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Taking the Greyhound: Part 2 of an Occasional Series
By Eileen Mitchell
I've been toying with the idea for years: getting a dog, that is. But I keep long hours. The job, the gym, dinners with friends, weekend concerts, stuff like that. I'm a busy gal, never home. And I live in a condo with a small patio. No room for Fido to romp.
It wouldn't be fair to the dog, I reasoned. So I squelched my longing and got two cockatiels instead. I also got my doggie fix on frequent visits to Mom's to walk her pound pup, Holden. It's been fun, but not quite the same as having one of my own.
Recently, however, I wrote an article about finding the right dog to suit the right lifestyle. In doing so, I realized I might do well to take the very advice I was dispensing. So I did a little research. A little reading. A little talking with people from rescue groups. And one dog kept coming to the forefront. The dog that likes to sleep all day and thrives in small quarters. The dog that doesn't bark, doesn't shed and is bright, mellow and affectionate.
The dog known as the 40 mph couch potato. The dog, it seems, destined for me.
The ex-racer greyhound.
I called Stu Homer at the nonprofit Golden State Greyhound Adoption (www.goldengreyhounds.com/).
A Colorado racetrack was closing, he said, which is good news for the sinfully neglected greyhounds. They spend up to 22 hours a day in stacked, flea- and tick-infested cages, are kept muzzled and survive on meat deemed unfit by the USDA: raw "4-D meat," which is the meat of diseased, dying or dead animals.
While the closing of a racetrack is welcome news to animal-rights groups, it can also mean quick death for the estimated 28,000 greyhounds a year that don't find homes. Those dogs are destroyed, released in the wild (often still muzzled) or sent to medical research facilities.
Stu and his wife, Barbara, came to my home to inspect it. And me. To make sure everything was dog friendly. To make sure I was serious about adopting a greyhound and this wasn't a passing fancy.
It wasn't. I had already installed the extra-large doggie door from Home Depot. Purchased the extra-large doggie pillow, in green, of course, to match my sofa. The 40-pound bag of Canidae dog food was sitting in my garage and the fluffy pink squeaky pig and Nylabone were waiting to be played with. All that was missing was the dog wearing the collar from which I would attach an engraved gold name tag in the shape of a bone.
So I filled out adoption papers. Gave Stu and Barbara my criteria: a greyhound, on the smaller side, that would be all right around my two caged cockatiels, Dumb and Dumber. And, I prayed, a dog that was smart, loving, well behaved and could bark out, in Morse code, when Timmy fell down a well. In other words, a good dog.
He arrived underweight and trembling, a 3-year-old fawn-colored greyhound with soft, pudding-brown eyes. He was obviously scared. Little wonder: He had been taken from the only home he had ever known, his crate, spent 26 hours in a truck from Colorado to California, then transferred to a foster home for two days before arriving at his final destination. His "forever" home, as the adoption group calls it. My home.
Stu and Barbara delivered my new dog, sharing their greyhound expertise and telling me what to expect. He'll have diarrhea, they warned, because he's not accustomed to a regular, healthy diet. If he has an accident in the house, I should simply say, "No!" in a deep, stern voice, then show him the doggie door.
If he chews a slipper, I should repeat my harsh "No!" and then switch to a loving tone and reinforce positive behavior by showing him his fluffy pink squeaky pig. Greyhounds are sensitive to sound and eager to please, Stu advised. They react strongly to verbal commands.
Stu was right. My new dog had just two accidents in the first three days. He -hasn't had an accident since, passing through the doggie door as if he's been using it all his life. He chewed a wooden dowel once before reverting to his pink pig and Nylabone. He's a gentle creature who now knows that "bye-bye" and "cookie" are good things, and that "kissie" means he should put his face up to mine so I can kiss his long, velvety nose.
He sleeps all day, curled up like a doughnut on his pillow, and when I come home in the evening he leaps to me, knowing he'll get a good belly rub when he buries his head below my shoulder blade.
And he still wears his old racing collar with "Wildfire" written on it. That was his name, but for racing purposes only. He doesn't know he was Wildfire because in his racing days he was never called anything. Or played with, or hugged. Until now.
Now he is known as Elvis. Because he "ain't nothin' but a hound dog."
And he's my hound dog. In his forever home.
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle