Retired greyhounds win writer's heart
Here's the story about how mediocre racer 'Reba's in Front' became 'Laney, the duchess of Decatur.'
Tue, Dec 04 2012 at 6:32 PM
Photo: Ralph Ellis
After a day of shopping, my friend casually mentioned that a local greyhound rescue organization was holding an adoption fair nearby. She thought it would be fun to stop by and take a look — to cuddle without commitment — but I knew better.
That was seven years ago, long enough ago to share a rescue tale about how a food writer named Susan Puckett fell in love with a fawn-colored greyhound named Laney.
A new spin on retail therapy
As designated driver, I was pretty confident that there would be no impulse dog adoptions. Shopping bags covered my back seat, leaving no room for a pooch the size of a pony. I also knew that most reputable rescue organizations would not adopt pets without a lengthy adoption process. What I didn’t know at the time was that my friend had adopted from this organization before. If she made a love connection, we had a good chance of returning to Atlanta with a dog in tow.
“I kind of knelt down and [Laney] walked over to me and licked me on my nose,” Puckett said. “She’s not a licker, but she must have learned that she needed to give me a signal.”
Puckett took the dog for a short walk to test her temperament around kids as well as other dogs. Laney — known then by her racing name, Reba’s in Front — relished the attention. Like most former racing greyhounds, she had grown accustomed to the leash as well as being handled. This dog had found a forever home. Puckett adopted Laney a few days later.
Growing to love greyhounds
Greyhounds were not Puckett’s first choice for a house pet. She grew up around smaller dogs and thought a more compact pooch would be her best option. But a greyhound meet-and-greet piqued her curiosity. Puckett had never seen this stately breed up close and wanted to see how they behaved. During an event sponsored by Adopt A Greyhound Atlanta, which finds homes for former racing dogs, Puckett instantly fell for the sweet and docile breed. She arranged to meet dogs available for adoption at the rescue facility, and that’s where she met Sabrina, her first greyhound.
“I just absolutely fell in love with her and loved everything about the breed,” Puckett said. Most racing greyhounds spend their lives in small wire crates, so rescued greyhounds typically do not require much space. They also tend to be crate-trained and accustomed to a strict schedule. “They are great for somebody who has never had a dog before or they’re looking for a dog that’s not going to be rambunctious.”
Another appeal to greyhound fans is that the racing dogs come with a full history that pet owners can explore. At about eight weeks, racing kennels tattoo a tracking number on the dog’s ear. With that number, owners can learn about a dog’s parents, its siblings and its race record. Laney’s tracking number (visible in her ears at right) indicates that she was best-suited to a life of leisure.
“When greyhound people get together, besides just talking about the cute things our dogs do, most have been online and enjoy comparing the dogs’ histories,” Puckett said.
Adopting a greyhound from one of the city’s oldest rescue groups also gave Puckett and Sabrina a strong support system. Organization founder Carl Veiner offered advice when she had questions about the breed, and frequently held events for greyhound owners. During one outing, he asked Puckett to consider adding another dog to the mix. The idea stuck.
“He called and said, ‘I think I’ve got one I think you will really fall in love with,’” Puckett said. Soon after receiving that call, Della joined Puckett’s pack and became a constant companion for Sabrina.
With love comes loss
Caring for a pet means living with the bitter and the sweet. At about 11 years old, Sabrina suffered from a slipped disc that led to partial paralysis. Puckett took the greyhound to specialists and tried a number of options, including acupuncture, but nothing seemed to help. Unable to climb stairs, Sabrina spent nights crying in the living room as Puckett slept on a couch by her side.
“The look in her eyes said, ‘I can’t walk, why can’t I walk?’” Puckett said. Surgery was the last option up for consideration. “Luckily, I had a close friend and running buddy who was a vet — and was very no-nonsense — and told me, ‘If that were my dog, there is no way in hell I would put an 11-and-a-half-year-old dog through that.”
Puckett made the difficult decision to euthanize Sabrina. While coping with that loss, she faced yet another blow. Della had developed a tumor and her days were numbered. Suddenly, Puckett was adjusting to life without the sound of squeaky toys or dog tags jingling. She decided to wait a year before adding another pet. But her home seemed emptier by the day. A month after Della's death, Puckett planned a shopping trip — one that included our pit stop at the greyhound adoption fair.
“You know how that goes,” she said.
Life with Laney
Laney enjoys twice-daily walks around her Decatur neighborhood, where she thrives on attention from kids and adults. While Puckett has run her share of races, her pooch doesn’t exactly make a great jogging partner. Greyhounds are built for short sprints rather than long-distance treks. Puckett also warns that this breed should never be off leash due to its tendency to run after squirrels or other small animals.
Living with a food writer means she gets to enjoy plenty of gourmet goodies, but the fawn-colored pooch is just as happy with a spoonful of peanut butter. Water is her only true nemesis. Greyhounds have short coats, which thankfully require little grooming, so bath time is rare. Laney likes to cause mischief by playing with her squeaky toy when Puckett is on the phone, but Veiner offered a training tool that keeps naughtiness in check.
“I always have a water bottle next to me and — I don’t have to squirt her — I just have to point it at her,” Puckett said. “She will retreat and say, ‘Never mind,’ and go lay on her pillow. I can even take a pepper mill and point it at her.”
One look at laid-back Laney, and it’s no surprise that her racing record is nonexistent. Most photos taken by Puckett’s husband, Ralph Ellis, show the pooch in some form of repose, preferably on her plush pillow. Those twice-daily walks also tend to be a bit slower these days, but the 9-year-old greyhound still has plenty of pep in her step.
“We just kind of got into the same stride and it felt good having her by my side,” Puckett said of their first meeting seven years ago. “People would come pet her and she would be lapping it up, and I loved that about her. It's still very true today. When we walk, she is a social butterfly. We jokingly call her Laney, the Duchess of Decatur.”
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