Helper, trainer, veterinarian, and adoption coordinator. These are a few of the many hats that Shelley Lake has worn during her time in the greyhound racing industry. For the past 25 years, Shelley has been involved with greyhounds and it is clear the reason why she has devoted so much of her time to these pups – she is in love with the breed. That love for greyhounds has sparked a passion in Shelley so that everything she does is for those wonderful pups.
Shelley’s start with the greyhound racing industry began in 1993 at The Woodlands where she stayed until the track closed in 2008. She worked at The Woodlands while in college, helping out the kennel and Rob Gillette’s clinic. Instantly falling in love with greyhounds, Shelley worked her way through jobs at the kennel, including trainer. Once she was in the industry, there was no way she was leaving it.
Shelley credits her veterinarian career to the hounds because if it wasn’t for working at the track while in college, she probably wouldn’t have become a veterinarian. Graduating from veterinary school from Kansas State University in 1999, Shelley worked at a practice for about four years before she switched to part-time while helping with greyhound adoption efforts. Shelley mentions that she stumbled into greyhound adoption. She saw pups that had been waiting to be adopted for up to two years in Abilene due to the lack of a local adoption group. Once Shelley saw the need for greyhound adoption, she took on the role of coordinating placement of the hounds with adoption groups. Sometimes Shelley will do a direct placement of a greyhound when needed, but she typically likes to coordinate placing the pups with an adoption group who will then place the greyhound with their forever home.
With Shelley handling up to 100 greyhounds at a time, she is very busy but always thorough. When she checks greyhounds, Shelley gets their general information and pairs a number with a picture of the greyhound so that she can keep track of who is who. During her visits with the pups, she will often cat test as to whether the greyhound is compatible with cats. Cat testing involves having the cat in an animal crate while the greyhound is leashed and muzzled. The cat is released and the reaction of both the cat and pup are noted to determine whether the greyhound is cat friendly. Shelley mentions that usually you can tell whether a greyhound handles cats well based on the cat’s reaction. If the cat doesn’t want to get out of the crate at all, it usually knows that the dog has high prey drive and should not live with little friends. When the cat walks out and rubs all over the dog, then that greyhound is considered to be cat safe.
Not only does Shelley enjoy working with greyhounds, but she loves having them as a part of her family too. She currently owns 15 greyhounds. While Shelley loves all greyhounds, she will request for any senior or medically troubled greyhounds because she knows that it is difficult to adopt them out and she has the resources available to take care of them as a veterinarian herself. This decision also comes from a place of love where Shelley believes that every greyhound deserves to have a home, no matter how little time they have in that home. For instance, Shelley took in a pup with cancer that was only in her forever home with Shelley for one day. Even though it was an extremely short period, Shelley is happy that the greyhound got to have a home before they crossed the rainbow bridge. It takes a truly special person to do what Shelley does.
“Not everyone can open their doors and handle the heartache over and over again”
Being involved in the greyhound racing industry for the last 25 years, Shelley has many great memories. A funny experience involved Flying Halma when she was being unofficially schooled. When Flying Halma broke out of the box, she flew to the front of the race, but ended up running straight to her trainer at the escape turn, stopping to jump up on the fence in the middle of the race! Later that day, as Shelley headed to the kennel club, she passed one of the judges who then said, “I saw you school your pet today,” all while stifling a laugh.
Another standout memory is of Flying Mancini who was great at the 550 and 660 courses, but they needed a greyhound to enter into the 770 Kennel Championship at The Woodlands. They ended up putting Flying Mancini in the race against competition that was experienced on the 770 course. Despite the odds being stacked against her, Mancini ended up winning that race and set the track record while she was at it. Shelley explained that Mancini was so tired after that race that they didn’t make her run the 770 course again, but she did so well that day that she remains the 770 track record holder. Mancini went on to be a 2010 All American, then a momma dog, and is still living happily in Shelley’s home at over 13 years of age.
Shelley has adopted greyhounds, fostered greyhounds, and has even owned a few racers herself. Handsomestranger (Flying Culloden – CJC’s Elite) was born on November 24th, 2011, and as soon as Shelley saw the litter, she knew she needed to have one of the pups. He went to Derby Lane to race and made it up to grade A before retiring due to an injury. Shelley lost Handsomestranger at five and a half years, but he was her heart hound. She also owned Spatter Dash (Dusty Outback – Nightingale) who was another special greyhound that had a similar racing career as Handsomestranger, but she raced at Palm Beach before retiring due to an injury.
With the passing of Florida’s Amendment 13 and Southland’s recent closure announcement for 2022, there has been an increase of retired pups for adoption placement. Shelley explains that a lot of studs and broods are being retired since many farms will no longer need to breed as many pups and other farms are starting the process of closing down their operation. The decline of racing and increase in track closures saddens Shelley because she sees the ending of greyhound racing as an ending to the dogs that we love. This encourages Shelley to continue to adopt, foster, and work with greyhounds for as long as she possibly can, enjoying every minute spent with these amazing athletes.
“They complete me. They make me who I am. I just try to give back. They are my calling.”