When Carl Viener saw a miniature greyhound walking down the street alone in 1980, it soon became clear to him what kind of pet he preferred.
“I had two cats and I hadn’t had a dog since 12 or 15 years before that,” said Viener, 58. “I never found the owner. I decided I liked dogs.”
Viener took in the roaming dog, Mercury. But his love for greyhounds and helping them didn’t stop there. Viener started Adopt a Greyhound Atlanta, Inc. (AAGA) – proclaimed on its website as Atlanta’s oldest greyhound rescue group -- 30 years ago to find good homes for this lithe and laid back dog breed.
The Stone Mountain-based group's care of retired racing greyhounds as well as other sighthound breeds in need has led to some 150 to 200 dogs adopted each year.
“My intention wasn’t to start that, initially,” Viener said. “We just wanted [a greyhound]. Then we got another one and another one, then we started advocating and telling people and going places.”
Viener said the not-for-profit, licensed animal shelter, which recently welcomed several former racing dogs from Jacksonsville, Florida, is only about 10 dogs away from reaching a huge milestone: 4,600 dogs adopted over the course of AAGA’s history.
Viener said not even the lackluster economy has hindered the AAGA’s adoption success. “I can’t say it’s hurt at all,” he said.
Back in the 1980s, after welcoming Mercury into his home, Viener started visiting a dog track in Montgomery, Alabama, with the hope of adopting another greyhound. He eventually got a call that one was available. His number of greyhounds kept growing.
Today, Viener’s personal dogs are a senior greyhound, three Italian greyhounds, and one Italian greyhound mix.
“However, the overall number can vary from time to time, as any dog that enters the Adopt A Greyhound program and is, for whatever reason, deemed ‘unadoptable’ becomes a permanent resident here and resides with me for the duration of its life,” he said.
Viener has made sacrifices for his full-time work: he said he hasn’t had a vacation in 20 years, and he can’t clock out at 6 pm, as with a regular job.
But he said the breed’s characteristics make his set-up for them a good fit. “No way could I have a dog truck come up with 12 [of a different breed] and be able to deal with them easily,” he said.
AAGA at any given time has 12 to 18 greyhounds available for adoption living in an apartment facility attached to Viener’s home, called Greys’ Land.
Unlike certain breeds, greyhounds can easily adapt to a variety of family sizes or home situations.
“Their demeanor is quiet and calm and they’re great indoor dogs,” Viener said, attributing the qualities to their breeding, as well as how they’re raised and handled through the years.
Several adopters help at meet-and-greets and special events, including the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Atlanta and Alpharetta Artfest; AAGA also has a handful of very active volunteers.
But the organization could use more volunteers – especially people “willing to help with the ‘dirty’ work,” Viener said. Those tasks include cleaning up the facility and the yard, washing the dogs, and more.
Another challenge is occassionally encountering impatient adopters, a few of whom may expect their greyhound to act exactly like another owner’s. “I think people have these expectations that they are perfect most of the time,” Viener said. “If it’s not perfect when they walk through the door, they get upset."
Information on AAGA's website, called "My first few days in my new home," is written from the dog's point of view, explaining the emotions and behaviors a greyhound may initially go through after being adopted.
Despite the challenges, Viener knows AAGA has done its job when he hears from owners that have been well-matched with their dogs.
“I like it when the people are happy and the dogs are happy. [The owners] email pictures and the dog is lying on its back on the sofa,” Viener said. “I guess that’s the kind of thing I like the best -- successful adoptions.”