Fast Times at N.G.A.

I can hear them as soon I open my car door; the barking and rooing (a combination of howling and singing that is the trademark of the breed) can be heard through the walls and carries across the parking lot. I have arrived for my turnout shift at Northern Greyhound Adoptions in St. Albans, Vermont. Walking to the entrance, I pass an iron and wood bench engraved with the name Donald Westover.

Donald and his wife Dorothy founded the kennel in October of 2001. For years, he could be found spending his weekends introducing potential adopters to dogs and answering questions about life with sighthounds. His passion for the breed was evident: his enthusiasm was infectious, and many hounds found homes because Donald went the extra mile to make adopters feel comfortable – about the dogs and the adoption process.

Those who met him remember Donald fondly. He was a big man with a big heart, and he continued to carry the torch for NGA even after being diagnosed with emphysema, often attending adoption events with an oxygen mask in tow. His first priority was always the dogs, that was never in question.

He remained active with the non-profit as much as he could, even as his health deteriorated. He made it a priority to bring a greyhound and a donation bin to a local pet supply store every week. Now that he has passed, his devilish charm, his ‘hound companion, and most importantly his donation jar are absent. NGA is feeling his loss in many ways. They need your help and mine.

I am here to let the ‘hounds out of their kennels, in groups, and by themselves for bathroom breaks. This is one of four daily chances for the retired racers to stretch their long legs and for their mini-apartments to be cleaned. While they frolic in the yard and take care of their doggy business, I check their impromptu dens and change their bedding when necessary.

It’s a busy shift letting the forty-two dogs out and keeping the process steadily moving along. I know how cranky I would be if I was dependent on another being to allow me to go to the bathroom. The number of dogs in need of permanent homes swells at times, to as much as seventy. As tracks close all over the country adoption centers like this one must meet the demand of the increased number adoptable dogs.

This humble kennel in northern Vermont has never turned away a greyhound in need.

I have just added another function to my volunteer service; that of a member of the board of directors. A wise woman I know said everyone should sit on a non-profit board of directors. I am now privy to the financial aspect of the non-profit and often I wish I weren’t. The charity runs on the generosity of others, through donations and the other fundraising endeavors of the operation. The coffers are always low and the kennel seems to run on a month to month basis. Rent, utilities, and vet bills take their toll on the threadbare finances and I wonder if some catastrophe would push the charity to the breaking point. The weekend yard sale that lasts throughout the summer has ended, and the long cold winter approaches. The board has frequent meetings to discuss fund raising strategies in order to survive the cold months. The financial survival of the non-profit is a constant struggle.

I gain strength from the dogs. The mental burden of my role as a board member fades and my excitement rises as I take care of these beautiful animals. My worries and fears diminish as I look into the face of the first greyhound I let out of his apartment. I take a minute to scratch Mallow’s enthusiastic white face. I lean close and say to him, “I missed you, buddy.” He leaps out and runs around the kennel with wild abandon and I have no doubt he missed me too.mallow

Donations can be sent to Northern Greyhound Adoptions, 999 Fairfax Road/Route 104, St. Albans, VT 05478 or online at

Toby goes home.

Image  Hi, my name is Toby. I’m a retired racing greyhound and I lived at Northern Greyhound Adoptions in St. Albans, VT for years. I had a home, but I was surrendered because my owner didn’t have time for me. In the past few years, I have had two families adopt me, but they brought me back because I have “issues”. Evidently me tearing apart the house and barking for hours when left alone is “frowned upon.”

  The kennel isn’t bad. I see many dogs come in and spend months, or even years, there before they pick someone to take them home. It gets loud sometimes, but I’m used to it. There are people that come to the kennel and let us out into the yard for bathroom breaks. Sometimes people come to take us for walks around town.

  I have known this one guy for three years. He comes to the kennel once or twice a week and lets me (and everyone else) out for potty breaks. If it’s hot out; he’s there. Cold out; he’s there. Snow, sleet, hail and lightning don’t stop this guy! He always brings treats, and sometimes I even get a special chewie. He’s a pretty good guy.

  I often thought he’d make a good person to live with, but he already had a dog. I could smell the boy-dog on his clothes. I always thought this dog was very lucky to have such a loving owner. I was content to enjoy our weekly time together.

  Then one day, this guy takes me out of the kennel and into his vehicle. We go to his home and I wonder if I will get to meet Andy (that’s his dog-friend’s name). We arrive and I explore his house. We sit on the couch and eventually go to sleep in his big bed! It’s a dream come true and I wonder when it will end.

  Everyone brings me back eventually.

