Adopting a Greyhound as a Special Needs Family: Why We Chose a Retired Racer
You might think adding a dog to our already full plates would be a bad idea, but Dan and I were “dog people” before we had kids. We had a Yorkshire Terrier (Webster) and a Maltese (Higgins) that were the best of friends. They both passed away shortly after Hudsyn was born due to old age. We have missed the love, energy and general well-being these animals brought to our household. We mourned those two dogs for a long time. But, as most of the grief subsided, Dan and I made an agreement that once Hudsyn was more stable in her medical care, and Damek was old enough to understand how to behave around and care for an animal, we’d consider a new family member. That time is now!
Please meet, Astrid Azura Seitz…a gorgeous, blue brindle Greyhound who spent most of her life as a professional racing dog in Macau, China. She survived the gritty racing industry in one of the world’s oldest tracks called Canidrome, which recently shut down operations, July 21, 2018, thanks to advocacy groups like Grey2K Worldwide. There, her accommodations were horrid, at best. She lived in a concrete “cell” with rusted iron bars. There were no blankets, toys or much human affection or interaction. The video below was found online when doing a Google search for “Canidrome dog racing,” and from what I can see (and have learned through some Facebook advocacy groups specifically dedicated to saving the Macau Greyhounds), her daily life there was extremely redundant…even, dare I say abusive?
Before I go into the details about this amazingly resilient and special girl, I first must tell you a little back story as to how we became “Greyt” parents.
We had considered getting two more “ankle biters” like Higgins and Webster…but with Hudsyn’s startle seizures, the risk of sharp, loud noises, like barking, was out. That eliminates about 90% of the doggie world. We couldn’t have a dog that was a “watch” dog who would screech every time the doorbell would ring. We also didn’t want a dog that would jump on or “attack” her…or any guests. Manners are important in our home, especially since we have a constant barrage of family, nurses, therapists, case workers, etc in and out of the house.
A friend of Dan’s from high school had posted about adopting Greyhounds on Facebook due to more tracks in Florida closing (racing was also recently outlawed there). We became curious…could a retired racer be for us? We researched the breed and learned some interesting things:
Greyhound are sensitive, introverted by nature and quiet. They are generally very laid back, gentle and affectionate. They do not bark when a new person comes to the door or appears in their sight. In fact, they rarely bark or whine at all. Quite the opposite…they usually seek calm attention or leave the room if uncomfortable. When meeting new people (or other dogs), they tend to be extremely calm and polite. They seek their human companion’s attention by doing what’s called the Greyhound “lean.” This is a coveted sign from Astrid who tends to do this quite often…where she’ll gently lean against your legs letting you know she’s ready to be petted or rubbed.
Easy to groom, very little shedding and generally are healthy. Both our previous dogs were non-shedding animals so this was important to us as well…and especially being around Hudsyn’s medical supplies and such. We also didn’t want a ton of “unexpected” vet bills if we could avoid common problems like knees, hips or “old age” type issues with adopting an older dog. Due to their selective and careful breeding for the track, health concerns are considered minimal when compared to other breeds of the same size. Life expectancy is also longer than most similar sized breeds at 10-13 years.
They are known commonly as the “40 mph couch potato.” Even though the dogs are used in racing and they might have their sudden bursts of energy, greyhounds do not need large amounts of exercise. We take Astrid on one or two 15-minute walks each day and also let her sprint for 5-10 minutes by playing in the backyard with a tennis ball. The rest of the day she mainly spends sleeping (about 15-18 hours). The couch potato description is spot on. She’s much more like a cat than she is a dog. Her sprinting is also impressive…these dogs can get up to 45mph in three strides and it’s extremely beautiful to watch.
Extra training is required for common household fixtures. Because they’ve spent most of their life in a kennel (aka concrete cell in China), Greyhounds are seldom (or never) exposed to things like hardwood floors, full-length mirrors, stairs and glass/screen doors. We have had to spend extra time teaching Astrid how to go up and down stairs, show her that a glass door is a solid surface and a screen door is also a barrier. She had to learn the hard way after walking out of our screened in porch when it “bonked” her nose after she tried walking through it. She also found it very curious that “another Grey” was in her new house while exploring my fitness room where there is an entire wall of mirrors.
Food sensitivities and additional food training may be required. Astrid came to her foster family extremely underweight and underfed. They rehabilitated her immediately with healthy food and a good dose of canned salmon each day. She gained 6 lbs in one month from this…her coat is now gorgeous. But because they took such poor care of her in China (like many tracks sometimes do), she is food obsessive. We have to be careful about leaving food on countertops (which she can easily graze on due to her height), and have had to put up a baby gate to our kitchen while cooking. Because of this (and the Grey’s sensitive digestive tract), we also cannot give her “people” food. Some human food can give her bowels a horrible challenge. In addition, Greyounds need raised food and water bowls to meet their height. If you feed them from the floor, they can get extra air bubbles (or what’s called bloat) in their tummy which can then be life threatening.
Based on the above knowledge, we felt a retired Greyhound would be an absolute perfect fit for our family. Not only do we have one person (or both) of us home the majority of the time to make sure the transition would go well, we LOOOOVED how beautiful (and calm) these dogs are.
Astrid has not disappointed on any of the above - even the challenges have been simple, and sometimes fun to address. We’ve learned so much about Greyhounds in recent months, but also about her personal story. You may know, our family is known for its special tie to numerology: Hudsyn being due 10-10-10 (born 10-09-10); Damek being born on 12-12-12 (at 12:12pm); Dan and I meeting on 05-05-05; etc. It brought both of us to tears learning that our amazing new girl, was born on March 25, 2010. That’s right…National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day!!! Can you believe that? And, in the same year Hudsyn was born. It’s like she was meant to be Hudsyn’s sister!
Our hearts are certainly full, especially after learning more about her past as a retired racer halfway across the world. The photo gallery below shows that story with images of her journey…from China to our home. We’re very grateful for organizations like Kansas City REGAP, Grey2K Worldwide, Anima, the countless volunteers and all the other regional/local greyound rescue non-profits who helped Astrid (formerly known as Shak Shak) travel safely to the US. The other 500+ Greyhounds are continuing to be rehabilitated all over the U.S., Italy, Australia, France, UK and other awesome places where adoptive families, like us, could help in a meaningful way. We are so glad Astrid has found her forever home and her happily ever after!