Monday, March 27, 2017

Dog Assisted Coaching

The beginning of Dolce Vita Comfort Dogs

During her five years of Psychology studies, and after getting her Masters in Psychology, Natascha Van der Eecken still felt like something was missing. Natascha was 10 when she got her first dog, Loona, and the unconditional love, profound moments of joy, and feelings of comfort that she experienced with Loona forever changed her. 
"I always felt there was something missing during the courses, and for me that was the impact, the positive influence of animals and more specifically of dogs, on human health.
I had my first dog when I was 10 years old, Loona, and I learned a lot from her. She gave me comfort, love, she was there in bad and good moments, so that's where I realized what an impact an animal can have on your life."
Solution focused approach

After finishing her studies, Natascha searched for alternative Psychological methods as opposed to simply practicing the more classical Psychology. She focuses on the present and future more than analyzing the past, and in most cases, a few coaching sessions are often enough.
"There are really a large range of psychotherapies, but I like it when it's solution focused. I prefer to focus on the present and the future, so I'm not only going to look at what is the problem, but what are you good in, what are your resources, and how can we make it better now and for the future more than really analyzing everything that happened in the past years." 
The dog's role

Natascha's dog assisted coaching practice is for adults and children, and in either case the dogs can have a passive or active role. A passive role means that a dog is psychically present in the room during the sessions, but does not interact much with the client. Some people feel more comfortable when there is a dog present that they can pet, and it's also proven scientifically that a dog's presence has an influence on physiological matters such as a person's heart rate. In most of Natascha's sessions, the client's prefer that the dog has an active role, and are then asked to perform a task with the dog. The task can be anything from taking a walk with the dog outside on a trail, on or off leash, or in the case of children, Natascha may ask them to teach her dog a trick.

For example, a client with a tendency to be a perfectionist is asked to take the dog for a trail walk. Because the client is doing their best to try and perform the task as perfectly as possible, Natascha observes that the task is becoming increasingly difficult and stressful for the client and dog. After the task is over, Natascha would then begin the conversation by asking the client how they think the task went, giving her observations that trying to perfect the task seemed to cause stress and difficulty, and asking if this trait and feelings are something they recognize in their daily life.
"I look at what the person does and ask them how they think it went and then give my observations. I always try to make a link between what happens in the session and the daily life of the person".
Getting children to express their feelings can be challenging, therefore one approach Natascha uses is asking them to teach her dog a trick. This tends to have a positive impact on their self esteem when they see that they were successful. Natascha also has emotion balls (happy, sad, mad, etc.). The child is asked to throw the balls and whichever one the dog returns with is the emotion they discuss first.
"It's a way to start to communicate with the child or adult. I say to the child that I am sad when this or this happens..., my dog, she is sad when this or this happens..., and when do you feel sad? It's a way to start a conversation by playing with children. A lot of children don't can't express what they really feel in words. So my approach is also experience based, I want them to do things and experience how it is with alternatives".
Using a dog's character as an opportunity to gain insight 

Natascha has three different dogs with distinctive personalities. They are trained in basic obedience, but they did not receive any special training for their dog assisted coaching role. The dogs are simply themselves and Natascha uses the reaction of her dogs to interpret how the clients are feeling and focuses on this link of communication. In her view, having the perfect dog does not allow her to gain the insight she needs in order to help her clients. For example, if a client is asking the dog to jump, and the dog refuses, then she can use this as an opportunity to gain insight by asking her client how this refusal to perform a task made them feel. But if she were to train her dogs to jump on command, then this approach wouldn't work.
"Dogs react on how we feel and they are very sensitive, they feel our emotions before we do, mostly. I really use the character of my dogs, they are very different. I see what the dog does, I see what the person does, and I ask questions about it and try to make links to the difficulties they experience".
Natascha's three dogs

Types of services
  • Coaching (adults and children)
  • Dog assisted coaching (adults and children)
  • Assertiveness training with a therapy dog
  • Sessions to reduce fear of dogs (adults and children)
  • Child & Dog Workshops
  • Assertiveness training for children
  • Visitor dog
Natascha offers her clients a wide range of services. If a client is not comfortable with dogs they can simply choose normal coaching. She also works with clients who have developed a strong fear of dogs, or children who want to learn how to interact with dogs in a responsible way.
"Most people who are afraid react in a certain way that makes the dog afraid. So I teach people how to read the language of the dog and how to behave themselves so that they don't attract the attention of the dog".
For those who are elderly or may be isolated and living alone, she offers visitor dog sessions where she brings her dog to the client's house or asks them to meet her somewhere so they can talk and spend time with the dog.

Spreading the word

The Dolce Vita Comfort Dogs website has been online since November 2016, so the business is very new. As dog assisted coaching is a new concept in Luxembourg, Natascha is reaching out to medical professionals and introducing her business in hopes of spreading the word.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Crème de la Crème: The Future of Pet Furniture

How do you define luxury, and under what circumstances will you allow yourself to splurge? Is it during the holiday season, birthdays, vacations, or on pets? No matter what the case may be, purchasing the crème de la crème provides a sense of reward and accomplishment.

Chase Stehr, is the CEO of Ultra Modern Pet, which provides chic, modern, and even technologically innovative pet furniture. Petopia's interview questionnaire takes a closer look at the uniqueness of Ultra Modern Pet, and their definition of modern luxury. 

1. What was the inspiration behind starting Ultra Modern Pet?
I have very modern taste and when I adopted my Westie puppy, Mikey, three years ago, I was looking for dog bowls and a dog bed to fit the modern, minimalist look of my condo. I found there were very few options out there. And most which I did find, which were advertised as modern, could hardly be classified as such. So I decided to start my own business creating pet furniture and products that were truly modern under the brand modern.PET and creating the storefront Ultra Modern Pet from which to sell them. I’ve since collaborated with many other private designers spanning six continents, and Ultra Modern Pet has quickly grown to become the world’s #1 outlet for cutting edge pet furniture and products.
"Zulu Hut" contemporary cat or dog house $270
2. How did the end cost or market price of the final product affect the innovation and design of the luxury furniture?
I first had to do market research on various types of items and see what price range high-end products of that type were selling for, then use that as a base to determine the types of materials which could be used. I didn’t want to create products so costly to make that they would have to be sold at a price far outside of most people’s reach. Luxury isn’t as important to me as modern design. 
3. What is your customer satisfaction rating for people that purchase Ultra Modern Pet products?
The feedback has been very positive. I’m always receiving emails from customers who love their new dog bed or cat house.
"Bipod" an app controled terrarium
4. What makes Ultra Modern Pet competitive in the sales of luxury pet furniture? How did you differentiate yourself from others in the market?
First, as mentioned, a lot of the pet furniture whether in store or online marketed as “modern” are merely traditional items using that word as a marketing ploy. Ultra Modern Pet is the only pet retailer which can say that not just 50% or 70%, but 100% of its products are truly of either modern or contemporary design.

Second, being a strong animal advocate, I wanted to accomplish more with my business than just generate profit. Therefore, a large percentage the of profits made off every item sold goes to animal charity. The primary charity Ultra Modern Pet supports is Farm Sanctuary because fighting factory farming through awareness, legislation and animal rescue is a very important cause to me as the thought of millions of farm animals spending their whole lives, from birth until death, suffering, is horrifying. And I think it’s important to our customers, knowing that part of their purchase is being used to help animals in need.

Third, what gives Ultra Modern Pet the biggest edge is uniqueness. When I started this business I wanted to offer people a large selection of products which were extremely creative in design and truly unique from anything else out there. For example, we now have the largest online selection of custom luxury dog houses, which come in both indoor and outdoor models and a variety of either contemporary or mid-century modern designs. From the fashion-forward Stiletto cat tree to the tribal Zulu Hut cat bed, from the Asian-inspired Seoul dog house to the mesmerizing jellyfish and seahorse aquariums, few words can better describe our products than unique.
5. What were the essential quality and luxury features that were considered a mandatory basis for some of the designs?
Every product is made of high quality materials and construction. Common materials used are chrome, acrylic, wood, faux leather and faux fur. And other than for the molding of some acrylic items, none of the products are manufactured in a factory, but are hand-made by me and my designers. 
"dogPACER" dog tredmill starting at $470
6. What was the 1st piece of furniture in the luxury line, and how long did the design and prototype testing phase take before it was ready to launch?
The very first item created was the Mini Scoop. The Mini Scoop is an acrylic dome shaped pet bed with a faux fur cushion in eight color combinations. The design planning, ordering materials, testing and initial construction took about three months from conception to being available for sale. The next products in my line were the Dalmatian Daybed and Leather Lounger which are magnetic pet beds also geared towards cats and small dogs. These took almost as long. These three beds along with my four personally designed pet feeders is what I launched modern.PET and Ultra Modern Pet with.
"Mini Scoop" dome shaped dog bed $210
7. When the designs are being created, what is the intended lifetime expectancy of the luxury pet furniture?
The lifetime expectancy greatly varies as I have several different types of products. For instance, you’ll likely want to replace the dog bowl much sooner than you will the cat condo. But in general, they last longer than typical pet furniture on the market due to their quality custom construction and the durable materials used.
8. Is there a warranty period?
This also depends on the item. We accept returns on some smaller items but are unable to for most due to their size. Most of our items are large and can be quite heavy, especially the dog houses and cat trees, which often are quite expensive to ship. Also, many items are imported from our designers around the world, some as far as South Africa and Russia. So for this reason we do not offer returns or warranties on most items.  
"Stiletto" cat tree 24" (w) x 58" (d) x 50" (h) $725
9. What is next for Ultra Modern Pet?
The plan is to further expand the modern.PET brand of dog houses, Bowhouse is the latest addition. And I was recently contacted by Petco. They’re interested in featuring several of our dog houses as their luxury line which is pretty exciting.

