if I have my back to them I can hear them getting closer, you hear that todem todem todem. It’s wonderful to see them running’ she says. ‘But at home they’re quite lazy. They’re like this a lot of the time, laying out like carpets. You have to be careful where you step.’
Mariane and her husband Patrick decided to adopt greyhounds because they thought the breed might be more difficult to rehome than smaller dogs. They found four-year-old Amy and Minky at charity Portsmouth Retired Greyhounds, near Liss.
They were right. The charity is currently trying to find homes for 22 dogs and the national Retired Greyhound Trust, of which the Liss kennels is a branch, have about 1000 dogs waiting for homes.
The situation hasn’t been helped by a decline in the dog racing industry. Tracks around the country have been closing and many others have seen a fall in punters. Portsmouth Greyhound Stadium closed last year.
The decline has been put down to a variety of causes, including the economic climate, the out-dated image of the industry, competition from other activities and changes to betting laws which allow people to spend longer in betting shops and less time at the track.
‘It was dreadful that Portsmouth closed,‘ says Liz Redpath, a former racing dog trainer and owner who runs Portsmouth Retired Greyhounds. ‘People got to know the dogs there. They had their favourites and you would get people coming to stroke them when we were taking them out at the end.’
There have been concerns over animal welfare in the industry and dogs being put down when they are too old to race.
But Liz says: ‘I can only speak for myself and the trainers in our branch, but I don’t know anyone who would put a healthy dog to sleep. I’m not saying that’s true for the entire industry. But all the people I know take great care of their dogs and if they could no longer keep them they would come to us.’
She says the industry is highly regulated and racing dogs receive a good standard of care.
But rehoming retired greyhounds remains a challenge and Liz believes that’s largely due to people’s misconceptions.
‘I think people see them in photos racing and think they look ferocious, because they’re wearing wire muzzles and racing around a track. They think they’re going to be boisterous and require very high levels of care.’
In reality, greyhounds are calm creatures and spend a lot of time sleeping. Because they are bred for speed rather than endurance, two or three 20-minute walks a day is fine.
They have been bred and raised as athletes so they may have to spend a little time adapting to the family home, but they are generally well-behaved and docile. But like all dogs some are more laid-back than others.
‘We give plenty of advice and make sure we match the right dogs with suitable owners,’ says Liz. ‘We even let people have them for weekends before they commit, so that they can be sure.’
Mariane, 65, and Patrick, 72, have no regrets. They have two of their grandchildren living with them and other young grandchildren visiting and say the dogs are quiet, tolerant and very friendly.
Watching the dogs bounding outside with a ball after finishing one of their many daytime naps, Mariane says: ‘The problem is a lot of people want small dogs that don’t ruin their lawns or take up a lot of room. But that’s exactly the kind of dog I wanted.
For information and details of dogs looking for a home, visit portsmouthretiredgreyhounds.org or call (01730) 893255.