The Greyhound And The Missing Fortune Cookie

January 2, 2010

So we ordered Chinese food a few days ago. It’s not one of our main options but between the weather dipping below sixty and our motivation to cook hovering at its usual low, we decided to order up. I love this particular place for its hot and sour soup. And for its take-out menu which plainly states: open seven days a week, closed Sundays.

Despite the fact that I specified that the rice was for two, I must have ordered enough food to feed an army as we got an army’s share of fortune cookies. Well, an army of four anyway.

Time passed–maybe a few days. And I realized we’d forgotten about the cookies. But arriving home New Years Eve, I re-discovered the cookies and brought them out. Pete ate one, I ate two. Distracted, we forgot about the fourth fortune cookie sitting on the coffee table. Stella, however, had thought of nothing but that cookie for what was probably a good solid two, three hours. Where we had moved on to talking about the evening, watching Larry King make a douche bag out of himself, and re-runs of the Housewives Of Orange County, Stella never, ever lost track of her focus: that fortune cookie.

At some point, Pete got up to get something to drink. And I must have gotten up to get ready for bed. Which left Stella alone. Well, not exactly alone. Stella was left with her fortune cookie. While we did not witness the fortune cookie massacre, we are certain of its occurrence as the next day we found, sitting there on her pillow Stella’s fortune. A bit chewed up but still completely legible the fortune read:

It’s time to treat yourself to something special.

Sundance: 10/1/1994-11/7/2009

November 9, 2009

Sundance, the gentle pit that quietly stood by while Llewis lunged onto his back and dug his nails in, died last night. He just celebrated his quinceanera which, for any dog, let alone a pure bred pit, is a long life. Lucky for all parties involved, he spent every day with a family that loved and embraced him fully.

A few months back I asked this new acquaintance if he had a dog. He told me he was “tired of playing god” after he had to put his last dog down. That was it for him. It was just too painful to do again. When we reflect back on the number of days, months and years that our pets give us and weigh that against the grief of having to let them go, honestly, in the moment of loss, you can understand exactly what he meant. No, you think, maybe it wasn’t better to have loved and lost. Maybe it would be better to never have loved at all.

As for me, as much as I struggle with this issue, I hope that I can embrace what I have and face, at the time when I must, letting go. Because if I don’t, I myself will die having foregone the beauty of having all these wonderful souls enter my life because I feared losing them too much. So for now I hope that by being deeply sad, by allowing the grief to wash over, wave upon wave, eventually, I and we will heal.

And it is with this thought that I also hope that some day, when the waves have subsided, that my friend Sari may be able enjoy another wonderful dog in her life. I want this for her but for me too. I need to have some faith in the healing process of grief and renewal.

As for now, Sundance (aka Uncle Humper) leaves a big big hole in Sari, Alan and Reba’s hearts. And mine too. A gentle, stoic soul, the Mahatma Gandhi of pitbulls, he will be missed.

Beloved Rabbits: Part II

October 21, 2009

It’s one thing to watch your Greyhound do what it’s been bred to do for hundreds of years. But as I learned yesterday, it’s quite another to actually see what happens when your hound is successful in her pursuits.

Back in February I wrote about one of Stella’s first rabbit chases in a post I titled Beloved Rabbits.

Yesterday I witnessed that same beautiful, swift gait as Stella chased across the park. Within seconds she was out of sight.

Unlike last time, after waiting five minutes I did not begin to imagine my life without a dog. I felt confident that she would show up. I anticipated she would be wiped out. And that her paws would be bleeding from the chase. And that she would be thirsty and wanting her loyal staff member to serve up some water.

What I did not anticipate, however, was this: that she would return with a ten pound jack rabbit hanging lifeless from her mouth.

I also did not anticipate getting everyone’s, and I mean everyone’s two cents.

A jogger who saw the chase claimed that if Stella tasted blood she would become more aggressive.

A guy who looked Donald Sutherland on crack also approached me, “How could you let your dog kill that rabbit? This is a nature preserve.”

