A new ‘leash’ on life
Photo: Kaitlyn, Jessica and Steve Kosior play with their adopted Greyhound, Carl, at their home in Elburn. Photo by Patti Wilk
‘Hot Shot’ Carl finds a home after running 108 races in 2 years
by Susan O’Neill
Sugar Grove—“Hot Shot” Carl was fast—really fast. The sleek greyhound ran in 108 races at the Kenosha, Wis., race track during the two years he lived at Dairyland Greyhound Park, one of the eight racing kennels near the track. He came in first in 15 races, second in 24 of them, and third in 21 more.
“That means that about 60 percent of the time, he was in the money,” said Kari Swanson, Director of Midwest Greyhound Adoption.
That success led Carl to race twice a day during his time at Dairyland, typically running at speeds of 45 miles per hour. When he wasn’t racing, he spent much of the rest of the time in his crate.
When the Kenosha track closed at the end of 2009, Carl’s trainer considered having him continue to race at a track in Florida. At the time, Swanson was at Dairyland to pick up a vanload of dogs as part of her organization’s rescue program. She had room for one more, and when she came back into the building to pick up another dog, she heard a loud thumping from the back of the kennel.
It turned out to be Carl’s tail thumping against the side of his crate.
“He didn’t have the energy to lift his head, but every time we said his name, he wagged his tail,” Swanson said.
She was able to convince Carl’s trainer to let her take him home, where she would find him a good home.
Despite many stories similar to Carl’s, Swanson said she is not against greyhound racing in general.
“The public perception is that greyhound racing is terrible, but there are good trainers,” she said. “But whenever you combine money and animals, somebody’s going to be a loser, and it’s usually the animal.”
Broken legs are a frequent occupational hazard for greyhound racers. In the 20 years that Swanson has been rescuing them, her organization has paid for surgery for more than 800 dogs with broken legs.
According to information on the MGA website, as recently as 20 years ago, greyhounds were simply euthanized when they were no longer fit to race. Now, thanks to people like Swanson and others, the dogs can have a second chance on life.
When Swanson created Midwest Greyhound Adoption 20 years ago, it was a cottage industry based out of her home on Bliss Road in Sugar Grove. Currently, it is a shelter with indoor and covered outdoor runs, heated floors and a capacity for 12 dogs.
Hundreds of volunteers give their time to the organization. Some come regularly to clean and take care of the dogs. Some raise money for the operation by providing hound-sitting services, while others sew dog blankets and collars to sell in the store. Some drive the vans, some make phone calls, and others put together the newsletter.
“Everybody does what their strengths allow,” Swanson said.
Since the tracks in Wisconsin closed down, Swanson said they focus their rescue efforts on the southern states, such as Alabama and Florida.
There are 20 volunteer foster homes throughout the western suburbs that take the dogs into their homes when they are first rescued. Because the dogs have lived in kennels all their lives, a brief stay in a foster home allows them to get used to living in a house, and socializes them to people and a normal routine.
The first priority is potty training, and learning to walk on different surfaces. Stairs are a major hurdle for many of the dogs, as they’ve never seen them before, foster home volunteer Debbie Dombrowski said.
“They also have to learn what the boundaries are, what the rules are,” she said. “It’s like adopting a teenager. They need lots of love and attention to help them become good, confident dogs, but they learn fast and they have good memories.”
Today, Carl could be said to be a lucky dog. He lives in a house in Elburn with Joanne and Steve Kosior and their daughters, 13-year-old Kaitlyn and 9-year-old Jessica. In addition to the girls, his canine playmates are Misty, a black lab mix, and Nika, a Siberian Huskie.
“The kids adore him,” Joanne said. “He became an instant part of our family.”
Although the Kosiors have always had dogs, Steve said that greyhounds are different from any other dog they’ve had.
“They’ve got big eyes that look right through you,” he said. “They’re really sweet.”
Steve said that Carl is very laid back.
“Because they were sprinters, they run really hard for a few minutes and then they’re done,” he said. “Carl runs a couple times a day and then he’s content to lay around.”
From his padded dog mattress, Carl heard his name and began thumping his tail.