“They’re off and racing” says the starter as the gun fires, loudly enough to make anyone turn and run the other way. Jack jumps off with a leap and bounds after everyone else. Bill, Jack’s trainer, is impressed with the start. Jack is in the middle of the pack – not losing, not winning. “Come on you lazy bugger”, Bill yells with the crowd. “C’mon, I need you to do this one for me”. As they turn the second bend, one of the runners in front of Jack falls, Bill thinks it might be Bruce, and all the dogs behind trip over him. Jack can’t stop in time and is flung high in the air. His long legs and tail are flailing and as he hits the ground Bill hears the crack.
“Bugger, not another one”. Bill looks for Jack’s owner, but he’s already walking away, heading for his SUV.
Bill called his handlers over to help him cart Jack away to the vet in the kennel complex. Once certified dead, Jack’s carcass is discarded with the others who were also injured in other races at the meet and are too injured to be repaired, or for whom their owners were not willing to dish out the vet bills.
Bruce is brought in to be inspected by the vet. Miraculously his injuries are relatively minor and he is taken back to Bill’s scruffy kennels to recover.
Bill is tired from the emotion of the day and just wants to relax, have a beer and wish he was somewhere else. But he knows he has to tend to Bruce, as well as all the others.
He summons up enough energy to throw them a few scoops of food. “Settle down you mad buggers”, he yells unkindly to the dogs who are jumping and whizzing around, having not had any contact or attention for over twenty four hours, while Bill was busy getting Jack, Bruce and Roger ready for today’s meet. Overall a pretty disastrous day, he mumbles to himself. Jack, the most promising, gone. Bruce injured and future uncertain. Roger, well, no hope for him.
Bill didn’t want to think anymore more about the dogs today. He’d had enough of them – hopeless bloody things, eating him out of house and home. He decided to deal with them in the morning and retired to his old, draughty house. He didn’t think of it as a home, though he’d lived in it his whole life; a home should be warm and comfortable, and full of country cooking. None of these things exist here, and hadn’t since his dear Mum had departed for, he hoped, a better life over fifteen years ago.
The day after the disappointments dawned cold and menacingly gloomy. As usual, Bill rose early and began his chores. His bones ached with the cold and his fingers were numb while he scooped food into the clanking buckets.
He did the rounds. One fewer to feed today he realised. Jack’s pen was strangely bare; perhaps Bill did have a bit of a soft spot for the young fella after all. He’d have to ring the owner today and chase the outstanding monies owing for Jack’s training. With yesterday’s result though, he doubts he’ll see any of that. He’d give the pen a bit of a clean later in the day and fill it with another hopeful.
By mid morning the essentials were done and Bill went into his old shipping container office to do some paperwork. He wasn’t good at this part as he’d left school as soon as was allowed so he could help his Dad with the dogs. He didn’t realise there’d be forms to fill and ledgers to balance. It was always a struggle for him and there was no way he could use a computer so all the bits of paper were haphazardly filed in piles on his desk. He had to find the phone number for Bruce and Roger’s owner. He’d have the conversation with him about yesterday. What did he want to do with the dogs? He knew the answer – it would be the same as usual – “I don’t want them, get rid of them”. Although Bill knew there was no point in keeping dogs around who weren’t going to make anyone any money, he didn’t like the thought of getting rid of them. Sometimes he’d given them to another trainer who said he’d deal with them for him. Bill didn’t ask what the other trainer did with them, but he had a fair idea and although he didn’t like it, it was a cheap option so he just let it go.
But perhaps Bill was getting a bit soft in his older years. He felt there had to be a better way of getting rid of the dogs who had been mildly injured while racing, like Bruce, or who weren’t the slightest bit interested in running, like Roger. He knew they were nice dogs really and surely they could have a life after racing.
Bill had the predictable conversation with Roger and Bruce’s owner who said he’d pay their food bill for one month only and then it was up to Bill to ‘deal with them’. His predicament gnawed at Bill for a few days – get rid of them the ‘usual’ way, or try to find another solution. He mulled it over and over – he really was keen to find a better way of dealing with these dogs when their racing days were over, or once it was clear they had no interest in the chase. There was no point in them languishing in his pens, costing him and the owners money. They were still only young dogs so had many years of life ahead of them.
The trainer had a flash of brilliance! He knew of a lady in town who helped injured wildlife – maybe she might know what he could do. He found her number in the local directory under the piles of old contracts, long out of date and no longer relevant.
Bill summoned the courage and called her, but he wasn’t sure what kind of reception he would receive. She was reticent at first when Bill told her he was a trainer. But as he explained his dilemma he could feel her softening. She told him she would look into it and get back to him.
Two days passed and Bill began to think she had fobbed him off, just being nice to get him off the phone. When he felt, reluctantly, that he was going to have to go down the old route, he received a call from a young woman called Marina. She said she ran a greyhound rescue group and would be interested to meet with him and see the dogs he needed to get out of his kennels.
Bill agreed to meet with Marina the next weekend. She arrived, confident and compassionate. Bill didn’t often spend time in the company of women so was anxious, and he stammered in her presence. She quickly put him at ease and explained what she did. He would have to officially surrender Bruce and Roger to her, in the name of the rescue group, and she would find foster homes for the boys. Once they had spent some time in a home environment, they would be adopted out to a forever home and live their life on a couch in a warm house.
It sounded like the perfect solution to his problems. He thought of all the other dogs he’d be able to bring through his kennels now that he knew there was a way to re-home them afterwards.
Marina returned the following weekend, got Bill to fill in the relevant paperwork, and took Bruce and Roger to the city with her. They were wide-eyed and nervous in the car, but settled quickly.
Marina took Bruce and Roger home for the night to rest and have a gentle play with her special greyhound puppy Joe. They were inquisitive about all the things in the house – the mirrors, glass doors, stairs (oh heavens how would they manage those!) and seemed surprised when they were each given their own bowl of food. At the end of an anxious day, after experiencing a whole new world of sights, smells and kindness, they slept soundly on a soft mattress at the end of Marina’s bed. In the morning she put out her usual call for assistance from the amazing network of foster carers who were involved with the rescue group. Mary said she had space for the boys to stay with her for a while until they knew how to live as a pet.
Mary taught Bruce and Roger what kind words sounded like, and showed them a gentle hand , stroking their heads at night, while they lay on the couch beside her. They soon learnt how comfortable a double bed was and enjoyed being snug and warm in their fleecy jumpers. Mary watched their personalities develop and their dirty, woolly kennel coats give way to sleek and shiny ones. She knew it wouldn’t be long before the boys were doing zoomies in the backyard and would be ready to make a lucky family very happy in having two such beautiful, gentle and kind dogs in their life.
Marina was nearly out her doorway on her way to work a couple of weeks later when the phone rang. She hesitated, but felt she should answer it. “Hi, it’s Bill. I have two more needing homes, can you take them?”