As a child, Warren Wilson always loved dogs. But there was a particular breed he really liked – the greyhound.
"I used to see racing greyhounds being walked in the street and I always thought they were a magnificent animal, but no-one ever considered them as pets," he said.
Warren never had the chance to make his dream of owning a dog come true until fate dealt him a cruel blow in the form of a debilitating stroke at the age of 62.
Warren was initially confined to a wheelchair at his home near Huskisson on the NSW South Coast and for two years struggled with his rehabilitation, learning to do most things again from scratch.
"Two years after the stroke I was walking again, but still struggling. The idea of having a dog to help with my rehabilitation kept coming up."
It seemed that one way or another, greyhounds had followed Warren all through his life.
His wife, Yolande worked at a veterinary pharmaceutical company which supported a blood bank for dogs and greyhounds, being such a large dog, were the blood donors. The company also sponsored a number of greyhound rescue organisations.
And Warren was aware that many retired or unsuccessful racing greyhounds face an uncertain future. The many thousands that don't win are euthanased, surrendered to pounds or if they are lucky, find their way to one of the many rescue groups now devoted to these graceful animals.
"We started to go to the local greyhound track, not to bet on the dogs but to research what kind of greyhound we would like. We decided to adopt an ex-racing greyhound and settled on an older male because they have a tougher time finding a home," Warren said.
"We found a beautiful greyhound in foster care in Erskinville, where he'd been rescued from a dreadful cage in a ghastly pound. He was grey with a white blaze on his chest. Because of his gentle nature, he was called Cruiser and because of what had happened to him in life, he was struggling a little as well."
Having been confined to a kennel for most of his life, Cruiser wasn't used to timber floors and glass windows or wide open spaces. He was confounded by stairs and, because greyhound trainers always lift their dogs into the car, he couldn't even get into Warren and Yolande's car without help.
"We took great delight in being his mentors and teaching him to be a companion animal. He'd never been to the beach and it was amazing watching him gaping at the waves for hours. And it took some time for him to stop walking into the glass doors.
"Despite my condition, it wasn't long before I started taking him for a walk. I'm a very slow walker and he just trots along beside me. He's a very elegant, stunning companion and he encouraged me to get out of the house and walk him twice a day.
"He's such a gentle character on the lead. I lose my balance easily so being such a tall dog, I don't have to bend over to pat him.
"I like to think he's been instrumental in my recovery because at 67 it's very difficult to learn to walk again. It would have been very easy to give up and just sit and do nothing," he said.
And Warren says having a best mate like Cruiser has had psychological and social benefits.
"He's a feature in the village life here. Because he's such a beautiful creature, everyone wants to pat him. I've met so many people I wouldn't have met. He's helped us to become involved in our small community and we have widened our circle of friends because of him. We treat him very well, but we have also 'fallen on our paws' because we have the pleasure of owning such a magnificent animal."
Cruiser is able to walk the streets unmuzzled because he has been assessed under the Greenhounds Green Collar programme as safe with smaller animals such as cats and rabbits.
"The greyhound as a breed is the most gentle and well-mannered creature, the legislation that requires them to wear a muzzle is antiquated and they make a beautiful pet for older people.
"Many older people like to get a little, white, fluffy dog that needs a lot of exercise and is totally unsuitable for an apartment. But greyhounds do what older people do. They don't eat much and sometimes need a lot of rest.
"They are very easy to take care of and don't bark, smell or shed or do many of the things that make a dog difficult to live with for an older person. They are a beautiful dog and like everyone, they need a break," Warren said.
To adopt a greyhound, or find out more information, click here