Just once more around the track
And they're off! But this time, the race is for real
Saturday, January 21, 2006
At some time in every guardian's life comes that inevitable moment
when we must say goodbye to our pets. It's just a fact of life:
Most animals don't live as long as humans. While the brain may realize
this, the heart isn't always as accepting.
My mom knew that her elderly German shepherd mix, Sabrina, was on
borrowed time. What she never guessed, however, was that while she
was away on vacation enjoying her first trip to Europe, the dog
she fondly called "my little girl" would die. Mom was inconsolable
on two levels: Not only had she lost her cherished companion, but
she also hadn't been there to say goodbye.
Over the next couple of weeks, it seemed that time served to strengthen
rather than diminish Mom's pain. Every time the phone rang, my heart
would lurch because I pretty much knew who the caller would be:
Mom, starting with a forced casual greeting but ending in wavering
sobs while telling me how much she missed her dog. Little reminders
certainly didn't help: a neighbor asking about Sabrina, a chewed-up
stuffed bear wedged behind couch pillows, a photo tucked inside
a book. I kept telling her that time would lessen her pain, and
to remember the good home she gave the pound pooch that nobody else
had wanted -- but my words were of little consolation. Nothing could
help soothe her aching heart.
Or so I thought.
Mom reached her nadir about three weeks after Sabrina's death. It
was a beautiful autumn afternoon and I was with my dog, Elvis, at
the Danville Arts and Crafts Fair, participating in a meet-and-greet
with Golden State Greyhound Adoption. Meet-and-greets
provide many people their first opportunity to see a greyhound up
close and give potential guardians a chance to learn more about
these marvelous creatures. But throughout the afternoon, I kept
getting interrupted by the annoying jangle of my cell phone. Mom
had a little too much time on her hands, and as she rattled around
the quiet house, she missed her dog more than ever. I was getting
frustrated. There was nothing I could do or say to ease her pain.
After the bazillionth phone call, I mentioned Mom's loss to Stu
Homer, president of the greyhound adoption group, and he offered
a suggestion. There was a female greyhound in foster care, he said,
but the temporary guardian had a family emergency and had to leave
town. Would my mother like to foster this dog for a few days?
A distraction might be therapeutic. I rang Mom and pitched
the proposal. "It's just for four days," I stressed, "and you'd
really be helping GSGA." After a long pause, she answered in an
uncertain voice that all right, she'd take the dog. "But just for
four days," she reminded me. "I don't want a greyhound. They're
And so that evening, I delivered the dog, a 4-year-old
female with straight-up ears and several strategically placed black
spots over her lithe, white body. Her racing career was finished
when her leg was badly broken in a race, which was probably the
best thing that could have happened. Because when Barbara Homer
of the greyhound adoption group learned of the injured dog's plight,
she arranged to have the leg repaired and then flew the dog from
Colorado to California to begin her new life as someone's pet. Until
she was adopted, she would remain in foster care. And for now, at
But just for four days, mind you.
Having a soft spot for
greyhounds, naturally I found the ex-racer endearing. She was already
housebroken, responsive to commands and leash-trained. Upon arrival
at my mother's house, she made a beeline for the toy box filled
with Sabrina's stuffed animals and started flipping them in the
air, pouncing on them, and then taking them in her mouth and shaking
them back and forth. Basically, being as cute as a dog can possibly
be. Mom, however, was resistant to her charms.
"She's too big,"
she insisted. "If I ever get another dog, it's going to be a lap
dog. Something small and easy to manage. Like a Jack Russell terrier."
I almost choked. How many articles had I written espousing the fact
that when it comes to a dog's temperament and personality, size
doesn't matter? And here was my own mother, talking about getting
the equivalent of a canine cyclone!
Over the next couple of days,
Mom continued calling me, but the nature of her calls was changing.
They started out with surprise over how well-behaved the ex-racer
was. "I take her for walks," my mom exclaimed, "and she glues herself
to my side! No yanking, no pulling." Subsequent calls informed me
how the dog we had nicknamed Little Miss No Name would climb on
the sofa and rest her head in Mom's lap while Mom watched TV. How
amusing it was to observe Little Miss No Name playing with toys.
How obedient she was in the car. How friendly toward strangers.
"This darned dog is my shadow," Mom complained with a hint of affection.
"I practically trip over her because she never leaves my side!"
Always, she would add, "If only she wasn't so big." But the protests
were getting weaker.
That's why I wasn't entirely surprised when,
on her last day of fostering Little Miss No Name, Mom called me
one last time. "I can't give this dog up!" She sounded happier than
she had in weeks. "I have to adopt her."
That weekend, as the adoption
papers were completed at the Homers' house, Stu reminded my mother
why a greyhound adoption is so special. "You're not just saving
one life," he informed her. "You're actually saving two. Because
when you adopt a greyhound, that allows us to pull another one off
the track." Mom could only beam at her new dog, the one that was
On that day, the dog we dubbed Little Miss No Name was
officially christened Lucy. And while my mother knows she will never
forget Sabrina, poignant memories are now set aside as she and Lucy
begin to create new ones.
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Copyright 2006 San Francisco Chronicle