Laura Schenone believes the time to talk about the plight of greyhounds is now.
“I think we are reaching a point in our civilization where the planet needs us to rethink how we care for animals,” says the author of “The Dogs of Avalon: The Race to Save Animals in Peril.” Schenone appears Oct. 22 at Books & Books in Coral Gables.
Schenone, who lives in New Jersey and describes herself as a reluctant activist and “not a natural born animal lover,” was inspired to write the book when she adopted a dog named Lily for her sons. A friend involved with a group rescuing greyhounds in Ireland introduced her to Lily.
Lily, a lurcher abandoned and near death, had suffered from malnutrition and mange. But as is so often the case, meeting her was love at first sight for Schenone.
Through the adoption, Schenone learned the story of Marion Fitzgibbon, who has made a career of rescuing animals in Limerick, saving wildlife, street dogs and circus animals. She eventually became the director of the Irish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
“The Dogs of Avalon” focuses on Fitzgibbon’s tireless efforts to improve conditions for greyhounds and to put pressure on a government that supported an industry that killed thousands of dogs each year. The story is especially relevant in Florida, where earlier this year, 12 racing dogs tested positive for cocaine.
Schenone does not present a one-sided argument. She interviewed “dog men” who raise and race greyhounds.
“Many of them do love the dogs, and many do treat their dogs well,” she says. “I wanted to get that across. But there’s a culture war, the old way of doing things and the new. They’ve been in the business for years, and it connects them to their dads. But we are at a crossroads in this world. We know dogs think and feel. We know they love us. But 10,000 are born every year, and they can’t all run. Many die. Many are injured.”
“The Dogs of Avalon” chronicles Schenone’s own animal rights awakening, too (she’s now a vegetarian, though a struggling vegan — “I hate black coffee,” she says, laughing). She writes about taking her son to Marineland near St. Augustine years ago and his refusal to go into the attraction because the dolphins were in “prison.”
“As a child, he could see what I couldn’t,” Schenone says.
But Fitzgibbon’s work to save animals is the heart of the book.
“I think in our time, when we are seeing so much hatred and vitriol, saying ‘Here are people who decided to make a difference locally’ is what we need,” Schinone says.
Making a difference locally is the mission of Miami rescue group Friends of Greyhounds, which will be at Schenone’s event with dogs available for adoption.
Michelle Weaver, who founded the organization with her husband in 2001, says greyhounds make terrific pets.
“They’re oriented to people,” she says. “ They already have a lot of training. A greyhound is a perfect large dog for South Florida. They don’t smell, they don’t have thick fur, and they desperately need someone to pay attention to them. It’s easy to walk into the Humane Society and see puppies and take home a puppy. These dogs have given it all to racing and training, and when they’re not making money they’re kicked out the door. ... and they’re such loving dogs.”
Schenone agrees. She’s besotted with Lily, who’s now 12.
“Greyhounds are so zen and chill and ask for so little,” she says. “They make the most wonderful pets for busy people.”
As for what she hopes readers learn from “The Dogs of Avalon,” Schenone turns again to Fitzgibbon.
“She said, ‘Every living being has the right to live or die with dignity.’ I think this book comes at a moment in time to ask ourselves this question and decide whether or not we believe it’s true.”
If You Go
Who: Laura Schenone and “The Dogs of Avalon.” Friends of Greyhounds will be in attendance with dogs available for adoption.
When: 4 p.m. Oct. 22
Where: Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables