Four sleek, doe-eyed greyhounds career through Judy Leyse's apartment and swarm around her, begging for attention.
Leyse, clad in a pink "I Love Greyhounds" sweat shirt, rounds up the canines with hand claps and commands. "Come here, girl," she pleads with a rambunctious, fawn-colored hound.
The dogs are among hundreds of former racing greyhounds that Leyse has saved from destruction in the past three years through an adoption program run at Brick House Farm, a horse breeding farm in western Howard County.
Every year, dog racing operators in New England discard hundreds of greyhounds because of poor performance, injury or age. Most of the dogs are put to sleep or donated to medical research labs.
Since 1986, Leyse and her partner, Betty Rosen, of Lutherville, have tried to save the dogs. They have placed from 450 to 500 greyhounds in homes in the region and across the country. About 30 dogs have been placed in Howard County homes.
The adoptions, done under the auspices of the national Greyhound Pets of America program, have converted hundreds of local residents into greyhound lovers, according to Leyse and Rosen.
"We love her. It's the best pet I've ever had," Randallstown resident Dave Miller said recently of his greyhound, Blaze. Miller said the black greyhound makes a great jogging partner.
Greyhounds are unusually gentle, intelligent and well-behaved, according to owners. And they take to children. Despite such characteristics, as many as 50,000 of the graceful animals are killed each year, according to REGAP Inc., an Indiana-based greyhound adoption group.
Greyhounds begin racing when they are 18 months old and are almost always retired from the track by the time they are 5 years old, though they typically live until 12 or older.
Partly because greyhounds have large litters-from six to 12 pups-track owners and trainers find it cheapest to get rid of the weakest pups, those not considered strong racing contenders, Leyse said. About 80 percent of the dogs are destroyed by age 2, according to REGAP -- an acronym for Retired Greyhounds As Pets.
"The dogs are just a commodity to most of these people," Leyse said. "They're like apples and oranges."
As the concept of animal rights remains in the public spotlight, track owners are facing increasing pressure about the discarding of greyhounds. More tracks are beginning to help place greyhounds with private owners, Leyse said.
Leyse, the manager of Brick House Farm, began looking for another pet when her 13-year-old English pointer, Molly, became ill. She responded to an ad seeking people to adopt greyhounds.
Once she saw the dogs, she was hooked. "I had never seen a greyhound and fell immediately in love with them," she said.
She now owns three retired racers: Blue, Grace and Sunny.
Greyhounds are shipped to Leyse and Rosen by truck from racetracks in Connecticut, Massachusetts and other New England states. There are no such racetracks in surrounding areas. In October, after the dog racing season has ended, as many as eight dogs needing homes stay at Brick House while Leyse searches for potential owners. She and Rosen said they take pains to find good homes, interviewing prospective owners in person and obtaining signed agreements from the owners in which they promise to treat the dogs properly.
"We screen people very closely. We just don't give these dogs out like candy," Leyse said.
Greyhounds have special requirements. Because of their extremely short coat, they cannot stay outside in summer heat or winter cold for more than a brief spell. They cannot wear flea collars because a chemical in the collars is poisonous to them. They never should be put on a rope or chain -- the animals gain speed so quickly they could snap their necks if stopped short by a chain.
Just how fast are greyhounds? Their top speed is about 40 mph. That's 5 mph faster than thoroughbred horses, fast enough to be slapped with a speeding ticket in a residential zone.
Many residents who have adopted greyhounds don't seem to mind the extra care the dogs require.
"They're very affectionate dogs in a quiet kind of way," said Mike Mason, a Columbia resident who adopted a greyhound from Rosen in August. "If they bark once a month, you're lucky."
Miller, whose enthusiasm for his dog, Blaze, is boundless, is putting together a new newsletter for area residents who have adopted greyhounds. After seeing a greyhound, Miller says, "You'll never want any other kind of pet."