Bear and Marty — Staring Fear in the Face

by Lynda Adame

Theo Herman, possibly the world's toughest greyhound tester

Of all of the volunteers in greyhound rescue and adoption, there are a silent few whose contributions may go unnoticed but who play an extremely important part in the placement of these dogs. You might say we couldn’t do it without them; these are the greyhound “test cats.” Big, fuzzy and fearless — small, quick and darting — shy or outgoing — they run the gamut of size and personality. Some of these cats relish their job — strutting, and hissing just in front of the greyhounds’ noses, batting at them with claws unsheathed. Others suffer this indignity in glaring silence as the dogs are lead in one by one. A test cat’s job is to help an adoption group assess the prey drives in all of the adoptable greyhounds. Each dog has a different level of prey drive which is often linked more to genetics than how well it did at the race track. Prey drive is an “instinct” in greyhounds and other sighthounds and should not be confused with true aggression. A dog with a high prey drive can still make an incredibly loving and gentle pet when placed into a home without cats. To ensure that the adopter’s cats and other small animals are safe, judge the level of prey drive before the dogs are placed into foster or adoptive homes. The consequence of bringing a greyhound with an unknown prey drive into a home with cats can be tragic.

Prey drive categories are high, medium, low or nonexistent. Dogs that fall into the high category (about 10% of all dogs tested) should not be placed into homes with cats or other small furry animals. Medium category dogs (50% of all dogs tested) are considered workable or trainable. The low (30%) to nonexistent (10%) category dogs are considered safe with small indoor animals and cats after the correct introduction.

Watching a group cat-test their dogs is one of the more fascinating things in greyhound adoption. Most of you cat lovers are cringing about now, imagining wild chase scenes, cat fur flying, and stressed-out felines whose lives are in danger. Fear not; the cat’s safety and well being is our primary concern, as well as that of their owners who oversee the entire event.

Since you may not have access to a greyhound adoption group, I thought I’d share a typical “Greyhound Pets of America (GPA) Los Angeles and Orange County Cat-Testing Session” with you.

How we cat-test

We start our day early by caravanning to the nearest race track in Caliente, Tijuana, Mexico. We pick up our limit of dogs and drive them back to Southern California to deliver them to Devon Williams’ home. Devon is a vet tech for Central Orange County Emergency Animal Clinic and is responsible for vaccinating and worming each of the dogs. While the rest of the volunteers collect ear tattoos and hand out names to the new dogs, Devon assembles her furry feline troops in the living room. The premiere GPA test cats are Bear and Marty, both domestic short-hairs. Each cat has its own, unique, test tactics. Bear likes to strut his stuff slowwwwwly, right in front of the hounds, knowing full well that he is in control of the situation. Marty’s tactic is to sit tight and smack at the dog if it comes within five feet of him.

When the cats are ready, Joyce McRorie (all of 5′ 2″ and ninety pounds soaking wet) picks out the first dog to be cat-tested. Joyce muzzles the dog and she takes up a few wraps on the leash. Devon sits with her cats; another volunteer mans the door and Joyce brings the dog into the room.

Sniff sniff sniff … zoing!

Oh, Oh. Not Safe!

The dog spies the cat and becomes rigid, fixated. He begins to whine or bark in a high-pitched tone; ears are erect and forward and eyes are staring. You cannot distract this dog from the cat. If the cat makes a move, the dog strains to follow it. Dogs that display this rigid fixated behavior, upon seeing the cats, are labeled high prey and are marked with a red colored ribbon tied to their collar.

The next dog is brought into the room.

Sniff sniff sniff — hmm

He wags at the nearest volunteer until he spots one of the test cats. This dog shows some interest. His tail stops wagging, and ears go up. After a curious stare, the dog turns back to sniff the house or be petted. We can easily distract this dog from the cat, but the dog might turn back to the cat if the cat moves. We consider these dogs medium prey, or workable. After we put this dog into a foster home and confirm that he doesn’t chase cats, this dog is considered cat safe. If the dog shows an increased interest in the cats the longer he is in the room, he might be labeled unsafe and again, have the correct colored ribbon attached to his collar. Judging the medium prey dog is more of a gray area and this is where the experience of the adoption group that is assessing these dogs comes into play.

Tremble, tremble….

The next dog is brought in and immediately begins trembling. As the cats approach, the hound displays fear and tries to run away. We smile and consider this dog to be cat safe!

Roughly once a month we cat-test between six and fourteen greyhounds before they go into foster homes. Only two of Devon’s five cats are testers; her other three are too shy or simply do not enjoy it the way Bear and Marty enjoy their jobs. Devon watches the cats carefully for signs of stress and will call the test session off if either cat seems upset or stressed. The majority of the greyhounds spend three to five minutes with the cats. The medium category dogs may spend a longer amount of time and may be brought back more than once until the group is satisfied with their assessment of the dog.

When the cat-testing is over, and Marty and Bear have put up with all of the petting and human attention they can stand, both of them hop up on the couch and curl up with their own personal greyhound pet, China Beach, and fall asleep.

All responsible greyhound adoption groups do some form of cat-testing because the safety of small animals and the reputation of Greyhound adoption depends on it! Although we typically consider cats and dogs to be the ultimate enemies (How often have you remarked that “They were fighting like cats and dogs?”), the GPA-LA/OC cat-testing sessions show that they can work together toward a common goal.

CG SP 97

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This article and any photos or artwork contained within may not be reproduced or reprinted without express written permission from the author, artists, and/or photographers. 

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