Living the dog's life in Hiram; couple adopts 2 racing greyhounds

By Jen Hirt Record-Courier staff writer Published:

HIRAM _ Emma and Thisbe have made themselves comfortable on Tina and Paul Dreisbach's living room couches. Their thin legs stick out at odd angles; Emma purposefully rests her head on a cushion, while Thisbe curls against Tina's leg.

For two greyhounds who spent their early years earning their keep on Florida racetracks, the soft couches and fenced backyard of the Dreisbach's Hiram home is a fantastic, foreign world.

And it's a life-saving world too _ Emma and Thisbe were adopted through the National Sighthound Rescue and Adoption agency in Thomasville, Georgia after they finished their racing careers.

A spotlight has been focused on the greyhound, or sighthound, racing industry in the last decade, after animal rights groups discovered numerous unethical practices _ everything from abused racers to hundreds of unsuccessful hounds put to sleep and buried in mass graves.

The Dreisbach's, who used to own whippets, a smaller version of greyhounds, heard about the plight of unwanted racers through a mutual friend who relocated to Florida and ended up working directly with a clinic that rescues the hounds.

"She called us one day and said, 'It's time to get your greyhound,'" said Tina.

Working with the Diane and Ken Linthacum, who operate the National Sighthound Rescue and Adoption Agency, the Dreisbach's met the adoption requirements _ a fenced backyard, suitable indoor living space, and a general agreement to be responsible pet owners.

"You have to be willingly to spend a little money," said Tina, who along with Paul describes herself as "a devoted dog owner."

They met their first greyhound, Sully, in 1995, followed closely by a companion, Emma, in 1996. When Sully died a few months ago, they adopted Thisbe, who arrive via USAir last week.

The cost, even with a plane ticket from Georgia to Ohio, is quite reasonable _ a $150 donation that covers a complete medical check-up, including spaying or neutering, and about $75 for the plane ride.

That's not a bad deal at all, considering that the purebred greyhounds are housebroken, trained to walk obediently on a leash, quiet, friendly, and almost immediately loyal to their new families.

There are, of course, some adjustments to be made from the regiment of a racetrack to carefree retirement. "They've never seen stairs," explained Tina, who had to keep a parenting watch on Thisbe this week. "Once they reach the top, they can panic and try to leap back down."

Windows can be a new experience, as well as kitchen counters. The greyhounds, who are just over two feet tall at the shoulders, often will take food right from the cutting board until their learn otherwise.

"They're always hungry," laughed Tina, passing her hand over Thisbe's barely visible ribs.

At the racetrack, "the trainers are particular about the diet," said Paul, who now feeds Emma and Thisbe four or five cups of food daily. Racers in top form have virtually no body fat. But the retirement life is a little more indulgent. Emma, who is five, has gained enough weight to cover her boney frame.

Tina said that, ideally, a greyhound's ribs should be "felt, not seen." Thisbe, who is only two, is expected to fill-out soon. Greyhounds generally weigh 50 to 80 pounds.

The Dreisbach's can always count on Emma and Thisbe for exercise as well; these former racers require plenty of walking. Living across the street from the Hiram College campus, where the Dreisbach's teach in the music department, gives them access to sidewalks and tree-lined streets. They usually walk their pets four or five times a day.

"These two are very interested in squirrels," said Tina. Racing greyhounds are trained to chase a fake rabbit lure around the track _ a squirrel cavorting across the lawn will inspire the same reaction, one that is almost reflexive after years of racing.

Being raised on sheltered racetracks, the hounds will not think twice about pursuing a squirrel or cat into oncoming traffic, which is the reason for the fenced yard requirement.

"Their upbringing does cause them to be somewhat immature," said Tina, "they might be unworldly, but they are intelligent."

Thisbe, rapidly settling into her new routine, has mastered the stairs, and even mastered joining her adopted parents in bed the other night.

Hunters by nature, Emma and Thisbe can sprint at 45 miles per hour. Tina and Paul sometimes take them on a field trip to a local racehorse farm, where the acres of fenced pasture allow the dogs to really stretch their legs.

Their alternate name, sighthound, comes from the fact that they hunt by sight, not smell. The term greyhound does not refer to their color, but is most likely a mispronunciation of gazehound.

National Sighthound Rescue and Adoption has an estimated 80 hounds ready for adoption each week. They are non-profit, and staffed by volunteers. Inquiries are welcome; the number in Georgia is (912) 226-7632.

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