We’re also going to start delving deeper into pet tech. This is a brand new area which is getting very big, very fast. Technology is rapidly advancing even in the pet industry. Currently Ultra Modern Pet offers some pretty unique products like a dog game console and pet video phone, but we’re looking to get a lot more cool stuff in. So expect to see much more pet tech in the coming years.
"Cleverpet" dog game console and learning device $300
10. Do you consider your products to be sustainable in the market for the next 5 years? Or is there a continuing need for restyling or redesign?
I definitely expect them to be sustainable five years from now, primarily because of the whole concept of my business.. ultra modern. These designs will be fresh and contemporary whether five or fifteen years from now. There will be no need to redesign because these designs will never be out-dated. They will grow though, and more designs will be added. But the whole concept of “ultra modern” is one step ahead of current trends, one step into the future. It will always be considered futuristic design, no matter the time period. This is summed up in our motto… ultra mödern pet :: the future of pet furniture.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Little Kids and Their Big Dogs

I consider life to be truly remarkable when an event that started out as a coincidence, turns into destiny. At least that's what happened to photographer Andy Seliverstoff.

Andy has always had a passion and love for dogs, especially large breeds, and got his first dog, a Saint Bernard, over 25 years ago. After the dog passed away, Andy couldn't imagine life without another 4-legged companion, which is how he ended up with his first Great Dane. Together they started taking part in and photographing dog shows first in Europe, then around the world. This new found hobby grew quickly, and before Andy knew it, more than 10 years had flown by.

Then in Summer 2016, the coincidence occurred. Good friends of Andy asked if he would professionally photograph their 2-year old daughter, Alice. Andy agreed, and they decided to conduct the shoot in a well known park. As it just so happened the couple also brought along their Great Dane, Sean, who ended up becoming part of the photo shoot.

2-year old Alice and her Great Dane, Sean
On a separate occasion, Andy photographed another friend's gentle and sociable Newfoundland Dog, Ringo, with the strong desire to capture the communication between children and dogs.

3-year old, Fedor, and Newfoundland, Ringo
After the two photo shoots with Alice and Sean, Fedor and Ringo, Andy decided to post the photos on his Facebook page. What he wasn't prepared for was the astounding and touching reaction that came from his audience. Friends and strangers both loved the photos, and appreciation quickly turned into requests. It was then that Andy realized that such a small coincidence had turned into destiny, and decided to continue his new project, Little Kids and Their Big Dogs.

Photographing children, especially children so young, comes with it's own unique set of challenges that have to be cleverly overcome. For example, when Andy was asked to photograph Alexandra and her harlequin Great Dane, he and her mother were both struggling to find ways to calm the capricious 2-year old. As it just so happened, Alexandra loved to play with electronics, and when her mother handed her a small compact camera, she started playing the game "photographer" taking pictures of her dog as the model. It was then that Andy went to work to capture these energetic, intriguing, and interactive moments of fun between dog and child.

2-year old, Alexandra, and her harlequin Great Dane, Zara
As the series continued to grow, Andy chose to start varying his approach. 3-year old Lisa and 4 Leonberger Dogs was the first session where more than one dog took part.

3-year old, Lisa, and Leonberger Dogs
Andy also conducted action shoots to again capture the communication, love, and joy between children and animals while playing sports.

