Karyn Zoldan sat down with Buddy, a Tucson adopted greyhound who recently received his assistance dog status. Here’s what Buddy had to say:
KZ: How old are you?
BUDDY: I am 6 1/2 years old. Almost 7.
KZ: How old were you when left the track life?
BUDDY: I was 4 1/2 years old when I came off the Phoenix track. I ran 177 races. I am pretty competitive and a winner. I sort of have a jock attitude.
KZ: What’s your astrological sign?
BUDDY: I am a Leo. My family is very important to me even my cat, Barney. I do like the good life…which includes Starbucks whipped cream and orthopedic beds and, of course, I love getting a lot of attention.
KZ: What is your official service dog title?
BUDDY: I am known as an “Assistance Dog.”
KZ: How long did it take to get your new dog status?
BUDDY: It took me 1 1/2 years to complete my service dog training. In the process, I also took and passed the test for the AKC Canine Good Citizen.
KZ: Was it in stages like a karate black belt?
BUDDY: Yes, I progressed through the stages as I accomplished tasks. At each stage, there is a test. When I earned my red in-training vest, I graduated to the usual weekly class plus a one-on-one class in a public area such as the mall, a store, a restaurant.
BUDDY: Diana took me out to practice at least three times a week. I got to know Park Place pretty well, I was always greeted at Safeway but the library was my favorite place because we would take my rug in and I could take a doggie nap. Of course, Starbucks was always on the list to visit. The negative of the red vest is I stopped hearing the click for good behavior and getting treats.
KZ: Who was your handler? What is she like to work with?
BUDDY: My handler is Diana Hansen. LOL…she is German task master. She was very dedicated to the process. We rarely missed a class. And, we had a daily schedule at home.
KZ: What were some of the hard things you had to overcome while pursuing this goal?
BUDDY: The hardest command was “retrieve”. Heck, if I caught a rabbit…I was not going to bring it back. So, why would anyone want to know how to retrieve? But, once I got the concept, I was the retrieving king and I was so fast I could retrieve all the items set out. Left the rest of those doggies in my dust.
KZ: How common is it for greyhounds to get their service dog status?
BUDDY: It is not very common for a greyhound to become a licensed service dog. Might be because at this stage of the game we take retirement seriously and aren’t into a second careers. But I think it comes from way back when greyhounds were lone hunters…we made our own decisions and watched out only for ourselves. We really don’t like to take commands. You know we can turn into statues.
KZ: What agency did you work through?
BUDDY: We worked through Handi-Dogs with Phyllis Allen as our instructor. Handi-Dogs is a non-profit organization and was founded in Tucson in 1973. They team train dogs to become service dogs using the positive reinforcement of “clicker training.”
KZ: What was the final test like?
BUDDY: The final test takes three hours and is intense. Commands are given both verbally and with just hand signals + showing that I know accepted doggie manners…(Like no peeing in stores, not approaching people and smelling crotches.)
BUDDY: The test starts in the home where I demonstrated how I could help Diana and knew my basic commands. The front door test is a bit nerve racking for a greyhound. Placed in front of an open door to the outside on a stay command, Diana walked out of my sight and I had to remain in this stay position for 3 minutes. I had to pass the McDonald Hamburger test… food was placed on a table, I was given a “leave it” command and Diana left the room for 3 minutes. I had to prove that I would not touch the food.
BUDDY: Then we were off to a restaurant where we had to find an area where I could settle and not obstruct anyone….this is usually against a wall or under a table. (A greyhound under the table always has a long tail problem.) I could show no interest in food…even though my chin is at table level. Once settled, I had to be very quiet and remain in a down position. Food was dropped…I was given a “leave it” command and could show no interest…not even look at the food. This is difficult for a food hound.
BUDDY: The last part of the test was at Bookmans. I went through all the task commands I had learnt such as “by me”, “front”, “wait”, “let’s go”, “come”, “get” (retrieve), “brace”, “close”, “watch me” and “settle”. Of course, this was done with as much distraction as possible. I had to show that a stranger could approach me and pet me and I would not shy away or be aggressive. The hardest command was the “stay” at the front of the store with lots of foot traffic…and the testers dropping books, running carts past me inches from my toes, climbing over me….I didn’t move.
BUDDY: All in all….I aced this test. I came home and slept the afternoon away…way to much sustained action for a sprinter. We celebrated and I got my very own gelato….um good.
KZ: Do you have any words of wisdom for the greyhound community about life, the pursuit of happiness, and being a famous greyhound service dog?
BUDDY: Never pass up a treat or a nap. Go home and hug your greyhound; we are all special. Spread the word about how greyt we are and talk up adoptions. As for ending greyhound racing, I am beginning to think that is as illusive as chasing the bunny around the track and never catching it….but please keep helping us. Rooooo to you all.