New South Wales plans to ban greyhound racing from next year, and the RSPCA is bracing for an influx of dogs needing post-racing homes
There are eight greyhounds in Jenny Grahams lounge room, each sporting a fleecy coat.
They have been dozing most of the day and, after a quick break for a dinner of biscuits, chicken mince and greek yoghurt (It keeps their coat shiny, says Graham), theyll sleep through the night.
They just sleep, she said. They sleep just about 22 hours a day, just like giant, skinny cats.
Graham and husband Don adopted their first greyhound from the Sandringham dogs track in 2001 and went back 12 days later for a second.
They were ahead of the curve. Interest in greyhounds as pets has surged since NSW premier Mike Baird announced plans to ban greyhound racing from next year, and the RSPCA is bracing for an influx of dogs needing post-racing homes.
Graham and the Greyhound Adoption Program Victoria explained the basics of greyhound ownership to Guardian Australia.
Adopting a greyhound
Most Australian states have a branch of the Greyhound Adoption Program (GAP), an organisation set up to match retired runners to new homes. The dogs are usually fostered out to an experienced greyhound home first (two of the eight currently competing for space in front of the fire at the Grahams are foster dogs) to get used to civilised behaviour.
They also allow approved new owners to foster, so you can try before you buy.
Most states also hold regular open days where you can interact with prospective adoptees. The Victorian branch is holding an adoption day at Corio in Geelong on Sunday.
As the ban comes into force, expect to see more dogs available through GAP NSW and the RSPCA.
They will need a muzzle, and they cant go off-lead
With the exception of Victoria and the Northern Territory, which allow certified dogs adopted through the GAP to go muzzle-free, greyhounds must be muzzled in public in Australia. The law was introduced in the 1970s to protect valuable racing dogs from each other, but the RSPCA is lobbying to have it repealed.
It is against the law throughout Australia to let your greyhound off-lead in a public place, lest they see something running. Greyhounds are sighthounds, which means they take off after fast-moving quarry, including other dogs and cats.
Once theyre off, Graham said, you cant call them back. Theyll focus on the chase to the exclusion off everything else, including roads, fences and other hazards. Its just as likely theyll come a cropper as catch their quarry, so the lead is for their benefit as well.
All they need to see is a kite flying or a cat or small dog running and they will chase, Graham said. They will forget what they are doing and just run.
Some greyhound clubs let pet owners use their facilities to let their dogs have a run, but Graham said that even in those supervised jaunts the potential for injury is high: greyhounds have very thin skin, and it tears like paper.
They are not big walkers
Luckily, Graham said, greyhounds do not seem to miss running.
You hear of the odd person who says they got a greyhound that likes to run for an hour a day, but most are just lazy, she said. Ours go for a 20 minute walk – not a fast walk, mind – three times a week. They are not big walkers.
Even at the track, they only run for a few minutes and then they go back to their kennel and get a hose down and go back to their trailer to sleep.
Most greyhound adoption agencies recommend a daily 20 minute walk.
Cats, children, and other variables
Greyhounds are generally fine with cats unless the cat runs away, which is to say, they are not fine with cats. Adoption agencies usually advise if a dog has been tested by a cat, as Graham put it, and is therefore safe for feline companionship.
Even if a greyhound is calm around a cat inside the house, she said, they could give chase outdoors. Its that sighthound autopilot again.
Greyhounds are safe with children, but they may find them overwhelming, (they being the dogs), Graham said.
Again, adoption agencies mark those hardy enough to stand up to small kids. The Western Australian branch of GAP said they have an uncanny love of children, which manifests, in most greyhounds, as a tendency to lean against the object of their affection until they get a hug.
You might end up with a pack
Grahams house is a network of dog beds and baby-gates, with a permanent breeze from the back door being left ajar and very little free space on the couch.
Theres Prinny, or Princess, the youngest; then Bailey, Toby, Kobi, Nugget and Koshi, plus fosters Sandy and Princess (the elder).
She concedes she has amassed something of a pack, but said a group of greyhounds was a much calmer affair than a group of any other breed of dog. Its just a large, elegant yawn in mis-matched turtlenecks.
We just cant stop, she said. Were just besotted. They are very calm and clean. I would never have this many of any other breed of dogs, especially little yappy dogs, living in the same house, but they just entertain themselves.
While its not necessary to have a neat half-dozen, most adoption agencies do recommend your greyhound have at least one other canine friend.
And those turtlenecks, ridiculous though they may look, are not optional: their short coats and low body-fat leave them very vulnerable to changes in temperature.