The gentle, affable greyhound

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117753159513474.jpg’, ‘Photo by Dr. Robert A. Hedeen’, ‘Greyhounds leap from their starting boxes to chase a mechanical lure.‘);

The other day when I was coming out of the library on North Second Street, a man walked by leading two magnificent greyhounds. I spoke with him briefly, and he stated he had adopted them after they were retired from racing, and he was taking them on their twice daily exercise walk.

More and more people are adopting retired greyhounds these days as they learn what wonderful pets and companions these dogs are. Those who have ever watched greyhound races know usually all of the dogs in a race are of approximate equal ability, with only a second or two separating the winner from the hindmost. Photo finishes are common, and that is why racing greyhounds wear white muzzles during a race. The muzzle provides an accurate photograph of which dog got his nose over the finish line first, and not used as a deterrent to fighting.

Greyhound adoption centers are located all over the United States, England, and Australia, where the sport is quite popular. The nearest adoption center to the Rockford area used to be at the race track at Delavan, Wis., but that excellent facility closed a few years ago along with the adoption agency.

A greyhound reaches it peak as far as racing goes at about three to four years of age and then tends to drop a second or two in speed behind its rivals in a race. In years past, it was common knowledge that when a greyhound could no longer compete, it was destroyed. This horrific practice turned many people, myself included, away from supporting greyhound racing. Though this practice is probably still used by some today, over the years the system for adopting has gained great momentum. As mentioned, a greyhound’s racing days are over at about the age of 4, but their normal span of life is from12 to 14 years, so if one is adopted, it will have many years to bring pleasure to its new owner.

The greyhound is the fastest dog in the world. Over a distance of one-quarter mile or so, they may attain a speed of 40 to 45 miles per hour, which is approximately the same speed that is made by a thoroughbred racehorse over a relatively short distance.

An adopted greyhound is an affectionate, gentle, loyal and graceful creature that has kept human beings company for thousands of years. It is a sleek, contoured dog with all parts of its anatomy adapted for speed. The chest is deep and houses the large lungs that supply an adequate amount of oxygen to the body during speedy outbursts. There is an extraordinarily flexible, curved spine, and the head is elongated with a tapering muzzle. The hindquarters are very powerful, and the long tail is carried low. Some greyhounds are bred to be show dogs, and their body structure is somewhat different from those bred to race.

Greyhounds are thought to have been bred from the Arabian Sloughi brought to England by merchantmen centuries ago. There, they were used as hunting dogs to run down deer and other animals. Most greyhounds have a definite prey instinct. It is also instinctive with these dogs to chase anything that moves rapidly, hence the use of the mechanical rabbit or other lure used at dog tracks. They will sometimes kill cats and other domestic animals, but only a small percentage of ex-racers have this undesirable trait, and they can usually be trained to leave cats and other small pets in the home alone. They normally do well with other dogs, and they get along well with children, though they usually do not like rough-house play. When indoors, they are somewhat lethargic and can be accused of being lazy. But take them outdoors and they spring into action.

Betting at a dog track is similar to that at a horse track. Favorites are listed on the program along with their past performances, but it was my experience at the Delavan Dog Track that one greyhound is just as apt to win as any other in the race. I always bet on the one with the longest odds, and it seemed very often I had picked a winner.

If you are looking for a wonderful dog as a pet, please consider adopting a greyhound. You won’t be disappointed.

A post script to last week’s article: “I know it is spring when Kitty and Chester arrive.” The author was able to approach Kitty and Chester’s nest and determined she had laid seven eggs this year instead of the single one as in the past four years.

Dr. Robert Hedeen is a former resident of Maryland’s eastern shore and resided in the Chicago area from 1960 to 1971. He is a retired professor emeritus of biological sciences in the University of Maryland system. He has published more than 30 scientific papers, has written numerous magazine articles, and is the author of two books on the natural history of the Chesapeake Bay.

from the April 25-May 1, 2007, issue

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