Going viral has different connotations now than it did a year ago, but going viral is definitely an apt description of Your Greyhound’s History, the Facebook page which has captured the imagination of both the racing and adoption communities. Greyhound Quarterly spoke to Viv Clements, one of the page’s creators.
GQ: What was your first experience of greyhounds?
“When I was a little girl, in 1962, my dad had a greyhound called Devil’s Dreamer. She raced at Romford and Dagenham, and he brought her home one night – I think it was after her season when he was taking her back to the racing kennels – and I just fell in love with her. In fact I slept on the floor with her in case she got lonely!”
“I remember my mum cooked her best braising steak and vegetables – we didn’t have that! That was the start of my love affair with greyhounds. I’ve always loved them but I didn’t actually get one myself until I retired from work and got my first retired racer. He was called Rooster – racing name Imperial Rooster – and he came from a rehoming charity. I was very lucky that I was given his racing name, because that particular charity certainly don’t give that information any more.”
“I traced his breeders in Ireland who had him for the first year of his life, and found out all about him, his mum and his siblings. He was bred for Mark Wallis’ Imperial kennels, hence the name, but he didn’t keep him and he went to Barry O’Sullivan and then to Richard Simpson. He only ran 11 races before he got injured.
“I found out how fantastically well he’d been looked after. I spoke to Richard Simpson who got me a DVD of his last win, and it was after that I got interested in the background and history of greyhounds, around seven years ago, but I didn’t really know how to take it further.”
“Rooster died a couple of years ago sadly, but I have another retired racer now, Possum, who was raced and owned by Kelli Windebank at Henlow. I used to go and watch her race, and Kelli and and I hatched a plan that I was going to have her when she retired. My other half Ken didn’t really want another one but we engineered a kennel visit for him to take her for a walk. He fell in love with her and within two weeks she was at home with us!”
“I currently have shares in four racers – Blooms Batman (Batty) who four of us bought when he was four weeks old, a British-bred dog, bred by Kevin Dear. He’s absolutely gorgeous. Then there’s Matt’s Spree (Matty) who is racing today [Matty has retired and been successfully rehomed since this interview took place. Ed]. Then we have two open racers, Hunter (Glengar Hunter) is a youngster who got to the semi-final of the Kent Derby, and our wonderful Rocco (Desperado Rocco) who won his heat of the Golden Jacket, and was third in the semi. He’s done us proud. But it doesn’t matter if they are running in A7s or opens – they don’t know what grade they’re in. They love to race, and we love them to bits, win or lose.”
GQ: So how did Your Greyhound’s History come about?
“The page was originally Clare Hadden’s idea. Clare runs two other FB groups – Hounds that Hop and Head Honcho Descendants. People started asking her about the history of the dogs on those pages, and there were also other people whose dogs didn’t have Head Honcho in their pedigrees who were also asking for histories. I’d been helping some of them, doing a bit of research privately. Elaine Moore, who is the third person behind YGH, was also interested. So Clare asked Elaine and me if we would help her set up the group, back in September 2019.”
“The aim is to help people find out the history of their adopted greyhounds – where they came, from, where they raced, who looked after them and so on, especially greyhounds that were being adopted but their new owners were given absolutely no information about them, not even a race name – which is still happening. Some of then were unnamed, so we would trace them via their tattoos, and add them to the Greyhound Data (GD) database.”
“People adore seeing their dog’s races – Elaine is our video expert, she even has her own archive. People have been in tears looking at videos of their dog’s races! They find it really moving. I tend to be the earmark expert, with tremendous help from Carmel at the Irish Coursing Club and Liz Mort of the Greyhound Stud Book. It’s quite easy to identify if the dogs are from Ireland or the UK – Irish dogs have both ears tattooed, British dogs only have one.”
“They way it has taken off is incredible. We’ve now got 9,800 members and we’re getting around 200 new members each week. We never dreamed it would be this popular – people keep telling us it’s their favourite Facebook page! The first thing they do each morning is to see if there are any new dogs on there.”
