Alana Matthews’ passion for helping greyhounds stems from her childhood in an “animal-mad household”. With a soft spot for all creatures, she only learnt of the plight of greyhounds from a television program in 2015.
She discovered thousands of greyhounds needed homes, either because they weren’t fast enough for racing or their career had finished. While greyhound racing has been banned in the ACT, it is still legal elsewhere in Australia.
“The program inspired us to go to an anti-racing event,” Alana says. “Before that, we didn’t know much about them, but we discovered greyhounds are so soft and friendly, very people-focused and keen for pats.”
When Alana and her partner Bede learned about cat-friendly greyhounds, they immediately applied to Friends of the Hound to adopt a dog. After being assessed, they were given the go-ahead.
In just two weeks, they had their first greyhound, Sugar.
“She was quite a broken dog, very withdrawn, very scared. She’d only been in a foster home for two weeks and wasn’t used to people at all,” Alana says.
“Bede and I worked hard to build her confidence. It was very slow going and took 18 months before she could approach other people instead of hiding behind us.”
Then, in January 2019, just as Sugar was learning that life showed promise, she developed a bad limp. Alana took an ultra-cautious approach and asked the vet for an x-ray to rule out any possibility of bone cancer, which she had seen in another greyhound. But, instead of providing good news, the x-ray confirmed Sugar did indeed have osteosarcoma.
“I thought it just wasn’t fair,” Alana says. “This dog had begun to come out of her shell and only started living. She deserved a good life.”
Sugar’s leg was amputated the next day. On average, after such cancer treatment, a dog will survive for up to 18 months. But Sugar is about to celebrate her third anniversary, enjoying life to the full.
“She was up and walking the day after her surgery and manages well on three legs,” Alana says. “She is still on low-level chemotherapy tablets and, three times a week, gets a pill in peanut butter which she loves.”
Alana and Bede have since adopted two more greyhounds. The second, Tiffany, has been assessed as a delta therapy dog and loves visiting nursing homes with Alana.
“We met Tiffany at that first event and I fell head over heels in love with her,” Alana says. “Sadly, they told us that she needed a friend and so we wouldn’t be a suitable choice for her. But after we’d had Sugar for a couple of months and they saw the effort we were making with her, they asked if we would like to take Tiffany as well.”
They jumped at the chance.
Later, when Alana’s animal-loving dad became ill, she knew how much he would miss his pets if he went into hospital. That got her thinking about others in care and the gap left by absent pets.
It’s been shown that therapy dogs positively impact the social, emotional and physical health of humans – and Alana saw the impact first-hand.
“I could see the effect Tiffany had. For people with dementia, she was a real ice breaker. They started telling me stories of their own lives and their pets. It was so rewarding and I could see it really lifted their mood.”
Winter was the third greyhound to join the family.
She had also had problems settling elsewhere. But, when they took her home, she just looked at the other two dogs sprawled in the lounge room and lay down with them, as if to say, “this is me”.
At Alana and Bede’s wedding last year, it was only natural that the three greyhounds acted as honorary bridesmaids, decked out in tulle.
With a new baby, Alana sees Canberra as the perfect place for their growing family of humans and dogs. She grew up here and has returned after a brief stint living in Sydney.
“When you’re in your early twenties, you think the big city has something to offer,” she says.
But she found Sydney had its downside.
“One day it took me an hour and 45 minutes to get to work. I think I had to move away to appreciate how lovely and how liveable Canberra is. For us, it’s really home.”
And it means she has room for greyhounds.
Elizabeth Masters is a Canberra writer and social historian.