Most hobby trainers would be proud to produce eight winners in their career, but Moe South couple Dennis and Bronwyn Pulis have achieved the feat in a single litter of greyhounds.
BREEDING a winning greyhound is always a thrill.
If you get two from a litter of pups it’s a bonus; three or more is a welcome anomaly.
So when Moe South hobby trainers Dennis and Bronwyn Pulis bred, whelped and raised eight from a single litter it was simply unheard of.
The dogs by Lady Grey and Oaks Road have combined for 25 wins and 42 placings at various levels and are still counting.
It’s a family tradition like no other.
DENNIS Pulis had an interest in dogs from an early age.
He dabbled as a trainer in his late teens and early 20s before he tied the knot with Bronwyn.
“I got married and that was the end of that,” he said.
The passion lay dormant for years until 2004 when the family he gave dogs away for lured him back into the game.
Daughter Kate Gorman, a gun trainer in her own right, was working at famed trainer Peter Giles’ property and the Pulis’ decided to buy a pup and see what happened.
Trained by Giles himself, Infinite Charm proved to be a worthy stayer and made a name for herself by reaching the final of the 2007 Sandown Cup.
The race itself was a calamity.
One of the handlers, an older gent, inadvertently pulled the manual start lever to open the boxes prematurely and the dogs bounded out with nothing to chase but their tails.
There was no winner and the prize money was split eight ways; the race couldn’t be re-run with several trainers having travelled from interstate to contest it.
When Infinite Charm’s career ended through injury she was brought home to become a brood bitch.
Three litters later Dennis and Bronwyn realised their suburban home was not fit for a growing canine fraternity and in 2008 they bought and converted a Moe South property into a greyhound facility.
The couple was devastated when Infinite Charm died while pregnant with a fourth litter, prompting them to buy outside dogs for the first and only time in their career.
The newcomers were flops, but one of Charm’s daughters Lady Grey, an 11-time winner including thrice in the city, was soon to produce the litter of a lifetime.
LADY Grey and untested sire Oak’s Road, a good race dog in his own right, gave birth to a litter of nine on 4 December 2013 at the Pulis’ property.
All black as coal, bar one gold coat, the pups spent their early days in Moe South before being sent off and broken in on the racetrack.
It was clear from their first training run at Sale, however, that not all had a knack for the track.
“When we got them broken in… only four of them went from the boxes to the winning post, the others decided halfway around they’d had enough and they’d come back again,” Dennis said.
Dennis persisted with the stragglers; he tried them again, gave them time off and finally sent them to a second breaker in Seaspray.
The penny dropped for one, but the other three were still immature.
Dennis was told the struggling trio would probably never win a race, and was advised to take the path of least resistance by sending them to the Greyhound Adoption Program.
It was the course the couple planned to take, but on a whim they decided to give them one more chance.
“Not many people would have persevered, they would have sent them away,” Dennis said.
“I just believe a lot of people sack their dogs too early, especially the big trainers, they need to show ability from day one.
“When I trialled them at Sale not one of those dogs would have been accepted by any half decent trainer on their times.
“Because their mother’s a stayer you don’t expect them to run fast times over 300 metres, it’s a walk in the park, once they’re in a race and they’ve got others around them the competitive spirit can kick in.”
When Glenview Park, Traralgon got back up and running after a multimillion dollar redevelopment, Dennis took them there to trial with dogs he knew would encourage them to go all the way.
At last they made their way past the post, albeit beaten by two to three lengths on the straight, but a la Rocky Balboa, going the distance is groundwork for becoming a champion.
Duly, within a couple of weeks they had all won a trial.
Now all eight are race winners.
“It’d be very uncommon I reckon (to have eight winners from one litter). Quite often you’ll see two or three out of the same litter that will do well… I look back and see if it was from a litter of eight or nine, I wonder what happened to the others,” Dennis said.
“They’re bread and butter dogs. There’s no champions there but they keep winning prize money – if they don’t they can’t afford to keep going.
“Quite often they’ll pay for the next litter to come through which these ones have done.”
For Bronwyn, who rears the pups inside the house, seeing so many succeed has a touch of magic about it.
“You’d say half or three quarters (of a litter) will get to the track, but they don’t win. You’ll have quite a few that won’t win,” she said.
“To have so many of them all get to the track, when we were told four of them wouldn’t make it, (is special).”
A flash of gold in a black litter, Coalville Tiger was born a standout.
It’s a trait he carried into his racing career in which he has stood a head and shoulders above his successful siblings.
Coalville Tiger has five wins and seven second placings, the best record among his siblings, and recently scored his finest city victory.
He won the Greyhound Racing Victoria VIC Bred Final at The Meadows, a race worth $10,000 to the winner, to cement himself as one of the Pulis’ most successful race dogs.
Coalville Tiger was also part of another highlight for the hobby trainers when he led a trifecta from the Pulis kennel ahead of siblings Backslapper and Locomotion at Warragul.
“That was very exciting,” Bronwyn said.
Graded against the best dogs, Coalville Tiger continues to impress.
