Service and Therapy Dogs
After retiring from racing, most greyhounds go on to be pets. Others go back to the farm for breeding and a select few who show certain traits become service dogs.
A small number of programs exist to train these greyhounds for placement with veterans who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, MS, traumatic brain injury, other health issues, and those needing mobile assistance.
Please consider making a donation to Awesome Greyhound Adoption’s Hounds and Heroes program.
Blazin Firestorm, a Veteran’s Service Dog
by Joee Kam, copyright 2015
About a year and a half ago a picture came through my feed on Facebook that caught my eye. It was of a veteran with his greyhound service dog. Greyhound service dog? I was familiar with labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and German shepherds as service dogs, but greyhounds?
When I adopted my first greyhound in 2004, her retirement consisted of lying around sleeping, going for walks and car rides, digging ginormous holes in 30 seconds, making dirt tracks in my yard, and launching stuffies into the air. I knew many retirees enjoyed lure coursing and amateur racing, but it never occurred to me that they would make good service dogs.
I wanted to learn more about how the veteran and his dog came together. I stalked the Awesome Greyhound Adoptions’ Facebook page and website for more photos and stories about how the veterans’ lives were changed by their partners. I found the bond between them so touching.
Somewhere along the line, probably between the myriad of questions I asked, I friended Barbara Masi, President of Awesome Greyhound Adoptions; her group partners with the Hounds and Heroes program. Since 2011 the program has trained greyhounds as service dogs for veterans with PTSD, or who need mobile assistance, and give them to the veterans. There is no charge to the veterans for their service dog companions. This specialized training can take between four to six months; then an additional two months of training specifically with the veteran and the hand-picked greyhound.
The latest retiree to become a service dog is Stormy, registered name Blazin Firestorm. Stormy was whelped on September 6, 2010 and raised with his six siblings on a ranch in Arizona. His first official start was on February 5, 2012 at Palm Beach and retired winning his last race at Derby Lane on November 3, 2014. Although it looks like he raced for two and three quarter years, after lengthy rests in 2012, 2013, and 2014, it was actually only about 18 months.
I was familiar with the name of his owner/breeder, Judi Boulton, so I got in touch with her to learn more about how he became a service dog. She explained: “I raised and trained Stormy and his littermates. He had a full race career with his trainer, John Farmer. I saw Barbara Masi’s group on Facebook so I PMed her. I was convinced that the way I train” my dogs “is cohesive with the way Barbara” has them trained. “I convinced her” to take him into the Hounds and Heroes program. He was born for this job!”
Judi pictured with Stormy with permissison from Regina Melendez.
Barbara normally likes the dogs to be young and feisty when they enter the program; Stormy was four. He’s a “very smart dog so he was easy to train” added Judi. “John, Stormy’s trainer, said the same. He was very smart and raced smart.” When asked about his personality Judi answered, he’s “happy and can be calm and collected; loyal Velcro-like! Aren’t they all? He has a proud demeanor.”
Judi also mentioned that John was very excited to send Stormy to Barbara to train for his next career. A trip to “Florida a month or so after he started as a Service Dog in Training” showed Judi that “Stormy was already in Service Dog mode”. At lunch he left the food alone even though it was “an inch from his face!” He didn’t jump on her either. Judi was proud of the dog she had raised. “It is the best thing I’ve had the honor to be a part of” she told me.
Nelson pictured with Stormy with permission from Regina Melendez.
Stormy was later tested with Nelson Melendez, an Army veteran, and they bonded immediately. With the permission of Nelson’s wife, Regina, we’re sharing her heartwarming letter to Judi:
“I’ve been staring at my phone crying, trying to think of what to say. I can’t possibly put into words how unbelievably thankful I am. In the past two months I have slowly watched my husband evolve back into the confident, independent man that I married. This amazing dog hasn’t just changed my husband’s life, but our entire family. I have not gone any where without my husband in over four years.
My husband was a tanker in the army. He was one of the first men to be sent to Iraq after 9/11 and was in an active war zone for over a year and a half. It is heart breaking to watch such a strong, selfless man come back from war broken. Most people will never understand the battles that he faces daily.
Nelson pictured with permission from Regina Melendez.
For the past several years he has only occasionally gone out into public for fear of crowds or something startling him. He has missed out on birthday parties, school functions, and numerous events that he would have normally loved.
I have looked for years for an organization who trained service dogs. We live in Port St. Lucie Florida, about an hour and a half north of West Palm Beach. There isn’t any in our area. Another vet gave me Barbara’s number; she said she would like to meet Nelson the following day at the mall. It took every bit of bribery I had to convince Nelson to go to a mall, but he did! From the moment Barbara handed him the leash you could see a noticeable difference in his demeanor. It was the first time I had ever seen him be able to sit and just hold a conversation in public. I cried the whole way home.
He didn’t walk with him the first day but hey, he was in a mall! The next time we went we walked into the mall as usual and sat with Barbara and Carolee” Ellison, the Hounds and Heroes head trainer, “in the food court. I was talking with Barbara and out of nowhere I heard Nelson say ” Stormy, let’s go!” He walked off all by himself with Stormy glued to his side. I burst into tears!
As long as I live I will never be able to forget that moment! Something like this might seem so simple to someone else, but I saw my strong, brave husband take back his freedom; I could go on and on all day!
I just want you to truly understand how much you have blessed us with Stormy. You have given my family the ultimate gift and from the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you”!
