Animal House: FEATHER: A Second-Chance Champion

Animal House: FEATHER: A Second-Chance Champion
Feather in action on her world-record jump.

Feather is a regal, brindle-colored racing greyhound. Alone in the shelter at approximately one year old, she no history except a tattooed ear. She was assumed to have likely failed on the racetrack like countless other greyhounds and given away, but unlike the other dogs who often met worse fates, this “failed” dog became an inspiring story of how a second chance can uncover a sleeping champion.

A Change of Fate

Samantha Valle is a professional trainer of herding dogs. Remembering when she first saw greyhounds running, she thought they were the most majestic, athletic dogs she had ever seen and decided she wanted to adopt one. So, she contacted Star City Greyhound Adoptions in Roanoke, Virginia.

“I emailed all the greyhound rescues and decided to drive the four hours to Star City. Feather came right to me, and I knew she was the one,” said Valle. “She was my first and only greyhound.”

Feather and Samantha Valle
Feather and Samantha Valle

Valle, who started training dogs at age 15, believes the key to success is never comparing them, but instead responding to each dog’s needs with patience and consistency.

 “People have misconceptions about rescue dogs, believing that because someone else threw them away, there must be something wrong with them,” she said.

While Feather may not have won races, she shocked Valle one day by jumping so high that she accidentally hit the ceiling. Seeing her natural jumping ability, Valle decided to train Feather to perfect it.

“Her talents became apparent so fast. As soon as she understood what I wanted her to do, she jumped a height of 60 inches like it was nothing, and just kept going,” Valle said. “Plus, her heart sets her apart. She’s just a bundle of affection.”

Feather, with her adopter and trainer Samantha Valle, is still unbeaten in her 2017 Guinness World Record Highest Jump by a Dog honor.
Feather, with her adopter and trainer Samantha Valle, is still unbeaten in her 2017 Guinness World Record Highest Jump by a Dog honor.

In 2017, Feather jumped the officially recorded 75.5 inches to win the Guinness World Record for the highest jump by a dog, surpassing the previous record – held by greyhound Cinderella May – by more than 19 inches.

“Every adopted dog cannot be a champion, but Feather is living proof that rescue dogs can be as loving, talented and remarkable as any other dog out there,” Valle said.

Impressive by Design

Historically, hunters prized greyhounds because of their speed up to 45 mph, chasing and killing game by sight. Kept as pets since at least the age of Egyptian Pharaohs, greyhounds were immortalized on tomb paintings, murals and artifacts. They are highly adaptable, devoted pets, often chosen by adopters for their calm, gentle, sensitive, affectionate temperaments and intelligence.

Greyhounds are natural runners built for speed with larger than normal hearts and long, strong legs on a slim, lightweight, sleek-coated body. They also have the highest percentage of fast twitch muscles of any dog breed. Their unusually flexible spines stretch to maximize the body length of catapulting leaps from rapid-fire steps. When racing, they are airborne 75% of the time, gathering speed and covering increasing ground with each stride.

It is a misconception, however, that retired greyhounds require miles of running each day. Routine daily exercise is sufficient, and soft surfaces are easiest on their feet and bodies. When adopted, most racing greyhounds are unfamiliar with a home and must learn to walk on floors or stairs, as Feather did.

Tour of Champions

During the pandemic, Scott and Joan Houghton, producers of the Mutts Gone Nuts UNLEASHED Show, adopted Feather from Valle. They knew when public performances resumed that their show was the perfect way for her to continue interacting with people and performing when she retired from jumping.

Feather, now eight years old and 55 pounds, loves performing her comedic routine for people, especially children. Feather recently visited Jacksonville and the Florida Theatre stage with her other Mutts Gone Nuts canine castmates – many of whom were also adopted – and all-star trainers. The cast entertained and highlighted the adoptability of shelter dogs and the animal welfare work of K9s for Warriors and EPIC Outreach.

Joan Houghton said Feather typically naps on a dressing room couch before performances. Then, when it is time for her to go on stage, “it’s like a switch flips on; she’s instantly awake and excited.”

“We had a show outside, and it began to rain. We did not want Feather to attempt any jumps, so we put her into our mobile home at the venue,” Houghton said. “Feather is so smart and driven to be on stage, when she heard her performance music, she broke through a screen door and appeared onstage, right on cue!” 

The Houghtons plan for Feather to live out her life with them on their Maryland farm enjoying her golden years. Adoption and a second chance to live a happy life is their wish for every homeless animal. Locally, Jacksonville’s Animal Care & Protective Services and Jacksonville Humane Society stay critically full with hundreds of homeless dogs and cats desperate for fostering or adoption.

As World Greyhound Day is celebrated on Feb. 1, Feather’s incredible life story as a failed-racing-greyhound-turned-shelter-dog who beat the odds to become world-famous is slated to be part of a documentary film in fall 2024.

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

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