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Sighthound statue

“The greyhound has a long and distinguished association with Ireland and played a major role in the life of the early Celts,” writes Marion Fitzgibbon of Limerick Animal Welfare. “The hound of the Celt accompanied his master to battle and fought at his side. He was his faithful companion known as the Cu Dilish in Gaelic. After battle, the Celtic greyhound shared the victory feast and invariably shared his master's bed.”

In stark contrast, today Irish greyhounds are “treated as disposable commodities,” she adds. They lack the usual protections afforded to household pets because this particular breed is classified as commercial livestock. (See The Irish Times, “When Is a Dog Not a Dog?”

Master McGrath and owner

The advent of Irish greyhound racing in the late 1800s, its popular growth into the 1900s, and the economics of breeding and betting changed the popular perception and treatment of the breed dramatically. But by far the biggest reason there is such a great need for rehoming Irish greyhounds abroad is the sheer volume of dogs bred each year. Ireland is home to more than 15 active greyhound racing venues. It is estimated that over 2000 greyhound litters are bred there each year, resulting in about 15,000 greyhound puppies annually, in a country that is comparable in size and population to the state of South Carolina. Even if greyhounds were popular as pets in Ireland, which they are not, such numbers could not be absorbed.  As a result, far too many Irish greyhounds are disposed of, sold off, or simply discarded when they are no longer commercially useful. It is a desperate situation for local rescue groups, which do their best but can only find good homes for a small percentage of the dogs that need them. While the Irish public is slowly gaining appreciation for the greyhound's potential as a wonderful family pet, rescue groups still rely heavily on overseas adoptions.

Irish rescue and rehoming groups work tirelessly to place as many greyhounds as they can locally, within the UK, and other European countries. But there are just not enough homes available for the Irish greyhounds in need. While in the US  there are waiting lists of potential adopters wanting a greyhound, the shelters in Ireland have waiting lists of owners who have dogs they want to be rid of. If shelter space is not available in time, unwanted greyhounds end up dumped in pounds, sold down to countries with poor to nonexistent welfare standards (such as China, Pakistan, and Spain), or worse. 

This year Greyhound Friends, Inc. has developed a close partnership with MADRA (Mutts Anonymous Dog Rescue and Adoption) in Ireland. So far GFMA have completed four transports of Irish greyhounds in collaboration with Greyhound Rescue of New England, which places some of the arrivals as well.

Irish Greyhounds

A few of the Irish Greyhounds who came to Greyhound Friends this year:  clockwise from top left, Kuro, Biba, Cormac, Callum, Feidhlim, Beanie, Kenji, Koala (now Kassie).  Many thanks to the supporters and volunteers who made these transports possible.

It takes a lot of work logistically to make a transport happen. There are many regulatory and health requirements that need to be met, US customs and international travel requirements, and even custom-built crates required by the airline.       

To minimize risk for the dogs, they are acclimated to their travel crates far in advance of their transport dates.  Careful planning and follow-through are critical for a transport to succeed.  Although there are costs involved in transporting dogs from overseas, especially during the pandemic, there are also offsetting savings. For example, dogs coming in from US tracks need substantial vetting, which typically includes spay/neuter surgery, dentals, and often extended treatment for resistant hookworms that are becoming endemic in the US racing population. But Irish dogs come in fully vetted and ready to go home.  

Each Irish greyhound coming to the US frees up a shelter or foster home spot in Ireland, for one more dog to be saved there. MADRA’s Eileen Toomey wrote, “Yes indeed, as soon as [a transport of three] leave there are three more greyhounds ready to take their place and come off the ever-increasing waiting list. Thank you all soooo much.”  

GFMA is so grateful for the generous support of our donors who have made these life-saving transports possible.


 (c) 2021 Greyhound Friends, Inc., published in and used with permission.

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Another US group that has transported quite a few Irish greyhounds is Friends of Retired Greyhounds in Colorado. Share where your group has gotten their dogs in the comments below. 

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