Connecting Hounds and Homes: Q&A with Martina Hughes
The mornings are just starting to get cold, Martina sits on the bench in the dog park as her greyhounds run around in their brightly coloured pyjamas. Sisters Dolly, who is deaf, and Rosie, who pretends to be when she doesn’t want to do something, started their lives as racing dogs are now retired and have settled nicely into their new roles as beloved pets.
Four years ago, Martina Hughes founded Greyhound Connections, an organisation dedicated to finding the best homes for retired greyhounds. The organisation can often be found at dog-friendly outings across Canberra, educating the public about the racing industry and this unique breed.
Q: How did Greyhound Connections get started?
A: When I adopted my first greyhound in 2015, I just fell in love. Sadie was possibly the best dog in the entire world and I thought everybody needs to have this experience, everybody needs to have a greyhound. Have all of the other breeds as well but every house should have a greyhound.
When the ban in NSW was announced in 2016 I thought, “what’s going to happen with all of the dogs?” so I approached the Canberra Greyhound Racing Club and asked them what they were going to do about it. They said they really need a re-homing program because the industry run adoption program didn’t include the ACT. They also had one office at that time in Sydney, so really far for any of the dogs here to travel. Their guidelines (which have since changed) for testing dogs behaviour were quite strict so not all dogs would get through and I didn’t like that, so I went okay I can do something about this. It started with a Facebook page, I thought I will just connect people who want a greyhound with the people that have the greyhounds. Then about two months later the Canberra club approached me and went you’re doing really well we’ve got $15,000 from Tabcorp that we want to give to you guys to help pay for the vet bills and the desexing. I went and organised the legal documentation and it went from there. In 2018 greyhound connections became its own independent charity. I’ve got a board of people, who adopted greyhounds through me, I’ve seen their talent and just gone right you’re my friend and you’re going to go on this journey with me. It’s just has grown and grown.
Q: Do you think the fact that you don’t say that you are rescuing the greyhounds helps your relationship with the greyhound industry?
A: Absolutely, it took a long time to gain the trust of the trainers and the breeders. Some of them had experiences where they had passed dogs over to people and then saw pictures on social media or heard through different ways that the dogs came in terrible condition and that they were beaten or terrorised. There is good and bad in every place but there are a lot of the trainers that treat their dogs really well, and the people who know their dogs went in really good health it was really offensive to them. We say the dogs are re-homed but some of the dogs we get are rescued and we have no problem saying that. We will tell the truth about where the dogs come from and their background.
Q: What’s the process for someone wanting to foster a greyhound?
A: Our process has changed as we’ve grown, when we first started I would speak to someone on the phone or meet them and work out that they are a decent person and then go from there. Since then we have a foster application form on our website, we have somebody within our community go out and meet the people, check out their yard. They take a greyhound to the persons house, so they see how the person interacts with the greyhound or if they have a dog, how that goes. It just a bit of sussing each other and making sure that it’s safe and also making sure that the family is going to be able to communicate with us because the idea of fostering is to get to understand the dog better. We ask the trainers if the dog can stay with them or will they need a bit of extra help fitting into pet life. Most of them are really good and will take the dog into their own house and get them ready for pet life, some of them cant for various reasons; lots of kids or cats, etc and that’s okay. Then we rely on the foster family to tell us about the dog. Having the dog introduced to mirrors, having the dogs seeing themselves for the first time is so funny and so confusing for them. Having the dog listen to the fridge noises in the house and the TV and going for walks and seeing lots of other breeds of dogs, we need the foster family to tell us all of that. Then the foster family is involved in the re-homing, we get them to take the dog to meet the potential family and we want them to have a part of ownership in that dog’s re-homing.
Q: How do you go about matching a person to a dog?
A: This is the best fun in the world. We get the trainers because they know the dogs best to tell us about each of the dog’s personality and what sort of home they think would suit them best. A lot of our dogs will go straight from the trainer to the adoptive people and we have the trainer/breeder/owner connected with that person so that they can help get that dog settled into their pet life. The same thing goes with people we get them to tell us about their routines, their lifestyle, who lives in their house, what sort of dog personality they want, and then its a bit of a match up. The three of us in the adoption team have our list and we put them together and we do a meet and greet and see how they go and were pretty good, I reckon we could be on that show perfect match. It’s an amazing feeling when you get that great match and you can watch the dog falling in love with the people and the people falling in love with the dog, it’s amazing.
