When Amy Roy flew to China for a day about three weeks ago, it wasn’t a typical business trip. The Fitzwilliam resident’s assignment was to hang out with several dogs, so they’d feel comfortable with her when, many hours later, they all landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Roy, 41, is the development director at Fast Friends Greyhound Adoption, a Swanzey nonprofit organization that finds homes for retired racing greyhounds and other dogs from the same family, known as sighthounds.
Fast Friends takes in mostly greyhounds that come from Florida, where dog racing is concentrated nowadays, according to Roy. But the organization also works to bring in sighthounds from other parts of the world — podencos and galgos from Spain, borzois from China. It’s housing an Afghan hound at the moment.
Recently, Fast Friends brought 20 dogs from China over to the United States in four separate trips. (Five is the maximum allowed to fly at one time, Roy said.) It works with Candy Cane Rescue, a Beijing nonprofit organization that rescues greyhounds and other dogs from the meat trade.
Roy has traveled to China three times in about four months, including the late July/early August trip. She has another journey planned for September, to pick up four borzois — Alfie, Diego, Leon and Lucas — and one greyhound. Fast Friends has been holding an online auction to raise funds for it.
“There’s not a lot of demand for them in China,” Roy said. Smaller dogs are more popular as pets there, in part because of regulations in many cities that limit residents to dogs of a certain size, she explained.
International travel “can be really hectic for the dogs,” Roy said. The animals are cooped up in kennels as they pass through strange buildings and spend hours in climate-controlled cargo sections flying through the sky.
“Everything’s strange, so we like to spend as much time with the dogs as we can prior to flying,” Roy said. “… That way, they have a person that they actually know, and you can see that they recognize me when they come out from cargo. They’re like, ‘Oh it’s you!’ ”
Sharron Thomas, executive director at Fast Friends, said the trips — which Roy volunteered for — demonstrate her dedication.
“She’s very passionate about saving those lives,” Thomas said. “… I think just the fact that she’s willing to be on a plane 30 hours each way says a lot.”
That’s on top of her normal duties, which include fundraising, directing events and managing the website. In fact, Thomas said, Roy spends her time on the plane thinking about what to post next on the website and other projects.
Roy’s passion for the dogs is constantly on display. Asked why the focus on greyhounds, she immediately responded, “ ’Cause they’re great!”
She explained: “They’re really sweet dogs; they have a really nice disposition. They’re fairly quiet. They actually don’t need all that much exercise. They make great apartment dogs, believe it or not, ’cause they just kind of like a big, comfy bed.”
In other words, for great athletes, they can be kind of lazy.
“They’re like, ‘We worked, we’re done, we retired,’ ” she said.
Roy grew up in Coopersburg, Pa., where her family had cats and a rabbit. (“These are bigger animals now,” she said of the greyhounds.) After studying communication at Keene State College, she stayed in the region, charmed by its people and landscape.
She worked in marketing for Peterborough-based Cobblestone Publishing and its parent company, Cricket Media, for about 15 years, then for Pioneer Valley Books in Northampton, Mass. In that time, she also started volunteering with Fast Friends, walking dogs and helping out at fundraising events like yard sales.
After she was laid off from Pioneer Valley Books, she said, she joined Fast Friends in a temporary position before becoming development director in 2015.
“Amy’s a go-getter,” Thomas said. “She really is 1,000 percent about our mission. She wants to make sure that every dog finds the right home.”
Some of those dogs show up with difficulties ranging from shyness to broken legs. Roy mentioned a dog with pancreatitis, which the organization brought over because it has past experience with the condition. “His name is Jimmy,” she said. “He’s awesome.”
There’s also Spud, a recent arrival from Spain. Roy visited him Wednesday in one of the organization’s kennel areas.
“This is Spud,” she said. “He’s a galgo. He’s greyhound-ish but not quite. Hey, Spudster!”
Long and lithe, Spud has a brown-and-black coat reminiscent of a tabby cat.
“He’s gorgeous, and he’s really sweet,” Roy said.
Then there’s Bobby, a calm, curious greyhound Roy brought over on her second China trip. Roy roused Bobby from his kennel to introduce him to a reporter.
“I didn’t think he was gonna get up,” she said. “He was laying on his bed, and he just rolled over for a belly rub when I came over.”
Bobby is 6 or 7. A tumor on his tongue was removed in China. Roy said he’s doing fine. “He’s very friendly and happy, and he just loves everybody,” she said. “… He’s just been outgoing since day one.”
Bobby did have one gripe: He didn’t like the food when he first got here. Formerly owned by a hunter, he was used to a diet of raw meat. “He had trouble adjusting to kibble,” Roy noted. Now, he receives a special raw diet, supported by a donor who sponsors him.
Retired racing dogs “have lived a lot of their life on breeding farms, training farms and the track,” Roy said. Because of that, they’re lacking a lot of basic pet skills.
“Many of them have never seen children, really,” she explained. “They don’t know about doors, like glass doors. They don’t know about stairs, ’cause they’ve always been in their own little environment.”
Before families adopt the dogs, Fast Friends socializes them. The dogs get daily walks and go for drives to learn proper car-ride behavior. Staff members train the dogs how to climb stairs and how to perform other specific skills. The animals spend time with various volunteers, so they become accustomed to men, women and children of all ages.
Roy isn’t directly involved in that process, but often talks to donors about it. She says it sets the organization apart.
“They get a lot of socialization and enrichment,” Roy said. She was speaking in a space Fast Friends had set up like a living room, with couches and a faux fireplace, where dogs can practice being pets. “That’s a really important part of Fast Friends,” she added, “is to teach the dogs.”