If you love big dogs – but want a calm, gentle giant – you really should consider rescuing a retired Greyhound. But, before you start your search for the perfect racer, here are a few things you should know to help you find, evaluate and care for the new addition to your family.

• How to Find a Retired Greyhound

First, a quick note about "retired" Greyhounds. What most people don't know is that a retired Greyhound is not necessarily an old Greyhound. Almost all rescues refer to their dogs as retired – but, what they really mean is that they have been retired from training for or engaging in competitive racing.

Although each rescue organization may have different age groups, Greyhounds are generally available in three age ranges: young (approximately 2-4 years), adult (approximately 4-6 years) or senior (approximately 6+ years). Their racing careers are typically from years 2-4. Some Greyhounds, however, never race competitively. Even though these dogs are considered "retired" Greyhounds, they may not have been fast enough or did not qualify to race for another reason (some just aren't interested in chasing that darn little bunny in circles). Racing fans refer to them as "wash outs" – but, they are every bit the athlete as their competitive counterparts.

Finding a retired Greyhound is relatively simple. They are available through local rescue organizations and you can find them with a quick internet search. These organizations are dedicated to placing these beautiful animals in "forever" loving homes. Through donations, adoption fees and a lot of hard work, rescue volunteers care for both young and old racers.

Adoption fees vary from rescue to rescue and generally run from $100-350 – which usually includes spay, microchip and vetting. Most groups require the "prospective parents" to fill out an adoption application which may ask questions ranging from why you want a retired racer to housing considerations or what other animals are in the home. A home check is customary before the adoption is finalized and these rescue groups are known to provide a wealth of information to start your journey with your new found friend.

• Characteristics and Disposition

Greyhounds are large dogs – standing between 23-30" at shoulder height and weigh in between 55-96 lbs. The males tend to be larger and females smaller. They come in a wide variety of colors – black, fawn, grey, brindle – many combinations. They are extremely lean and muscular – with a slight hint of ribs visible in their structure.

Known for being quiet (most rarely bark), gentle and affectionate, these dogs love their "people" will take over your sofa for a soft place to rest or just to be near you.

The younger Greyhounds can be playful and usually are in the best physical health if they did not race competitively. The adults will sometimes be a little more docile and the senior racers can be extremely quiet. Any of the dogs could have sustained injuries from training or racing – although not most racers are retired when their track times start to slow.

Greyhound owners adore their dogs and often adopt another after learning the breed. Sometimes very awkward, their antics can be downright goofy and make you laugh when you see them. Like all breeds, the specific disposition can differ from dog to dog and the foster parents from the rescues can usually give you a good indication of their individual character traits.

• Greyhounds and Other Animals

You may hear many different opinions on whether Greyhounds and small animals are a good mix. It is best to exercise common sense in making this determination. Although gentle, this is a large dog that has been trained to chase "small furry things" – so the family cat, the squirrels in your yard or the neighborhood Yorkie might invoke a chase.

Some people believe it is best to home them alone or with other Greyhounds because an encounter between an excited Greyhound and small animal could turn fatal – while others happily house them with cats and the smallest of dogs. Consult your rescue group before you adopt. Ask if your Greyhound has been tested cat or small animal friendly and introduce them to other animals in a controlled environment over a period of time to be safe.

• Acclimating to Home Life

Many Greyhounds have spent their entire lives in kennels or tracks. A home environment will be foreign to them at first. They will need time to acclimate and feel safe. Walking on tile, wood or other smooth surfaces can be a challenge when they first arrive. Windows, mirrors and stairs are something they may not have been exposed to – so your love and patience will go a long way in introducing them to such new surroundings.

• Caring for Your Greyhound

Unless they have a specific issue or injury, these canines are generally healthy dogs. They do not have a strong dog odor, shed very little and do not require frequent baths.

They do have a tendency to need monitored dental care and there are some breed specific items you will want to be careful to address.

Since Greyhounds are so lean, they are more susceptible to heat and cold. Although they love to run, they can overheat quickly and should not be over exerted. In cold weather most owners will cover them with a dog jacket and limit outdoor activity. A good rule of thumb is – if you're cold, they're cold; if you're hot, they are, too – take them indoors.

Another result of their lean body mass is they have a different metabolism and blood levels than most breeds. Administering anesthesia or other medications is not on the same body weight to medication ratio as most dogs – Greyhounds need far less than other breeds and an overdose could be fatal. For this reason, most rescues will strongly advise you to find a Greyhound-experienced vet to care for your animal and have a list of vets in the area they can recommend.

Overall, these loving and majestic creatures make wonderful pets. You can attend local Greyhound events to acquaint yourself with the breed, talk to the volunteers and let them help you determine if a rescuing a retired Greyhound is right for you. And, if you're lucky enough to adopt one, you are sure to enjoy years of loyal companionship with one of the fastest couch potatoes on earth.