Young boy with 4 Bracco Italiano Dogs
I first came across these photos on Facebook, and as a dog owner, instantly fell in love with their beauty and eloquent innocence. Curious to know more about the photographer and inspiration behind these photos, Petopia contacted Andy for an interview.
"The main priority for this photography series wasn't just to make a beautiful photo, but to achieve and show communication and condition of contact between child and animal."
Andy recalled the exact date that the series began, 24 July, 2016. The locations for the photo shoots are all natural places where the models usually walk with their dogs. In the future Andy would love to photograph a Komondor, which is a Hungarian sheepdog, but also many more large breeds. He is, however, cautious about photographing Terrier breeds with children, unless the child grew up with the dog. A common re-occurrence Andy is noticing is that families do not often introduce large breed dogs when they have small children, the exception being that the child was born into a family that already had a large breed dog. More often then not the children have grown up and moved away when the dogs join the family. So in these cases where owners still would like to participate in the series and request to have a photo shoot, they are instead bringing their grandchildren or children of friends and acquaintances, and therefore the dogs and children are already familiar.

2-year old, Anechka, and her Dogue de Bordeaux
Andy is still in the beginning stages of this new chapter in his life, and is excited about the prospects to come. His plan is to take enough photos of children and large breed dogs to one day publish a book called "One Hundred Little Kids and Their Big Dogs".
"The work with this series is at the beginning. I hope to capture and present the maximum number of representatives of large breed dogs. The love to dogs and children makes people better!"
Click here to see more photos of Little Kids and Their Big Dogs

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Everyone Deserves A Party: Organizing Events for People and Pets

When you envision a birthday party what do you see? A cake, balloons, party hats, and a room full of your closest friends, right? Well when the almost 2-year old Border Collie, Baillie, was asked the same question, her answer was identical.

Nancy Wendt is the founder of the party planning company, The Party Ville. And while her agenda is to party, she doesn’t limit her clientele only to those with two feet.  For her dog Baillie’s 2nd Birthday, Nancy planned and hosted a dog party. Friends of Baillie and their owners were invited, dog and human cake and refreshments were served, handmade decorations for the ballerina theme added the perfect touch of elegance, and a great time was had by all.

For the most part, people consider parties a human only event, and never even consider partying with their pets. But in the USA and Latin America, this mindset has already begun to change. Nancy has started her company in Luxembourg, and hopes that over time the thought of having a dog party will become second nature, like a housewarming party or a wedding. Petopia was intrigued by such a creative and original idea, and thought that sharing the experience with others could help jump-start the trend. After attending Baillie’s 2nd Birthday, Petopia interviewed Nancy to learn more about the source of her inspiration and her envisioned future for The Party Ville.
Handmade decorations added elegance to the dining setup for the dog owners
When did you start your company and what inspired you?
I started planning parties when I was 17 back in high school and once I moved to Luxembourg I continued doing it while writing about it at The Party Ville blog. However in 2016 after losing my full time job, I decided to try to do the party planning as a business, and so far it’s looking very promising. I now have a small team and each day we get more and more party requests!

What inspired me to create The Party Ville was the possibility to create moments of happiness with decorated theme parties, while taking care of the environment. After planning and decorating parties for 5 years in Luxembourg, I had collected a big amount of party supplies that I wouldn't want to get rid of, so I decided to plan parties for other people and to reuse as many party supplies as possible and replicate that feeling of happiness with more people.

In your opinion, what differentiates you the most from other event planning companies?
I think there are many things that differentiate The Party Ville from other event planning companies, one of them is, for example, that we own a large inventory of party supplies available for rent so there is less waste and we can reuse the things allowing our prices to be very attractive.

Another fact that differentiates us is that we love to create things on our own, we do a lot of crafting and handmade decorations, which gives us flexibility to adapt to each client's needs and create original parties. Click here to see Circus Party photos

Finally at The Party Ville we use as much Eco-friendly materials as possible such as bamboo, wood, paper, etc. For us it is important to take care of our environment, so we choose carefully our products to offer the best quality to our clients. And as we want to share our favorite party products with as many people as possible, we decided to open a party shop in Luxembourg city from February 2017!
Refreshments and party favors for people and dogs
How did you come up with the idea of including “dog parties” into your business?
Well it just came from a personal need, after getting our dog Baillie, we started to meet a lot of dog owners and our dog made a lot of dog friends. My husband and I made a lot of new dog owners friends and we thought it was a good idea to celebrate our dog's first birthday with them, after all The Party Ville, it's all about celebrating important moments in life in a creative way, so we thought if we can customize parties for kids and adults, why not also customize parties for dogs?
What other types of events do you plan and which type is your most popular?
We do practically all types of events from weddings, adults parties, baby showers, kids parties, company parties, baptisms, to dog parties. I guess when it is about celebrating special moments there is no limit, as long as we can use our creativity to create a memorable party. So far the theme parties have been the most popular, as it leaves us room to decorate and transform a place into the desired theme.

