Revelations: Annette Crosbie - `That neglected dog broke my heart'

The time: Spring 1993

The place: Wimbledon

The woman: Annette Crosbie

"I'M ALMOST 64, unfortunately I know myself pretty well by now and it is not a comfortable position to be in. I would prefer to be different in many so ways from the person I am. Especially now that I have a crusade. I wish I were more analytical and quieter - because I tend to go in with all guns blazing and that's not a good idea. I've done it all my life and I don't seem to be able to alter.

I've always been passionate, I'm exhausted by the time I finish the Sunday newspapers, but until about five years ago I've never felt strongly enough about anything to campaign. I just happened to read an appeal for homes for ex-racing greyhounds. Up to that moment I hadn't given them a thought.

I went to the kennels where there were a lot of young greyhounds barking and jumping around in a pen. The re-homer went away and came back with this dog whose coat was dull, he had fleas, his nose was all crusted. He looked a pretty sorry sight. However, I didn't realise just how big a problem I'd taken on until we took him through the front door of the house: he walked down the hallway into the kitchen, slipped on the cork tile floor, panicked, lent against the nearest cupboard and couldn't be moved. It was a revelation because that dog broke my heart and changed my life.

We called him Tati, after Jacques Tati. He was only young when we got him. Although greyhounds start racing at 18 months, they retire about three and that's all the life they have on the track. When I touched him it completely spooked him - he had never been cuddled, never been played with and didn't know what toys are for. I found myself with an animal that I knew nothing about, how it had been treated nor its temperament, because it takes along time for their personality to come through.

Fortunately, although I didn't know it at the time, greyhounds are the steadiest, gentlest, quietest dogs. Eventually there did come a day when Tati's eyes lit up and his tail did wag - because they don't when you first get them. They are like institutionalised human beings.

These days, I live with my daughter, who fortunately is as crazy about greyhounds as I am because we've now taken on another two. I discovered that there are thousands of dogs looking for homes but people won't take them on because there are myths about the breed: they will need a lot of exercise (greyhounds are bred for bursts of speed not stamina - two walks of 20 minutes is all they need) they will chase and kill anything that runs (not true - all my greyhounds walk off the lead and I never have any problems).

I get very angry about people who race greyhounds. If the dogs are injured, they are often put down because its cheaper. Every week healthy and fit animals are destroyed by vets because their speed has dropped. Or even worse, there are dogs left on the Yorkshire moors with muzzles on and just left to starve! It's obscene. I don't know how people can do that. Some owners cut the ears off their dogs, so they can not be identified by their tattoos, and throw them into the sea, or allow them to be used for experiments.

Campaigning has become my raison d'etre in a way that acting has never been. It's just a job I do, although always to the best of my ability, which is not inconsiderable after 40 odd years of experience. I never take my work home with me and I don't give it a thought when I'm not doing it.

People say that I'm successful, but I don't see it. I've done one situation comedy which is hugely popular and I'm instantly recognisable on the streets. Real success is somebody like Judi Dench or Maggie Smith, who I'm currently working with, or ending this dirty greyhound racing industry all together.

My mother was like this too, she was passionate about everything and as a child I just wished she would stop and give me some peace and quiet. Now my daughter leaves the room when I get on my high horse. Or she can be very crafty and say: "you're upsetting the dogs!"

Annette Crosbie is currently in `A Delicate Balance' which is at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket until 4 April.

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