My first pet was a long haired Chihuahua who had no powers of discernment at all, otherwise, she would not have insisted on imprinting on me, a college student who knew nothing about dogs and had a landlord who could not know anything about the existence of my dog if I wanted to stay. We made it work. (I’m sorry about lying to you, Old Landlord, and telling you (repeatedly) that it was a friend’s dog who was just stopping by to shoot the breeze.)
Like a lot of small dog owners, I didn’t consider it important to train my dog because they are so conveniently portable. One false move and they are up in the air, clinging for dear life to your hand, all thoughts of their previous disagreement lost in a bid to survive. Later I would learn that this is cruel and all sizes of dogs should be treated with the respect that they deserve, otherwise they go insane. There are a lot of insane small dogs out there with weird behavioral malfunctions, dangling from arms and purses, completely unable to live a dog’s life, or to even interact with another dog without popping a blood vessel.
Long after Twinkletoes the Chihuahua (Twinkie for short) had gone on to a better life and our vagabond lives had landed on some firm ground, I started to campaign for another dog. I really wanted another Chihuahua, but because of Twinkie’s lack of training, The Captain had come to hate Chihuahuas with a large man’s passion. So what’s kind of like a long haired Chihuahua but not Chihuahua sized?
Nothing, but the Central Oregon Humane Society had this sorry looking collie who needed a home.
At sixty-plus pounds, collies are considered large dogs. I might not have understood the need to train a Chihuahua, but I was sharp enough to know that nobody should have a large dog unless they know how to train them and have used that knowledge upon that dog. Large dogs are the opposite of good citizens if they have not had any training. So I learned and I taught. And Shelby, the sorry looking collie, learned to walk on a leash like a gentleman, sit, stay in the yard, and hold his head up high, knowing he was now an Educated Dog. And after a while, his hair started to grow in and he put on some weight, and he no longer looked so sorry.
Shelby taught me a lot and I’ve been learning about dog training and using that training on whatever dog I could get my hands on ever since. Dogs are much better students than people. Mostly because trigonometry is not in their course load.
Sorry. That was all preamble. This is where the story starts.
A friend of mine (I’ll call him Dean) decided that for his first dog, he would do a good deed and adopt a retired greyhound. This seemed like a great match, because he was a bit of a greyhound himself, specializing in sprint-style bike races that lasted about the same length as a greyhound track. Both type of animal seemed to be both very fast and also have a tendency to dangerously overheat after a relatively short amount of high-intensity activity. Also, he knew a little about (or at least knew the importance of) training large dogs from hanging around me.
After a little matchmaking through Greyhound Pet Adoption Northwest, he came home with Cash. Cash had a longer racer name, but Cash would do for a pet’s name.
Straight from the track, Cash was one hundred pounds of pure lean fast-twitch muscle, topped with a tiny, streamlined head, outfitted with two huge brown eyes. I know I’m used to looking at a collie’s almond-shaped eyes, but even for greyhounds, Cash’s eyes were oversized. Bunny rabbit big. Big like those Margaret Keane big-eyed children paintings big.
Cash was like if an alien had landed on earth, but it looked like a dog, so everybody just assumed it was a dog. He had no – zero – experience at being a pet dog, so everything about it was new. People were great – he liked this world of people who cooed at him and petted him. What a great idea! Although he had spent four years of his life penned up alongside dozens of them, he did not know how to interact with dogs. Most of the time he tried to ignore them in the hopes that they would wander away. He did not know what to do with toys, but he knew they were gifts from humans, so he loved them. He was puzzled at this “dog food” that was not the raw meat deemed inedible to serve to humans (or to sell to dog food makers) that he had been eating at the dog track, but he got the hang of it.
And the fact that he took all this new information in with wide eyes and a happy heart was mind boggling. If people were treated the way they treat dog track greyhounds they would have to be institutionalized for the rest of their lives, but these dogs bounce back like champs.
Dean took Cash everywhere he could. He was gentle and well-behaved (Cash, not Dean). He learned slowly but eagerly, and followed the rules as he understood them. Sitting was next to impossible with his greyhound structure and over-developed musculature – he never sat on his own accord – but he learned to lie down when asked, and he was an enthusiastic walker and car rider.
I got to dog-sit him a couple times, and he fit right in with Scotty the collie. He learned my strict walking rules and mostly followed them. He followed Scotty’s lead around the house and learned the routine quickly. Neither dog was much into games like fetch or tug-of-war, so they were content to just hang out together.
Dean has been having the Summer From Hell. Among other life disturbances, he and his wife had to scramble to find a new house when their landlord decided to move back to town. During the move, Dean's work truck broke down. He scrambled to find the money to fix the truck, but as soon as he got it home from the garage, it started to make another death-rattle noise. This one was beyond his capability to fix, so he had to scramble to find the financing to buy a new work truck. Boy, he sure hoped that was the last misfortune this summer.
Soon after, as he was enjoying a beer at the local establishment, there was a commotion outside. It was his motorcycle, parked at the curb. The motorcycle on which he had just restored the engine. Except that it looked a little brighter because it was on fire. Between the fire department and a nearby shopkeeper with a fire extinguisher, the fire got put out, but not before the electrical parts burnt into a charred, melted mass of black tar. There was apparently a problem with the wiring. Now there’s a much bigger problem with the wiring. He walked the bike to an indulgent friend’s house and joked about putting it on Craigslist. “Ran when parked, may need a tuneup.”
It would have just been a bad summer if Cash had not then had a grand mal seizure while walking in the park on a Sunday. Full, lying on the ground, running at full speed, going nowhere while all other systems malfunctioned at once, seizure. The vet told him that it could be one of many things, from nothing to brain tumors. Only time and expensive tests would tell. First thing to do is wait and see. If he did not have another seizure within twelve hours, the chance that it is something dire goes down quite a bit.
He got through that twelve hours, but he did not make it through the week. By Wednesday, the seizures started again, and they continued through the night. By Thursday morning, even the vet’s anti-seizure medication could not fully stop them. There was no way to overcome the damage to his brain from the constant seizures. They said goodbye while he was still seizing.
Was it the four years of rotting food and heavy workload that he suffered as a racer that made his brain and body shut down? Or the overbreeding for speed? Or just dumb bad luck? No telling. We do know that he got to love the last two years of his life. Probably got enough smooches in those brief years to last a lifetime. Everybody knew him and loved him.
Dean was devastated, as you can imagine, but in the thick of that ugly day, he did send me this text: “Wanna buy a gently used greyhound? Ran when parked, may need a tuneup.”
POSTSCRIPT: Dean and Jenny's lives are still in a bit of an uproar with new jobs on the horizon and unpacking still to do, but that didn't stop them from looking for another needy greyhound to pour their love into.
It turned out that there was, indeed, a greyhound who needed them. One who was running out of options fast. Within 24 hours of notifying Greyhound Pet Adoption Northwest of their situation, Raider was on their couch.
Raider thinks Dean and Jenny are pretty nice. But he is really in love with their couch. That's okay. He's only two and already has signs of neglect - ground-down teeth from chewing on wire kennels, patchy hair, and ribs and backbone showing from being raced at a Tijuana track. Dean and Jenny (and their couch) will take care of that.
Dog track racing is slowly declining in the US (the Arizona track where Cash was raced just recently closed), but it persists in five states and around the world. Luckily there are big-hearted people out there helping the industry's castoff dogs find empty couches. If you have a couch that could use a pile of bony love, you could do the same. Here's a link to Greyhound Pet Adoption Northwest.