What’s in a Name?

by Dennis McKeon

We often hear from new adopters of retired greyhounds, that the greyhound they have adopted doesn’t respond to its “call name”. A call name is the name that the trainers and the assistants use when training, handling and addressing an individual greyhound.

Many times, the greyhound’s call name bears no resemblance to the dog’s registered, official, racing name, but sometimes it is a derivation or abbreviation of that name. Nevertheless, it is to both the greyhounds’ and their adopters’ benefit, if the call name is known. Sometimes, the greyhound’s call name is lost in the transition from track, to adoption kennel, to adopter, however.

Nevertheless, given that the newly adopted greyhound is about to go through (what for some of them) is a cataclysmic change of venue and lifestyle, it can be of some, small comfort to them, to hear their familiar name spoken and used by these complete strangers–who will soon become the focus of their new lives. There are many challenging adjustments ahead for the newly re-homed greyhound, and having to learn to respond to an unfamiliar name, can only serve to complicate making those adjustments.

Now there are some greyhounds who may choose not to respond to a strange voice, or to a person with whom they aren’t familiar, or with whom they aren’t yet entirely comfortable. This should not be interpreted by the new adopter as a personal rejection. It’s just that some greyhounds can be almost cat-like in their aloofness, or their reaction to new people within their sphere and environment. That aloofness can be amplified by their shocking discovery that their environment is now entirely unfamiliar, full of strange, and often, mysterious or intimidating sights, sounds and objects. Their call name may be the only familiar thing they have to hold onto, at that stage of the game.

Back in the day, when I was plying the trade, most of the time greyhounds would arrive at the racing kennel with their call name taped or otherwise written on their collars. Since it was a racing commission rule that the greyhound’s official racing name could not be in any way affixed to their crate (so that no stranger could tamper with them in order to affect a dog’s performance), the call name was usually printed on a piece of masking tape, and then affixed to the dog’s crate.

The popular misconception among some adopters, is to infer that in cases where the greyhound is unresponsive to what they were told was its call name, that he or she must not have actually had one. While I suppose that it might the case in very isolated instances, I can assure you, that in my experience, they all had familiar names. It would be virtually impossible for any trainer to maintain order and efficiency in his/her kennel, if the individual greyhounds in their care, were not responsive to their trainer’s call or commands.

Looking back on it all now, there are times when I can’t recall the racing name of a greyhound I may have handled, but I can almost always remember their call names. That’s how we knew them.

For example, there is the curious case of one red-brindle, 76 pounder, called Lamont. He had the most vexing habit of racing on the outermost part of the track, right next to the grass apron—all the way around. He didn’t simply veer wide on the straightaways, and then drop down to the rail to shotgun the turns. Au contraire—he parked himself as wide as was canine-ly possible, and stayed there, for the entire race.

Because he was giving up gobs of ground to his rivals, he had some difficulty recovering that ground in a 550 yard race. And while he was gifted with otherworldly speed and stamina, he just couldn’t get up in time to beat good dogs, given his bizarre, extreme fixation on the outer lane of the racetrack. No amount of training, high, holy novenas, sorcery, witchcraft, or even trying to reason with him, was about to change that.

So I decided that his future success would probably be more easily secured with a change in distance–to longer distance. Even though that would present him with another, additional turn, on which he would inevitably give away even more ground, there was no doubt in my mind that he would easily stay for 770 yards (marathon distance), eventually. The plan was to give him a few races at 660 yards, see how he handled that, and then, go onto the longer, marathon distance.

Now, you have to let the racing secretary know when you wish to change a greyhound from one distance to another, and there was a standard form to fill out, so that he could draw him into a race at the distance you had indicated you preferred. I did that, and went to work on Lamont, getting him ready for yet a new adventure in practiced ground-losing.

Normally, the dog will not miss a day in rotation, and might even draw in to race a day earlier, when you switch from shorter to longer distance (there are always fewer greyhounds entered for distances longer than the standard, 550 yard “sprint”, so the turnaround can be faster). For some reason, Lamont didn’t draw in at all. I guess I waited about 5 days before I decided I had better inquire of the racing secretary, just what was the problem.

But I didn’t have to. That evening, after weighing in the night’s racers, in my message box in the racing office, was a note, from the racing secretary himself. It read simply:

“No dog named Lamont on roster”.

I was god-smacked. I had, mindlessly, entered the dog by his call name!

Lamont wasn’t Lamont, to the public or to the racing secretary. His official racing name was—ironically enough—Beyond Recall.

copyright, 2017