What do you enjoy most about party planning? 
I love many things about party planning, I guess this is why I have been doing it for over 10 years. But if I could choose the top 2 things I love the most, I would say that one of them is the feeling of creating something from scratch while making a wish come true, transforming an empty room into a theme, it could be a circus, a winter wonderland, a tropical paradise, etc. The second thing I love the most is to be able to make people happy, to transform their wishes into reality and put a smile on their face, I love exceeding their expectations and creating a nice memory of an important moment in their life.
The Beagle is looking to help Ifigenia eat her cupcake
What was your inspiration behind the ballerina theme for Baillie’s party?

For the ballerina theme party for Baillie, I was inspired first by the color of her pink nose, I knew I wanted something pink, because it would match perfectly with her nose. I wanted to create first of all a dog costume that would be both comfortable and pretty, so I had the idea of creating a dog tutu, as I already had done some for little girls. From there came the idea to do a ballerina dog party.
Baillie wearing her ballerina tutu
Do you think that dog parties are something that can become a trend or popular in Luxembourg?
Dog parties are getting more and more popular in the USA and other Latin American countries, so I don't see why they wouldn't be popular in Luxembourg as well. After all I think that Luxembourg is a very dog friendly country and people seem to have money and time to take good care of their dogs, it’s just that I think that they might never had thought of the idea of celebrating their dog's birthday with a dog party. But if they have a small community of dog owners and their dogs are friendly with other dogs I don't see a reason why they shouldn't celebrate together!

How many dogs were at Baillie’s 2nd birthday and the breeds?
At Baillie’s 2nd birthday party we had around 10 dogs that were all friendly with each other. We had a Golden Retriever, Pug, French bulldog, Beagle, Bichon Frise, Shetland Sheepdog, two Belgian Tervuren shepherds, and Baillie, who is a Border Collie.
Pug, Golden Retriever, Bichon Frise, Beagle, and Border Collie, Baillie
What would you say to people considering having a dog party in the future?
I would tell them go for it, it is so much fun and if your dog is so special for you why not celebrate together? Just gather your dog lover friends and have some fun!
Dog biscuits were given away as party favors
What was the type of dog cake that you served?
For this year's dog party we created a water based ice dog cake and the dogs loved it. The idea came after seeing how much Baillie loved ice pops.
Cupcakes and meringue drops were prepared for the dog owners
What other dog parties have you planned in the past and what were the themes?
Another dog birthday party I planned was in red and blue with the theme of paws, it was very similar as the dogs could be together playing with each other, however, all the decorations were made with dog paws which I thought was very cute. Click here to see pictures from Baillie's 1st Birthday party
Invitations were sent out for Baillie's 1st Birthday party
What is your favorite type of party to plan and why?
I don't really have a favorite type of party to plan, as long as it is a theme party. Theme parties are so nice because we can really work on a concept and create something special that would bring a lot of happiness and nice memories. Click to see more pictures from Baillie's 2nd Ballerina Birthday party

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Symbols of Love: Designing Dog Shaped Jewlery


Dog Fever Boston Terrier Hug Ring
Friendship has many facets. The symbols that remind us of our unconditional love to one another come in many forms. But the most common one we see, the daily reminder of our devotion, is a ring. We wear them proudly, and in return are given a sense of comfort and belonging. They become our pledge to our partner, to our friend, that we will love, honor, and remember them forever.

Two years ago in Milan, Italy, four friends - Emanuele Brambilla, Giorgio Bisi, Roberto Dibenedetto, and David Dibenedetto - birthed a new idea that took the symbolism of love to a whole new level. The group aspired to capture our euphoric feelings of love and commitment for our pets and turn them into tangible symbols. They created a unique jewelry brand, Dog Fever, which designs rings, pendants, bracelets, earrings, and more in the shape of dogs.

The first collection was launched in 2014 and in two short years has become quite a hit. In the beginning the team faced challenges with strategic direction and planning, as starts-up tend to do, but were able to overcome them. They have grown to a team of seven persons and have established a presence in over 160 stores across USA, Australia, and Italy.

