LOSERS AT THE TRACK, WINNERS IN THE HOME Greyhounds saved as family pets


If it weren't for people like Kevin and Pat Tumminello, Ceile would be dead now, executed for being too slow to cross the finish line behind a mechanical rabbit.

Ceile -- the word is Irish for "companion" -- is getting accustomed to a new life with Mr. and Mrs. Tumminello; son Ian, 5; daughter Sara, 3; and Shannon, 13, a mixed Irish setter-golden retriever who is senior dog in the Patapsco-area household.

For Ceile, it was love at first sight.

Mr. Tumminello brought her home from the National Greyhound Adoption Program kennel in Philadelphia one month ago.

"As soon as she saw the kids, her tail went crazy," Mrs. Tumminello says. "It was like, 'Oh, a family!' "

The 2-year-old black greyhound was bred to race, but because of the relatively young age at which her owners discarded her, Mrs. Tumminello suspects that the dog was never fast enough to make it to a pari-mutuel track.

Ceile was one of the lucky ones. She was rescued by NGAP, one of several national organizations dedicated to finding homes for greyhounds whose racing careers are over. Some associations, like NGAP, are advocacy groups. Others, like Greyhound Pets of America, place greyhounds but take a neutral stance on racing industry practices.

Racing Greyhounds As Pets, an Indianapolis-based advocacy and home-finding organization, estimates that 80,000 to 100,000 racing greyhounds are put to death each year.

David G. Wolf, NGAP's executive director, says that dogs who don't make the grade are killed, "the way you'd toss away a cigarette."

Racing kennel operators kill dogs the cheapest way, not necessarily the most humane way, Mr. Wolf says. Greyhounds have been found clubbed to death in Arizona. In Mexico, dogs that don't win are electrocuted, he says.

Mr. Wolf spends part of each year lobbying the Florida legislature for more humane treatment of racing greyhounds. He succeeded in getting a law passed in 1992 to require that kennel owners use lethal injections.

What led the Tumminello family to Ceile was an NGAP poster in the office of Shannon's veterinarian. Mr. and Mrs. Tumminello had been talking about getting another dog because Shannon had begun developing health problems, and they knew she wouldn't be around forever.

"We didn't want the whole puppy thing," Mrs. Tumminello says. The Tumminellos saw some greyhounds at a booth sponsored by a local adoption group at a Reisterstown festival, and they were impressed that the dogs were quiet and friendly.

The couple filled out an NGAP application form and submitted references.

Mr. Wolf obtains dogs for adoption from racing kennels in Florida. He says the people who give him greyhounds know their industry may be battling him in the legislature, but they love dogs, too. They know he'll find good homes for the dogs.

The NGAP charges a $150 adoption fee. Each dog comes with an adoption package -- food, heartworm medicine, collar, identification tag, leash, flea and tick spray and powder, and a T-shirt that says "No Excuse, Adopt A Greyhound" or "Let A Greyhound Race Into Your Heart."

Mr. Wolf says the package is worth about $110. He gets corporate donations for most of the items, puts in an eight-hour day at NGAP but draws no salary, and relies on volunteers to help out. He and his wife provide a home for two greyhounds as permanent residents and up to five others that stay until they find new owners.

Mr. Wolf prefers that new owners pick up their dogs at the kennel in Philadelphia, where they will have been checked by a veterinarian, bathed and wormed. When that is impractical, the dogs are flown by USAir under a rate he negotiated with the airline.

In the basement playroom, Mrs. Tumminello strokes Ceile and marvels at how soft her fur is. She had expected coarser hair like a Doberman's.

She had also expected a few rug accidents. Racing greyhounds are trained not to relieve themselves in the kennel, but Mrs. Tumminello wasn't sure how long it would take for Ceile to figure out that the house is now her kennel. Luckily, the dog understood right away.

Ceile had so much to learn about her new life.

She learned to play ball with a tennis ball and tug of war with a sock. She was amazed by leaves blowing across the lawn and astounded by a grasshopper. Her first approach to stairs was to hop down the steps until she was close enough to leap to the bottom.

Mrs. Tumminello laughs when people ask if Ceile's a watchdog.

"Sure, she'll watch anything," she replies. Greyhounds don't bark often and generally lack a watchdog's temperament.

Ceile's a lover, not a fighter. When the dog plays with Ian and Sara, Mrs. Tumminello says, "You can just see her smile."

Information: National Greyhound Adoption Program, 1-(800) 348-2517

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