Retired racer adoption a "greyt" plan

By Liz Premo
Staff Writer
Atlantic News


They sport names like Astrachick, Delilah, T-Rex, Blazin' and Dashin' and Darth.  Long-legged and sleek, with coats of brindle, black, white and fawn, they have big brown eyes with a warm gaze that delves deep into the soul. Special treats and a friendly greeting can send their whippy tails a-wagging with joy, and they are expert at swiftly catching the heart as well as the attention.

"I'd take them all home if I could," says Ann Seamonds, a volunteer for Greyhound Adoption Service, Inc. A non-profit humane organization, GAS runs a Salisbury-based kennel where these retired racers currently reside, ready to take up new careers as "40-mph couch potatoes."

The kennel, located off Route 286 on Jak-Len Drive, is operated by Marilyn Wolkovits. Doggedly devoted to caring for about 30 greyhounds onsite at any given time, Marilyn has been dedicated to the mission of placing these "athletes of the canine world" into loving homes for the past two decades.


 
Marilyn Wolkovits (above left) uses a handful of treats to catch the attention of T-Rex, a 90-pound greyhound and retired
racer currently residing at the kennel which Marilyn operates for Greyhound Adoption Service, Inc.  Looking on is Nicole,
a volunteer at the Salisbury-based facility.


"I've placed close to 2000 dogs over the years," she says. Not that it's a particularly simple thing to do. The greyhound adoption process brings along with it a specific set of procedures and guidelines for all potential owners to follow.  Born to run and bred to race, sighthounds are quick to respond to any moving object that catches their eye. With amazing speed and agility to their advantage, an unleashed, unfenced or unsupervised greyhound can run directly into a situation that could leave them lost or in peril.

Extra consideration must also be given with regard to other pets already living in the home, especially cats, which have been known to fall victim to a newcomer that's fresh off the race track.''

That's one of the reasons GAS relies on "cat-testing" with the help of several friendly feral cats that roam around the kennel grounds. Under careful supervision, with leash in hand, the dog's behavior is evaluated in the company of cats. Body language and overall reaction during scheduled "meetings" is a good indicator of whether the dog will be aggressive or accepting toward a feline counterpart.

Whether or not there's a pussycat in the picture, and even though there may be plenty of cautionary caveats to consider, adopting a retired racer can bring immediate joy into the household. And contrary to popular perception, greyhounds don't need incredible amounts of exercise. Just a nice, leisurely daily walk will do.

Interestingly, for her part, Marilyn (who used to raise Afghan hounds) didn't always harbor any particular affection for greyhounds."I thought they were the ugliest dogs I ever saw in my life," she admits. That changed quickly a number of years back, when she went to a greyhound shelter with an aunt who was looking to adopt one. It was Marilyn who ended up [falling] in love with a greyhound. That was the beginning of the end.  She says she has "been through 11 greyhounds since then."

All racing greyhounds are registered with the National Greyhound Association (NGA), which keeps records of the dog's color, sex, markings, tattoos, registration numbers, and other pertinent information, including the animal's racing, kennel and pet names.  Statistics of this nature, as well as those listed on official Massachusetts Greyhound Care and Adoption information forms, are carefully kept on record in Marilyn's office, located in the kennel just off the "L"-shaped area where the dog runs (similar to livestock stalls) and wire-sided crates are situated.


 
Astrachick, Step and Sarafan check out the view from their muzzle-bedecked crates.

Documentation of expenses (veterinary bills, food, flea and tick prevention, spay/ neuter, even collars and leashes) is kept in relation to the use of grant funding provided through the Greyhound Care and Adoption Council.
"It even goes down to how much we spend on cookies for the dog," chuckles Marilyn, displaying a 1-1/2" thick stack of paperwork representing a half-year's documentation for just one of her "boarders." She is required by Massachusetts state law to compile all of this information (and then some) for each and every one of the dogs. Veterinary records also need to be part of the stack, as do racing records.

