Ohio State's greyhound whisperer
Published: Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Updated: Saturday, June 16, 2012 00:06
When many think of greyhounds, they imagine a skinny dog known for racing or the name of a bus line. But Guillermo Couto, doctor of veterinary medicine at Ohio State's Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, sees an opportunity to research a breed unlike any other.
Couto could be considered the epitome of Greyhound consultation. He specializes in oncology, hematology, transfusion medicine and greyhound medicine.
Couto received his doctorate of veterinary science from the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina and received training at the University of California-Davis. He has worked at OSU for 28 years, but his interest in greyhounds came later.
He developed a fondness for them 18 years ago after owning his first, a retired racer named Clyde, who Couto said "knew what buttons to push to get me interested in him."
Couto finds the breed fascinating because it has "evolved into an athlete."
He pursues most of his greyhound research through OSU's Greyhound Health and Wellness Program, which he founded in 2004.
"I was unofficially already doing greyhound stuff, so I might as well do it right," Couto said.
"The Greyhound Program is Dr. Couto's dream. The program is very unique and successful; there is no other greyhound research program like this anywhere in the world," said Liliana Marin, one of Couto's graduate students and Greyhound Health and Wellness Program coordinator.
One of the objectives of the Greyhound Health and Wellness Program is saving retired greyhound racers from death because of poor performance or retirement. Ten thousand to 15,000 racing greyhounds are killed every year, Cuoto said. The program sets up adoptions for retired racers.
There are 150,000 pet greyhounds compared to 40,000 racers, Cuoto said. The gap exists because racing is a trend that has been fading, Couto said. However, it is still popular in the south.
The closest track to OSU is in Wheeling, W. Va. The Greyhound Health and Wellness Program works directly with the track to treat injured racers and set up adoptions.
The most commonly addressed problem in greyhounds is osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. About 30 greyhounds a day get bone cancer, Couto said. The Greyhound Health and Wellness Program uses chemotherapy to treat greyhounds diagnosed with the disease. It provides free chemotherapy to retired racers. However, it has not been proven that racing causes osteosarcoma. Couto is researching whether DNA is a factor.
The program also acts as a consultation service for its members. The number of consultations has grown dramatically since 2004, when the program saw only about 100 greyhounds. Last year, Couto saw about 2,100.
Owners from Europe, Australia and Asia contact Couto for greyhound consultation. Greyhounds from "literally everywhere, Canada, Florida, Mexico and mostly all states east of the Mississippi" have traveled to visit him, he said. He remembered a patient from northern Canada who drove 16 hours for an appointment.
Another highlight of the Greyhound Health and Wellness Program is its animal blood bank, which is the largest of the six animal blood banks in the United States.
Greyhounds contribute the most donations because they have large veins and blood that is equivalent to O negative in humans, Couto said. Donors typically donate blood about four to six times per year.
Couto also gives attention to greyhounds and small animals throughout the world, taking two to three trips every year with vet students to an animal clinic in Spain called Scooby. The clinic shelters 400 to 600 dogs but provides a small space with little resources to treat them, he said. Couto and the students spend a week at the clinic donating time and materials.
"Spain is the capital of greyhound hunting," Couto said. Most galgos, Spanish greyhounds, are thrown into a well or hung after they are done being used for hunting, he said.
Couto's first galgo, Bengy, was cut down shortly after being hanged.
"Spaniards don't adopt often," he said, but the few galgos that do get adopted end up in the U.S., the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France and Italy.
Couto joked that greyhound medicine is a good area to study because he is "the king of the castle since others don't know much about it."
"He is 100 percent committed to the breed, the owners, the students and the veterinarians who are part of the greyhound community," Marin said. He is the reason she came to OSU and the biggest influence on her career, she added.
More information on the Greyhound Health and Wellness Program, including membership prices and benefits, can be found at greyhound.osu.edu.