Retired racing greyhounds in Birmingham find second careers as pets
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Creb was born with only one eye, but that hasn’t held him back from one successful career and another promising one. In his first career, he was an athlete. In his second, he’s sure to make people smile.
Creb, of course, is a greyhound.
He’s a retired racing dog from the Birmingham Race Course, and now he stays at the Alabama Greyhound Rescue and Adoption Center, or Oh My Greyhounds, on the course property. Soon, though, he’ll make the move to Virginia, where he’ll become a therapy dog. That’s a job where he’s sure to thrive, because he certainly doesn’t shy away from attention.
Creb is one of more than a thousand dogs a year that go through the adoption center at the Birmingham Race Course. The staff at the center, a nonprofit, say retired racing greyhounds — and the occasional rescues they bring in — are finding more and more homes on couches after their careers on the track end.
“They’re very lazy and they adjust to home life and pet life just amazingly,” said Melanie Cleveland, the center’s director.
Large and lazy
Oh My Greyhounds is a nonprofit that took over the adoption program in 2009. The course has been adopting out the dogs since greyhound racing first came to Birmingham in 1992.
The adoption group places about 1,400 dogs a year with families. About 400 of those are here in the Birmingham area, Cleveland said, and the rest are taken by truck to other parts of the U.S. and up into Canada. Their first truck, a big transport truck, ran its last mile in October. The new one, a Ford E-450 box truck that looks like a package delivery truck, will make its first run next week.
Cleveland said she’s seen an increase lately in demand for greyhounds as pets.
“Adopting a greyhound is becoming a lot more popular as word gets out and people are meeting a lot more greyhounds,” she said. “20 years ago you never saw anyone just out in the real world that had a greyhound or had ever really seen one in person.”
The reason, she said, is because greyhounds make good pets. While they’re known for being able to run, and they can hit 45 miles per hour, they don’t like to run for long.
“You might get 30-45 seconds of a dog running and then they decide they’re done,” she said.
The dogs, she said, are pretty lazy once they get into a home. They’re more likely to lounge on the couch — and take up half of it — than run around all day.
The center spays and neuters the dogs before they’re adopted out and makes sure they’re up to date on their vaccinations. They also find out how the dogs do in situations they might face in homes.
An orange tabby cat named Honey Cat hangs around the center and interacts with the dogs, allowing the staff to see how the hounds might get along with a housecat. They also have two other dogs onsite, named Dorothy and Toto, who test the hounds’ ability to get along with other kinds of dogs. Not all the dogs do well with others, and that’s information the staff can tell prospective families before they’re adopted out.
The adoption program in Birmingham is a sign of changes the industry has made in the past few decades, said Kip Keefer, the executive director of the Birmingham Racing Commission.
Animal rights groups often oppose racing because dozens of the dogs are put in enclosed kennels in conditions often far below what a dog would get at a home. In a 2010 letter to the editor in the Birmingham News, Jennifer Krebs with GREY2kUSA, a group that opposes dog racing. She wrote about the conditions of dogs packed into kennels.
In October of 2009, a greyhound tested positive for benzoylecgonine, a common marker for cocaine, after winning a race at the Birmingham course. The dog’s handler was fined and suspended for 60 days.
But Keefer said one of the major complaints about greyhound racing has been that dogs whose racing careers were over were euthanized. That hasn’t been the case in the industry for a while, he said, especially while adoption groups have found success getting the dogs into homes.
“The feel-good story is the fact that greyhound adoption is an absolute must now and a huge part of what we do,” he said. “Me, personally, as an animal lover, I wouldn’t be in an industry with that kind of a track record.”
‘They need a home’
Jennifer Boswell, who works at the center, said the racing kennels take better care of the dogs than many people think. Dogs that suffer broken legs during their racing careers are often treated at the adoption center and then promptly adopted out, she said.
“They need a place, they need a home, they need whatever, they come to us,” Boswell said.
While greyhounds are becoming more popular as pets, though, almost all of the dogs occupying couches are still veterans of the track. Cleveland said there are few breeders that raise the dogs not for racing, and those dogs are mostly for show. Some greyhound puppies are adopted out when they come from unexpected litters, because of the expense of tracing parentage for the race dogs. Those litters are very rare, though, maybe one or two nationwide a year, she said.
“Most all the ones that you’ll see are retired race dogs,” she said.
At Oh My Greyhounds, Cleveland said they’ll see a few families about adopting greyhounds each day, maybe as many as 10 families on a Saturday. The center is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is located on the grounds at the Birmingham Race Course off John Rogers Drive.
About 1,400 dogs a year are adopted from the center. Of those, about 300 are adopted locally.
“When they retire here at Birmingham, they come to us, and they find a home,” Boswell said.