Pet Docs

A client at Veterinary Specialty Care brought in two 3-month-old greyhound puppies, which were bred and raised as companion dogs. Provided

I (Henri Bianucci) noticed that my first three appointments were with the same person who brought in three dogs with unrelated complaints. And all three were greyhounds.

While it is not unusual for a single client to bring in more than one animal, it was strange that they were all greyhounds. Stranger yet, while one was a 2-year-old dog, two of them were 3-month-old puppies.

The reason this was unusual is that in the 25 years as a veterinarian, I have treated numerous greyhounds, but I have never seen a greyhound puppy. This includes three university hospitals while in training and my current practice of the past 20 years. It was like seeing an exotic species.

If someone had come in with two anteaters on leashes, it would not have felt more foreign than these rambunctious, little greyhound pups before me. Beyond this unfamiliar appearing version of a greyhound, their behavior seemed disconnected from the breed I was accustomed to. As I examined their older sibling, I was mauled by these little creatures. Their behavior was indistinguishable from that of any playful puppy of another breed.

To test whether this reaction was unique, I brought one of the puppies to the treatment area, which was filled with experienced technicians. I was quickly surrounded by a group with probably a hundred years of combined experience. “Wait! Is that a greyhound puppy?” was the refrain of virtually all of them. They were surprised, and some joked that they thought they did not exist (as puppies).

It was amazing that nobody on our staff of about 50 had ever seen a greyhound puppy. All were similarly surprised by how gregarious and social they were. The older sibling was affectionate, interactive and very social. On an age-adjusted scale, he was just as playful as the puppies, and at nearly 100 pounds, with a dark brindle coat, he was a truly impressive dog.

The greyhound is a sight hound. This means it hunts by sight rather than smell. They are among the oldest breeds, dating back about 4,000 years. They have a royal provenance, and, at times, the nobility were the only ones allowed to have them. The name greyhound comes from a Saxon word, “grei” which means, appropriately, beautiful. It is true that these dogs were bred to run and hunt. But to take that talent as a reason to relegate the breed almost exclusively to a seedy, declining, betting industry, where they are injured, neglected and abused, is a perversion.

Every adult greyhound that I have ever seen had been adopted or rescued from the race track. Unlike most other sporting breeds, greyhounds' lives all seem to begin in a commercial setting. They are bred in facilities with the sole intent of producing a racing dog. They are not socialized, and the care and conditions that they receive while in service has been called into question by virtually all animal welfare groups.

Their racing careers are short, usually under two years. During that time they are often kept confined in small kennels and experience little interaction with other dogs or people. Many dogs are killed or injured on the track, and many, particularly the ones not deemed good prospects for the track, are euthanized.

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Many of ones that survive all of this and retire from the track are adopted out to loving homes. My observation of these dogs is that they generally are quite reserved but closely bonded to their adopters and have little interest in interacting with strangers or other dogs.

Some are clearly withdrawn, and fearful of strangers or strange environments. For the adoptive families, they are wonderful and loving companions. I have never had anyone tell me they regret adopting a greyhound. In fact, many become hooked on the breed and are serial adopters. 

Most of the dogs I treat were bred and raised to be companions. Even the sporting dogs are generally dual-purpose family and hunting dogs. But these guys were channeled into racing alone, and at the end, as adults they are flipped to the companion role. While I know they are far happier, I can't help but think that this new world must seem a bit foreign to them.

Their behavior, regardless of its origins, becomes known as a breed characteristic. Although there are only three of them, they are the only greyhounds I have ever seen that were bred and raised exclusively as companion dogs.

That type of upbringing seems to have unleashed, or rather prevented the stifling of, their true nature. In November 2018, a resolution banning dog racing was passed in Florida, which has the most tracks in the country.

I cannot say for sure, because, after all, we are only talking about three dogs, but if these dogs are a closer representation of the true nature of the breed, as I suspect they are, then it tells me all I need to know about the dog-racing industry. I celebrate its demise in Florida and hope the remaining states with racetracks in Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, and Texas quickly follow suit.

Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to petdocs@postandcourier.com.