April is Adopt-a-Greyhound month and I wanted to end with a very important step along the journey to greyhound adoption — foster care.
The vast majority of greyhounds available for adoption are retired racing greyhounds or dogs that have never raced but come from breeding farms in other states. These hounds do not have a normal puppyhood like other breeds. They are raised on farms and then graduate to dog tracks and live most of their lives in small confined cages.
When a greyhound retires at 18 months to 5+ years, they have never been in a house, walked on tile, slept in a soft bed, played with toys, etc. It’s a big transition but being intelligent dogs they adapt quickly and can soon find the softest spot in the room.
Foster care is an important step along the way. Foster care may be a good volunteer activity for people who cannot afford to adopt a pet at this time, who don’t want the long term commitment of a pet, who are snow birds, and have room in their heart and home to help a dog in need. Foster care acquaints you with the greyhound breed. The more foster care volunteers, the more dogs that can leave the track. To learn more about fostering greyhounds, visit this page.
Thank you to Joan Athey who was kind enough to answer some questions for me about her foster care experiences.
KZ: When did you get your first greyhound?
JA: My husband Paul and I lived in Denver for many years before retiring to Arizona. Through the years, I had read about the greyhound rescue organizations needing homes for all the greys coming off the various Colorado race tracks, most of which were in Denver, and decided that a greyhound should be in our future at some point.
KZ: What attracted you to this breed?
JA: Two things in particular convinced us to look into adopting from Arizona Greyhound Rescue (AGR). The first was a Tucson newspaper picture and accompanying article of a gal walking her six greys on their morning walk. The gal happened to have been a former board member. The second event was a visit by friends from Denver with two greys who were also active in one of the Denver rescue groups. They kept telling us how great the dogs were and how much need there was for adopters.
Shortly after that we contacted Arizona Greyhound Rescue and adopted Annie. That was a little over six years ago. After a very short time we were completely in love with her and have called her our Sweet Precious Angel Baby ever since. About five years ago we started to get involved with volunteer activities and then began fostering during the winter months when we’re in town.
KZ: Have you ever fostered failed?
JA: To date we haven’t foster failed, although it’s hard when we don’t hear much back from the adopters after the first month or so. We often wonder how the dogs are doing. Are they being loved? Are they happy and healthy? The ones with problems are the hardest to let go because we never know if the new owners will have the patience, love and perseverance to help the dog adjust to home life.
KZ: How difficult is it to let go of a foster dog? Do you want to keep them all?
JA: We do go into fostering knowing that we’re just trying our best to help the dog be happy in his new life in a permanent home, which will be so different from kennel life. We’re amazed at how quickly some of our older fosters have adjusted, one example being a brood mom who was eight when we got her.
In all, we’ve probably fostered at least eight dogs and taken a couple for respite care. I think the biggest reward to fostering is the bonding that occurs when the dogs get to trust you and seek you out for pets and kisses and to be close wherever you are in the house, at least until they decide they’d rather be on their cushy bed.
KZ: What are some of things that a greyhound must learn in the home? Do you have stairs?
JA: An important part of fostering is assessing the personalities of the dogs and their traits in order to learn what motivates the dogs and to determine how shy they are, whether they spook easily, to know what tone of voice to use when correcting unwanted behaviors since some dogs are super sensitive and others not so much. We don’t allow the dogs on the furniture but do have plenty of big dog beds around. We don’t want them counter surfing or near the table when we’re eating and no table scraps. We’ve always given the dogs treats when we get back from walks and when they’ve gone potty in the back yard. We’ve had to use our kennel very little. The dogs usually sleep by us in the bedroom the first night, then I keep them in the same room with me until I know I can trust them to be in a different room without constant supervision. We try to keep everything out of reach that we don’t want reconfigured!
We start leaving them alone with our dog for short periods and increase the time from there. I have used a muzzle if a dog insists on chewing a table, chair, etc. For our peace of mind and the safety of the dogs, we always start using harnesses on the dogs when they arrive. A seriously spooked dog can back out of a martingale collar and be gone in an instant. We don’t have any stairs but do try to introduce them at other locations. I tape pieces of computer paper to glass doors and low windows so the dogs know to stop.
Another important aspect of fostering is educating the potential adopters as much as possible especially if they’ve never had greys. It’s important to know their sensitivities, possible behavior problems, what to do if a dog gets loose, poisonous things, emergency vet locations, etc.
I request potential adopters get at least one of the two recommended books about retired racers (Retired Racing Greyhounds for Dummies or Adopting the Retired Racing Greyhound). I have several articles that have been passed on to the AGR volunteers in the past that I share with the adopters, if applicable.
KZ: Any tips for foster parents?
JA: In order to find the right adopter and home for a dog, it’s very important for the foster family to take the dogs to as many events as possible to give the dog exposure to the public. We try to go at least once a week to a tabling location, as well as any special AGR events or events where AGR has been invited to participate and bring the dogs. Nearly all of our dogs have found their homes during such activities.
We feel fostering is a big responsibility and time commitment but is so rewarding when we see the dogs learning to play with toys, discover so many new things, and to love, and then find their forever homes where we hope their people will love them as much as we love our Annie.
When out on walks, people who ask about the greys learn what wonderful dogs they are and how to get involved — whether it be adopting, volunteering, and fostering. It’s heartening to know that more and more people are aware of how the dogs have suffered through the years because of racing.
(I, Karyn Zoldan, fostered Quinn Jose some years ago.The day I took him to his adoptive home — I cried all the way home. Quinn has the best home possible now and is deeply loved by all who know him.)