How did you get into this?
One of the most common questions Jerry & I are asked is “How did you ever get into all of this?”. Well, that was the easy part, I guess.
Jerry & I liked to go to yard sales. We were always in search of special treasures and unique things. Some of the best yard sales are run by charities. A lady who used to work in the office I was in, sent over a poster looking for yard sale items to raise money for a greyhound rescue. We figured the best way to get in on the good stuff was to “help” them with the sale. There was a meeting at the home of a volunteer named Diane in Davie. We arrived and they had very little idea what they were doing. At first we tried to lay low but we soon decided to jump in with both feet to help. We didn’t know greyhounds but we knew yard sales!We had a pickup truck and they had lots of people who wanted to donate so we took a day off of work and drove around to the homes of people we had barely or never met to pick up donations. They left keys under mats or back doors unlocked and we walked blindly into empty houses to collect piles of their belongings while these big, beautiful greyhounds looked at us, tails wagging and asking if they could go, too. Every single one of them was so, so sweet. Lousy guard dogs (one barked – one time – but I think he was asking us in) but wonderful dogs. We were so hooked!
That yard sale was Friday, Saturday and Sunday and we worked our tails off. By the end of it, we knew this group was some of the most sincere and dedicated volunteers we had ever met and the lady running the rescue really, really needed some organized help. We continued volunteering with the group and it was a challenge. It was as if she resented it when others did things for her dogs. The bunch of us trudged on taking pleasure in making small victories for the greyhounds. One time we actually hid down the street to wait for her to leave and then our group converged on the house and spent hours cleaning and repairing the kennel. It was a labor of love for the dogs but she was really ticked. We tried to be on good behavior after that but it didn’t last.
We formulated an idea of how to help her. We would start a secondary group aimed at raising money for her and doing tasks for her to make her adoption group more successful and more presentable. We wanted to fix up the kennel area so she could make food there instead of bringing bowl by bowl through the house from the kitchen. We wanted to pre-print brochures in quantity before events instead of running out the night before. We had wonderful plans.
We held a pot luck meeting in Diane’s home one night, the same place we had started out with the yard sale months before. We had over 20 people. Our spirits were high and everyone wanted to help the dogs. But the lady who founded the rescue arrived and proceeded in very plain language to rip us all to shreds. At one point she said “I don’t need any stinking volunteers”, a quote we all remember. She got into screaming matches with us, Diane and everyone within earshot. People where hiding in the kitchen and slipping out the back door to get away. Jerry & I stuck it out, trying to explain that this was all FOR her and not against her and feeling so bad for Diane and her husband who couldn’t leave- it was their house! Once our car was unblocked, we headed out the front door with her trailing us across the lawn screaming. We knew we wouldn’t be working with the greyhounds any more.
The next day, as the shell shock was still wearing off, Jerry turned to me and said “I wish we could just do it ourselves!” . Those were fateful words. I told him we’d need to redesign the garage, put in a new back door, add a gate, board fencing, kennels, move our stuff from the garage into a storage locker, etc, etc. And we did. It took time to do the physical stuff and legal stuff and it took much of our savings that we happily invested for the sake of the dogs. On May 2, 2001, we incorporated Friends of Greyhounds.
By October, we were FINALLY ready for dogs. The physical work was done and we had a vet lined up to help. I called the track and boldly asked for the General Manager by name (from the internet) and they connected me. I introduced myself and told him we were a new adoption group. He stopped me mid-sentence and said they already had an adoption group and as he started to dismiss me, I yelled at him – “I don’t want your money – I want access to your dogs.” I think I scared him. But he graciously stopped and listened. He then put me in contact with the manager at Florida Kennels and told me to use his name. Well that name paved the way for us to get our first dogs on October 18, 2001 and we did our first adoption, Snickers, from a party in the park we called “Woofstock” on November 7, 2001.
But getting into it was only the beginning. So many, many people have contributed to our progress since Jerry made that wish and I will not attempt to name them all. We are in a transient area. We lose people and get new ones. We hope they spread the gospel of the greyhound as they travel the world. We never have enough volunteers. I never have enough time and there are always more than enough dogs.