First off, nature preserve? The place is a dump–literally–that was turned into a dog park. I looked at him wondering what exactly he didn’t understand, “This is a sanctioned, off leash dog park. Greyhounds are faster than rabbits. If you can strip the DNA out of my dog, let me know. Otherwise, shit happens.”

With that, Donald huffed off, claiming he was going to call the police. Having been robbed twice in this city I know for a fact that unless you’re hemorrhaging the cops won’t show. Their big fish to fry include drug busts and shootings. As far as a a Greyhound chasing down a rabbit in a sanctioned dog park? You might as well call to complain that the barrista at Starbucks was rude to you that morning.

Okay, so then there was a man who happened to be with his dog, a dog who used to but can no longer catch and kill rabbits. He said Stella would be the same dog she always was. Nothing had changed except me knowing more about her. Unlike the rest of the crew, this guy seemed to know what he was talking about.

So what happened to the actual rabbit? He guessed that Stella killed it instantly with a bite to the neck. He said that a rabbit’s bones are very light and easily broken in a dog’s mouth. While I was leashing up Stella who was still panting and bleeding from both paws, he asked if his dog could have the rabbit to eat. I agreed but did not linger to watch the chowfest.

When I got home I needed to resolve a burning question that came to mind the instant I saw Stella with that cat sized jack in her jaws. What about Llewis’ safety?

I searched Greytalk for some answers. Fortunately I was reassured. LLewis is someone Stella knows and who is included in her pack. Their relationship is also contained in the confines of my house so there is that context as well. I was told long ago that a Greyhound could be fine with a cat in the house if your hound is deemed cat safe but put that same cat outdoors and all bets are off.

As for now, Stella is benched from the park until her pads heal. And although I know she or I didn’t do anything wrong I’m not sure how often or how much reality I can handle. Time will tell.

Stella, Llewis & The San Francisco Chronicle

October 3, 2009

On September 23rd The San Francisco Chronicle featured the story of how I wound up with a Greyhound pup vs. the kicked back ex-racer I was planning on getting.

Thanks to Eileen Mitchell, the columnist in charge, for encouraging me to shorten the story up to get it accepted into the paper and for loving the houndies as much as me.

Click here to read it.

So You Want To Rescue A Greyhound Pup?

August 17, 2009

Lately the rescue group I got Stella from has gotten a lot of litters coming in. This has meant a few things for me: 1. I’ve needed to resist getting another pup on a near daily basis and 2. I’ve been asked to talk with prospective owners about the joys (and miseries) of raising a Greyhound from scratch.

There’s not a lot out there about raising a Greyhound pup because nearly all rescued hounds are track dog rescues and hence adults.

But occasionally there’s an “oops litter” or some backyard breeders or some circumstances that lead to pups needing adoption.

So I gathered my thoughts about raising a Greyhound pup to put them out into the world for anyone who is considering adopting a Greyhound puppy. Or anyone who’s just interested the hell and gone trip I went through. Kidding!

Although not someone with huge amounts of dog experience before I got my pup, (I’m the Dog Virgin) I have learned some things along the way. These things may help you decide whether or not a Greyhound puppy is for you.

If you’re on the fence hopefully I won’t scare you off it though. Because watching your puppy grow from deliciously cute to an exquisite, lightning fast dog, is an incredible experience to behold.

So here’s the little ditty I put together about Greyhound pups…

1. Greyhound Pups Turn Into Greyhounds

Know that your puppy will turn into a Greyhound one day so if you’ve fallen for a pup but don’t know a lot about Greyhounds you’ll want to, hem, bone up. For example, if you’re big time into a people-obsessed, dying to please Collie or Lab type of puppy this here’s a whole other ball game. Think cat versus dog and you’ll begin to get a feel for a Greyhound’s tempermant.

