New greyhound rescue group comes to Malibu

The organization’s founders say Malibuites have been exceptionally receptive. Almost 20 ex-racing dogs have found homes in two months.

By Susan Reines/Special to The Malibu Times

The greyhound thunders forward. Fans screaming, “Go, Snow! Go!” glimpse only a whipping tail and ears moving far too quickly to reveal the tattoos inside-the dog’s birthday in his left ear, racing number in his right. The dog seems to thrive on the applause. He hears the paws of his competitor behind him-a stocky Rottweiler, panting so hard her tongue nearly drags on the ground.

Three weeks ago, Snow Chief was on the racetrack in Tucson, but he was placed into early retirement when track officials decided his two-month-old career had passed its prime.

Many greyhounds do not live to see the world outside the track. Snow Chief was one of the lucky ones. He runs when he wants now, showing off for his new Malibu family, including Brigit the Rottweiler, a gorgeous ex-show dog that gazes at Snow Chief like an adoring little sister.

Snow Chief’s life after racing is far from ordinary. Although some tracks work with shelters to place retired greyhounds with families, they rarely come close to placing every dog-and some don’t even try.

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Cliff Samuels and Jennifer Sims arrived at the Tucson track a few weeks ago, loaded as many greyhounds as they could into their van and brought them back to California, where they are being placed into homes in Malibu and surrounding cities.

Snow Chief was rescued, but many like him had to stay behind.

Samuels, who founded Adopt-A-Star Greyhound Rescue this year, described the experience of choosing the few dogs his infant organization could afford to rescue. The greyhounds crowd to the side of their pen when people approach, Samuels said, and look up with big, dark eyes. “Initially it’s a heartbreaker,” he said. “But we resolved it, saying there’s a bigger purpose here, and if we let this get us down emotionally, we won’t get anything done.”

Greyhound racing is legal in 15 states; there are 46 tracks in the country. Racing is illegal in California, but there are tracks in Arizona and Colorado and in Mexico. Samuels and Sims visit these tracks periodically and emerge with as many greyhounds as they can carry.

“At any given track in the U.S. there are probably 60 to 80 dogs waiting to be the lucky one,” Samuels said.

Snow Chief was born in August 2002, and his breeders must have seen racing potential. About 7,000 puppies are killed each year because they do not seem speedy enough.

Having made that cut, Snow Chief probably trained for six months, chasing mechanical lures. He began racing at about one and a half years old. Ninety percent of greyhounds race only three to six months before their careers are truncated, and Snow Chief was no exception.

There have been sensationally grotesque exposés on the racing industry in recent years, including a National Geographic piece that showed dogs starving in their own waste.

But Samuels and Sims say their aim is not to fight racetracks. “We’re not pro-racing or anti-racing,” Samuels said. “We’re pro-greyhound. We don’t want to go against the racing industry. We want to be solution-oriented.”

The couple has placed 17 greyhounds into homes, mostly in Malibu, in the first eight weeks Adopt-a-Star has been operating. They are also working to line up celebrity-greyhound photo shoots in hopes of making greyhound adoption trendy.

Evelyn and Michael Preece, director of “Walker, Texas Ranger” and “7th Heaven,” only meant to keep Snow Chief a few days while Samuels and Sims found a permanent home for him.

But, “he just squeezed my heart,” Evelyn said.

Greyhounds are highly intelligent dogs-but also remarkably docile-and Preece said Snow Chief has had no trouble becoming housetrained even though he lived most of his life in a crate.

The breed also tends to be good with children and other dogs. Preece said Snow Chief and Brigit, have bonded quickly. “I’m starting to see the snuggling up,” she said. “She’s over here and he’s over there, and then their little paws are crossed.”

On a recent sunny afternoon, Snow Chief gently nosed his way around Preece’s living room; then, finding a warm patch of rug, flopped his lanky frame over and fell asleep.

“It’s just a shame he can’t get comfortable here,” Sims joked.

Samuels and Sims are at Pet Headquarters on Cross Creek Road Sundays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and some Saturdays.

The contact number for the greyhound rescue is 310.985.5505 and the Web site is www.adopt-a-star.org.

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