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The story behind 'Greyhounds'

December 18, 2008 |  5:54 pm


Los Angeles Times film critic Betsy Sharkey has chronicled the adoption of her greyhound, Riley, for L.A. Unleashed. Today she has a different sort of  greyhound tale to share:

Barbara Karant is shameless when it comes to greyhounds, and that’s a very good thing for the rest of us. A professional photographer who usually has architecture, interior design or art in sharp focus, her world changed in 1997 when she got her first dog and her first greyhound, Easton. Although maybe it’s not so surprising that she was drawn to the breed since the architecture of these dogs is the essence of beauty and function, power and grace.

Greyhounds_coverI’d put in a call to Karant to talk about “Greyhounds,” a beautiful new coffee table book that landed on my desk after she read about my attempts to teach Riley, my recently adopted 4-year-old rescued racer, to sit. (She promises that with the help of a little string cheese, we can get there. Progress reports on that to come.)

“Greyhounds” is a collection of her photos of these exquisite creatures -- both her own dogs and many others who have come through rescue organization Greyhounds Only’s doors--along with essays by author Alice Sebold ("The Lovely Bones") and singer-songwriter Neko Case, among others. Most of the proceeds go to help fund greyhound rescue; think of it as a “buy a book, save a dog” project.

Karant didn’t expect to fall in love with greyhounds when she adopted Easton in 1997. But she did, and soon she had three greys, “the perfect number,” she says, with Slim (the book’s coverboy) and Turtledove rounding out the family.

Easton has since passed on and Fancy, who came off the track with a badly broken leg, stepped in to help fill that empty space, though talking about Easton can still bring Karant to tears. “There’s something special about the bond with your first greyhound, I can’t quite explain it....” she says, her voice trailing off. “I started taking photos in 1999 when I wanted to help give Greyhounds Only a continuing revenue stream -- they were totally broke,” she says of the nonprofit she now heads. It is based in Chicago, where Karant lives with her greys in a renovated/expanded 1890s-era grocery store in Bucktown. (For a peek at her house and just how fabulous a space can be even when you’re sharing it with three greyhounds, check out this Chicago Magazine article.)


Karant and the growing circle of greyhound owners she was meeting also wanted to find a way to help their rescue organization stand out in a world where the competition for grants and charitable contributions can be, well, dog eat dog. Her greyhound photos seemed to offer the best answer.

“We put the photos on greeting cards, T-shirts, anything we could think of to help offset the cost of rescue and adoption and enable us to help more dogs.” The group hit a new high this year, placing more than 240 dogs, and its Greyhounds for Obama campaign (he is the hometown guy after all) and a “Get the girls a greyhound” poster with 10 reasons a greyhound would be the perfect First Dog have helped increase interest even more. (My favorite is No. 8: They are the living embodiment of peace and serenity. You can find more info on Hound Blog at http://www.greyhoundsthebook.com/.)

“When I began shooting in '99, I didn’t think I was laying the foundation for a book,” Karant says. But in kicking around different formats for a fundraising book -- initially it was going to be more traditional with stories about greyhounds and rescue efforts -- she discovered a much deeper reservoir of photographs than she had realized.

More than 100 of those photos fill the pages. In frame after frame, Karant catches the greyhound’s distinctive movement, energy and inner stillness against a stark white background -- there is nothing to distract from the elegance and specific lines of each dog.

It’s hard to explain why greyhounds trigger so much passion from those who have them in their lives. Alice Sebold tries to get at that in her introduction to “Greyhounds,” writing, “To live with greyhounds is to live with beauty... They are -- and this is what I think Karant gets just right -- both icon and silly beast. Both athlete and heart’s companion.”

Singer-songwriter Neko Case describes them in later pages this way: “They are the Bob Newhart of dogs. Subtle, smart, and hilarious.” She has two, along with “a pound hound, and several cats.”

When Karant learned that “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling had adopted a greyhound, she tried, unsuccessfully, to get her involved in the “Greyhounds” project. “Can you imagine the impact she could have if she encouraged her readers to adopt a greyhound?” says Karant. “I think they’d stand in traffic if she told them to.”

The book closes with a plea for more homes for these hounds and manages to do so without layering on the guilt, making it easy to enjoy “Greyhounds” simply for art's sake.

Meanwhile, Karant stays in the trenches of greyhound rescue efforts while she runs her business, with the dogs nearby and the office staff now addicted to having them around. When we rang off, she was waiting for a call from the local ABC station, which had promised to try to run a newsflash about a greyhound who gotten away from her new owner. Then Karant was heading over to help handle six newly retired racers that were being trucked up from Florida and due to arrive that night. And there’s another book in the works, but that’s another story....

Photos: Barbara Karant

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