L.A. Unleashed

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Category: Riley the Greyhound

The story behind 'Greyhounds'

Greyhounds_02

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.)

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Educating Riley (the greyhound) and his master

Riley_mug_shotLos Angeles Times Entertainment Editor Betsy Sharkey has adopted a greyhound, Riley, at right, that used to race at the Caliente Racing Track in Tijuana. She will periodically post updates on his assimilation into her family here on L.A. Unleashed. Today she writes about dog training.

It all started when I began Tivoing NatGeo’s “Dog Whisper With Cesar Millan” and Animal Planet’s “It’s Me or the Dog,” with British trainer-star Victoria Stilwell. The more I watched, the more I realized that I was definitely not the leader of my pack.

If you know anything about dog behavior, making sure you’re the pack leader is critical if you want to enjoy having dogs in your life. The chaos, or the unbalanced pack at my place starts with Max, my English Setter. He spends many hours a day in frenzied activity -- endlessly chasing butterflies and birds in the backyard -- and jumps with boundless energy on anyone who tries to come into the house. And with him at 14 months now, I can no longer blame his bad behavior on puppyhood. Diagnosis: He thinks he’s the pack leader, but is constantly anxious that he hasn’t got everything covered.

Then there is Riley, my greyhound rescue. In the midst of the chaos Max kicks up each day, Riley remains the calm center. But as I’ve watched Riley in the months since I adopted him, I’ve found a few rough edges that -- as I’ve learned from Cesar, who like Cher really only needs one name, and Victoria -- I should quickly get under control.

While Riley is consistently lovely with people, big or small, and eager to snuggle up against all comers, he has started taking serious issue with any dog who barks at him. I discovered this during a recent trip to the dog park after a very nervous daschund went ballistic in his direction and Riley responded in kind.

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Another proposal to ban greyhound racing

Riley_at_homeRegular readers of Unleashed are probably familiar with Riley the greyhound, who is retired from his career as a racer at the Agua Caliente racetrack in Tijuana. He's now living, well, the life of Riley, and Times Entertainment Editor Betsy Sharkey has offered periodic updates on how he's adjusting to life after the track. That's him checking out the pool.

Fans of Riley -- and dogs in general -- might be interested in this news from Massachusetts, where voters will decide whether to ban greyhound racing.

The Associated Press reports that seven states have already outlawed the races : Idaho, Maine, North Carolina, Nevada, Vermont, Virginia and Washington. The AP offers this look at the upcoming election in Massachusetts.

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More background on Riley the greyhound

Los Angeles Times Entertainment Editor Betsy Sharkey is in the process of adopting a greyhound named Riley that used to race at the Caliente track in Tijuana. She periodically posts updates on his assimilation into her family here on L.A. Unleashed.

Reily_and_nelson_the_day_they_were_Adopting a greyhound is a little like getting married. You don't just get a dog -- in my case Riley, my beautiful 4-year-old retired racer -- you get an extended family as well.

And soon after I started writing about my journey to adopt Riley (at left in the photo), the family started checking in. There was Theresa Padilla, who is Greyhound Pets of America-CA's foster coordinator for L.A. and Orange County. She filled in some of the blanks about the day Riley arrived from Mexico: "I was processing the dogs the day Monty (a.k.a. Riley) came off the track," she wrote. "When we saw Monty both Beverly (my adoption coordinator) and I were quite taken with him. When I was assigning dogs to the fosters I asked Beverly if she had someone in mind for Monty and she said yes. So I swapped him out for the dog I had originally assigned to Beverly for fostering. I truly believe everything happens for a reason."

So my first gift from the family was courtesy of Theresa, who just had a feeling about Riley's future.

Then there was the note from Carey Theil, who's the executive director of a national greyhound protection group, Grey2K-USA , based in Massachusetts. Because of Grey2K's efforts there is a remarkable amount of documentation available on greys who race in the state.

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Riley the greyhound enjoys the superstar life

Los Angeles Times Entertainment Editor Betsy Sharkey is in the process of adopting a greyhound named Riley that used to race at the Caliente racing track in Tijuana. She periodically posts updates on his assimilation into her family here on L.A. Unleashed.

