Photo by: DAVE CHAN/The Globe and Mail

              


  

ERIN ANDERSSEN

Trippa and Boomer sprawl on the living-room carpet, watching their owners in the leisurely curious way of dogs. Except these aren't your everyday dogs. They are retired racing greyhounds, saved from almost certain death by Chris and Lynda Seed when the dogs' short careers at the track ended.

They are born to run -- not forever, but lightning-fast -- and this creates certain unusual challenges for the humans that look after them. For one thing, a greyhound can never be tied up in the back yard; they can hit 45 miles an hour in six strides, fast enough to snap their necks on the end of a rope. And you don't want your greyhound accidentally getting loose. Within seconds, it'll be a speck on the horizon. You might think a dog with these habits would be a hard sell, but adopting a racing greyhound is a bit of a trend these days.
 
In Canada, where dog racing isn't allowed, about half a dozen non-profit organizations have recently sprouted up across the country to find homes for retired racers facing otherwise unhappy destinies. That's what Chris and Lynda Seed do, working as volunteers from their small home in the woods outside North Gower near Ottawa. "It doesn't matter that these are American dogs," Ms. Seed said. "They need to be taken care of." Racing is a tough gig for a greyhound. They learn the tricks of the track almost from birth and live, during their career, in crates on the racetrack grounds.

They usually start racing when they are 18 months old and most are retired within about a year. Boomer, a superstar, lasted until he was five years old. But there are always young dogs to outrace the veterans, and greyhounds are often hauled from the circuit if they slow by a mere second in their finish times. Not so long ago, that single second usually meant death. Unless their bloodlines were worth breeding, most retired racing greyhounds were euthanized or sent to medical laboratories since they were no longer able to earn their keep.

 
But in the past decade, all that's changed -- partly because of people like the Seeds and groups in Canada and the United States that work with the tracks to organize adoptions. In 1996, for example, 18,000 greyhounds were adopted across North America. That's still only half the number of dogs looking for homes; about 9,000 more were put to sleep in the same year.

Lynda and Chris Seed don't defend dog racing as an industry, but they also refuse to criticize the tracks -- as many animal-rights groups have done -- since their adoptions depend on good relations. "It's a multi-million-dollar industry, of which the state takes a huge chunk," Mr. Seed said. "It's not going to go away." 

It costs about $300 to adopt a racing greyhound through the Seeds. For that, the new family gets their greyhound delivered across the border, neutered or spayed and complete with a vet check and personality test. And despite their running habits, Mr. and Ms. Seed insist that greyhounds make good, quiet pets; they had Trippa for three months before she barked once. "Most people think think they're going to be bouncing off the walls," Ms. Seed said. But Trippa and Boomer get a few walks, race a couple of quick laps around the yard each week and sleep most of the rest of the time. It's an easy life that Cyrano -- named for its long, crooked nose -- is still getting used to. Only two years old, Cyrano was probably booted from the track because it dislocated its toe in a race.

The Seeds found it, and matched it up with Jeannie Roper and Peter Kealey, who live in a townhouse in the Glebe neighbourhood in Ottawa and were looking for an unusual kind of dog. Ms. Roper and Mr. Kealey couldn't be happier with their new dog, which after a quick sniff of all the humans present has returned to dozing on its bed. "He wasn't fast enough for them," Ms. Roper said. "But he's sure fast enough for us."