By Todd Cohen
OAK RIDGE, N.C. — What began eight years ago as the North Carolina satellite office of a Massachusetts group dedicated to saving retired greyhound racers has grown into an independent rescue agency with 18 satellite offices of its own in six other states.
Now, Greyhound Friends of North Carolina is raising money to refurbish and expand its main office and kennels in Oak Ridge northeast of Greensboro, and to continue spreading its message about the need to adopt retired greyhounds as pets so they won’t be destroyed.
“We have to educate the community,” says Kevin Bottomley, associate executive director of the Greensboro Central YMCA and chairman of the rescue agency’s capital campaign to raise $200,000. “And we want to have it safe for the dogs.”
Adoption will save roughly half of the estimated 40,000 greyhounds that were retired last year from racing at 48 tracks in 15 states, says Randy Barrow, founder and executive director of Greyhound Friends of North Carolina.
The movement that began in the early 1990s to rescue greyhounds has sharply reduced the number of dogs that are raced – and destroyed after being retired.
In 1980, by comparison, 80,000 dogs were retired — only 3,500 of which were adopted.
“There has been a dramatic reduction in breeding and death because of greater focus on adoption and public education,” Barrow says.
He launched the Oak Ridge group in October 1993 as a satellite of Greyhound Friends in Hopkinton, Mass., after adopting a greyhound as a running partner three years earlier.
In June 1994, facing growing demand, he formed an independent group and moved it to property leased year to year from Karen and Gary Arnold of Oak Ridge.
Two years ago, the group launched a fundraising campaign to buy its own property. But when the Arnolds this year offered a 15-year lease – at roughly half the cost of buying property – the campaign was shifted to pay for overhauling and enlarging the facilities.
The shelter’s 45 chain-link kennels, for example, will be replaced with up to 60 high-tech kennels of plastic and stainless steel that will be safer and more sanitary, and will last longer, Barrow says.
The group’s main office and 18 satellite programs in California, Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and West Virginia expect to find homes for up to 600 dogs this year, up from 500 for each of the past four years.
Greyhounds, an ancient breed, typically are raced for one year starting at 18 months old. They are retired when two to four years old, and live until they are 13 to 15.
Greyhound Friends, which has a no-kill policy, is one of 180 greyhound adoption groups in the United States. It charges $275 for adoption, including medical exams and shots.
It also offers education programs at schools and civic groups, and will hold an open house Oct. 6 and 7 from noon to 6 p.m.