Hard to believe but the fat little pup you take home will someday be a tall, long legged, pointy nosed Greyhoundie. It’s especially good to keep this in mind when you go shopping for your pup. If you’re buying a crate, buy for the future. This means buy a huge one. Same goes for dog bowls, pillows and cushions they’ll sleep on. In twelve short months your 20 pounder could easily be 80 pounds.

Your pup will likely be high energy. All pups are. But your puppy will eventually turn into a Greyhound and 18 months down the line you’ll find that your dog is sleeping 23 hours a day just like those retired racers that sleep like cats all day long.

Your puppy will bound and run around like a goofy dog but somewhere at about a year old you will see that your puppy’s gait has changed and he’s running like the wind, or more accurately, like a Cheetah. This sight is absolutely thrilling. Congratulations: you now own the fastest dog on the planet.

2. Greyhound Pups Are Pups First, Greyhound Pups Second

Pretty much everything you read about raising any puppy applies to Greyhounds. So read anything and everything you can about raising a puppy. There is no shortage of books and there’s no shortage of free information online.

As for me, I kinda like the Dog Whisperer’s philosophy, especially as it applies to puppy raising: it’s all about exercise, discipline and affection—and in that order. If you can get your pup out at least once a day for a long romp (an hour minimum) plus a few walks, you will have a worn out and obedient puppy (they can’t argue if they’re exhausted.)

Puppies will chew regardless of how much you exercise them, so make sure you’ve got plenty of stuff for them to chew on and puppy proof your place beforehand so there’s nothing they can chew that will be harmful to him.

In terms of discipline and training, since you’re getting a puppy take advantage of it: sign up for Puppy Kindergarten. Keep an eye on behavior you find troubling. Research it online. Get help with a trainer. Problems with pups are hugely fixable if they’re caught quickly! Note: no dog is perfect. Your pup will come complete with quirks and a few things to work on here and there. No need to panic. Just be observant and take any concerns seriously.

Also, socialization is so key. The key to having a really great dog experience is to get your dog socialized as much and as often as possible. This can happen at parks, on walks or in classes like Puppy Kindergarten. Your pup will learn how to be in the world which will make him a happy guy. And you’ll have a dog that other dogs (and their owners) will want to be around.

Speaking of other owners, here’s another great thing: while your dog is socializing you get to socialize too. And what might start out feeling like chores (the walks, the park, the classes) actually may turn into a hugely positive addition to your life. You’ll thank your pup for the latest cool person you met on your last walk.

Take your pup places—to friends’ houses if they let you, eat at a restaurant outside where they let you have your dog—get them exposed to any and everything you can. You have the cutest puppy on earth and you’ll have swarms of people asking you about him. It’s a blast for you and it’s great for your pup. And it gets the word out about Greyhounds which is always a good thing.

3. Don’t Let House Breaking Break You

House breaking will feel like it’ll never end. Stella took a few months but we were down to a mistake or two a week with a couple of weeks. But it was a bit consuming at first. Keep it in perspective if you can.

The one tip I got that worked great: jot down when your dog pees for the first week or two you have him. You will quickly note patterns (Stella peed right after eating, right after exercising, right after walks.) Soon you’ll be able to get them out to the yard proactively. Note: every mistake they make is your fault. Yup, sad but true.

You will need to show your pup the doggie door or take him outside but you need to proactively get him out to do his business. From what I experienced and what I have heard, most of the Grey pups sleep through the night without incident. We also crate trained Stella (see crate training section below) so she never went in her crate.

There is a lot of information online and in books about housebreaking and I don’t think Greyhound pups really differ much from any other dogs. Except my bias is that I think they may be easier to break as they tend to be pretty clean dogs.

4. Leaving Your Pup

This goes for any breed but I feel it’s worth pointing out. You have a puppy now. Eventually you will have a dog. But you also have a life and you need to go out and live it, at times, without the dog.

We opted to crate train Stella which means when we leave she’s left in her crate. Dogs like dark caves so a crate feels good to them. They also won’t go to the bathroom in their crate. A dog is taught by their mother to not soil the place they sleep in. So you will not come home to a mess.

