MIAMI, Fla. - A vanload of caged greyhounds anywhere near Pembroke Road and Dixie Highway usually has a predictable destination: Hallandale's Mardis Gras Racetrack and Gaming Center. But in a drenching rain Monday, 14 retired dogs were headed in the other direction, to a land where dog racing is against the law.
Twenty-two hours, 2,500 miles and several 40-minute pit stops later, Tim, Putt Putt, Benny, Dakota, Billy, Amos, Cryer, Sweety, Tango, Radical, Chanel, Dixie, Annie and Nikki, are expected to leap from their converted shuttle bus - festooned with greyhound photos and bearing an "EX RACER" license tag - into the arms of kennel staff at Philadelphia's National Greyhound Adoption Program.
The point of embarkation: Hollydogs Greyhound Adoption, a rescue facility in the shadow of a greyhound race track, started in 1994 by Silvana and Sergio Rizzi-Cortella after they learned that racing-dog owners killed most of the losers and has-beens.
"I wanted to save them all," said Silvana, 47, who soon realized she couldn't. She described the dogs as "very needy and gentle, quiet and clean. They don't have to run and they don't like mud." "You don't even know they're there," said volunteer Karen Hancock of Fort Lauderdale, whose family has three. "We call them 40-mile-per-hour couch potatoes."
GREY2K USA, a national rescue network based in Somerville, Mass., estimates 3,000-8,567 greyhounds are put down a year, the range so vast because several states do not keep adequate public records.
Only eight states still have greyhound tracks, and Florida, with 13, has the most by far. Alabama has three; Iowa and West Virginia each have two; Arizona, Arkansas, Rhode Island, and Texas have one apiece. Since Florida can't absorb all that need homes, the couple started the Greyhounds Going Home program, which sends the dogs to regions where they're in demand because there's no racing industry.
That's usually Pennsylvania, where it's illegal. The Hollydogs can expect to stay at Philadelphia's state-of-the-art National Greyhound Adoption Program for a month, said its director, David Wolf, getting medical attention - including neutering, dental care, personality profiling and "cat testing."
Racing greyhounds chase a mechanical lure that resembles a rabbit, which looks not unlike a cat - to a greyhound. The Philadelphia program's "personality profiling" includes making sure a dog won't chase a prospective adopter's pet feline. Hollydogs has been sending dogs to Philadelphia for years, by air -- which the summer heat and winter cold limited -- or in windowless trailers without air conditioning.
Then they bought the shuttle van, removed most of the seats, and installed 14 wire crates - extra large to accommodate the typical greyhound, which weighs at least 60 pounds. Males can reach 88. There's hardly room for the off-duty driver to catch a nap -- for this trip either volunteers Richard Hancock -- Karen's husband -- and John Gehr of the Falls area in south Miami-Dade.
Wolf planned to send them back with a vanload of donated food, treats and toys. None of the Philadelphia-bound hounds had been at Hollydogs for more than 10 days, but that was long enough for Silvana to get attached. She looked wistful as the van rolled away. "Even though many are destroyed, one saved life makes it worth it," she said.