Up until a couple of months ago, I would not have considered myself a dog person. But my partner had been talking about fostering for a while and he is allergic to cats. So we decided on the closest thing to a cat that is actually a dog: a greyhound. As far as dogs go, they are perfect for apartments because they sleep most of the day.
The greyhound racing industry in Australia is vast in its scale, and in the depth of its cruelty. Every year, around 20,000 greyhound pups are bred — and, by the industry’s own admission, around 18,000 are killed because they aren’t fast enough to win races. 8,000 puppies never even make it to the tracks.
Those that are lucky enough to be kept alive are cooped up in kennels for up to 23 hours are day. They invariably suffer trauma and often actual physical abuse — and they never know what it is to live in a home or experience human kindness. Dash was one of these.
When Dash came to us, we were told he he was five years old and fresh out of the kennels. I wanted to foster through a reputable organisation, one that we could rely on for any support we might need. We’d never really owned a pet before, but the Royal Society For The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), the largest animal welfare organisation in Australia, told us that Dash was an easy animal to look after and therefore a “perfect” first dog. Of course, they had absolutely no way of knowing this.
The RSPCA fosters dogs out for a fixed period of time — in our case, six weeks — presumably to see how they manage in a home environment before they are put up for adoption. As foster carers, we were given no training but assured we could call a Behaviourist to answer any questions we had.
We had many questions. The first thing Dash did was head straight for the rubbish bin and rip it to shreds. Greyhounds are very food-orientated, so if we left him alone or turned our backs, he would try to forage in the bins or cupboards. We always braced ourselves for possible destruction — he was tall enough to leap up to the top of the fridge or put his paws up on the kitchen bench and side-swipe our plates onto the tiled floor.
Dash was an adorable weirdo. He spent most of the day on the couch, sleeping on his back with all four legs splayed into the air. Because I work from home, and am used to having the couch to myself, we would occasionally tussle for it — I would have to trick him into getting up and then literally race him to see who could get to the couch first, and if it was him, he would occupy the whole thing and growl at me to clear off.
I used to joke that he was like me in dog form: his favourite pasttime was napping and he hated leaving the house as much as I do. Whenever we tried to walk him, he would go stiff just outside the front door of the building and it took all our coercion to get him around the block. If we made it to the park, he would collapse on the ground and not want to get up again.
Dash had an aversion to teenagers and drunk people that was almost charming. In our apartment, he was lord of his domain — when the kids walked home from school outside, he would run onto the balcony and growl down at them. If people came home late at night, talking a little too loudly, he would race to the door and bark at them so they knew to keep it down. Same, doggo, same.
But outside the apartment, if we passed those teenagers or drunks, he would cower in fear — the same as he would for trams, trains, garbage trucks, and birds. He was scared of tradies most of all: something about men in high-vis vests holding objects triggered him, making me wonder whether he’d suffered some sort of physical abuse.
Apart from napping, his favourite (and only other) hobby was eating. His ability to have non-food items pass through him was nothing short of amazing. He could swallow anything and it would come straight out the other end: wood, cork, rubber, metal, plastic. When he went to the toilet, it was always a wonder and a revelation to discover things that we thought had been missing — like pieces of our headphones, remote control, phones, or his own collar.
Dash somehow peed much more than his water intake, and he would panic-pee in the apartment when he was anxious. He was anxious a lot, so we spent a great deal of time cleaning up pee. He was anxious when we left him alone, and when he couldn’t see us — if I was in the shower, or we were sleeping. He got very anxious every night somewhere between 3 and 4 in the morning when he wanted to be taken outside.
But his anxiety was relieved by having us in his sight. He had to be in whatever room we were in, preferably lying right underneath my chair at the desk or beside us on the couch, or trailing on our heels as he followed us around the apartment. His favourite spot was on someone’s lap, with his bum facing towards you so you were best-placed to appreciate his farts.
Because he was so long, his head would be out of reach for pats, but that way he could pretend to be engaged in whatever television show we were watching. He never quite mastered his physicality — and so he used to get stuck in places he was too long to get out of, or have to do three-point turns around tight corners, or rotate so suddenly that he would hit his head on a wall. He didn’t ever work out glass doors either — and he ran into ours head-first every single time he got excited about his dinner.
For a while, it didn’t seem that Dash’s anxieties were improving: we called the RSPCA and asked for support like they’d told us we could. We needed to know how to encourage him to sleep through the night, and to go for walks, and to stop eating everything on our bookshelves.
It took a month of repeated requests for the Behaviourist to finally call us back. By then, we had two weeks left of the foster period and she said it was too late to train him in anything so we may as well bring him back early. I asked whether that would ruin his chances of adoption. They told us not to worry, there was no way that Dash would be euthanised — since that was our concern.
We didn’t take him back early. The first few days after the phone call, we talked about it and said “Maybe tomorrow” and then again “Maybe tomorrow” until “Maybe tomorrow” turned into “I can’t believe we have to take him back…”
In the last two weeks of the foster period, as though he knew he had to be on his best behaviour, Dash finally learned to stand at the door when his bladder was bursting instead of peeing on a pot plant (and ending up with urine splashed all over the walls and floor because his aim was so bad.) I started taking him for runs in the morning and he actually ran. We managed to hide away most of the stuff he could have eaten. He slept in until the almost-acceptable hour of 5am and then 6am.
We took him to the pub and to cafes. He gained five kilos so he was no longer bony and underweight. We marvelled about how he was becoming a “normal dog”. He would eagerly await the return of my partner at 6pm — which he knew marked his dinner time — and he would run circles around the couch and bury himself into the cushions, thrashing around to make us laugh.
When the day came to take Dash back to the RSPCA, I was a fully-converted dog person. I cried as I left him as I threw my arms around him — feeling the same way I felt when I had to take my little brother to kindergarten and he held onto me and begged me not to leave him behind. But Dash didn’t do any begging, he just looked confused about why he was back at this place and not on his couch at our apartment.
My partner and I talked about Dash for weeks, wondering how he would be coping back in the kennels, hoping he had found the perfect adoptive home. I emailed the RSPCA to ask about him: Dash was still working with a Behaviourist to work out his issues, they told us. “He’s doing well, though!”
We decided to foster again through a different organisation that is specific to greyhounds — as there were no more greyhounds available through the RSPCA. When a volunteer from Amazing Greys came to do a home inspection, I told him all about Dash. I said that we wished we could continue fostering him until he was adopted, but that this isn’t how RSPCA operates. Their dogs have to go back to the kennels first. He told me they would try and get Dash out.
My partner and I got our hopes up — we still had Dash’s toys in one corner, waiting for our next foster dog. We would walk past and make them squeak, and imagine Dash running around the corner to see what the noise was, as he always did.
Then we got an email from Amazing Greys. They said they had finally managed to get information from the RSPCA, and that Dash had been euthanised. The Behaviourist decided that he didn’t just have “normal behavioural issues”. He was never even put up for adoption.
This news completely shattered us. Was this our fault for asking for support from the Behaviourist? Was my evaluation of his needs too harsh? We were asked to give a written report— I tried to be as honest as possible so that he would be matched with the right home. I tried to emphasise how much he had improved by the end of the foster period.
Last night, after we received the news, I dreamed that my partner and I had to euthanise Dash ourselves. We injected him with poison and it took him a long time to die, growing gradually cold in our arms as he just stared up at us, the way he did when he didn’t quite understand what was going on.
I feel so very sad for this poor animal. Ours was the only home that Dash ever lived in — and he was only with us for six short weeks. How can a dog that has been abused for five years be expected to turn around its behaviour in such a brief amount of time? Why was he not assessed in our home, instead of after being returned to the kennels? Surely, being taken back to the RSCPA would have left him stressed and anxious, which was when he was most likely to exhibit these behaviours.
But mostly, I am angry. I specifically asked whether this outcome was possible — and was reassured that it wasn’t. Had we known that Dash was going to be euthanised instead of being adopted out, we would have taken him in ourselves. We were never given the option. The RSPCA doesn’t seem to understand that when someone fosters an animal, it is not just their time and money they are giving. A foster carer makes a significant emotional investment. We loved Dash. What was the point of giving him over to our care at all?
It seems like the foster placement was simply a test to determine whether Dash was allowed to live or die — and it was not made clear what the consequence would be for Dash if he failed. But the RSPCA set him up to fail, by not giving us support to help him with his needs and then determining that those needs were not “normal”. What is normal for a dog that has known nothing but abuse and trauma his entire life?
Why was he not tried on anti-anxiety medication as many former racing dogs are? Or given over to an organisation that was better equipped to help him if the RSPCA couldn’t? Why wasn’t he put through another foster placement? Why weren’t we contacted to ask if we would take him permanently? How many of their foster animals are being put down without ever even beginning the adoption process? How many carers know about this?
I have questions, so many of them — but so far, they have gone unanswered.
Dash was a survivor. He was learning to become brave in a world that was new and frightening to him. But he couldn’t survive the RSPCA.
Rest in peace Dash, you glorious and strange creature. I’m sorry this world was so utterly shitty to you. I’m sorry that the organisation that was supposed to protect you ultimately did to you what the abominable racing industry didn’t. And I’m so so very sorry that I didn’t save you.