  I met the two cats that live there. They seem nice, but a bit nervous. Days pass and I don’t see his dog. I smell him everywhere; the couch, the floor, the bed, and all over the yard. Sometimes I see the guy and his face gets all red and water pours out of his eyes. I know he is sad, but there isn’t much I can do. He simply pets me and sometimes he hugs me, and he stops being sad.

  I feel sad sometimes when he leaves. I cry a little, but he has always come back in the past. Even if it takes days, he has always come back. In his house he is only gone a few hours and he leaves the televison on for me. I feel more relaxed than I have in the past. I have yet to tear the place up.

  It’s been a week and he doesn’t seem to be as sad as he was. He did seem upset when I pooped on the rug, but he just laughed, shook his head, and cleaned it up. Maybe he will learn the subtle nuances of the cues that I need to go out.

  He helped me by taking me home with him. I feel good living in his house and sleeping in his bed. As much as I’m glad to be home and that he made my life better, I can’t help but feel like he needed me more than I needed him. Silly, huh?

  Thanks, other-dog, wherever you are. I’ll take care of him until you can see him again. I know I’m finally home.Image

Loss of a friend

  It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of my dog-pal Andy. He lived thirteen and a half years and was active almost until the end. He suffered a sudden onset of cancer in his leg and survived much longer than expected.
  Even when walking was painful, he often insisted on going for a stroll around the block. Most of the time I was unprepared, wearing a t-shirt and shorts in the cold winter air for what I thought was a quick bathroom run. I couldn’t say no to him, so most of the time we went for a very cold (for me) walk.
  It is often customary to talk about the good points of the deceased and my instinct is to say he was a good dog, but that’s not the truth. Like many of God’s creatures, he had his good and bad sides. People often blame the owner for a dog’s bad behaviors and Andy took after me in many ways. He played rough with other animals. Those weaker than him often got unintentionally roughed up. He never backed down from a fight, even when seemingly outmatched and outsized. He was protective to a fault and would bark furiously at everyone who crossed the barrier of his home territory, whether it was prowlers, the mailman, the landlord, a guest, or just a stupid cat. He played rough despite himself. I know he wanted to be friends with Proton. I could tell this by the way he wagged his tail while roughing up the dumb cat. Once, he attacked a skunk and clearly lost the fight. I could tell by the claw marks on his face and the overwhelming odor. He would have killed the skunk despite being squirted right in the face. I never got a thank-you from the skunk for pulling the dog off of it.
  He wasn’t what anyone would call “well-trained”,  but Andy knew some commands, such as “nevermind”, and “game over” when playing tug-of-war. He loved to go for rides in the car and go swimming in the pool. He would always wait for my signal to go in the pool and would obey my orders to “take a break” when doing laps. He even used the ladder to get out, a feat which would delight guests.
  Although we were never certain of his lineage, we were certain of his character. Like me, he was stubborn to a fault. Diagnosing his ailment was very difficult because he refused to show where it hurt. He kept trying to do all his normal activities despite the fact that something was clearly wrong. He was loyal to his friends and those he loved, and sometimes played too rough with potential friends.
  He had a sister at the Humane Society location where we adopted him. They were only three-months old when we went looking for an older dog. My ex-wife fell in love with them as they were behind the front desk when we arrived. The humane society seized the pair from a drug house and suspected they were rottweiler/pit-bull mixes. I think he was actually pit/lab, but that was open for debate. I wish we had adopted his sister, too. We could have named them Luke and Leia. I wonder where her life took her.
  He could be called a foodie, though he was active enough to never have an ounce of fat. He loved to play ball indoors and out, swim, go for walks and play tug of war. He loved all food, including his crunchies, canned doggy food, pizza crusts, cheese, and in his weaker moments fell victim to the urge to sneak a fresh piece of kitty poop- litter and all.
  There are too many memories to share, but some stand out to me. When he was just a puppy, he growled at a pair of earmuffs on the floor of my car. He always barked at thunder, and in later years I realized it wasn’t because he was afraid, he was warning “the pack” of danger as he did when any car pulled into the driveway. More than once I came home to the trash can having been destroyed in the hunt for some tasty tidbit.
  Andy was a good dog and a bad dog. He had personality and even had his own Facebook page (for some reason he had friends that I didn’t even know). He was my first dog. but definitely not my last. There will never be another dog more annoying, vicious, loving, or stupid while simultaneously showing glimpses of brilliance. I just can’t imagine life without that stupid mutt. He was always a rock; he was a stoic figure of constancy during the good and bad times of the past thirteen years. The world will be a little less without my dog-pal Andy Campbell We both love you, you big dummy. I hope you’re barking viciously at the mailman who tries to deliver mail to the pearly gates.
  I write this watching him devour the last rawhide chewie he will ever eat. I hope there’s a God, because I know Andy would be patiently waiting for him to finish his pizza, so he could have the heavenly pizza bones.
  Good dog.