Karyn Zoldan dyed her hair purple when the greyhound racing track closed a year ago. An advocate and volunteer with Southern Arizona Greyhound Adoption, Zoldan worked for 16 years to get the track closed.
“Oh my God, that was the happiest day of my life,” she says. “I had once said to somebody in jest, if the track ever closes, I’ll dye my hair purple. Well, wouldn’t you know it, a few people remembered that.”
Zoldan’s two greyhound rescues, Daisy and Girlfriend, cuddle up to her on the couch and put their faces up to hers, their long snouts and kind eyes giving off an air of gentle grace. Zoldan’s living-room floor is covered by two huge dog beds. Portraits of her greyhounds who’ve passed are framed on the wall.
“They’re my heart dog,” she says about the breed, of which she’s had five.
But although the Tucson track held its last race one year ago today, on June 25, there are still greyhounds being bred and raced in Florida, Kansas and other states. They are usually retired around 5 years old and often suffer expensive injuries. Southern Arizona Greyhound Adoption, also known as SA Greys, takes them in by the truckload.
The group is just as busy as they were before the track closed. Although the number from the Tucson track dwindled, retired racing and breeding dogs from Florida and the Midwest still need homes. Those states have few adoption agencies and can’t handle the number of retiring dogs. Also, SA Greys and other Arizona adoption agencies have earned a reputation of knowing how to get the dogs happily into new homes.
For some, a full-time job
Tucson Greyhound Park closed to dog racing after the Arizona State Senate passed a bill banning the sport, in part because of concern the dogs were treated inhumanely. In 2014, SA Greys was receiving between three to five dogs a week that had either a broken leg or other serious injuries.
“Greyhound racing is a business, and the dogs are a business asset,” says John Clark, president of SA Greys. “So whenever they stop producing income, that’s when they become adoptable.”
Founded in 2012, SA Greys is run by about 35 core volunteers. And for some, it’s a full-time job. They get hauls of about 30 dogs, which they split with a Phoenix adoption group, Greyhound Pets of Arizona, and the other Tucson group, Arizona Greyhound Rescue. Volunteers give the dogs a “spa day,” which includes food, a bath and getting rid of any worms, fleas or ticks.
The dogs get a health screen and receive any needed care, such as vaccinations, spay and neuter, and dealing with more serious issues like injuries, dental problems and parasites.
Since the track closed, SA Greys has taken in more than 130 greyhounds, 21 percent from the Tucson track and 58 percent from greyhound farms in Kansas, which breed greyhounds to race. Almost half the dogs were between 4 to 6 years old.
Until dogs get adopted, they stay with fosters and boarders, the main boarder being Wanda’s Lazy Grey Ranch. Clark calls her their “greyhound angel.” When they get a big haul, she’ll fill her living room with greyhounds waiting for homes.
SA Grey volunteers also go out into the community and do meet-and-greets with the dogs, and they throw events to raise money and let people know about the dogs and the work SA Greys is doing.
“They tend to move pretty quickly once people meet greyhounds and find out about them and find out about their nature,” Clark says. “Many of the folks in town still don’t know that there was racing here. Many of them have never seen a greyhound in their life, so a lot of it’s education and outreach.”
They currently have 14 dogs looking for homes and another 11 slated to go to their new homes in the next few days.
Greyhounds were historically bred as hunting dogs. They became racing dogs when people figured out the breed can run up to 45 miles per hour. But greyhounds are not only unique for their agility and stamina. They also have a gentle, kind nature, which greyhound owners rave about.
Zoldan first fell in love with greyhounds in ’98. She was living in Los Angeles and her employer had just laid her off. She decided to give self-employment a shot and finally had the time to get a dog. That’s when she saw a pamphlet for greyhound adoption and says it broke her heart. She contacted the organization, and they introduced her to her first greyhound.
“I had never seen one up-close and personal, and he was a gentle giant and such a soft demeanor,” she says. And that’s how she fell in love with Painter.
A year after she got Painter, she took in a foster, Lily.
“I foster-failed, which if you’re going to fail at anything, it might as well be fostering,” Zoldan says, laughing because fosters aren’t suppose to keep the dogs permanently.
She had both dogs until they died, Painter in 2006 and Lily in 2010. Her portrait is framed on Zoldan’s wall next to Painter’s.
The other local group, Arizona Greyhound Rescue, takes in all sighthound breeds, dogs that use sight to hunt. AGR adopts out about 50 greyhounds a year, but one of their most urgent projects is rescuing lurchers, a breed that’s greyhound crossed with coonhound.
Partnering with the American Lurcher Project, they rescue dogs that are used in non-sanctioned dog races in Ohio called backyard racing and swim racing. At the end of each season, thousands of dogs are put down, says AGR President Jean Williams.
AGR received its first three lurchers a couple of months ago. They adopted out one and the other two are training to become service dogs as part of their Heartfelt Hounds program. AGR puts dogs that qualify through training to become service dogs, residential therapy dogs or emotional support dogs.
The group matches people with a dog that’s right for them. They offer case-by-case financing assistance with training and adoption fees, and they fully finance those costs for veterans.
Service training can take up to a year and costs $5,000 per dog, and adoption fees are between $150 to $325 depending on the breed and needs of the dog. Over the last year-and-a-half, AGR placed nine service dogs into homes.
Williams has two rescues herself. One is mobility-service greyhound, trained through the Heartfelt Hounds program.
Like SA Greys, AGR runs off donations, grants and volunteers. They’ve been active since 1992 and have found homes for nearly 2,000 dogs, really looking for dogs that fit each adoptee’s lifestyle.
“We look at our dogs as individuals, so we don’t place on a first-come first-serve,” Williams says. “We kind of get to know the dog’s personality.”
At the June SA Greys board meeting, they talk logistics — fundraising, adoptions, the website — but they start the meeting by gushing over dog photos, a trait shared by greyhound owners.
They go over financing and the continuing need to raise money and get dogs into homes. From January through May 2017, they raised just under $53,000 from donations, grants and fundraisers. On Arizona Gives Day in April, they raised $32,000.
Their expenses during that period came to just over $57,000, of which $37,000 was for vet bills and $7,000 for kennel and foster expenses.
While they no longer receive many dogs with broken legs—a $4,000 vet bill—they still get dogs with broken feet and injuries that incur vet bills close to $2,000. Many of the dogs also arrive with parasitic problems that require lengthy treatments.
Zoldan says adopting greyhounds changed her life. It made her more outgoing and turned her into an advocate and an activist.
“It’s a breed that’s going to be around even though greyhound racing is not in our immediate area,” Zoldan said. “There’s just a need, and they do make great pets.”