One advantage of crate training your dog includes always knowing where your dog will be when you’re gone. You will also know that your house and its contents will remain in tact while you’re away.

If you do decide to crate train your dog never ever make the crate a punishment. A crate is a safe, happy place with treats, soft bed, darkness and quiet. We direct a fan in our dog’s crate to keep her cool if temperatures rise. She sleeps in it at night and relaxes there when we’re gone. And it’s never a problem when we ask her to go in.

The disadvantage of crating is that you can’t go out for huge long stretches of time–especially when you’ve still got a young pup.

The other way to go is a doggie door—that gives you more flexibility, for sure. You just need to make sure your pup doesn’t destroy things in your house when you’re gone.

Some people also opt to have a dog walker or friend come in and take their dog out for a break. Doggie daycare is another option if you need to be gone for longer stretches. Some of these options come with a price but having a strategy of how you want to handle leaving your dog is definitely something to mull before you bring your bundle of joy home.

Finally, if you are leaving your pup at home whether it be in a crate or not, start out with very short stretches of time. And do not make a big deal of leaving or coming back. If you want your pup to think it’s no big then act like it isn’t. Note: even if you don’t ever have reason to leave the house leave anyway. Get your dog used to you being gone. You do not want a dog that cannot ever be crated or left alone. You want a happy dog but you also want a happy you and happy you is one that can leave your house without a big scene.

5. Leashing Your Pup

As mentioned, eventually you will own the fastest breed of dog on the planet. You will also own a dog without a real great sense of direction or concern for anything in the way of what they want to chase. Your dog will run after a cat or squirrel with so much focus and speed that nothing else matters to them in the world—and that includes cars. These dogs are bred to hunt by site so when they see something interesting move they’re off to the races.

Given that you have a pup, do tons of recall training but still, unless you’re in a very safe area away from harms way, you gotta keep your pup on lead.

Recall training tip: go out to a safe enclosed area with your pup, a friend and some treats. You stand way at one end, your friend at the other. One of you calls the pup and he comes running to you. Treat him. A minute later your friend calls your pup and she treats him. Within just a few minutes you’ve accomplished two things: you’ve gotten some training under his belt and you’ve exhausted him!

She Never Had Me At Hello

August 11, 2009

It was never love at first sitehound. I wasn’t sure I wanted the daily responsiblity. I wasn’t sure I wanted the attachment to a dog. And I was definitely unsure of getting a puppy–that was one I really had not bargained for.

Though I’ll never know for sure, Stella didn’t seem sold on the situation right away either. No licks, no bounding to say hello, not much in the way of eye contact. Sure, she would freak out if you left the house for five seconds, but when you were there she would go for an entire day without ever coming in for a visit.

So guarded we were–the both of us. Me because of my fears and neurosis and baggage. Stella because that’s who she is–not an easy sell, not demonstrative, not a people dog as much as a dog’s dog.

I always thought that you’d have an instant love connection with your dog like people do with their babies. I never thought that this connection might take time to grow, that I would change along the way or that, gasp, my heart might learn a new trick or two.

At the two year mark I can safely say all of the above. I’ve changed. I’ve learned to really appreciate a pet personality different from the one I thought I could order up as if ordering from a menu. I wanted that kicked back male Greyhound who was more pillow than dog. I got a protective, cautious female who would show you her teeth and the door if you tried to get too close to her on the couch let alone lay on top of her.

Initially I was disappointed. Who was this odd creature laying around the house who obviously could care less about me other than the roles I played as kitchen and janitorial staff member? Who was this creature who clearly preferred Llewis to anything else in the house? Who was this creature who obviously was so much happier with other hounds than hanging with me?

I thought dogs were supposed to follow you around the house, lick you on the face, ask you how your day was. I thought dogs weren’t like cats. I thought that they were unselfish.

But didn’t I want a cat-like dog? Isn’t that why I wanted a Greyhound? And wasn’t that Lab that came over for a few hours one evening enough licking and love for the rest of my time on earth?