Beautiful_markings I've been lucky when it comes to my canine companions; they've all been the sorts of dogs that draw attention. Rosie, my Neapolitan mastiff, was 128 pounds of silver sheen, a wonderfully wrinkled face and soulful green eyes. She moved with a fluid grace that was more lion than dog and never lived a moment of her 12 years under the radar.

My English setter puppy Max, with a big black patch over his left eye and the personality of a renegade pirate to match, has been attracting crowds since the day in November when he landed at LAX straight from Havelock Setters in North Dakota when he was 2 months old.

But Riley? Well, he's just turning out to be superstar material. All greyhounds are blessed with beautiful lines -- deep chests that sweep up into an amazingly trim body, sleek heads that look aerodynamically perfect, ears that are as expressive as their eyes, slender prancing legs and a tail that makes a long graceful "J" to cap it all off.

Even there, Riley is extraordinary -- at certain angles he looks like a pen-and-ink drawing, with precise rivers of black coursing through an underlying palette of reddish brown. But it's more than that. Riley has presence.

When people come up to him, and they do in droves, it's as if he radiates a sort of magnanimity that just encircles them, draws them in. They don't talk to him exactly -- they talk about him, around him, in reverent tones.

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A brief history of Riley the greyhound

Los Angeles Times Entertainment Editor Betsy Sharkey is in the process of adopting a greyhound named Riley that used to race at the Caliente racing track in Tijuana. She periodically posts updates on his assimilation into her family here on L.A. Unleashed. Today she writes about Riley's racing stats.

Riley_can_stand_2His racing name was Collegiate. His dad, Craigie Whistler, was a one-time derby champion. In a course 5/16th of a mile, Collegiate's fastest win was 30.78 seconds.

How does that rank in the world of racing greys? According to D. Caroline Coile's book, "Greyhounds: A Complete Pet Owner's Manual," one of the record setters was Be My Bubba, who ran 5/16 of a mile in 29.33 seconds, but the book's a decade old so I'm sure that number is dated.

These days Collegiate, the 4-year-old greyhound I recently adopted, is living life as Riley and the fastest move he makes is to the bowl at feeding time.

In his racing life, Riley was a Class A racer, the top of the sport's A to D rating system. He raced 73 times, won 6, and came in 2nd place in another 14.

Thus far, Riley's dad, Craigie Whistler, has sired 4,504 pups; 457 have run in major races.

Despite his handful of wins, Riley didn't make it into the best of the litters list. Ironically, the dog among Craigie's offspring with the most wins is one named Will Ferrell. I kid you not.

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Riley the greyhound experiences sibling rivalry

Los Angeles Times Entertainment Editor Betsy Sharkey is in the process of adopting a greyhound named Riley that used to race at the Caliente racing track in Tijuana. She will periodically post updates on his assimilation into her family here on L.A. Unleashed. Today she writes about sibling rivalry.

Riley_the_greyhound_and_max_take_2Score one for the greyhound. Max, my English setter puppy, who for the first five months of his life with me was an only dog, has gone from thrilled -- "It's a dog! I love dogs! Pant, pant, pant," to uncertain -- "You mean he's going to stay?" -- as we head into Week Two of life with Riley, the 4-year-old retired racing greyhound I adopted from Greyhound Pets of America.

Here's how the day unfolds. Alarm clock goes off at 6 a.m. Max, unfortunately goes off about 5:45, and that means he's walked over and occasionally on top of a snoozing Riley and bounced onto the bed, all smiles, kisses and dog breath. I'm desperately fending off the attention. Meanwhile Riley, who I'm convinced studied with Gandhi, is largely unfazed.

Max bounds, bounces, boings, basically spending as much time as he can airborne. Riley unfolds -- slowly and with great grace. He could be a yoga instructor, his downward-facing dog is a masterpiece in perfect lines.

To keep the peace (I'm following Riley's lead here) and order in the pack, Max gets the first round of ear scratches, fur ruffles and toy-tugging time. Riley hangs back for a few minutes before walking over to say good morning. And that's when it begins.