As a way to give back to the community the group started a partnership with a local rescue organization, Una Cuccia per la Vita, which takes care of abandoned animals across Europe. A portion of their proceeds are donated to the organization, and they hosted events called Photo Parties, where rescue dog owners and their dogs could have their photograph taken by a professional fashion photographer.
Sterling Silver German Shepard Earrings
Dog Fever currently features fifty different breeds of dogs in their jewelry collections. And if your breed falls within one of the fifty, they offer a unique customization capability to incorporate the characteristic features of your dog. Their best product for customization is the classic Hug Ring, but it is also possible to customize earrings, and other items on special request. Customers can also have their dog’s name engraved into the ring adding another element of personal touch.

Inspired by their passion and love for animals, especially dogs and cats, the Dog Fever team’s character resembles that of a Jack Russel – bursting with energy and endless perseverance. In October they will be launching a new advertising campaign, and at the same time are working to design a men’s line of cufflinks, key rings, and more to be launched in 2017. The team has also designed the brand, Cat Fever, and are working to combine it with Dog Fever and create a synergic union.  

When speaking with their sales director and founding father, Emanuele, he explained that quality is one of their strongest pillars. Their individual strengths and talents combined with years of friendship have been key elements in their success.  
"We love dogs and we wanted to develop a collection that makes sense. Dog fever has to be a brand that is remembered in the minds of people.” ~ Emanuele
Sterling Silver Labrador enamelled dog tag
My parents told me that I came out of the womb adoring animals, and the love affair has continued ever sense. As a pet owner I can immediately relate to the brand and applaud their mission. The memories that I have created over the years with my pets will remain with me for eternity. But wearing a daily reminder, a symbol of our eternal friendship that remains close to my heart, is something I not only believe in, but am eager to share with the world.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

At the End of the Race: Life or Death for Canine Athletes


Greyhound at full speed during a race
When professional athletes get injured during a game they are examined immediately. The clock stops and the fans wait with baited breath until the athlete either gets up and rejoins the game or is escorted off the field. Regardless of whether the injury is minor or major, the player is thoroughly examined and treated with care. This may seem like a normal practice and something to be expected, but when it comes to professional racing greyhounds, the empathy, compassion, and care they receive after being injured isn’t even close to being in the same ballpark.

Christine Johnson and her husband, Chris Procopis, have dedicated their lives to rescuing, rehabilitating, and re-homing racing greyhounds. The idea to form such an organization began 16 years ago soon after the couple had adopted their first greyhound.

Initially Chris was afraid of dogs. They were living in New York, and had just moved to Westchester County in 1998. Chris knew how much Christine loved dogs, and for their one year anniversary gave her a card that held $1 and written inside were the words “and a dog”. The caveat was that the dog couldn’t bark, shed, drool, or smell. And since Chris was more of a cat person, he cleverly figured that there was little possibility that a dog would fit such a description.  

Being a strong woman with endless perseverance, Christine started her search for a canine companion that fell within her husband’s criteria. Not too long afterwards, a friend of Christine’s recommended that she try adopting a retired racing greyhound because these dogs have a reputation of being laid back and easy going pets. Christine started her research and coincidentally the following week while on her way to work, came across a lady walking her greyhound. She took this as a sign that a greyhound was the right choice for their family, and went home to put in her adoption application with a greyhound rescue group.

To her surprise she was promptly rejected due to the fact that she and her husband were both working and were away from the house eight hours per day. Refusing to take “No” for an answer, Christine worked quickly to find a solution.
“I’m not one to take no easily. I put flyers all over the condominium complex asking for someone who would come walk the dog while we were at work.”
It was an 11-year old boy that answered her advertisement and came to introduce himself. Christine hired him for $7 a day, and afterwards resubmitted her application, which was then accepted.

Christine and Chris were aware of the mentality of racing greyhounds, and how after a career of racing the dogs can maintain a strong desire to chase. It was also important that their dog get along with cats. Taking that into consideration when choosing which greyhound would be best suited to join their family, the agency chose Paris. Being someone who was initially afraid of dogs, to say that Chris was a little surprised when Christine walked in with the 90 lbs. male greyhound, was an understatement. But not being able to go back on his word as Paris met all of his other requirements, he confronted his fears and gave it a try. It was Christine who was utterly shocked and humbled as she watched her husband’s fears fade into unconditional love.
Christine said, “Within six weeks my husband, who was afraid of dogs, said to me ‘you know, we should get another one’, and that’s when we got our second one.”
As their family grew, so did their desire to learn more about the previous life of their newly adopted greyhounds. Driven by the fact that she had been initially turned down for adoption, but had also been rejected for fostering, Christine knew that she could do better. That’s when she started doing the research to form her own organization with the initial members as herself, her husband, and their two dogs.
Russ at the beach. Adopted and loved by the Garcia family.
A little over 16 years and 1,500 dogs ago, Christine and her husband formed Greyhound Rescue and Rehabilitation (GRR) in May 2000. Their mission was to educate people about adopting greyhounds as pets, and explain to them what happens to retired racing greyhounds who are injured, or brood females, which are females who were used for reproduction. Together they started to implement “Meet and Greets”.
“We would take our two dogs wherever anyone would allow us to talk about greyhounds. Flea markets, pet stores, trade shows. We would set up a table, on Saturdays and Sundays, and start to educate people in the area about greyhounds as pets.” ~ Christine
Christine explained that when people think of having a dog for a pet, greyhounds do not typically come to mind. While walking their dogs they have received or overhead comments such as "Is that a Great Dane? I didn’t know greyhounds came in that color. Mommy, is that an ant eater?”

