When Ann Sakowicz, 59, opens the front door of her Sedona, Ariz., home, a blur of black, white and tan greyhounds come running. They push against each other, trying to plant a slobbery welcome on her.
“They’re the potato chip dog,” Sakowicz says jokingly of her foster care charges. “You can’t stop at one.”
Since 1992, Sakowicz has kept more than 40 greyhounds in her home, finding them adoptive families and transitioning them from professional runners to family pets.
Sakowicz, who operates Greyhound Rescue of the Red Rocks, gets the dogs from Phoenix and Tucson organizations that annually accept more than 1,300 injured or unsuccessful dog track racers. Every greyhound that is transferred and adopted is one less likely to be euthanized.
But finding loving homes for the dogs is only part of Sakowicz’ mission. While the part-time real estate agent searches for adoptive families, she teaches greyhounds how to survive in a house. Because these 2- to 5-year-old dogs spend much of their life in a crate, racing only a few minutes a day, they have to be trained to cope with domestic challenges such as stairs, tile floors, doggie doors, glass, leashes and solitude.
“They have never been alone in their lives,” says Sakowicz, who helps the dogs adjust by lavishly praising them and gradually increasing the time they are left by themselves.
“I put Post-it Notes on the patio doors so they won’t crash into them,” she says. Often racing greyhounds are wary of stairs. To remedy that fear, Sakowicz sits beside them and coaches them to touch one step at a time.
“She has the patience of Job,” says Laurie Tracy of Tucson’s Greyhound Adoption League. “She’ll never give up on a dog or finding it the right home.”
Despite the animals’ instinct for 40-mph sprints, greyhounds make very laid-back pets once they’ve adjusted, according to Sakowicz. “They hang out with me,” she says of the three to six dogs she keeps at any one time.
Her passion for helping greyhounds arose from watching a television show on the subject 13 years ago. “I knew it was going to change my life almost from the beginning,” says Sakowicz, who lived in Chicago at the time.
After a 1997 Arizona vacation introduced her to the beauty and warmer climate of Sedona (pop. 10,192), she moved west, taking her love of greyhounds with her. To that end, she bought a house with extra room and a half-acre backyard.
“You make a financial commitment to foster these dogs,” says Sakowicz, who pays for spaying and neutering, vaccinating and other veterinary bills. If a dog is in her care longer than a year, she bears the cost of the annual checkup.
She also keeps the animals in the public eye, taking them to parades and fundraisers and advertising her foster dogs in the newspaper. The local humane society and former customers put prospective owners in touch with her.
After reading an article about her efforts, Sally and Denny Elliot approached Sakowicz about adopting her dogs. “She is such a caring person,” says Sally, 78, after Sakowicz showed them two foster dogs.
“We hadn’t had a dog in 20 years,” she adds. “Our dog, Spirit, has changed our lives. She’s given us a lot of laughs.”
As a condition of adoption, owners are required to have a fenced backyard and a leash to walk the dog outside. They also must agree to make the dog a house pet and keep in contact with rescue organizations.
“It’s not for everyone,” says Kari Young, director of Phoenix’s Adopt a Greyhound organization, of foster care’s heart-warming and heart-wrenching experience.
Sakowicz agrees. “I usually cry when a dog leaves. But I’ve saved it from an uncertain fate and made someone else happy.”
For more information on greyhound adoption, log on to www.adopt-a-greyhound.org.