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A Trio of Books About Greyhounds

December 21st, 2008 · · Book Reviews, News From the Doggie Daycare

“The Reign of the Greyhound: a popular history of the oldest family of dogs”

“Adopting the Racing Greyhound”

“Retired Racing Greyhounds for Dummies”

I have recently developed a keen interest in greyhounds, particularly in the process by which greyhounds whose career at the track is over are integrated into a human family.  Initially  there was Mr Grey, a retired racer who had raced under the name Pilot, with whom I had daily contact at work.  Then there was a second retired racer at the daycare.  Observing them and interacting with them I quickly realized that greyhounds are, to use a cliche, a breed apart. I was charmed by their exotic appearance. I was surprised at their gentleness with people. In short, I wanted to learn more about them with a view to understanding them. Greyhounds are different. They are sighthounds also referred to as gazehounds. Other breeds in this group are borzois, whippets, salukis, afghan hounds and basenjis. These are fast dogs (up to 40 miles per hour) with remarkable vision (270 degrees) originally bred to pursue prey. A greyhound is not built like anything but a greyhound. Their ratio of body fat is a great deal lower than for other breeds of their size. They practically have their own blood group. There is no other dog that is built on such magnificent aerodynamic lines. Caring for a greyhound is a fairly specialized business and requires some education.

Cynthia Branigan author of “The Reign of the Greyhound” and “Adopting the Racing Greyhound  3rd edition” is the undisputed maven on all matters greyhound. Her books are extremely well researched and a pleasure to read. There are certain things about greyhounds that need to be taken into account when caring for them. In spite of their amazing capacity for speed they are in fact rather fragile. They have very little body fat and not much fur rendering them vulnerable to heat and cold. Their skin tears like tissue paper; that is why they are so often muzzled even when retired. A nip in play that wouldn’t even get through the fur of many other dogs would cause a nasty injury to a greyhound. The other thing about greyhounds is that they cannot ever be let off leash unless they are in a completely enclosed area. They are not much good when it comes to recall particularly if they are chasing something. Greyhounds are dominated by their prey drive. This is what makes them such marvelous racers. It also can cause them pursue and try to bite anything they see that is moving. This can make their relations with other dogs difficult. Racing greyhounds wear muzzles when they race and also when they are “turned out” which refers to exercise time and a chance to be out of their kennels. There are different types of muzzles for each occasion.

The history of the greyhound can be traced back approximately 8000 years.  The greyhound’s history is the history of the development of Western civilization. From Egypt to ancient Greece to Rome to Britain and Ireland the greyhound was the hunting dog of the aristocracy. In Tudor England commoners were prohibited from owning greyhounds. This gave rise to another fascinating breed:  “lurchers” which are essentially greyhounds crossed with almost anything else. But that’s another story.  The coat of arms of Henry VIII featured a pair of rampant greyhounds. In America the greyhound is of course famous as a racer. Branigan tells that chapter of the story too. Ireland too has a powerful connection to racing greyhounds. This fascinating book is richly illustrated with reproductions of paintings and many interesting photographs.

As racers born and bred for the track most racers have exhausted their “usefulness” by age 3 or 4 unless they are going to be used for breeding purposes like the famous champion and stud Fifty Sev Chev. You can read about him in Branigan’s history. The rest of these racers were simply put down. A very sad waste indeed. Parallel to the rise of other breed-specific rescue organizations there were formed quite a number of rescues handing only retired racing greyhounds. Some racetracks work closely with rescues facilitating the adoption of these dogs.

Cynthia Branigan’s how-to advice is extremely comprehensive. She allows the reader detailed insights into the life of a racing greyhound. Of course this knowledge is invaluable in terms of managing the integration of an adopted dog into a human family. Her fondness for the breed plus her respect for it informs her writing. She is entirely honest in the matter of evaluating one’s situation as either suitable or not suitable for the adoption of a retired racer. “Adopting the Racing Greyhound” is an invaluable resource.

The third book on greyhounds is from the “For Dummies” series. I read it after I had read Cynthia Branigan’s two books. Some of the information is the same but somehow I preferred Branigan’s books as they are more in depth. In favour of Lee Livingood’s book the format is very practical and it is quite easy to locate material on any given topic quickly. She also includes some amusing cartoons. The author is a reputable trainer  and a specialist in greyhounds. If you like the format of the “For Dummies” series you will probably like this book. If however you are of a more scholarly bent I highly recommend Cynthia Branigan’s books.

If after doing some research you discover that you are one of those people with whom life  with a greyhound would be mutually fulfilling you will have plenty of choice. Estimates place the number of retired racers seeking homes at about 250,000 per year.

Cynthia Branigan’s website
Lee Livingood’s website


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