“I so wish we’d kept a record of how many dogs we’ve traced, but bearing in mind the number of members and the fact that we’ve traced several dogs for quite a few of them, we are talking thousands and thousands of dogs. Some of them are unnamed, some of them are named but never raced, some of them only raced in Ireland, some only in England – there’s a massive range. Some of them are coursing dogs – I’ve now got membership of the coursing database, and I’m having great fun looking up the pedigrees and records of Irish coursing dogs. A lot of them are being adopted now, and they are absolutely beautiful.”
“A lot of them are going to other countries in Europe to be rehomed, and people in those countries are starting to join the group. We also get some help from Hoot Lee with the American dogs, because although we can update their GD profiles, we don’t know how it works over there so she sorts them out. Australia is a problem – we can’t really help much with Australian dogs at the moment, because each state does things differently. All we can do is update GD profiles, add photos and tell their owners how many races their dog had.”
“Some of the rehoming centres, including the bigger ones, are still giving new owners no or very little information, and in some cases incorrect information. We had a case recently where the date of birth the owner was given was out by two years! Even on a practical level that can make a big difference, to the cost of pet insurance for example.”
GQ: So tell us about some of the favourite histories that the page has revealed.
“There are three that really stand out. One of them was yesterday, believe it or not. There were two British greyhounds, whose adopters both came on the page looking for identification. One of them wasn’t on GD and her owner couldn’t understand why. The other was on GD. Liz identified the one that had raced first, then the other one was finally identified as a litter sibling! I think one of its connections came on and explained why it hadn’t raced – that is happening a lot now: breeders, trainers and kennel hands are popping up with bits of information and even puppy pictures, which the adopters adore.”
“This is what the adopter wrote after seeing all the information: ‘I have to say today has been one of the most joyous days of my life. Am I sad? Maybe lockdown is getting to me! Going on the group this morning and finding out so much about my gorgeous girl Ginny and her lineage and family is so precious, I’m still grinning from ear to ear. Me and Liz (owner of the other sibling) are going to meet up after lockdown so Ginny and Cecil can be reunited. Will they recognise each other?’”
“How wonderful is that? The second one is an example of something that is happening more often now, and that’s people asking for information about greyhounds who are no longer with us. Sometimes it’s difficult, and I have to say Carmel at the ICC has been fantastic because we’ve had very little information to go on in some cases. People are so pleased that we can not only find out all about their greyhounds and add them to GD if they’re not on there, but we can add bereavement notices as a tribute. People have been so grateful that we can honour their precious hounds. We’ve got four to do for one person at the moment, dogs that she’s had over the years. The oldest one we traced was from the 1950s, which was a bit of a challenge. That has been a really lovely thing and we’ve all enjoyed doing that.”
“The most precious one was started by a lady called Victoria Dilallo, who came on the page in January. She’s a carer, who works in the community looking after elderly and vulnerable people. She was visiting an elderly gentleman who’d been feeling very low after shielding for a year. Victoria told the man that she was adopting a greyhound, and he then told her that his father and grandfather trained Waterloo Cup winners! He remembered the name Genial Nobleman, and he thought the other was called Grenade, which actually turned out to be Hand Grenade.”
“One of them did indeed win the Waterloo Cup, in 1933, and the other won in 1936. Victoria told him about YGH and said she’d see what she could find out about the dogs. More than 200 people were following the post, people started doing research, (greyhound historian and author) Charlie Blanning did some work on it. It really caught people’s imagination. There was even Pathé News footage posted on the thread.”