All of their rescued greyhounds come from racetracks, breeding farms, or are puppies that cannot race due to illness or injury. A racetrack generally has 8 – 12 kennels, and each kennel holds around 66 dogs. Most of the dogs Christine receives are from the racetrack kennels in West Virginia, Alabama, Florida, and the breeding farms in the Midwest. When a dog is racing and breaks a leg, depending on the severity of the injury, the kennel owners may try to rehabilitate it but it’s not common. Generally this would only be considered if the dog was a champion racer. Otherwise the mentality is that an injured dog is just a dog that’s taking up space and not making money, and rehabilitation is a waste of money.
“Greyhound racing kennels this is their business and the dogs are the product of that business. And if the product isn’t making money it has to go to make room for new product to come in that’s making money. And there is only so long that these kennels can hold the ‘non-producers’.” ~ Christine
Christine spent a lot of time and effort establishing relationships with these businesses. Staying true to herself and her mission, over time she was able to gain their trust and cooperation. When a dog has been injured or cannot breed any more litters, she receives a call from the company asking if she can “help”. This generally means providing funding for surgery, post-op work, and foster care. They send her a list which can sometimes contain between 20 and 30 greyhounds, from which she has to choose how many her organization can take on at that time.

Out of the dogs that have been chosen, the ones that have broken legs are scheduled for surgery the following day. Christine makes all of the arrangements for the dogs to be examined by the veterinarian who then makes the recommendations for piecing the bones back together during the operation. Afterwards the dogs are kept in the homes of the volunteer foster families until they are stable enough to be transported to New York. Once they arrive in New York the dogs are kept by another foster family until such time that they can be adopted out to their forever home.

Each year GRR repairs about 18 – 20 broken legs costing between $2,200 and $2,500 per surgery. In addition to the surgeries performed, prior to being adopted out, each dog is spayed or neutered, receives a dental cleaning, shots, tested for heartworms and tick borne diseases, and given a new leash and collar.
Recuperating after surgery
When asked how many foster families the organization currently has, Christine replied,
“Not enough. 5 to 10 and 10 is on the high side. I need foster homes. Without the foster network we cannot take the dogs. Foster homes need to do nothing other than teach the dog to be a pet. We pay for everything, food, vets, any medical expense. If everyone in our group fostered 1 dog per year, that’s 500 dogs. The racing industry is in decline. The dogs need homes more than ever.”
Over the years Christine and Chris have fostered over 300 dogs, but overall the number of volunteers has dwindled and foster homes have decreased. Some years GRR rescues between 120 and 180 dogs, but if no one steps up to offer foster homes the dogs can be euthanized.  
“The longest time a dog has been with a foster before finding a home is 11 months. Our organization doesn’t put a dog in a home unless we think it’s a good fit, we want it to be a win-win. We want the family to be happy and the dog to be happy. The dog had some fears and we needed to find the right home. It took 11 months but we found it. We go for the quality not the quantity. Our return rate is less than 1%” ~ Christine
Alfie is 4-years old and currently up for adoption
Christine advises adopting parents that the life expectancy of a greyhound is generally between 10 and 12 years. Over the years she has kept track of greyhound deaths and their causes, and one of the more common ones is osteosarcoma.
“I call it the 7th inning stretch. If they don’t get cancer they can usually last until 12.”
The dogs that get fostered out from the racetrack are usually between 2 and 6-years old. Whereas the females that come from the breeding farms are older and can range from 6 to 12.

