By Gina Kurtz
“The mission is the dogs and nothing more.”
This is the motto of Keystone Greyhounds, a Harrisburg nonprofit organization dedicated to finding homes for retired racing greyhounds.
On a 25 degree evening in late January, the truth behind the motto stands on full display. Six excited families and several frantic volunteers gather at Keystone’s Harrisburg headquarters, anxiously awaiting the arrival of six recently retired greyhounds, all dubbed with a variety of unique names meant to stand out on a racing form: Rico’s Azeri, WW Tea Time, Country Darling, CTW Road Ninja, AMW SharpShooter and Dark Army. Care packages and words of encouragement make their way around the room. Newly expecting foster families nervously ask last-minute questions about feedings and pills. The excitement is palpable.
Evenings such as this one have been occurring nearly once a month since the inception of the Keystone Greyhounds in April 2004. The group’s president, Dianne Shadle, explains, “At that point, there were five of us. …We met in my house, all chipped in, gave what we could and came up with a couple hundred dollars and a lot of enthusiasm.”
In just about 10 years, Keystone Greyhounds has grown to an organization of approximately 300 members spread throughout nine satellites, a board of directors of 10 and nearly 800 successfully adopted dogs. “We are just a huge organization of volunteers, and everyone does what they can, and it works beautifully,” Shadle says.
Kelly Hartman is one such volunteer. She gives her time as the organization’s photographer. Over the years, she and her husband have fostered 11 greyhounds, adopting two. “It’s a great experience, watching them learn. It’s rewarding when they click with you and with the experience, when they realize they don’t have to be in a kennel anymore. It’s been a life-changing event for us.”
Greyhound racing has been a part of American culture since the 1900s, when the breed was first introduced to the American West from England in order to ease the over-abundant jackrabbit population.
Shadle explains, “What happened was one or two greyhound owners got together, and when you have something that goes fast, somebody is always going to say, ‘Well, mine goes faster.’ And the racing started that way, very informally among farmers.”
Now, a century later, when a greyhound “grades off” from the track and is no longer winning, they go to one of the nearly 350 adoption groups spread across North America and then are adopted out.
“We get the dogs and put them in foster homes because we don’t feel it’s best to put a dog directly from the track into a home,” says Shadle. The greyhounds arrive spayed and neutered, with current inoculations and complete medical records. Fostering requires no money. “The foster parents are given food, Frontline, heartworm medicine, anything they need. They take the foster dogs home with them and follow a set procedure that we ask them to do to teach the dogs to be adoptable.”
The amount of time the greyhounds stay with their foster families differs.
“The dog can stay there for as little as two days or two weeks,” Shadle says. “We’ve even had one or two take a couple months. But basically, they’re in the foster home until they learn how to climb stairs and not to eat off counters, and then they’re out of the foster home.”
Keystone Greyhounds prides itself on taking dogs that other organizations won’t, such as “high prey greyhounds” (those with a tendency to chase after smaller animals), senior dogs and dogs with broken bones.
“We take them all, and what we find is that through education, it makes no difference; they all get adopted.”
Education is important to Shadle, who has worked hard to set her organization apart by offering pre-adoption home visits and post-adoption follow-ups. “People appreciate that because there are groups that give you a dog and say, ‘Have a good life!’ And no matter what the breed is, there are going to be some problems. Having adopted 800 dogs, I always say, ‘Trust me, I’ve seen the problem before – we’ll help you get through it.’”
Shadle would like to see Keystone’s senior program take off in the coming years. For senior dogs (eight years or older), the group does not charge the standard adoption fee, and also covers any significant vet bills that might occur, post-adoption. “We have been very successful, and we really pride ourselves on that. But I would like to see even more senior adoptions as well as an increase in volunteers. We can always use more volunteers, especially foster parents.”
In Harrisburg, the Krull family is just one that has stepped in to help. The family of four will be temporarily opening their home to CTW Road Ninja, as they help prepare him for adoption.
“We don’t want to take on the extra expense of another dog right now, but we can do this,” says Gayle Krull. “We can love a dog – that doesn’t cost us any money.” As she speaks, her 12-year-old daughter Hannah rocks back and forth on her feet, nearly bursting with excitement about helping foster the greyhound. An aspiring dog-walker, Hannah explains, “I like greyhounds because they’re almost as big as horses!”
Shadle believes that resiliency sets the greyhound breed apart. “They’ve gone from living on a training farm to living in a racing kennel to going to a house, and they do it with ease. And they’re very well-socialized because they’re handled by professional dog-handlers all their lives, so they’re easy to be around. To me, the beauty of them is their quiet, loving demeanor. …And when they’re running, it’s unbelievable,” she gushes.
Finally, the moment arrives, having been delayed due to a morning snowstorm, which hit as the dogs were leaving their former home at the Wheeling, W. Va. race track. As the dogs bound from the back of the van, Shadle’s praise rings true. These dogs aren’t phased in the least by the below-freezing temperatures or the crowd of people trying to wrangle them for adoption photos.
Everyone pauses for a moment to take in the beauty of six greyhounds silently leaping and bounding through Shadle’s backyard. The only sound is the crunch of paws meeting the week-old snow.
“It’s just amazing when they come in,” Shadle says. “It’s the best part of what we do.”
For more information on Keystone Greyhounds, please visit keystonegreys.org.