“Then a lady called Linda messaged me and said that she’d found two cigarette cards, one of each dog, in France. She bought them and sent them to me to pass on to Victoria and the gentleman. He received them yesterday and apparently he couldn’t stop smiling! His name is Richard Smith – and his father and grandfather were Denny and Brian Smith. Richard was born at the Beckenham kennels they trained from. He helped exercise the dogs as a youngster and used to have pictures of his grandfather with the hounds, which got lost over the years. Victoria said he is like a new person, he came alive when he started talking about the greyhounds! That is probably my favourite story from the page so far. Victoria is going to get some of the images and information we’ve collected printed out and make a book for him. How lovely is that?”
“People have been very keen to help out. Racing owners and trainers have sent adopters presentation jackets and trophies that their dogs have won, and people are just over the moon to see their dogs as athletes, and to see what they did, and then to look at them on the sofa.”
GQ: In comparison with the anti-racing campaigners, the sport has been pretty woeful at promoting itself. If I could appoint you to head up marketing for greyhound racing. What would you do?
“First of all, we need to let the greyhounds do the talking. If you see a greyhound at the kennels, if you see it going down to race, if you see it after a race, if you see it playing in the paddock with toys – because contrary to what the antis would have you believe they do play! – that tells you an awful lot.”
“But we need to show all that happening at lots of different places. If you show one fantastic kennel, like the Bloomfield kennel where I have my dogs and which is superb, the antis will say ‘that’s just one, they’re not all like that’. We need to show lots and lots of good practice. If we could do visits to kennels that would be brilliant, but you do have to be very careful. You’d need to vet people because some do have ulterior motives. We’ve got to get on mainstream media, we should get on Panorama to expose the lies that are being told about us.”
“The latest attack on by the antis on a high profile trainer and breeder is just disgusting. People are getting death threats. That’s got to be stopped. Somebody needs to be sued for that. In no other walk of life do they say a whole sport or pastime is bad because of the actions of a few people.”
“The other thing that needs to happen is that the wrong doers within the sport need to go. No warnings, none of this ‘don’t do it again’. People that are giving our wonderful sport and our wonderful greyhounds a bad name have got to be kicked out. That’s my belief anyway. We can’t let a handful of trainers out of 800 ruin it for everybody else.”
“You can give all the statistics in the world but what you’ve got to do is win hearts and minds. Let the dogs do the talking and explain to people that greyhounds are individuals. They’ve all got their own personalities, and just because a greyhound is nervous when it goes in to a home does not mean it’s been ill-treated – it’s suffering from information overload, a new routine and being separated from everybody it knows and loves.”
GQ: Talking of marketing, tell us about the YGH leaflets
“Clare had the idea to create some leaflets with some information about the page on them. They say: ‘Your Greyhound’s History: Have you ever wondered about the graceful ex-professional athlete who now occupies your couch? Are you curious about whether he won any races or if he even raced at all? If so this is the group for you. Find us on Facebook.’”
“The leaflet has been funded by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) and now goes to all the 120 GBGB-approved rehoming centres who are participating in the Greyhound Rehoming Scheme, plus any other rehoming centre that would like to have them.”
“The three of us who run the page are volunteers, we don’t get any money for doing it. When people ask if they can make a donation, we each have our favourite rehoming charities and we give people the option of donating to one of them. People also sponsor prizes for the competitions we have on the page, they are so generous. We also have loads of helpers who look for new posts on the page and tag us to ensure we see them.”
GQ: The page is really bringing people together, isn’t it?
It really is! I did a bereavement notice recently for a dog who died far too young from illness. Then yesterday we did the history of the dog’s mother. She only had two pups on the database, but we put the two owners in touch with each other, and the owners of the dog who died were delighted to find out about his mum, and that she is happy and settled in a lovely home.”
“Before lockdown people with dogs who were related, or who lived in their area were meeting up – although some of them were a little disappointed when siblings didn’t recognise each other!”
Since this interview, Clare, Elaine and Viv have bought a pup together, with the very appropriate name of Making History. His pet name is Trio, and he was bred and is being reared by Yvonne Bell.
If you have adopted a retired racer and want to find out about his or her history, visit Your Greyhound’s History on Facebook. Viv and the team will be only too happy to help.