The Melendez’s keep in regular contact with Judi giving her updates and sending her pictures. They’ve become family, bonded by this extraordinary greyhound. Recently, they also adopted Stormy’s sister, Blazin’ Fireball (Mama) to add to their pack.
Judi made another trip to visit Stormy and his new family in November 2015. While on the job it took every ounce of training for him not to jump up and down when he saw her. He only responded with his ears. When they got to the Melendez’s home it was a completely different story! He was happy to see her and was wild with excitement.
Sharing Stormy’s story and experiences with everyone is important to Judi. She has created a Facebook page dedicated to him, “Blazin Firestorm, a Veteran’s Service Dog”. Check out his page and follow his adventures with the Melendez family. He’s already been to Sea World and was a judge for a JROTC regional drill competition.
Nelson pictured with Stormy with permission from Regina Melendez.
Greyhounds as service dogs is yet another example of their versatility in retirement. These highly trainable hounds can do almost anything.
New Service Dogs in Training
The new dogs have not yet been assigned a veteran. Stormy, Dutch and Sonny are just starting their training and another dog will be added when the right candidate comes along. Check them out here.
Barbara Masi, President and founder of Awesome Greyhound Adoptions explains: There is no charge to our veterans for their service dogs. It’s the purpose of the organization. Awesome Greyhound Adoptions Hounds and Heroes program DONATE the fully trained service dogs to the veterans. They are funded entirely through donations from individuals, businesses and the community. We accept donations through the web site from other parts of the country as well.
The training for a service dog is six months. The first four months are with the trainer and the dog alone. Two months with the trainer and the dog and veteran. This provides everyone the opportunity to see if during that time the veteran and the dog were not a good fit. We would re-evaluate and continue the search for that veteran’s perfect service dog. Ongoing training is also available at any time.
Service Dogs “in training” at the Mall
When the veteran is going to be sitting for a long period of time they are taught the “down” command and then “relax”. This means they turn on their side and totally relax. It gives them the signal that they have time to get in a good rest before the veteran will need them again.
Thanks to Awesome Greyhound Adoptions for the picture and information.
Missile and Sonic are Working Dogs
In retirement, Missile and Sonic work with their owner, Barbara Masi, in the Palm Beach Sheriff Office’s Animal Kindness unit. They go to schools, summer camps and events and all over the state advocating animal kindness and anti-bullying. The trio are out in the community three or four days a week promoting the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office program, but are also showing people what kind and wonderful animals greyhounds are.
Thanks for your ongoing endeavors Barbara, Missile and Sonic!
Karl and Hero
Greyhound Facts’ note: Hero’s registered NGA name is Kiowa Jenko John
Providing Hounds For Nation’s Heroes
by Jennifer Shapiro-Sacks Special Correspondent
Carolee Ellison is active with Awesome Greyhound Adoptions – Sun Sentinel
Name: Carolee Ellison
Residence: Lake Worth
Birthplace: Hackensack, N.J.
Family: Husband, Dave Ellison; son, Bren Ellison, 12
Career: Veterinary assisting teacher at South Tech Academy
Organization: Awesome Greyhound Adoptions is a Boynton Beach-based nonprofit, no-kill group that finds homes for retired racing greyhounds. The Hounds and Heroes Program helps place the dogs as pets, therapy dogs or fully trained service dogs for veterans.
How long have you been volunteering there?
About six months.
Why do you volunteer?
I am able to combine my love for dog training with my respect and gratitude to our veterans to benefit everyone.
Why did you choose this organization?
I have known Barbara Masi, the founder, for eight years. She is very knowledgeable about greyhounds, as well as organizations that help others. Anything she is involved in, I want to help as well.
Describe your volunteer role.
I foster and train the greyhounds to service the veteran’s individual needs.
What are your goals when you volunteer?
To have every moment be a learning experience — whether I am specifically training a command or having the dogs experience life as a service dog.
What challenges have you faced?
Greyhounds are unlike other breeds I have trained. They are very unique in how they process things and what they need to be taught. Coming off of the racetrack, they need to learn basic procedures — walking on a leash, how to climb/descend stairs, etc. It is a challenge but makes each dog unique and interesting.
What does your organization need?
Money. Being a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization, we are always in need of funds. However, we also need people to foster the greyhounds until they can be put into the training program (or adopted out if they are not chosen for Hounds & Heroes). We would also like to get the word out that this organization is available to veterans that need a service dog. Greyhounds are especially suited since they are a larger dog (for mobility assistance) and very mellow.
Is there a moment that stands out that made you think, “This is why I volunteer?”
There was a veteran that had mobility problems as well as PTSD. He had been in the Vietnam War, was a lawyer, a priest, worked with the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office and had a regal bearing to him. The first time he saw his service dog, he became like a child — his mouth dropped open, and he (carefully and painfully) lowered himself to the floor to be able to connect with “his” dog. After a few moments of happy introductions, he got very still, laid his hands on the dog and just absorbed the peace from him. That was the first (of many) moments that I said, “This is why.”
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I am so very grateful for everyone who is touched by this program: myself, my family and my students are instrumental in training the dogs; the veterans, without whose sacrifice we wouldn’t be able to enjoy our freedom; the fosters, program volunteers, etc. who help keep this vital service available to help others; and the public — their interest and excitement about the program is infectious and helps to remind me that there are people who still care in this world.For more information, visit Awesomegreyhoundadoptions.org or call 561-737-1941.
Greyhound Facts’ note: The three dogs pictured in this article are littermates. Rocky’s registered NGA name is PJ Shake It, Buddy is PJ Tree Shaker and Buff’ is PJ Shake and Bake.