April is the official National Greyhound Adoption Month, but for the many dedicated Greyhound advocates across North America, every month should get that label. This is especially true for Deb Ward, president of Northern Sky Greyhound Adoption Association in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Deb and her husband, John, have brought hundreds of retired racing Greyhounds to Canada and placed them in loving adopted homes across the prairies in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.
“Every time we see a dog happily in his home, it makes all the hours on the road, all the hours we spend — moving them into foster care, getting them to the vet, getting them out to meet people, doing home visits — it makes every single hour worth it,” says Ward.
And the hours certainly do add up. Last summer, the Wards made eight trips to Iowa, one of seven states where Greyhound racing is still legal in the U.S., to pick up dogs. That’s a 26-hour drive, each way.
The couple have made countless road trips over the last decade, but their love for the breed was sparked years before they got involved in adoption or even had a Greyhound of their own.
“In 1997, my husband and I went to Arizona for a holiday, and I walked past a Greyhound track,” recalls Ward. “I fell in love right then, and I said my next dog is going to be a Greyhound.”
When the Wards got back to Canada, they started looking around for local rescue groups, but came up empty-handed. The couple contacted rescue groups in the United States, but many were reluctant to adopt to the Wards because of the geographic distance. It took five years before Deb Ward’s wish was finally granted.
“I was driving home one night, and I saw a sign that said ‘Greyhound Adoption Day,” says Ward. “I said, ‘Jon, we’re going to that.’ That was on a Friday night, and on Saturday we went to the meet and greet. On Thursday, our first Greyhound came home.”
That first Greyhound was Zinny, a beautiful and sweet-tempered retired racer who came up to Canada through a group called Chinook Winds Greyhound Rescue.
“She was a racing-school dropout,” explains Ward. “She only ran four races and didn’t do well in any of them, so she retired when she was just under two years old. She was placed in a home before she came to us, and that home didn’t work out. She’d just been returned when it happened that we were at that meet and greet.”
Zinny was the perfect match for the Wards. She fit right in with the couple, their cats, and their Miniature Pinscher/Chihuahua cross. Zinny inspired the Wards to start working with Chinook Winds to help other Greyhounds find homes, and she also inspired them to expand their own Greyhound family.
“We adopted our second one about four months after that, and we have just kept going ever since.”
And they kept going in a big way — the Wards currently have eight Greyhounds of their own, but they say it’s not as chaotic as people would imagine.
“It’s like having two of any other dog. Everyone thinks that they’re such high-energy, busy dogs, but they’re absolutely not. Greyhounds are much more cat-like than they are dog-like. They sleep 18 to 21 hours a day,” says Ward. “They are the most chill, laid-back dog ever.”
Unfortunately, the Wards lost the founding member of their Greyhound pack on Christmas Day 2014, when Zinny passed at 13 years old.
“We were very lucky,” says Ward. “We had almost 11 years with her, and for a retired racer that is absolutely incredible.”
Zinny may be gone, but the impact she had on the Ward household lives on. The beloved dog inspired the Wards to form Northern Sky Greyhound Adoption Association when Chinook Winds decided to stop bringing retired racers up from from the States.
“Over the time we worked with Chinook Winds, we probably adopted out 300 to 500 dogs. And since we’ve been Northern Sky, we’ve brought in and adopted out 130 dogs so far.”
Over the years, the Wards have watched the Greyhound racing industry in the United States change and shrink, and the type of dogs who need help is also changing. According to Ward, Greyhound rescue and adoption groups are no longer a dumping ground for injured racing dogs; now, the dogs are more likely to come off the track having had appropriate veterinary care before heading to adoption groups. That’s why Ward takes a neutral position on regulated Greyhound racing, but she still steadfastly opposes the underground world of field and match races.
“Not all Greyhound groups will take a Greyhound cross, but we’ve taken 26 dogs from the American Lurcher Project,” explains Ward, who says the dogs known as Lurchers are used in underground, unregulated racing, and they suffer miserably.
“The Lurchers, unlike the Greyhounds, have not had the vetting care,” says Ward, adding that bringing up a Lurcher costs her about twice as much as bringing up a retired racer.
“These dogs who come in through the Lurcher project are so grateful and so happy to have the attention and the love,” says Ward. “They don’t take any longer to house-train than the retired racers do, and they share many of the same traits.”
Ward says the Lurchers also tend to be more responsive to commands than their Greyhound cousins (who still make up most of Northern Sky’s adoptable dogs). According to Ward, the Lurchers are like Greyhounds “with a little extra.” She recommends them to adopters who want that extra bit of dog-like personality — although she still perfers the cat-like personality of purebred Greyhounds.
“I’ve always been a dog person — I’ve never had a day in my entire life without a dog — but the moment I met a Greyhound, it was like something inside me just changed completely,” Ward says. “Looking into the eyes of a Greyhound is like looking into the soul of the world, and I was just sunk.”
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About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.