Kevin Riordan: Greyhounds and their fans in Pennsauken

Robin Miller of Phila. with Abe, adopted from Pennsauken's Greyhound Angels. The ex-racers are "gentle and sweet," says a fan.
Robin Miller of Phila. with Abe, adopted from Pennsauken's Greyhound Angels. The ex-racers are "gentle and sweet," says a fan. (KEVIN RIORDAN / Staff)
Posted: November 07, 2012

Greyhounds are much more than fast fur.

"They're charismatic," Steve Drayton says.

"Life-changing," adds Robin Miller.

"They're the dogs," Lisa Weinstein says, "that just keep on giving."

To give back to this venerable, fleet-footed breed, Weinstein founded Greyhound Angels Adoption in 2004.

The Pennsauken nonprofit, which charges $275 per adoption and relies mainly on boarding fees and donations, is among several hundred organizations nationwide that find homes for former racing greyhounds. Males and females compete and generally end their careers when they are 2 or 3 years of age.

The group has matched Drayton, Miller, and hundreds more adoptive households throughout the region with 1,550 of the retirees, some of which would otherwise have been euthanized.

"We're not pro-racing or anti-racing," says Weinstein, 45, who runs the organization with her father, Ira, a former accountant. "We're pro-greyhound."

With a lineage that goes back millennia and virtues including a blood type that makes most of them universal canine donors, greyhounds are nothing if not noble. Greyhound Angels also places the dogs with veterans, including the disabled, at no charge under a new program called Hounds for Heroes.

"They're great companions," says Peggy Dunn, 52, an insurance adjuster who ought to know: She has adopted a quartet of greys named Barbie, Ben, Sammy Jo, and Felicity. "Nobody has just one greyhound," the Winslow Township resident observes.

During my recent visit to the Greyhound Angels kennel, 22 additional racing veterans arrive by truck from a Mobile, Ala., track. Volunteers quickly leash and walk the newbies, while Dunn and other supporters and volunteers - many accompanied by their dogs - schmooze and browse the merchandise at the shelter's annual holiday fund-raising event.

Despite a metallic whine emanating from the nail-clipping booth, and some merriment at the "photos with Santa" stand, the event is unexpectedly quiet.

Turns out greyhounds don't bark much, though they do "roo," the term for their distinctive ensemble baying. They're surprising in other ways: They have excellent eyesight even at great distances and are among the fastest animals on Earth.

"They can go from zero to 45 in two to three strides," Weinstein says.

That suggests that life with a greyhound can be taxing, if not exhausting.

But the dogs are more like "giant cats. . . . They sleep a lot," says Karen Joncas, a Gloucester Township resident, who works for Campbell Soup's credit union.

"They're 45-m.p.h. couch potatoes," says Lynne Ellsworth, 51, a supply-chain analyst, who lives with three greys in Marlton.

Rather than racing around, "they're lounging around" most of the time, says Drayton, 56. The Collingswood resident adopted Tucker two years ago after his first grey died.

Greyhounds may have fierce fans, but they also have an image problem. They are rather odd-looking ("I used to think they were ugly and skinny," Joncas recalls), and the muzzles they must wear during races give them an aggressive, even dangerous, look.

They have a calming influence, says Miller, 55, an educator from Philadelphia.

"They're gentle and sweet, and they sleep 16 hours a day. You can have greyhounds," says Janet Suozzo of Marlton, "and still get all your work done."

The sport that has been a major source of demand for the breed is diminishing, as tastes change and other legal gambling options expand. Only seven states, most in the South and Midwest, allow greyhound racing.

"In the 1970s, there were 50 greyhound-racing tracks, and 50,000 greyhounds were born and bred for racing each year," says Dennis Tyler, president of the Central Florida chapter of the national Greyhound Pets of America organization.

"By 2008, the number of greyhounds bred had declined to 20,000, and this year, it will be down to almost 10,000," he says. "Now, there are just 22 tracks in the United States, 13 of them in Florida."

Nevertheless, "I don't think greyhound racing is going to disappear in our lifetime," says Richard Ingersoll, president of the Greyhound Alliance, in Chicago. "I don't think the breed is going to disappear."

Ira Weinstein doesn't either. "Hear that? They're rooing," he says of the sound emanating from Greyhound Angels Adoption's kennel area.

"That's a happy sound. Whenever I hear it, I have a smile on my face."


Kevin Riordan:

A visit to Greyhound Angels Adoption: www.philly.com/greyhound


Contact Kevin Riordan

at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the metro columnists'

blog, "Blinq," at www.phillynews.com/blinq.

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