We had been in this business just about a year when we were asked to take over the adoption kennel at Florida Kennels and be the official adoption group for both Flagler and Hollywood dog tracks. It was a huge undertaking but we immediately recognized the tremendous opportunity it afforded us to adopt out more dogs. Overall, it has had ups and downs but we would absolutely do it again. We lost many of our original volunteers because they felt we were “making the track look good.” Jerry & I believed it would give us the ability to move more dogs out of the kennels and into new homes. We tried desperately to explain it to them but they were steadfast in their own beliefs. Many of them still work with the greyhounds for other groups. That’s what it has always been about for us – the dogs. We miss those people and I especially miss Diane who taught me so much about the greyhounds, their history, their personalities and their needs.
Friends of Greyhounds is our pride and joy and probably the greatest accomplishment Jerry & I will have in our lives. We are a politically neutral group. We work with the tracks but FoG makes its own decisions about the dogs that are given to us. Like most relationships, it has its good times and bad but we are very proud of what FoG has accomplished and we will continue on this path until we are no longer needed.Friends of Greyhounds is an all donation, all volunteer, organization. The tracks give us use of the kennel building in Hialeah and the office area. They provide security, utilities, some supplies and some food. Their largest and most critical donation to us is the three full time kennel people that they pay for year round. That is what makes it possible for us to have 47 dogs available every weekend for people to see. They also send us a check every so often for a state mandated percentage of the value of unclaimed parimutuel tickets.
But we simply cannot function at this level without volunteers or I would be as crazy as the lady we started out working with. There is more paperwork and detail involved in this business than you can imagine. I lost my job in 2006 and figured I’d catch a few things up with FoG while I looked for work. Well, I’m still trying to catch things up and Friends of Greyhounds has become my full time volunteer position. Thank heaven for Jerry’s job holding us together financially. But I must admit that I have the sense that every thing I have learned, every crazy job I have had (and I’ve had some doozies), all the education I got (albeit late in life) has all been aimed at our work with these dogs. Even Jerry & I meeting and falling in love. It is an amazing mosaic and it has all fit together.
We are so proud of how far we have come, but we have a tough road ahead of us. I hope you have already joined us or will come along for the trek. These are the most amazing and wonderful dogs and they have made us do amazing and wonderful things. We have adopted out over 1000 dogs and we’re still going. We’ve known each one and most have been in our home during the course of their transfer from track to home. We’ve held them and loved them and invested them with our money, our energy, our love, and our emotions and then we turned them over to strangers, trusting that they will be cared for and loved. We stand back and wait in case we need to catch them if they bounce.
I’ve flown cross country to pick up a dog and thrown myself into the middle of a dog fight. I’ve threatened, begged, cajoled, and stayed up late nights writing blogs all to get great dogs into good homes. Jerry works long days and then goes out on fog deliveries or gets stuck with burgers for dinner because we don’t have time to run a normal home. And then every moment of his weekends is spent at the kennel or an event. And then he’s back to work. The phone rings at 2 am and it’s someone looking for the Greyhound Bus station. We have to answer it. Just once in a while it’s an adopter with a problem. All calls get answered if we hear them. Total strangers are given our cell phone numbers. We put key pad locks on the door just in case we need to tell someone how to get in to get a dog or something a dog needs. Our vacations are to the Global Pet Expo or Animal Sheltering Expo.
We’ve had dogs who came in and were adopted out in a couple days. We barely got to know them. Others have stayed with us for years. Some have been adopted and returned two or three times, occasionally for bad behavior but more often just victims of bad luck. Especially a lousy economy. We will be here for those dogs as long as we possibly can be. We have dogs returned to us that were not adopted out by us but the owners live here now. They are welcomed as family. And we have had dogs die, unadopted, in the kennel. Those are our special angels. This is not easy work.
Please help us keep the work of Friends of Greyhounds moving forward. There are many, many ways on this website to help and there is so much to be done for so many dogs. We may have started at a yard sale but we have built something bigger and the better we support and maintain this organization, the more dogs we can save. Thank you for being there for us.
Love, Peace & Greyhounds,
Michelle Weaver & Jerry Deitch
Friends of Greyhounds, Inc.
PS – Yes, I married Jerry in 2009 after 20 years of living together but there are other Michelles and Jerrys in the family and it would be just too, too complicated if I took his name at this late date.