Carl and Beth Robinson dropped to their knees as Daisy romped into the room. They hugged and petted the sleek black greyhound; her whip-like tail wagged in dignified response.
Daisy was among eight racing greyhounds who had just completed a nine-hour rescue run from New Hampshire to Lutherville to begin new lives as family pets.
The lean-bodied dogs, some of whom were still racing only two weeks ago, had faced certain death simply because they could no longer chase a mechanical rabbit around a racetrack fast enough.
Thousands of greyhounds, whose racing careers last from two to four years, are put to death each year -- at less than half their normal life span of 12 to 15 years, according to Ann Tepper of Hinsdale, N.H., who drove the dogs to Maryland.
"We only can save about 10 percent," said Mrs. Tepper, who was accompanied by her husband and son, both named Michael. The Teppers are volunteers in a decade-old, nationwide campaign to save retired greyhounds.
As many as 40,000 to 50,000 greyhounds are put down annually in the United States, said Betty Rosen, whose Lutherville home is one of the Maryland rescue centers.
Sally Allen, president of the Indianapolis-based Racing Greyhounds As Pets, disputed that estimate, saying that from 80,000 to 100,000 greyhounds are killed annually, 80 percent of them by age 2.
There are 52 dog tracks in 19 states, most of them built in the late 1980s as the industry expanded, Ms. Allen said, "and it doesn't take much to figure that they need a lot more than 50,000 dogs."
Ms. Allen also disputed assertions that the animals are put to death humanely. "Very few of these dogs are killed humanely; they're killed as cheaply as possible," she said.
Many dogs are sold to research labs, Ms. Allen said, but others are killed by clubbing and bleach injections. In Western states, greyhounds are released to starve, shot in mass graves or, in some cases, buried alive, she said.
"It's not a pretty picture," Ms. Allen said. "We're the only organization that gets no funds from the industry, so we can tell the truth."
Mrs. Robinson said that she became involved in saving greyhounds after reading about their plight in a magazine.
"I checked with our vet and she encouraged us," said Mrs. Robinson, who already has a Shetland sheepdog at home in Laurel. "But the biggest reason is the need; we couldn't stand what happens to these dogs."
She was still playing kissy-face with Daisy. Her son, Josh, 8, had overcome his initial shyness and joined in the enthusiastic welcome for the new pet.
What makes greyhounds so special, aside from the fact that they will die if they aren't selected as pets?
"They're beautiful; they have big hearts; they're very gentle, clean and intelligent, and they are very human-centered. You become their person," said Judy Leyse, who manages a horse farm in Clarksville, Howard County.
Ms. Leyse teams with Mrs. Rosen as the Maryland connection for the nationwide Greyhound Pets of America rescue movement to save the
dogs for adoption as pets. The movement began in Florida, where greyhound racing is extremely popular.
The eight dogs Mrs. Tepper brought from New Hampshire -- fawn, black, spotted white and the steely-gray color called blue -- were released into Mrs. Rosen's fenced exercise yard. After they ran about to loosen the kinks, the muscles of their powerful haunches rippling beneath their velvety coats, she hosed the dogs down with a gentle spray.
"They got very hot [on the trip] but we couldn't stop. We really moved right along. I broke the speed limits, but I had to get them here," she said.
Mrs. Rosen and Ms. Leyse -- who each own two rescued greyhounds -- said that they have placed more than 900 dogs from Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire tracks in new homes since 1986 and about 90 so far this year.
Their network covers Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, "and we even placed one dog in Missouri," Ms. Leyse said. "There are no tracks here so people around here don't see many greyhounds. They're still a novelty."
For Jessica Best, 8, and brother Jeremy, 6, a black-and-tan brindled bitch named Eyes was their first dog. It was love at first sight, dog and kids all tangled up together.
Their mother, Rene, who operates a day-care center in Jessup, said, "All the children are waiting for her; she's beautiful."
"She's really pretty; I'm going to walk her," Jessica said.
Chris Getshall of Golden Ring lost her 12-year-old Afghan hound a month ago, and her vet -- who had adopted a former racer -- suggested that she get a greyhound as her next dog.
"I've already got a lot invested in this dog and I haven't even seen it yet," Ms. Getshall said, as she waited for Babe, a 3-year-old, blue-and-white male to appear. "I've put a 6-foot fence around my yard and a doggie door goes in this weekend."
When Babe came out, lean and powerful-looking, Ms. Getshall hugged him and crooned, "Oh, you're so pretty." Babe licked his new owner's cheek and sniffed Greg, her 17-month-old son.
Newlyweds Craig and Amy Chrisman of Towson said that they had "talked about getting a dog" and decided on a greyhound after learning about the fate of the dogs when they can no longer race.
When Lightning, a brindled male, was brought out, Mr. Chrisman said, "I can't believe they kill so many of these. He had no more time left; he was going to be killed."
"The trainers keep them a reasonable time, but then they kill them," Mrs. Rosen said. "Only because they can't run fast enough any more."
Mrs. Tepper said that she gets calls from the 16 kennels at Hinsdale Raceway, near her home, when they have dogs to retire. She inspects them and chooses the animals she believes will make good pets.
As a small track, Hinsdale is "the beginning and the end for many dogs," Mrs. Tepper said.
During their racing days, the dogs are well cared for, "but once a dog becomes a loser, he goes," she said.
Their progression is like a baseball player's. Young dogs start their
racing careers at minor-league tracks like Hinsdale. If they win, they run at big-money tracks like those in Florida but then return to a Hinsdale -- and death -- as their speed declines.
Actually, Mrs. Rosen said, "Ann has the worst job. She goes to the tracks and kennels and trainers; they bring out 10 or 15 dogs and she can only take two. She knows the rest are going to be killed."
Mrs. Tepper said that she saved 137 dogs last year and 95 so far this year, placing 15 for adoption last week alone, seven in New Hampshire and the eight in Maryland.
One of the eight, Sweetie, a 2-year-old fawn bitch, actually "made it all the way to the vet, but he called me and said, 'We don't want to kill this dog,' so I took her," Mrs. Tepper said.
Selected dogs are placed in foster homes or kennels until Mrs. Tepper has collected as many as there are requests for adoption. Then she delivers the dogs in a group and the new owners -- who act for all the world like new parents -- come to pick them up.
While dog-racing is year-round, adoptions are slow in the winter, Mrs. Tepper said, which increases the pressure on her.
"I'm not in the killing business, I'm in the living business," she said.
Every dog has a thorough physical examination and inoculations before it is offered for adoption, Mrs. Rosen said. The new owners pay between $100 and $125 -- which she said just covers the operation's costs.
"That's cheap for a wonderful friend, a purebred registered dog," Mrs. Tepper said.
Who to call
Information on adopting retired racing greyhounds is available from the Maryland representatives of Greyhound Pets of America: Judy Leyse 854-0816 or Betty Rose 252-7555.