GREYHOUNDS are becoming much more visible in urban landscapes, with more dog lovers taking in retired and rescued ex-racers and ex-coursers.
One such ex-courser that can frequently be seen on the streets of Cork city is six-year-old greyhound Robert Blackwell, who will be celebrating his four-year ‘adoptiversary’ in April with his owner, Zoe-Louise Doyle.
Zoe grew up in Meath with a variety of pets and when she moved to Cork to study, she was keen to open her new home to a rescue animal. But living in a 54 sq m apartment, she felt her options were somewhat limited to smaller, more relaxed breeds.
“So I googled ‘best breeds for apartment life’ to give me an idea of what I should be keeping an eye out for, and in the top ten every time was a greyhound.”
After going to a meet-and-greet organised by a greyhound rescue group, Zoe was won over, and was soon on her way to a greyhound rescue centre in Kerry. It was here that she first laid eyes on Robert.
“The very first dog they brought out was this stunning, fawn boy, the size of a small pony. He walked right up to me and ever so gently licked my hand. It was love at first sight.”
At this stage, Robert had been in kennels for a significant time, due to his size.
“The rescue crew did bring out a few other dogs, just to make sure I wasn’t being too hasty. But, as lovely as they were, it was the small horse in the corner that I kept coming back to.”
Zoe signed the adoption papers there and then, and took Robert home that day.
“Squeezing him into the back of the car was a challenge, but we got there in the end.”
And so began Zoe’s education on life with a greyhound, and the many misconceptions about this breed.
“People think of them as high energy working dogs, who need hours of exercise and running. But the ‘high energy running machine’ couldn’t be further from the truth. Built for speed, not stamina, greyhounds sleep for 20-odd hours a day. The vast majority require less exercise than a Bichon or Yorkie.”
Through Robert, Zoe has made friends and connections she would never have made otherwise.
“We can’t go for a walk without someone stopping to say ‘Hi’, it’s really opened up my social life.
“I’m now involved with animal rescues and welfare groups across the globe, advocating for the rights of greyhounds here in Ireland and abroad. He introduced me to what can only be described as the ‘cult of the greyhound’, a global network of greyhound owners who truly love their dogs.”
Zoe’s love for Robert really hit home for her during the pandemic.
“The day the country went into lockdown just happened to be my 21st birthday, so any celebrations had been cancelled. I remember sitting in my apartment, a birthday cake in front of me, balloons and party supplies in a box in the corner, feeling so isolated. At the time, I lived alone. I’d lost my job to Covid, college was essentially put on hold, and I was just sitting at home with nothing to do.
“So, I took Rob for a walk. We strolled through the empty city streets, past all the closed up shops and cafes, barely passing another living soul.
"We sat down in the park for a few minutes and Robert just leaned in to me. I remember thinking, it’s all going be alright as long as I have Rob by my side.
“That memory, just sitting alone in the park, my best friend by my side, the whole world ground to a halt, nobody knowing what the next move was, but finding such comfort and security in Robert... that’s my strongest, happiest memory.
“Robert is my rock, my anchor, the first thing I think of in the morning and the last thing I think of at night. I’d honestly be lost without him.”
What Zoe loves most about Robert is his gentle demeanour. “He is one of most adaptable, easy-going dogs I’ve ever met. He just goes with the flow. He’s got his quirks - like the fact he will refuse to lie down on the bare ground or his unexplainable fear of the toaster (despite his love of toast), but they just add to his charm.
“He’s a gentle giant, who is great with kids and is always willing to lean in to give a cuddle to anyone who needs it. He’s a pure sweetheart.”
Having Robert in her life has also made Zoe appreciate the little things.
“Seeing the world through the eyes of a dog changes everything. Getting caught in a sudden shower used to ruin my day, but now it makes me laugh because Robert is there too, whole body wiggling, tap dancing between the puddles, enjoying the experience. Crunching the autumn leaves, cracking the ice on a puddle, dipping our toes into the river or sea, it’s all made so much more exciting when you have a dog by your side to share the experience with. They really make GREYT companions!”