MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Greyhound racing ended in Florida in 2020, putting 1,700 of the second-fastest land animals into retirement, and it may come as a surprise to learn that they make excellent service dogs.
Barbara Masi founded the nonprofit organization, Awesome Greyhound Adoptions, and started pairing greyhounds with veterans in 2011.READ MORE: Environmental advocates who say Biscayne Bay is dying to gather Wednesday to find solutions
Hounds and Heroes provide the training for the dogs, readying them for careful matches with qualified military veterans.
The greyhounds are trained at Southtech Academy in Boynton Beach.
A head trainer leads high school students in veterinary assistance classes.
The retired racers learn what it takes to be a service dog.
They learn how to sit under a table, walk with a person using a cane or walker, and stay obedient for their checkups among other things.
Six-year-old “Trooper” is one of the students’ favorite dogs.
Trooper already graduated and was placed with Army veteran Ross Trevino.
“My disability that I do have is with my leg, so I have some really bad days, the fact that he is stable, I can hold him and push on him to get up and down means a lot for me,” said Trevino.
The dogs’ size and strength are key features in assisting veterans with mobility issues.
“They’re both the fastest dogs in the world and the highest jumping dog in the world are in the Guinness Book of World Records,” said Masi.
Masi explained how incredible these animals are and why they are well suited for this role.READ MORE: Parkland parents furious following Texas elementary school shooting: ‘They failed our kids again’
“One of the things is that they are actually incredibly quiet. They don’t do a lot of barking, they are well mannered, once they are trained, which of course we work with them as much as we possibly can to get them trained. And they are just awesome dogs.”
Many people think these dogs need to run a lot and are surprised to learn that it’s the opposite.
“You have to understand- these dogs were taught to conserve their energy for those few minutes on the track,” said Masi.
They run around about 10 minutes and then sleep all day. They are very calm, just the kind of support Army veteran Frank Policastri needed from his dog “Stretch.”
“He will take baby steps and he will not pull on me at all, you can put a rabbit or a frog or whatever and he’s going to stay with me,” Policastri said.
Stretch is his second service dog, a faithful companion, with a lot of personality.
“He does his job but he’s a comedian at the same time,” Policastri said.
“He will fall off the couch to get to my attention, and then I’ll laugh, and he’ll get up and do it again!”
A service dog’s role is serious business though as many are paired with veterans suffering from PTSD and they make an incredible impact.
“We have so many veterans who say they have seen the difference in their lives, amazing. We’ve had family members come to us – we had a young lady come to us and say ‘you gave me back my father’, ” said Masi.
There may be an initial hesitation at first about bringing a greyhound into their lives, but Masi said these champions just win them over.
“It’s the love of the animal – that is what does it. You can’t deny the love of one of these animals, they are just so magnificent.”MORE NEWS: Parkland dad Manuel Oliver "very angry" following Texas elementary school shooting
To learn more about Hounds and Heroes and Awesome Greyhound Adoptions click here.