Claudia Presto realizes some people might think she's crazy to have given up a high-paying job in Connecticut to move to a small town in Utah and dedicate her life to unwanted racing dogs. But she doesn't much care what people think.
She's happy, and so are her greyhounds. And that's all that really matters.
Presto is one of hundreds of volunteers nationwide who take retired racers, foster them and find them new homes. Before greyhound rescue became a national movement, the lives of most of the sweet, soft-eyed dogs ended pretty much when their racing careers did. The lucky ones were euthanized humanely; others got a bullet behind the ear, or were sold to biomedical laboratories.
Although some greyhounds still meet such fates, an increasing number end up as pets. Presto alone places 20 to 40 dogs a year through her one-person nonprofit organization, the Greyhound Gang. Every life saved confirms her belief she did the right thing -- and the clean air and handsome view outside her home don't hurt, either.
"I turned 40 in corporate America, and I didn't want to be there anymore," she says, sitting cross-legged in a plastic chair outside her home, her stylishly short-cropped hair still hinting of the jobs she once had. "I finally raised my hand and said, 'Size me down.'"
She was already involved in greyhound rescue before she left her job, and knew she wanted to do more for the dogs she'd come to love. She and an ex-racer named Slim traveled the country in a 16-foot trailer, trying places on for size, until she came to Kanab, a small town in the middle of some of the world's most spectacular scenery: the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks.
"I just fell in love with the place," she said. She settled in and started rescuing, housing her own dogs and her fosters in her small house on a couple of acres beneath the red-rock mountains that ring the town. "I left Connecticut because I wanted freedom. Freedom and land to rescue greyhounds."
That was six years ago. She incorporated as a nonprofit four years ago, although her charity still draws $4,000 to $7,000 a year out of her own pocket. "There are many like me paying for the care of these rescued dogs," she says, with a hint of anger toward the industry that produces the dogs, "and that's money those who breed and race the dogs should be spending."
The greyhounds snooze in the sun while she talks, their calmness contrasting with her energy. There are five dogs now, up to six at any given time -- two permanent, the rest fosters. Presto gets her dogs from a group in Tucson that takes them off the track, or one in Colorado that takes the dogs who never make it that far. She has recently started to specialize in hard-to-place dogs, older dogs, or dogs who need some time to realize their potential as pets. Some of them stay for months or more.
She spends a great deal of time in Las Vegas, more than three hours away, sitting at a table in a pet store to educate people about the dogs and turn up a home or two. Add to that the seven-hour trips to pick up new dogs, and Presto seems to be spending a lot of time on the road.
It's hard work, especially when you consider she still has to make a living, which she's done in the past through part-time consulting work. But there's no turning back.
Not even for the small town of Kanab, which is preparing for Presto's second Greyhound Gathering next May 12-14, a celebration of the dogs that will include a parade, a 10K run and plenty of shopping. The inaugural event drew 150 people and their dogs, and Presto's expecting an even better turnout this year.
Crazy? Maybe so. But seeing how happy the dogs are, and how happy Presto is because of what she does on their behalf, makes a pretty strong argument that she's not so crazy after all.
PETS ON THE WEB
The Greyhound Gang's Web site (www.greyhoundgang.com) offers a lot of solid information about adopting and living with these wonderful dogs. The site also offers links to other "greyt" sites, information on the upcoming Greyhound Gathering, and even a place to buy T-shirts and other gear, with proceeds going to the Greyhound Gang's rescue and placement program. Presto can also be reached at P.O. Box 274, Kanab, UT 84741.
If you dislike covering your house with pesticides but dislike pests even more, then this tidbit is for you. Best Friends magazine, a bimonthly publication put out by the nonprofit Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, reports that catnip is a natural deterrent to such pests as roaches, mice, spiders, flies and crickets. The magazine didn't cite a source for the information, and who knows if the strategy works or not. But if you have cats who go nuts for catnip (not all cats do), you could sure have some fun experimenting.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: My mother-in-law has a garden at her lake house that she tends only on the weekends when they stay there. During the week, the deer have a field day munching on the tomatoes, beans and flowers.
Whenever I visit with my two double-coated Siberian huskies, I always groom them before we leave for home to cut down on the hair flying around in the car and because they've been in the water all weekend. One day after doing this, I was about to put four grocery bags full of husky hair in the trash, when my mother-in-law stopped me.
She said that she could spread the husky hair around her garden while she was away and that the dog smell coming from it would keep away the deer. Pretty clever, I thought. -- A.C., Atlanta
A: If it works, it is. To be honest, my friends who garden in the foothills near my home swear there is nothing on earth that will keep a determined deer from dinner. They've tried most everything, including -- and I'm not making this up -- marking the perimeter of the garden with human urine. Some things work for a while, and some don't work at all. But it doesn't hurt to try, does it?
Yours wasn't the only letter in reaction to my comments a few weeks ago on using dog fur for sweaters. One person wondered if the combings from a long-haired cat would work as well, and another asked how one would possibly clean the fur of dirt and fleas.
The problem with the cat would be one of volume. No cat ever born could compete with the shedding of a big dog like a Siberian. If you're patient (or have a lot of cats) you'll eventually end up with enough long, silky hair at least for a scarf. I discovered from another reader that the fur of long-haired bunnies makes a nice yarn, too.
As for cleaning fur of dirt and parasites, have you ever seen what sheep look like (and smell like) after they've been in the field for a while, before they're sheared? Seems as if everything comes out in the wash!
Q: I really need your advice on how to help my dog survive the fireworks over this New Year's holiday. I got some tranquilizers from the veterinarian a few years ago, but hated to see my pet struggle and stagger around. I cut down the dosage last year, but she still was very upset.
Should I go back to the full dosage? Is there only one type or brand of tranquilizer available? -- C.V., via e-mail
A: Talk to your veterinarian about your dog's reaction, and ask about the dosage or alternative medications. A referral to a behaviorist can also help, since such a professional can help you set up a program to desensitize your pet to loud noises.
Pet owners sometimes make matters worse with frightened dogs by trying to reassure them. The proper response to your dog's fear is to "jolly her along" and encourage confident behavior. When you pet and soothe your dog when she shows fear, what you're really doing is rewarding her behavior and making matters worse.
Sometimes the best you can do is provide your pet with a small, safe area indoors where she can't hurt herself, and mask the outside revelry as best you can with the radio.
Talk to your vet about all the options and experiment with what strategy, or combination, will work for your dog.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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