There's plenty of work to be done in the kennel itself, which is directly adjacent to the home Marilyn shares with her very supportive husband and son. According to Marilyn, the day begins at 8:30 a.m., when the dogs are let outside - just a few at a time - barking and outracing one another into the fenced-in yard.

"We let the crated ones out first, and check their bedding," says Marilyn. "Some [dogs] go out front, some go out back." Next they let the pairs of dogs housed in each of the “runs” go outside. All this in-and-out business takes about an hour total.
Then time is devoted to necessary indoor "poop-scooping," hosing down the runs, cleaning the areas with disinfectant, and changing the dogs' drinking water. Sometimes living arrangements are changed as well; different dogs are paired up together (always one male and one female) so there's no vying for dominance of their living quarters. Additional "scooping" is then done outdoors as well.

Between a break for lunch and kibble feedings at 4 p.m. (which typically take an hour to complete), time is allotted for veterinarian visits a half-hour away at Ipswich Animal Hospital in Rowley. "There's always a dog that has to go to the vet" for various reasons, explains Marilyn.

The GAS kennel goes through between 60-75 pounds of dog food on any given day. This is in addition to whatever special diet (rice, canned food, hamburger) may have to be given to dogs with health issues. Rawhide chewies and other assorted treats are dispensed at appropriate times.

Typically ending when the dogs are let out for the last time around 11:30 p.m., the regular daily routine is followed seven days a week. This being the case, Marilyn can't leave the kennel for more than four hours at any given time. That's one reason volunteers are always appreciated, according to Ann, who regularly makes the ride up to Salisbury from her Topsfield home, which she shares with several beloved greyhound companions of her own.
And then there's laundry duty.

"Laundry is one of the things we do a lot of here, because the bedding is changed every day," says Marilyn. The "nests" of comfy blankets and/or sheets situated in each dog's living quarters are washed and dried using a pair of machines installed at the kennel.

The cost to feed and care for the retired racers at GAS is covered by monies brought in by grants, fundraisers, and donations; in addition, crates may be sponsored for $25 each per month. A special "Dusty's Fund," named after "a very special dog" has been set up just to cover medical expenses. A regular GAS "Wish List" provides generous members of the public plenty of opportunities to make always-needed donations of dog food, laundry detergent, bleach, cleaning supplies, blankets, trash bags, paper towels, chew toys and treats, as well as cash.

Of course, a major investment in time, love and attention on the part of all their human caretakers help to make each greyhound's stay at GAS a safe, positive and happy one. And once a dog is placed in a loving, greyhound-ready home, they can look forward to the annual Greyhound Adoption Service Reunion held in May in Westford, a "greyt" day for all who attend.

"There's a real community between greyhound owners," says Ann, adding that 300 to 400 dogs and their owners come to the reunion, held at a pavilion beautifully situated next to a lake.

 

Ann Seamonds, a volunteer and the owner of several of her own greyhounds, is pictured here with Time Zero,
a retired racer who was recently treated for laryngeal paralysis and is recuperating nicely at the GAS kennel.


According to GAS literature, "retired racing greyhounds are clean, gentle, good-natured, quiet dogs that adapt and get along well with children and other pets. They are eager to please and respond positively to any attention given to them. They are grateful for their new homes, rewarding their owners with never-ending affection. The greyhound is among the most sympathetic and sentimental of dogs, as those who have adopted one would agree."
Those who would like to find out more about greyhounds and wish to meet a few of them "up close and personal," or who would like to learn about volunteer opportunities, may do so by visiting the Greyhound Adoption Service Kennel in Salisbury.

For more information or to set up an appointment to stop by, call Marilyn Wolkovits at (978) 462-7973. For additional information, visit the GAS Web site at www.greycanine.com.



Article and Photos Courtesy of Liz Premo/Atlantic News, Hampton, NH