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Updated 10:00 AM October 15, 2007




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Spotlight: Fast dogs, employee enjoy life in slow lane

Sue Schuon needed someone to help her regain her strength. Sugar needed someone who didn't care she was past her racing prime. Together, they helped each other at the crossroads of their lives.
(Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

A 25-year U-M employee working as the doctoral program director in the School of Information, Schuon says she finds her job and the relationships she has developed with 46 doctoral students very rewarding. However, it's the relationship developed almost a decade ago that changed her life.

"I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999 and the treatments were so draining," Schuon recalls. "I needed to get up and move around a little bit each day, and I thought adopting a dog would help me with that."

After spending several weeks looking into adoption agencies, Greyhounds of Eastern Michigan (GEM) stood out to her. Schuon's search for a walking companion took her to a meet-and-greet in Saline where she encountered Santa Fe Sugar. "When Sugar first saw me, she jumped up and acted like she knew me. She probably just knew I never had a dog before."

Sugar, now 12, became Schuon's first dog and inspired her to become a member of GEM, a nonprofit group that acquires racing and breeding greyhounds across the country and trains them to become family pets in their retired lives. Volunteers foster these dogs until they are adopted.

GEM, now entering its eighth year of operation, is headed by President Kathy Helm and Adoption Coordinator Helen Davonzo and includes a staff of 400 members. Though dog racing is prohibited in the state of Michigan, the group stays busy year-round, taking in dogs from all over the country.

Schuon has been a member of GEM for almost six years. In that time she has housed and trained four dogs and made numerous trips across the country to retrieve others. Of all the dogs she's trained, Axel was by far her favorite. "I tell people he's the one that got away," Schuon says. "He was intelligent and very well behaved. He was eventually adopted by a family in Dexter, so I thought 'I'll still see him now and then' but then the family moved to Texas."

Sue didn't let the loss of Axel bring her down. In February 2006 Sue adopted her second dog, Gipsy. "What made me want her was her back story. During one of her races, the mechanical rabbit that goes around the track suddenly stopped. All the other dogs stopped running, but Gipsy kept going and ripped it right off the pole. I thought it was so funny, I had to have her."

Before adopting her dogs, Sue was a lifelong cat person but says, "It's nice to come home at the end of the day and have someone excited to see you. My kids are all grown up now, so it's just me at home."

So what's the best thing about her dogs? "They are like people. They have their own personalities, but I'll admit, it's nice to come home and not be asked for money or to borrow the car."

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