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Riley the greyhound digs 'American Idol'

Los Angeles Times Entertainment Editor Betsy Sharkey is in the process of adopting a greyhound named Riley that used to race at the Caliente Racing Track in Tijuana. She will periodically post updates on his assimilation into her family here on L.A. Unleashed. Today she writes about how Riley's personality is starting to emerge.

Rileys_favorite_positionI think in another life Riley must have been a cat burglar, or a spy, or maybe he's more spirit than flesh and bone. All I know is that at 73 pounds and climbing, he can slip into a room without making a sound. You just suddenly feel him there.

In the week since I brought home Riley, the 4-year-old greyhound I adopted through Greyhound Pets of America, he's eased into our days and nights as soundlessly, as softly as a cloud. No thunder or lightning with this one.

It's an amazing thing to see his personality emerging as he adjusts to life beyond the regimen of the track with its endless hours in a crate, broken up by little more than feeding, exercise, training, and a race on occasion.

At a nearby dog park the other day, Riley tried out his legs -- probably the first time he's run just for the fun of it since he was a puppy. Seeing a greyhound running, for the sheer joy of it, is truly poetry in motion.

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Betsy brings Riley the greyhound home

Riley_mug_shotLos Angeles Times Entertainment Editor Betsy Sharkey is in the process of adopting a greyhound, Riley, at right, that used to race at the Caliente Racing Track in Tijuana. She will periodically post updates on his assimilation into her family here on L.A. Unleashed. Today she writes about bringing Riley home.

Riley: The real world. This is where the fantasy stops. Riley's coming home.

It was one of those precision military affairs. I would pick him up Friday afternoon at 1:30 so that by the time I got back to the house, the gardeners would be gone -- critical since the backyard was the first stop he would need to make to begin learning the rules of the house, and more specifically, what you couldn't do in the house. Besides, I didn't want him to enter his new life to the sound of leaf blowers.

I'm not sure what I expected, but it was a pretty quick transfer. His paperwork, racing stats, a flannel blanket Beverly had made for him, a new toy, a toothbrushing demo, an info packet that included Greyhound 101, all the basics you need to know about your retired racer, and a greyhound rescue decal for the car.

All were handed over while Riley nuzzled up against me and Max raced and tumbled around with Beverly's dogs. Within minutes, she was on her way to an emergency pickup of the next greyhound she would foster and I was on my way to life with Riley.

One thing Max absolutely excels at is getting into the car, so despite a dozen distractions, he hopped in like perfection. Riley loves car rides, but is not so keen on the getting in part -- a dog treat and some pleading finally convinced him. Soon we were home and suddenly I was faced with the prospect of getting two dogs from the car into the house.

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Betsy meets Monty the greyhound -- soon to be renamed Riley

Los Angeles Times Entertainment Editor Betsy Sharkey is in the process of adopting a greyhound, Riley, at right, that used to race at the Caliente Racing Track in Tijuana. She will periodically post updates on his assimilation into her family here on L.A. Unleashed. Today she writes about meeting Riley.

Riley_on_adoption_day "I think I've found the perfect dog for you." It was Beverly from Greyhound Pets of America calling about another greyhound for me to consider adopting.

It had been about a week since the wrenching meeting with Bobby, the wily white and red greyhound that I had walked away from. Just too much energy to combine with my English Setter puppy, Max. Perfect was good. But still I hesitated.

After Bobby, I'd decided to hold off any adoption until Max finished another 5 weeks of puppy obedience school. At 8, this grey, Beverly assured me, was much much calmer than Bobby. We could meet at her house then drive over to La Habra Heights, where this dog was in foster care.

And so, late on a Sunday afternoon, I started the journey to find my perfect greyhound again. I hadn't even asked the dog's name -- not a good sign.

As Max and I pulled up to the house, Beverly walked into the front yard with a handsome red and black brindle greyhound who'd just come from the track the day before. Greyhound rescue groups call it "Retirement Day," and they turn it into a celebration of dog washes and naming and placing the new greyhounds into foster homes. Beverly had taken this one.

All the GPA greyhounds who retired on April 19 from Caliente were named in some way after "The Simpsons." This beautiful boy was dubbed Monty, I'm guessing he was named after the classic "Monty Can't Buy Me Love" episode. At least that's the "Simpsons" memory it conjured up for me...

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