Awesome Greyhound Adoptions Hounds & Heroes Program
Interview with Barbara Masi, President/Founder
Jake’s: You’ve been working with greyhounds for over 22 years. What gave you confidence they would make good therapy/service dogs?
Barbara: Faced with nay-sayers (“You’ll never turn a racing dog into a service dog”), I knew it would work due to my intimate knowledge of the breed. They are taller than many other breeds and thus good for mobility assistance. They are very intuitive – thus good for PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injuries. They bond closely and become very familiar with their human – thus good for trigger alert to various illnesses. It was a no-brainer to get them to the point of becoming battle buddies to their human.
Jake’s: So, you started training Greyhounds in 2011 as service dogs and donating them to veterans through Hounds & Heroes. How successful has this program been?
Barbara: Since 2011, I’ve placed 50 dogs with veterans, some having their second dog as the first retired or passed away. The feeling is so heartwarming to see the dog begin to bond with the veteran during training. And I know that it will get stronger and stronger as they spend time together.
Jake’s: It must be very rewarding knowing how these dogs change the lives of their recipients.
Barbara: Comments from the veterans are amazing as to the difference the dog has made in their lives. Comments also come from family members and from just friends who have seen the difference in the veteran due to having the service dog at his/her side.
Jake’s: Can you share some of the comments?
Barbara: From the wife of a veteran, “If I thanked you every day all day I still wouldn't be able to truly express how thankful I am, or be able to explain the magnitude of this amazing gift you have given my husband and my family. It takes everything I have in me not to burst into tears of joy when I watch my husband interact with Stormy. To see him actually relax in a public setting and then confidently walk away from us with his new friend is mind blowing. Something that may seem so small of an accomplishment to others is life changing for us and I have you and Stormy to thank for that. This is the beginning of a beautiful journey for Stormy and XXXX and I can't wait to see what the future holds for both of our fearless warriors.”
Jake’s: What kinds of tasks can a Greyhound provide in support of a veteran’s life?
Barbara: Here’s a letter that describes exactly that:
“The most important thing my service dog, Coral, does for me is remind me to take my medications every day. I used to forget before she came into my life and the results were suicidal thoughts or even actions. So, I can honestly say Coral saves my life every single day! Coral has helped me boost my confidence to feel safe to leave my home, go to work, shop, leave a situation that causes a rise in anxiety, travel, and go out and live life. She nudges me awake each morning (due to sedative meds it’s hard to wake up), so I can stay gainfully employed. Me and family need that! She serves as a buffer between me and others when situations call for it, interrupts nightmares and flashbacks, and helps lower my blood pressure while increasing my serotonin levels with her unconditional love and super sweet disposition. I’m much more confident thanks to her that I want to share all the good things she does, and that’s not always a comfortable thing for me to do. She does all this and more for me. How do you repay this magnificent being that gives so much unconditionally? I give her the best life I can give and share her story for all to hear. To say I feel like the luckiest person on earth is an understatement. She is priceless and precious. She is my Coral.”
Jake’s: What’s the process for taking a Greyhound from retired race dog to Service Provider?
Barbara: From the minute I meet the dogs that are available to come into our program to the end of the process when they are placed, it is all a wonderful adventure.
Each dog is carefully screened for temperament and health and then placed in a foster home. We rely on our foster families to further assess each dog's personality to determine what kind of family would be the best fit.
We conduct a complete physical work up (including blood work) prior to turning dogs over to their adoptive owners. They undergo dental treatments if necessary, microchipping, vaccinations, and all other appropriate tests.
The intensive training process for the dog and the veteran together can take 4-6 months and cost thousands of dollars. Some of the greyhounds are trained at Southtech Academy in Boynton Beach. We consider this a Win-Win-Win situation: Win for the dogs to be trained - win for the veterans and first responders who get the fully trained dog - and win for the students who learn how to train a service dog in addition to the regular classroom studies.
Among our certified trainers are Carolee Ellison, Andrew Laney, and Sally Saxton. There are many others that have worked with our pups - too many to list here but to whom we are thankful for.
Jake’s: The program is run entirely by volunteers?
Barbara: Yes, and it’s incredibly necessary to have a loyal group help with marketing, fundraising, and “Meet & Greets”. Is there a “cult” of greyhound owners? Yes, that is probably the right word. We are obsessive / compulsive about our wonderful breed.