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Greyhounds: The retired racers who just want to be couch potatoes

After life in the fast lane, ex-racing greyhounds look for nothing more than good food, a warm bed, and a couple of short walks a day, say the people who devote their lives to finding them loving homes
After life in the fast lane, ex-racing greyhounds look for nothing more than good food, a warm bed, and a couple of short walks a day, say the people who devote their lives to finding them loving homes

They are the dog world’s supreme athletes, bred and trained for fitness and speed.

So it can come as a surprise to find that once their days on the track are over greyhounds like nothing better than putting their feet up.

While many less speedy breeds are raring to go at the mere whisper of “walkies” a retired racer might open one eye, blink, and go back to sleep.

They do enjoy a leisurely amble, but 20 minutes twice a day is plenty.

Not for them the boundless stamina and enthusiasm of a labrador. Some chihuahuas are probably more likely to be up for a long hike.

But even a very elderly greyhound can put on a short burst of formidable speed.

Volunteer Jane Johannsessen with Robbie.
Volunteer Jane Johannsessen with Robbie.

That is why the Greyhound Trust does not recommend walking them off-lead.

The trust cares for dogs that have reached the end of their racing lives and works to find them suitable loving homes.

Mildenhall branch rehomes track veterans across Suffolk, east Cambridgeshire and parts of Norfolk.

The branch grew from a venture started by its chairman Ann Raymond and her friend Janine Pettifor 20 years ago.

Ann Raymond and volunteers Jane Johannessen and Eddie Campbell take Robbie, Daisy, Jack and Wardie for a stroll near the kennels
Ann Raymond and volunteers Jane Johannessen and Eddie Campbell take Robbie, Daisy, Jack and Wardie for a stroll near the kennels

They began by raising money to support retired dogs which continued to live with their trainers.

“Then we got in touch with the trust and asked if we could run a branch for them,” says Ann who lives in West Row with her husband Richard.

She used to work in racing kennels and has seven dogs of her own – five greyhounds, a lurcher and a whippet.

Now she devotes countless hours – all voluntary – to the welfare of the dogs that are sent to Mildenhall for rehoming.

Ann is also a keen craftswoman and supplements fundraising by making things to sell like dog coats and toys.

She says she adores greyhounds because they are loving, sensitive and sociable.

“Basically they are couch potatoes. When they retire they just want to be fed and kept warm, with somewhere nice to sleep.”

The branch currently has 17 dogs looking for homes.

They include grey-muzzled Robbie, and more recently-retired Daisy who has been dubbed “Miss Perfect” because of her great manners and easy-going nature.

“She was straight out of a racing kennel and came away with me to a dog show. We stayed in a hotel and she was fine,” said Ann.

“Robbie is our longest stayer and has been here 18 months.

“He’s eight, and that’s a difficult age because we find people either want them younger or older But he’s playful and not an old dog.”

Robbie and Daisy are both black, now the most often-seen colour in greyhounds. They also come in shades of brown, and white with coloured patches.

The majority of the dogs needing homes at the Mildenhall branch are black.

Jack, who is bigger than average and stands several inches taller than his kennel-mates, is handsomely-patterned black and white.

Some, like Kevin and Turbo, keep the names they arrive with, although new owners often change them.

Others are renamed at the kennels, like Wardie who was re-christened in honour of an Ipswich Town footballer.

Occasionally those who have health problems, like Lacey who needs a special diet, can become long-term residents.

The dogs are cared for at kennels owned by Jo and Alan Cooke – lifelong trainers and breeders until they retired four years ago.

Food and vet bills are paid for by the trust, and the branch fundraises for things like flea treatments, bones and treats.

Jo and Alan’s son Peter, who was with them in the business, now does most of the day to day care of the trust’s dogs.

He stopped racing after his daughter Matilda was born, when he decided he no longer wanted to spend so much time at the track.

“My grandfather, uncles, and dad were all in racing,” said Jo who is originally from London.

“When Alan and I retired Ann was looking for somewhere (for the dogs) and asked us.

“We also have six greyhounds of our own at the moment, all ex-racers.”

The dogs are bred to run very fast for about half a minute. They are sprinters, not marathon runners.

“They don’t need a lot of walking. After a little while it’s ‘can I go home now and lie down with my feet in the air’.

“Some people turn up saying I go for a five mile walk every morning and would like a dog to come with me.

“Our answer would be, get a dalmatian.”

Greyhounds can be ideal for older people, but like all dogs, must be made aware who is ‘leader of the pack’.

“Dogs need boundaries, they need routine. For instance, ours are not allowed on the sofas,” said Jo.

“Volunteers come a couple of times a week to walk the dogs, but we do all the cleaning out and that kind of thing.

“We say this is our way of putting back into it. As long as we don’t run at a loss we’re OK.”

The kennels also board dogs they have re-homed if the new owners go on holiday.

An average greyhound will only race until they are four or five years old.

With most living to 12 or 14, it means more than half their lives will be spent in retirement.

A big effort is made to fit each dog to their new family. “We do home visits, and ask about their lifestyle,” said Ann.

“Some have homes that are noisy and full of life, and some might be retired couples.

“People who adopt a dog pay a rehoming fee of £150.

“But you are getting a fit and well pedigree dog, with up to date vaccinations. We also give them a coat, collar and lead.”

And some of the retired greyhounds started out very expensive indeed. Jack, whose racing career was cut short by an injury, initially cost his trainer £9,000.

Previous dogs rehomed by the branch have cost as much as £15,000.

Husband and wife Eddie Campbell and Jane Johannessen have been volunteering for the trust for 10 years.

“We rehomed our first greyhound before we met Ann or knew about the trust, and fell in love with the breed,” said Jane.

“After that I looked for a place to volunteer because I needed more greyhounds in my life. They are a complete addiction, beautiful animals.

“Now we come here together to walk the dogs,” said Jane who also judges at the trust’s annual fundraising dog show and does occasional home visits to potential owners.

They adopted their current greyhound Petal six years ago. “They’re like racehorses, and feel the cold and the heat,” she says, adding that Petal’s extensive wardrobe contains more coats than her own.

Retired greyhounds should not be confused with ones that have been rescued.

The majority of dogs that pass through the trust’s hands are given to them by trainers when they are no longer able to race.

Eddie says: “There is a big difference between a rescue greyhound and a retired one.

“These come from responsible people. They are dogs that are retired and have been well looked after.”

To contact Mildenhall branch of the trust either email greyhounds5@icloud.com, visit www.greyhoundtrust.org.uk and click east of England under branches, or phone 01638 716578.