He recently raced against a group one finalist and finished with head held high, running fourth and his best time at Traralgon in the process.
THE ninth dog of the litter, Maggie, never made it on the racetrack but has a feel-good story of her own.
Not cut out to compete, Maggie went through GAP and found a loving new home.
“She just didn’t break in well, she wasn’t going to do any good, so we had her adopted through the Greyhound Adoption Program,” Bronwyn said.
While Maggie had a smooth transition into domestic life the same isn’t true of every dog that enters the program.
“All our dogs go through the adoption program. We put them all into GAP… we had one that failed twice,” Bronwyn said.
The dog in question was too excitable around other canines and struggled to find a family as a result.
Determined to ensure all their dogs make it somewhere in the world, Bronwyn puts in the work to make them adoptable.
“We brought him home and I took him to dog obedience and I’ve also got a friend who fosters – she would have him for a while then I sent him back (to GAP) a second time and he failed again,” Bronwyn said.
“We kept working on him then sent him to the Greyhound Safety Net – another adoption program – and they found a home for him.
“He now lives in Albury with a Jack Russell.”
As a dog lover with no prior experience in the racing industry, Bronwyn has had a soft spot for every greyhound she’s bred right from the start.
“When we started… I didn’t know much about greyhounds but I love dogs. I was happy to have the dogs and go along with it, but the welfare is really important,” she said.
“I whelp them in my craft room, Lady Grey is our pet dog, so they’re really important to us.
“I cry every time I take them to the GAP just to say goodbye, but I know they’re going to get a home.
“We’re also very responsible with the number of dogs we have – we don’t breed every cycle – we breed every 12 to 18 months to make sure we don’t have too many to look after properly.”
What makes a successful hobby trainer?
For Dennis it’s about doing the basics right.
“The harder you work the luckier you get,” he said.
“And we work hard.”
Both are employed, Dennis full-time and Bronwyn part-time, but working in tandem they’re able to cater to up to 20 greyhounds at a time.
They’re up at 5.30am every morning to feed, exercise and groom the dogs and do it all again after work.
It’s a team effort; they couldn’t do it without one another.
“It’s been a lot of work, probably more work than I thought it would be, and more ongoing. Some days you think I don’t want to get out of bed,” Bronwyn said.
“Especially in winter time you get home and it’s cold and dark and you’ve got another hour and a half to do with the dogs but if you’re not prepared to do it you may as well not have them,” Dennis added.
Beyond making sure the dogs perform on the track, the couple makes sure they’re treated like champions at home.
Their property features kennels, indoor and out, a kitchen specifically for preparing home made dog food and a series of training runs.
“They need to be well looked after. Good quality food (is a must), we only use premium dry food with the meat we feed them, with other additives like vitamins,” Dennis said.
“Their accommodation (is another one). Plenty of exercise. I’ve got work runs that go down the hill – they compete against each other and go for as long as they want.”
The wake of the live baiting furore – a practice the Pulis’ have never been involved with – which rocked the industry has forced trainers to be diligent in their methods, making the ownership gig a wary practice at times.
“We still love it. Even with all the negative publicity greyhound racing has had (surrounding live baiting practices) – we’ve never been involved in that side of it – the rules have become so strict now,” Dennis said.
“You’re not allowed to have any animal products (on site). If you had a tanned sheepskin – professionally tanned – you’re not allowed to have it on your property, it’s a $20,000 fine.”
But to teach a dog to race it has to learn to chase something.
To that end Dennis sets up squeak toys and other contraptions to give them practice.
“If there’s no reward for them (they won’t do it). At trials they’re allowed to catch the lure and bite it if they want,” he said.
“If they could never ever catch them after a while they’d say what’s the point?”
Bronwyn starts the pups young as well.
“They learn chasing and running. It’s so natural, when you see the really little pups and you put them outside they go round and round and they just naturally want to run. Then they all fall down and fall asleep.”
Backslapper, Cheerful Scout, Apollo’s Twin, Topsy Turbo, Coalville Tiger, Charm Again and Velvet Acorn.
These are the race names of the litter of eight, and there’s plenty more colourfully named greyhounds on site.
First they get a kennel name, like Kylie, and sometimes their track name is derived from there.
Kylie became Locomotion, a song by pop princess Kylie Minogue, while other dogs get their names from parents or lineage.
Charm Again is the second coming of Infinite Charm, and Velvet Acorn – though named after a website Bronwyn spotted online one day – didn’t fall too far from the tree, in this case father Oak’s Road.
“We’ll often be reading a book or see something on TV, I’d like to name one Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games,” Bronwyn said.
“Backslapper was a favourite racehorse of Dennis’.”
Dennis’ Maltese background is now being explored for future litters.
HOBBY training isn’t always easy.
Much like a dairy farmer struggles to take a holiday and leave his herd behind, the dogs take priority, but the Pulis’ wouldn’t trade them in.
“Twice a day we feed them and exercise them and clean them up, you are really tied (down), but what a beautiful place to be tied to,” she said.
Watching the sun fade slowly across the rolling hills in the distance, with the faint barking of greyhounds in the background, it was hard to argue.