Greyhounds in the North East are being promised safe, loving retirement homes after their racing career is over.
A new scheme, which has already found homes for 9,000 dogs, will ensure those who own racing greyhounds contribute to the costs of finding them a family to live with once their days on the track have come to an end.
There are three major greyhound stadiums in the North East, based in Pelaw, Sunderland and Newcastle, and every year hundreds retire from the sport and are left in need of a forever home.
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Each year, families are sought for around 7,500 dogs across the UK, who typically leave the racecourse for rehoming charities at the age of three.
But the process can be costly, with cash needed for neutering, vaccinations, food and shelter before the hounds can be adopted.
Last September the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) introduced the new scheme which insists owners make a £200 contribution to the dog's eventual retirement when they are first registered for racing.
The GBGB then matches the contribution, meaning £400 is donated to approved rehoming centres once the speedy creatures swap the stadium for the comfort of a sofa.
And in the first year alone 9,000 dog across the country have been enrolled, while 3,000 have already joined charities and families.
Paula Beniston, co-ordinator of the Greyhound Retirement Scheme (GRS), said: "The greyhound racing industry has undergone a massive transformation in the past 20 years.
"The new scheme is an extension of an already huge leap in welfare standards, protecting the future of greyhounds from the moment they start racing.
"Greyhounds are now more popular as pets than they ever have been. Our rehoming figures show that more ex-racers than ever before are going on to find loving forever homes as pets.
"But there are still rehoming costs involved once they retire, and this scheme will help to cover those.
"Greyhounds make fantastic pets. It is a myth that they need lots of exercise, and most are content with a few short walks each day.
"It's not uncommon for them to spend most of their time sleeping, they walk well on a lead, don't tend to bark and are very gentle. They are great companions for owners of all ages, including the elderly.
"The new scheme has been met with huge positivity from both the owners and trainers of greyhounds and the rehoming centres, and we are celebrating an amazing first year."
Greyhound racing is still controversial with campaign groups continuing to call for a ban, insisting the sport is cruel and results in needless deaths.
In 2006 there was huge concern for the welfare of the dogs when builders merchant David Smith was fined for killing hundreds of greyhounds in Seaham, County Durham, and burying them on his land.
He had said he was doing society a favour by putting them down, and claimed he donated money given to him to get rid of the animals to charity.
But representatives of the sport insist they're trying to prevent any healthy dogs from being killed.
Paula said: "We have seen a significant improvement in our injury and retirement data in recent years.
"The percentage of greyhounds being successfully homed has improved from 88% in 2018 to 95% in 2020.
"Likewise, the number of greyhounds being put to sleep on economic grounds or because no home could be found has fallen from 180 in 2018 to 24 in 2020.
"GBGB has always been clear that these deaths are unacceptable, and we have been working across the sport to address this issue as a priority; our ultimate aim is to bring the number down to zero.
"The Greyhound Retirement Scheme has certainly played a part in this - and as the scheme becomes more established - we expect to see further progress made."
Dogs which have benefitted from the scheme include Tigger, formerly Murleys Taylor, who raced at Sunderland Greyhound Stadium before she was rehomed in 2019.
The three-year-old pooch found a new home thanks to the now-GRS-approved Durham District Retired Greyhounds.
Tracey Parbery, Chair of Greyhound Trust Hall Green, which has homed nearly 400 greyhounds through the GRS, said: "The GRS has been a lifeline to many Greyhound Trust branches.
"The knowledge that you have a guaranteed payment coming into the Branch against every greyhound you are finding a home for helps budget for costs and supports the welfare of each hound."
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