Part of the education Christine provides to the volunteers and adopting parents is how to properly care for a greyhound. She starts from the basics such as the importance of buying the right collar due to the fact that their necks are smaller than their heads. She explains that the racing greyhound’s instinct is to chase and within taking three strides, a greyhound can hit a speed of 45 mph.
“They have been trained to chase. So when they see a little fuzzy dog walking they think ‘that’s my job, I need to chase.’ They can never be let off leash unless they are in a secure fenced in area.” ~ Christine
Christine also enlightens people about the use of invisible fences, how they are not suitable for this type of pet, and that owners must be committed to walking their dog all year round.
“They remember when their job was to go get the rabbit and by the time they hear the invisible fence sensors they are into the shock and are gone. They are sighthounds and they can be miles away within seconds.” ~ Christine
Christine characterizes greyhounds as indoor dogs who don’t like being home alone ten hours a day, but are extremely loving and very gentle companions. Bruce Levinson and his wife, Nina Malmed, have been foster families of GRR since 2008. Nina had a greyhound before she met Bruce then together they adopted their greyhound, Trever, in 2008. Trever had a broken leg and was wearing a cast when they initially met him. After Trever, Nina and Bruce got another greyhound that was a brood mom, who recently passed away, and now they have two greyhounds, Trever, 11, and Justice, 6, and one Galgos, Bernadett (aka Beenie Baby) who is 2. 
Trever and Bernadette relaxing at home with Nina and Bruce
Nina and Bruce love their dogs and consider them part of the family. Bruce agreed with Christine’s statement that greyhounds don’t like being alone and said,
“It’s like a secret service detail they are your bodyguards always moving with you. Some of them come into the bathroom with you because they think you don’t know how to go by yourself.” 
On one occasion transportation couldn’t be arranged fast enough, so instead, Bruce drove ten hours from New York to West Virginia to pick up a dog that needed to go into surgery. This is one of the many examples of GRR’s endless dedication.
“I’m proud of this group. When there is a call to action for a dog in need, we don’t say no. They step up to the plate.” ~ Christine
In addition to the greyhounds that GRR rescues each year, Christine is also passionate about helping save Galgos, a type of sighthound from Spain. Each year the organization will take on anywhere between 8 – 10 Galgos and spend $3,000 per dog to bring them to the USA. Christine is dedicated to fulfilling their mission to rescue and rehabilitate Greyhounds, but also wants to be part of the ongoing international effort to save the Galgos.

The funding to run GRR does not come easy. Volunteers like Nina have knocked on doors asking for donations; at Meet and Greets people also make donations; and once a year they hold an annual picnic fundraiser. At the fundraiser they hold a silent auction, raffle, costume contests, relay races and more. This year the picnic welcomed 237 people and 167 greyhounds. At the end of the year Christine always writes a year-end accomplishments letter that’s sent around in hopes of generating interest and collecting additional funding.

There are other yearly greyhound events where owners come together to share experiences, socialize, reunite dog family members, recommend services, and more. Greyhounds in Gettysburg is held in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in April. This year Nina and Bruce attended Grapehounds, a wine tasting tour with hundreds of other dogs and owners. The event is held during July and takes place in the Finger Lakes region of New York. And Greyhounds Reach the Beach is always during Columbus Day weekend in Dewey Beach, Delaware.
Christine Johnson enjoying Greyhounds in Gettysburg
Bruce, Nina, and Christine all agree that the Greyhound community is so connected. At the events the community members fellowship sharing information, tips, experiences, stories, and more. Bruce shared his view,
“When you adopt a greyhound you’re not just adopting a dog, you’re adopting a family.”
For the last 15 years Christine has attended Greyhounds Reach the Beach, and this year will be no exception. When asked to share her perception of the event held in previous years she said,
“You can close your eyes and not know that there is a dog on that beach. Standing on the beach and seeing hundreds of greyhounds that used to be racers, it is awe-inspiring.”
16 years ago Christine created GRR with the mission to rehabilitate and rescue as many retired racing greyhounds as they could. Greyhound racers had a job to perform and Christine’s wish for the ones that are saved is that they learn, accept, and understand what it means to be loved. The life of a racing dog is very structured and is mostly spent in a crate, absent from fun and affection. GRR’s goal is to transition the dogs from life as working athletes into life as pets. The organization covers the areas of Fairfield County Connecticut, and Westchester, Putman, Duchess, and Rockland counties in New York.

Christine and Chris have five greyhounds (Freddy, 5, Sugar, 4, Josh, 13, Joy Joy, 8, Rusty, 3), one Spanish Galgo (Fanta, 2), and one foster greyhound (Flirt, 2). As they do not have any children they consider the dogs their kids.
“It’s like eating potato chips, you can’t eat just one.” ~ Christine
Rusty, Freddy, and Sugar watching a squirrel