• UPDATE • : ON HOLD – AWAITING TRIALMeet Dolly and Molly! Dolly and Molly have so much love to give the…
Q: Are there many that don’t find their perfect match?
A: There’s probably 5 out of 100, that’s because we understand the dog’s personality and limitations and are honest about what the dogs will and won’t do. We expect most people are honest with us as well. There have been other situations, we have a beautiful girl named Frieda we have re-homed her now four times, and each time it has not been to do with her. The first home the people were elderly and they both became very sick and couldn’t look after her. The second family had another baby and she just didn’t cope with the lack of attention, it was always something that was not her fault and she’s the easiest, most beautiful dog. We have a policy now that if for any reason the dog can’t live with their family that they come back to us and so we look after the dog throughout its entire life. Freida now lives in Melbourne in an apartment and she is such a city girl she goes out for brunch and cappuccinos. She is living the life.
Q: How many have you adopted?
A: Myself, I had my first two girls they passed away and now I have these two girls. I’ve had probably 50- 70 foster dogs in the last 4 years and I found I can manage my two and a foster dog easily, my two and two foster dogs but my two and three foster dogs gets a little bit difficult. Its a lot of leashes when you’re out walking and its a lot of poop. I have now enforced my own limit on myself, four dogs maximum. However in January during the fires we had people evacuated and I had nine greyhounds in my house with two other families, in a tiny two-bedroom townhouse but because they are greyhounds and they have one burst of energy and then sleep for seventeen hours it was fine. It was just a lot of bodies to step over.
Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about greyhounds?
A: That they need lots of exercise. I think people are getting to know more about greyhounds, but we’ve had people apply and say that they like to do trail running for kilometres and we were like this is not the dog for you.
The removal of the muzzle law has been a big shift in getting people to understand that these dogs are not vicious and it’s a really good thing to have that conversation with people. To explain that greyhounds have really thin skin and its to protect them when they are playing, Lots of dogs will play and nip at each other and another type of dog breed would not rip their skin as easily as greyhounds.
Q.The greyhounds seem to love attention, what types of events do you take them to?
A: Last year was our first year at the Canberra Show we were voted the best exhibit in the farmyard nursery and we were invited back this year. It’s a huge three days but the dogs love the attention. We go to a Pooch Affair and various dogs day out. We have canine and cocktails events through the Social Dog Company, who doesn’t love cocktails and greyhounds. Last year we ran a trivia night which was a sell-out and so much fun. We’ve done painting in the pub classes where you got to paint a picture of your own dog and we had some greyhounds there just wandering around trying to eat the paint, that was really fun. Basically any event, if we can bring a greyhound we will do it.
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Q: What is the hardest part of running this organisation?
A: The hardest part is when they pass away. Sometimes they have accidents, or they get sick, when I first started I didn’t consider that all these greyhounds we re-homed in 2016 were around 2/3 years old and after a couple passed away I thought in 10 years time these dogs are going to be at the end of their life. I fall in love with every dog I re-home and we are just going to have a whole lot of dogs passing away, that wasn’t a great feeling. It’s an honour that when a dog is sick or when there is an accident, the people who have adopted them call myself or the other girls on the adoption team and we’re often asked to be there at the vet while the dog passes away. Which is really hard but it’s such an honour to do that, to be there, and to support them. I really wanted to create a community and that’s what we have done.
Q: What do you want for the future of Greyhound connections?
A: I want to keep growing our team, we have such amazing people who volunteer and help in so many different ways. Some people collect pillow pets from Vinnies and the Salvos so every dog that we re-home has their own pillow pet and for some reason, every greyhound loves pillow pets. We have people that sew the jackets, every greyhound that we re-home has their own double fleece jacket. We have people that foster, we have an events coordinator, a fundraising coordinator, our adoption team and the more people that come on board the more amazing it is and I just love it. I want to keep growing our team to share the greyhound love and keep helping these gorgeous dogs find homes.