Grateful Greyhounds: second careers and retirement couches for racing hounds and their Spanish cousins

You wouldn’t believe it, but Lisa Sallie of Grateful Greyhounds was allergic to dogs. But in the last 20 years, she’s placed nearly 2,000 sighthounds, many former racing greyhounds, with forever families. Beth Ann Mayer speaks with her about the organisation, how it’s responding to Florida’s decision to ban the sport and why a Grateful Greyhound adopter is a pack member for life

Lisa with a very grateful greyhound

Grateful Greyhounds, a non-profit started by Lisa Sallie in 1998 to help ex-racing greyhounds find a home, usually places 100 to 120 dogs per year. In the last seven week alone, they have placed 20.

In November, 5.4 million Florida citizens voted on Proposition 13, an Amendment that aimed to phase out greyhound racing by 2020. It passed with 69% of the vote — more than the 60% approval needed. As Floridians anticipate the closing of 11 of the United States’ 17 remaining active dog tracks, many are retiring their racers and looking to find them new homes.  

Lisa hasn’t taken a pro- or anti-racing stance in the 20 years she’s run the organisation, and she’s not going to start now.

“Grateful Greyhounds has always been pro-adoption, pro-greyhound, and we never really mingled with the battle between pro and anti-racing,” Lisa says.

Frankly, Lisa doesn’t have the time to argue. Grateful Greyhounds, heaquartered in Huntingdon (NY), operates without a centre and a small team of volunteers, including about 10 fosters. During the day, she works as a school counsellor. Her afternoons are full of placing animals, doing home visits, building relationships that allow her to help more dogs and recruiting volunteers, particularly fosters. Those looking to get involved can interact with the team on Facebook or through the website.

And Lisa and her team of volunteers went international six years ago when they began rescuing all sighthounds, including Spanish galgos and podencos. Many of these pups have had a rough start to life.  

Amelia wasn’t sure about retirement at first. Could life finally be good?

“[In Spain, their owners] use them for hunting or show and if the dog doesn’t perform well… [The guys will] say, ‘Hey look what your dog is doing,’” and laugh,” Lisa says. “They feel embarrassed by them. They’ll hang them from trees, muzzle them, set them loose, stop feeding them.”

Lisa has built relationships with a handful of overcrowded shelters in Spain, where she pulls the animals. Unlike many of the greyhounds, who are used to a regimented schedule, these sighthounds may have more issues with separation anxiety. Lisa works with potential adopters to educate them on what to expect but says with patience, dog parents will grow to see how resilient dogs are.

“They do very well,” she says. “Dogs are dogs. If you put together a schedule for them, they live in the moment.”

Can I come home now, please?

Grateful Greyhounds has placed 160 sighthounds since starting the program and will continue to do so when the last former racing greyhound from Florida has found a home.

“We’ll always be helping some animals,” Lisa says.

Prospective adopters must fill out an application and agree to a home visit.  “Not to judge your furniture, just to give advice on what you may need to do for the dog,” Lisa laughs. The $400 pet fee covers medical costs, including spay/neuter. And even after the pups have settled onto their forever couches, Lisa and her team are still there to assist when needed. There’s a message board for adopters where they can ask questions and share stories, and Lisa often holds “pack walks” for fosters and alumni in nice weather. A recent adopter of a dog Lisa fostered commented on Facebook that Lisa had been so helpful, checking in a few times per week and answering any questions.

The Grateful Greyhounds pack

“It’s never like you adopt a dog and that’s it,” she says. “You’re part of something.”

And it’s something that Lisa has built. At a party to commemorate the organisation’s 20th anniversary, volunteers and set up three 12-foot tables full of cards from previous adopters expressing gratitude of their own — and not just on behalf of the dog. Their grateful grey (or other sighthounds) has given them a lifetime’s worth of memories.

“You don’t think about that until you start reading about that,” she says. “I don’t get stuck on reading my own press. I’m just, ‘Get out and help the animals.’ But it was really quite humbling, and I enjoyed reading how these animals affected those people’s lives.”

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