VIDEO: Trust them to help greyhounds

See what rehoming centre does for rescued animals

What do author Jilly Cooper, One Foot in the Grave actress Annette Crosbie and animal trainer Victoria Stilwell have in common?

All three are Honorary Friends of Greyhound Rescue West of England (GRWE), which covers Luton and Bedford.

GRWE regional homing officer Graham Crick, 64, would dearly love to have 1960s icon Twiggy on board too. But the face of Marks & Spencer is already spoken for as patron of the Registered Greyhound Trust.

Graham, a retired printing boss, is absolutely devoted to the four rescue dogs with whom he and his wife Diana share their sprawling Bedfordshire home.

He's frequently moved to the point of tears discussing the plight of the gentle breed he's come to know and love since taking in his first greyhound, Amber, in 1988. "They make such perfect pets," he says, tenderly stroking Rosie, a Borzoi cross border collie whom he describes as "an Essex girl."

Mishka, a Borzoi cross deer hound, is curled up comfortably in an armchair while greyhounds Batty and Jazz nuzzle his hand in the hope of a biscuit.

"They're not like small dogs, they're not yappy and in your face all the time," he continues. "Under normal circumstances they sleep most of the day."

He strokes Batty tenderly and says: "She was rescued from an allotment shed with 29 others. She had mange and fleas when we got her. She was a racing dog and if they don't keep winning . . ." His voice tails off and his eyes mist over. "Some are injected with bleach. It's a horrible, slow death.

"Greyhounds seem to suffer more than other breeds because there's more of them - 6,000 are injured every year on the track. If they break a leg or a hock, they just get put down. They're treated as a commodity. If they're going to cost money, get rid of them.

"Not all trainers are bad. But they don't look after their teeth. They just feed them to maintain a certain standard of health so the dog is OK and can race.

"More than 10,000 dogs come on to the tracks each year - which means 10,000 come off.

"Genetically speaking, they're regarded as the closest animal to human beings. Our metabolism and blood systems are very similar." He pauses, overcome with emotion: "Some are used for vivisection, unfortunately."

Graham describes greyhounds as dogs of routine and habit: "They grow up in kennels and most have never been in a home so they're unfamiliar with things like vacuum cleaners and stairs. They all have different characters but they're always pleased to see you - unlike human beings."

Racing dogs are ear-marked - Irish dogs in both ears and English in only one. Again his eyes film over. "Some owners cut off their ears, without anaesthetic, so they can't be identified," he says. And it's at unregistered 'flapping' tracks or in travelling communities where many of these atrocities occur.

Graham has been involved with GRWE - which homes abused and abandoned dogs - since seeing a programme 11 years ago on Channel 4's Pet Rescue.

He's been a trustee for the past six and now handles merchandising and mail order as well as being regional homing officer. He does home checks to ensure prospective owners have secure gardens and answers any questions they may have. Then comes the task of matching an animal with an owner.

All rehomed dogs are neutered, immunised, health checked and micro-chipped. All are eventually homed - even if it takes many months and some have to go to special kennels for one-to-one training after being badly treated.

Graham says Diana has limited him to four dogs but he's delighted his two daughters share his passion for his four-legged friends. His youngest daughter Rosalind has two rescued lurchers while her sister Nicole would love one but works full time.

The Crick home is full of greyhound memorabilia. A portrait of four appealing furry faces holds pride of place in the living room while every surface is littered with china replicas. There's even a greyhound mobile outside the front door.

Graham may be unable to put his devotion into words, but he says a feeling of peace and contentment comes over him when he's surrounded by his canine companions. They in turn sigh softly and look at him with grateful,loving eyes.

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