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Pet Diaries: The Retired Greyhound That Taught Me To Enjoy the Ride
by Sarah Engler
Introducing Pet Diaries: Life lessons we learned from our pets. This five-part series explores the ways pets have a positive impact on our lives. It's brought to you in partnership with Purina ONE® beyOnd®. Check out more stories at GOOD Pets.
My fiancé, Charlie, and I planned for a dog the way most normal couples plan for a family. For us, pet ownership felt like the ultimate commitment. It was more symbolic than cohabitation, a shared mortgage, even marriage. We would be joining forces (and fears, and hang-ups, and solidly held pet-parenting principles) to be responsible for an actual living creature that would be with us for at least a decade. If we couldn’t make this work, there’s no way we’d be able to be parents to an actual human one day.
So three years into our relationship, including one year spent living together without major incident, we decided we were ready. First, we had to settle on the breed. After countless hours watching Dogs 101, a show on Animal Planet that dissects the pros and cons of every kind of dog, we concluded that there was only one good fit for our smallish Brooklyn pad, preference for larger dogs, and busy work schedules: a greyhound.
Charlie, who had grown up with a couple of greyhounds, was all in. I, however, came from a Midwestern hunting family. Dogs were waggy-tailed, large-headed labs and retrievers—the stocky breeds that you see fetching slippers in L.L. Bean catalogs. The only greyhound I knew was Santa’s Little Helper from The Simpsons. But my biological dog clock was ticking and there was no backyard for one of those more active breeds in our forseeable future. A greyhound it would be.
The first non-cartoon greyhound I met was through Grateful Greyhounds, a rescue organization for retired track racing dogs. Her name was Bella Rosenblatt (yes, really), and she came with two humans for our “pre-adoption home visit.” As she slinked her long body around the apartment and checked me out with her big doe eyes, the reps gave us an earful about what we could expect with our future dog.
“You’re going to have to teach your dog how to use the stairs. He’s been in a crate his whole life.”
“There’s a chance he might consider small dogs prey and try to hunt them.”
“Don’t ever let him off his leash. If he catches sight of a squirrel, he’ll take off, and you might never see him again.”
That last one cut us pretty deep but we tried to stay optimistic. Part of our diligent preparation involved spending Saturday mornings in a nearby park, where we often sat under a tree to scope out our future dog's playmates. We took note of which ones had crazy owners and which ones seemed aggressive. Spending that time together and imagining our perfectly socialized dog seamlessly joining the furry flock made us more excited about dog ownership than anything else. Because it was the most tangible example of the joys of pet ownership, it became my favorite weekend ritual. It was even the place where Charlie proposed.
The day of the Grateful Greyhound annual adoption picnic finally came and we went to pick out Felix. (We decided that name felt well-suited for a lanky pup with the cat-like mannerisms—excessive sleeping, self-grooming, and head-rubbing—that greyhounds are known for.) After we met a dozen dogs, Felix materialized in the form of a spotted, reddish-white 3-year-old with the racing name Strike Techno. He was friendly … but not too friendly. Curious … but not too curious. He leaned against my legs when I awkwardly petted his narrow head, instead of shying away or ignoring me like others did. That clinched the deal.
It wasn’t until Felix first walked through our front door that I realized just how tall and skinny he was. His head was about even with our kitchen countertops and I could count his ribs from across the room. I assumed he was near death, but our rep told us that he was probably within two or three pounds of ideal weight.
Dogs I’d owned in the past had practically ripped my arm out of its socket at the beginning of a walk. Instead, on our first walk with him, Felix stuck to Charlie’s leg like glue, tripping him up the whole way. The heavy-duty harness we’d purchased looked ridiculous. This dog wasn’t trying to force us anywhere. He was just along for the ride.
We weren’t prepared for our neighbors’ reactions to him either. I’d always imagined that a dog would help us befriend more people on the streets of our Brooklyn neighborhood. They’d ask to pet him and strike up a conversation. Instead, walks with Felix turned into drive-by interrogations:
“Hey, how much you pay for that dog? You racing him?”
“What kind of dog is that? He looks like a horse.”
“What’s wrong with that dog? He needs a sandwich.”
“Who do you think is taller? Me or that dog?”
So while we weren’t forging the kind of neighborly bonding I’d fantasized about, we were becoming known. And we are (sort of) getting to know our neighbors. There’s the sweet older woman who hides behind a tree every time she sees him, the guy on the corner who keeps offering to buy him, and the kid who always asks to see how fast he can run off-leash.
In anticipation of more four-legged friends for him, we took Felix to a fenced-in dog run. We ceremoniously unclipped his leash and, after staring quizzically at us for a few seconds, he trotted around the perimeter carefully. Another owner threw a ball, and I was proud to see that Felix joined the herd running after it. But he couldn’t care less about the ball—he was chasing the dogs. After a few minutes, he walked back over and leaned against Charlie’s legs with a look that told us he was done with this so-called fun.
So much for my frolicking fantasies of weekends in the park. So much for the predicted legions of dog friends. And so much for those carefully selected toys for games of fetch. But we've found that he gives us hours of subtle entertainment in other ways: Watching him twitch while he sleeps—about 20 hours a day—with his tongue comically flopping out. Dressing him in the bizarre (yet surprisingly cute) rain jackets to help regulate the temperature of his low-fat body. Being caught off-balance as he tries to slip his narrow body through our legs.
While Felix is not exactly what we’d anticipated as we first clipped him to the leash, he seems happy to be along for the ride, together. And once we gave ourselves some slack, abandoning both our strict dog-raising lesson plan and attempts to prove we’re a worthy dog-owning couple, we realized that so are we.
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