Carl and Beth Robinson dropped to their knees as Daisy romped into the room. They hugged and petted the sleek black greyhound; her whip-like tail wagged in dignified response.
Daisy was among eight racing greyhounds who had just completed a nine-hour rescue run from New Hampshire to Lutherville to begin new lives as family pets.
The lean-bodied dogs, some of whom were still racing only two weeks ago, had faced certain death simply because they could no longer chase a mechanical rabbit around a racetrack fast enough.
Thousands of greyhounds, whose racing careers last from two to four years, are put to death each year -- at less than half their normal life span of 12 to 15 years, according to Ann Tepper of Hinsdale, N.H., who drove the dogs to Maryland.
"We only can save about 10 percent," said Mrs. Tepper, who was accompanied by her husband and son, both named Michael. The Teppers are volunteers in a decade-old, nationwide campaign to save retired greyhounds.
As many as 40,000 to 50,000 greyhounds are put down annually in the United States, said Betty Rosen, whose Lutherville home is one of the Maryland rescue centers.
Sally Allen, president of the Indianapolis-based Racing Greyhounds As Pets, disputed that estimate, saying that from 80,000 to 100,000 greyhounds are killed annually, 80 percent of them by age 2.
There are 52 dog tracks in 19 states, most of them built in the late 1980s as the industry expanded, Ms. Allen said, "and it doesn't take much to figure that they need a lot more than 50,000 dogs."
Ms. Allen also disputed assertions that the animals are put to death humanely. "Very few of these dogs are killed humanely; they're killed as cheaply as possible," she said.
Many dogs are sold to research labs, Ms. Allen said, but others are killed by clubbing and bleach injections. In Western states, greyhounds are released to starve, shot in mass graves or, in some cases, buried alive, she said.
"It's not a pretty picture," Ms. Allen said. "We're the only organization that gets no funds from the industry, so we can tell the truth."
Mrs. Robinson said that she became involved in saving greyhounds after reading about their plight in a magazine.
"I checked with our vet and she encouraged us," said Mrs. Robinson, who already has a Shetland sheepdog at home in Laurel. "But the biggest reason is the need; we couldn't stand what happens to these dogs."
She was still playing kissy-face with Daisy. Her son, Josh, 8, had overcome his initial shyness and joined in the enthusiastic welcome for the new pet.
What makes greyhounds so special, aside from the fact that they will die if they aren't selected as pets?
"They're beautiful; they have big hearts; they're very gentle, clean and intelligent, and they are very human-centered. You become their person," said Judy Leyse, who manages a horse farm in Clarksville, Howard County.
Ms. Leyse teams with Mrs. Rosen as the Maryland connection for the nationwide Greyhound Pets of America rescue movement to save the
dogs for adoption as pets. The movement began in Florida, where greyhound racing is extremely popular.
The eight dogs Mrs. Tepper brought from New Hampshire -- fawn, black, spotted white and the steely-gray color called blue -- were released into Mrs. Rosen's fenced exercise yard. After they ran about to loosen the kinks, the muscles of their powerful haunches rippling beneath their velvety coats, she hosed the dogs down with a gentle spray.
"They got very hot [on the trip] but we couldn't stop. We really moved right along. I broke the speed limits, but I had to get them here," she said.
Mrs. Rosen and Ms. Leyse -- who each own two rescued greyhounds -- said that they have placed more than 900 dogs from Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire tracks in new homes since 1986 and about 90 so far this year.
Their network covers Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, "and we even placed one dog in Missouri," Ms. Leyse said. "There are no tracks here so people around here don't see many greyhounds. They're still a novelty."
For Jessica Best, 8, and brother Jeremy, 6, a black-and-tan brindled bitch named Eyes was their first dog. It was love at first sight, dog and kids all tangled up together.
Their mother, Rene, who operates a day-care center in Jessup, said, "All the children are waiting for her; she's beautiful."
"She's really pretty; I'm going to walk her," Jessica said.
Chris Getshall of Golden Ring lost her 12-year-old Afghan hound a month ago, and her vet -- who had adopted a former racer -- suggested that she get a greyhound as her next dog.
"I've already got a lot invested in this dog and I haven't even seen it yet," Ms. Getshall said, as she waited for Babe, a 3-year-old, blue-and-white male to appear. "I've put a 6-foot fence around my yard and a doggie door goes in this weekend."
When Babe came out, lean and powerful-looking, Ms. Getshall hugged him and crooned, "Oh, you're so pretty." Babe licked his new owner's cheek and sniffed Greg, her 17-month-old son.