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Local Hero – Race for Life

Greyhounds get a second chance thanks to one Louisville guardian who started her own grassroots rescue group

By Wendy WollenbergJennifer Watkins
Jennifer Watkins reveres Greyhounds so much that being a guardian of one inspired her to do more for these special dogs. “When people first meet one, they just fall in love,” she says of her favorite breed. Eleven months after adopting her first Greyhound, an eight-year-old retired racing dog named Brody, she began a rescue group with a friend and fellow dog lover. That was in 1998, when the Greyhounds of Shamrock was a committee of the Shamrock Pet Foundation, a Louisville organization committed to ending pet overpopulation, reducing the number of animals destroyed in shelters, and to educating the public about animal welfare issues. “I never thought about doing rescue work as a way
of life,” Watkins says. “But Brody was so wonderful and taught me so much that I wanted to share this gift with others.”

The Greyhounds of Shamrock has grown so established over the past 13 years that it became its own separate nonprofit group in January. “For anyone thinking of starting a rescue group, partnering with a larger foundation is a great way to start,” Watkins says. The organization rescues mostly retired racing Greyhounds. “Racing dogs are used to routines, which makes them especially good for adoptions,” asserts Watkins, who has adopted two additional Greyhounds since Brody and fostered 16 others.

Watkins’ organization partners with shelters in other areas, such as New England and Florida, the largest dog racing state in the country. “It’s so nice to be able to help Kentucky and other places at the same time,” Watkins says. The group also fosters bred Greyhounds and dogs that are crossbred to become faster hunting companions, such as Hound and Beagle mixes. In fact, Watkins sees a rise in these types of dogs in shelters across the Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana areas after hunting season ends each year.

A well-known advocate in the Greyhound community, Watkins has spoken at the annual International Greyhound Welfare Conference in Massachusetts, addressing attendees from all over the world about issues facing Greyhounds, including the decline of racing in the U.S. countered by its expansion to other countries in Asia and South America. She often brings rescued dogs with her to these high-profile speaking engagements.

Watkins believes education is the number one priority when it comes to adopting a dog of any breed. The Greyhounds of Shamrock hosts several educational events every month so potential adoptive families can meet and greet available dogs. “People need to be prepared about the type of dog they are thinking of bringing home,” she says. “They need to be 100 percent committed.”

The Greyhounds of Shamrock hosts its largest event, the Greyhound Festival of the Bluegrass, one weekend every July. More than 200 people from across the country attend the three-day affair, which includes a costume ball, a doggie ice cream social, live music, vendors, and much more. “The festival requires a lot of volunteer effort each year,” Watkins says. “But it’s all worth it.”

Watkins stresses the importance of always looking to shelters and rescue groups when adopting. “These animals make fantastic pets,” she says, referring to rescued dogs. “If I hadn’t taken that chance with Brody, my life would be very different right now. These animals give me more than I could ever give them.”

For more information about the Greyhounds of Shamrock, visit GreyhoundsofShamrock.org.

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