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I fostered a greyhound: This is what they’re like as pets

IN A year of Brexit and Donald Trump becoming President, one of Australia’s most potent political symbols of 2016 is also one of the most unlikely: Greyhounds.

NSW Premier Mike Baird’s ban on greyhound racing sharply divided public opinion and was reversed just three months after it was first announced.

But one unarguable good to come out of the whole thing was a large rise in the number of people seeking to adopt or foster ex-racing dogs.

Greyhounds As Pets, the industry rehoming service of Greyhound Racing NSW, recorded “hundreds of applications” in the week following Mr Baird’s backflip. In Victoria, meanwhile, nearly 900 greyhounds were rehomed in 2015/16 — a huge spike compared to the 7000 adoptions handled by Greyhound Racing Victoria since 1996.

Driven partly by curiosity, partly by the desire for pats, my partner and I decided to foster an ex-racing dog to see if we could handle it and if greyhounds are really the ideal city dog places like Greyhounds As Pets claim they are.

After going along to a few adoption days held by GAP, we came away with a black seven-year-old greyhound with white socks and a sad, wise face, like an old duffer on a bus.

In his racing days he was known as Bumby Johnson, and boasted a measly one win from 38 starts. Now he goes by the name Bumper: an extremely apt name, given his primary activity consists of bumping into things.

The first thing to know about greyhounds, if you’re thinking of adopting or fostering one, is that they are huge idiots. Bred for racing, greyhounds’ top-heavy body type and large size doesn’t perform well in everyday dog activities. They are extraordinarily graceful at high speeds, and bumbling messes everywhere else.

This is certainly the case with Bumper. He is like a hapless learner driver at the wheel of a Humvee — his command centre doesn’t seem to have a proper understanding of the size of the vessel it’s controlling, and so often steers it into tables, couches and human legs.

Occasionally he will take a wrong turn down a narrow path way and, seemingly unable to reverse, will wait there sadly until help arrives.

Greyhounds’ build means they find it almost impossible to “sit” in the way you think of most dogs sitting. Instead, they have three modes: upright, lying down, and chaos.

A greyhound going from standing up to lying down is like a tree falling over. First the back half is gingerly lowered to the floor, and then the rest abruptly crashes to the ground. Getting back up involves much flailing of spindly limbs until something happens.

In temperament as well as physicality, greyhounds are not like most dogs. They are more like cats in horses’ bodies.

Despite their size and former vocation as racers, they are lazy, placid things, happy with two walks a day and inside naps the rest of the time. They don’t smell or lose much hair, making them ideal for sharehouse or apartment living (if you have a lift; stairs baffle them).

Having been trained in their youth, they are much less disobedient and destructive than other kinds of dogs. Bumper’s greatest indiscretion so far is sneaking onto the couch to sleep at night and trying to conceal his crime by noisily clattering back to the floor in the morning.

None of this is not to say that ex-racing dogs don’t need attentive care, or that they’re perfect for everybody. They wear the hallmarks of racing life, and will never entirely shake them off.

Bumper is still nervous and skittish around other dogs, and on long car rides. Sometimes he barks and growls in his sleep, dreaming of old races or fights, and should be left alone until he wakes up.

Greyhounds, as a rule, cannot go off-lead in dog parks, and must wear a muzzle outside until they pass a behaviour test.

But any potential difficulties are more than offset by the support that rehoming and settlement programs provide. Besides the obvious savings and convenience of getting a dog with microchipping, vaccinations, registration and toilet training already handled, GAP also take care of some of the smaller considerations like collars, leads, muzzles and dry food. They provide commonsense advice, ongoing support throughout and beyond the adoption process, and even include an owner’s manual.

Sadly, Sydney’s dog-hostile rental market means Bumper has to go back to GAP at the end of our six weeks together. But if he eventually finds a permanent home to bump around in, whoever’s lucky enough to have him won’t lack for support or affection.

If you’ve always dreamed of having a pet but are daunted at the prospect of full-blown dog ownership, a rescue greyhound might just be what you’re looking for.

Full story, as first published, can be found here

EDIT: Greyhounds As Pets are happy to let you know that Bumper has settled in nicely to his new forever home on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. We would also like to thank Alex McKinnon for taking Bumper into foster care, setting him up for his new life as a pampered pet.