IT’S no wonder the British aristocracy wanted the breed all to itself. In the Middle Ages only the nobility was allowed to own greyhounds. Any “commoner” found in possession of one faced a severe penalty.
Admittedly it was the prowess of the greyhound as a hunter that first attracted the blue bloods but they were also taken with humility, generosity, grace and kindness of one of the oldest and undoubtedly the noblest of canine breeds.
Those traits are still powerful today as I found out when spending three days travelling across Europe with nine ex-racing dogs, heading for new homes found for them by Greyhound Adoption Czech Republic.
GACR is led by Ladislav Lacina, whose home, which doubles at the headquarters of the organisation, is at Probostov, near Teplice in the north-west of the Czech Republic, close to the border with Germany.
Every year for the last seven years GACR has found homes for as many as 30-40 ex-racers from the UK as a result of an arrangement brokered by Ivor Stocker, a former CEO of the Retired Greyhound Trust, who retired in 2011 after 10 years at the helm.
During his tenure Stocker did more than any CEO of the RGT to raise an awareness of the suitability of ex-racers to become domestic pets. In addition to alliances such as that with GACR he is responsible for creating both the Great Greyhound Gathering and Greyhound Extravaganza – both of which increase in popularity year on year.
But back to our trip last month, which took in parts of France, Belgium Holland, and what seems to be most of Germany, before we arrived in Probostov. We leave on a Thursday morning and arrive at around midday on the Saturday. We stop overnight in Holland and Germany on the way.
It’s the fourth time I have made the journey. Martina Sullivan, my wife, and Nigel Woods are my travelling companions. Martina and I go as volunteers purely to help Nigel exercise, feed and generally take care of the dogs on the 800-mile trip.
Each excursion is meticulously planned by Nigel. He selects the dogs, who are then homed by GACR. To comply with EU travel regulations each dog must be vaccinated and have a Pet Passport created in his or her name. Other paperwork, such as that which pertains to the Inter-Union Trade agreement, is completed by RGT head office in Surrey.
The dogs are not the only ones that must have the relevant paperwork. Nigel has an Animal & Plant Health Licence – Type Two, and his van is kitted out with cages that provide inhabitants with ample room to relax and turn around. The van is full air-conditioned.
So with our nine greyhound passengers on board, we hit the road. Our first stop is Folkestone where we board the Euro Shuttle, and 35 minutes later we arrive at Calais.
The ferry used to be the preferred choice for getting to the other side of the English Channel until a couple of years ago when the ferry companies decided to put a restriction on the number of animals allowed in any vehicle to just one.
To be honest having experienced both modes of transport, the Euro Shuttle wins hands down for me. It’s quicker and far more convenient.
We drive into Belgium for our first stopping point. The dogs get off one by one. They enjoy the chance to stretch their legs, take in some of the local scenery and do whatever they must do to make the next part of the journey more comfortable.
Our first overnight stop is at the Dutch town of Veldhoven, close to Eindhoven. Here again the dogs are out for a long walk in the evening air, after which they are fed and walked again before settling down for the night in the van.
It never ceases to amaze me how well behaved greyhounds are. Perhaps it is that they are used to being handled but they are so trusting and comfortable with whoever puts a lead on them. They build friendships quickly and are incredibly loyal.
On every trip you find yourself falling for one dog in particular. And for me this time it was Ted. Belgrave Ted to give his proper name. A rumbustious brindle who has an urge to do everything in a hurry and with as much force as is possible. A fine lad, nevertheless, who won a race at Drumbo Park before spending almost all his career in the grades at Peterborough. Great on a lead and a pleasure to be around.
There were other characters on board, too. Litter sisters Papoose and Aintshecute who raced mostly at Yarmouth, Mildenhall and Harlow for Ann Kirby, mother of Adam, that cracking flat jockey and Goal Hager, an unusual blue with white flecks. They are all great to be honest.
Our second overnight stop was at Leipzig. Again, the dogs settle so well. Nigel rugs them up and uses the Hidez Compression Suit on some. He finds the suits work well on greyhounds that travel badly and don’t settle well.
The next morning we set off on the final leg of the journey – over the German-Czech border and onto Probostov.
As usual, Ladislav is waiting at the gates of his home. Video camera in hand, he follows the van as we drive into the compound, where those that are about to adopt our precious cargo wait, and others that we have travelled over with in the past have been brought along to say hello.
Duchess, a dark brindled bitch who travelled over last September, is there with her owner Simona Cudlmanova. Duchess, who is now known as Mango, looks a picture and has clearly settled in well. Having spent time working in Australia, Simona speaks excellent English and translates for Ladislav.
Each dog is welcomed by its new owners as it is carefully lifted off the van by Nigel. Each dog comes with a “starter pack” consisting of a lead and collar, muzzle and a coat from the RGT.
The dogs are handed over once the Czech veterinary surgeon verifies the paperwork is in order. All that remains is for GACR to complete its paperwork and the dogs are official the property of their new owners.
Nigel Is always relieved when it comes to handing them over. He said: “I must admit to being extremely happy when we finally get to the Czech Republic.
“I’m aware of my responsibility to look after the dogs en route and to deliver them safe and sound. Ladislav and his people here are always well organised and they look after the dogs so well.
“The biggest buzz is seeing the dogs that we have brought over on previous trips happy and looking so well with their new owners. It’s very satisfying to know you have helped them find a permanent home for their retirement.”
Assignment complete, we head off back to the UK. Once home Nigel will begin to make plans for the next batch at some time in the summer. And a who new chapter begins to take shape.