But as I was asking and answering these questions, struggling on a daily basis, occassionally freaking out too, something else was going on.

Stella was changing.

In the past two years Stella’s not only put on 45 pounds and grown out some killer legs. Stella’s morphed from a slow-to-trust pup who never wanted me in her face to a relaxed girl who lets me bug her anytime and doesn’t mind getting nuzzled by me (or, as it so happened at a PawsToRead event, 20 seven year olds.) She’s a well behaved dog who happily greets friends but doesn’t knock them over. Four on the floor pretty much holds with her. Her cautious nature which disappointed me at first has been a real plus keeping her injury free. She’s smart to not get into trouble–with dogs that don’t smell right to her and in physical situations that look dicey.

She went from a pup peeing every 45 minutes, sometimes in the house, to a dog who gently knocks on the door to be let out.

Stella goes gently into this good crate whenever asked. No kong required. She’s great with children. I never worry.

So while I was learning to let go and let Stella, Stella was on her own journey–a two year crash course from puppy to adulthood. Looking back I have so much more empathy for the puppy path now. Since a dog’s lifespan is relatively short, the amount that they need to grow both physically and behaviorally is awe inspiring. I look back and wonder if I want a do-over. Not for her, she’s turned out great. But for me. Knowing what I know now I would have definitely enjoyed and appreciated many more moments having a framework to put them in.

Ah, but this is life. Full of lessons. And the biggest lesson yet? If dogs don’t teach us about living life, we are definitely not listening hard enough.

Hounds Gone To Pot

June 2, 2009

In my spare time I love to paint pots. I figured after two years, the hound deserved a collection dedicated to her kind.

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The Michael Phelps Of Sleeping

April 12, 2009

If there were a sleeping event in the Olympics, I believe Stella would bring home the Gold. Every time. Whether it’s a couch roach, bed curl or a snooze-fest in the car, this dog would end up with more bling around her neck than Michael Phelps.

Not to say that I hadn’t been warned. How many times have I heard that Greyhounds are the 45 mile-per-hour couch potato? Everyone who has a retired racer remarks on how cleary these dogs understand the meaning of retirement. Most recently while listening to a piece on rescuing all those hounds in Guam, I heard someone say, “Well, you know how it goes. Adopt a Greyhound. Lose a couch.”

Maybe because we got a Greyhound puppy or maybe because she never had a career to retire from, I figured she would not morph into, well, a Greyhound. But I’m here to tell you, that day has arrived. And it is on this day that I finally understand all those things they say about lazy Greyhounds. Stella sleeps so deeply, so regularly, so much of the time I often feel like we are living with a critically ill patient who is not to be disturbed 22 hours of the day.

Or that she is training, and training hard, for her events in 2012.

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Happy Anthropomorphic Birthday

April 9, 2009

STELLA
Eye hab me some induhgeshtyun. Thinkin’ it cud be dat tampon uh et earlier in duh day.

MIA
Shut yor pie hole, Stellean. Kan’t yoo see I’m habbin muh picksure took?

happybirthdaymia

Mia Turned The Big Dos In February. Happy Belated!

Sweet Sixteen?

March 29, 2009

I have this drinking ritual. But it’s not how it sounds.

At about mile six of a hilly eight mile run, there’s a place where I can get water. And Stella can too. In fact, in the middle of a beautiful Redwood grove, there’s a drinking fountain and a metal dog bowl. Bliss.

While we were headed to the bowl this morning, a bike rider came up. He was exhausted and exhilarated. Stella played with him on his bike with such joy I figured she’d be better off going home with him rather than me which is often times the case on outings.

In the meantime, I went over and filled the dog bowl up with fresh water. A few minutes later, Stella came to get some.

At about the same time a woman and her two dogs—a small black and white terrier and a shepherd looking dog also approached.

Stella had taken two gulps of water when the little black and white dog nosed in. Stella air snapped the dog twice. And the dog went away. To me it was a four second doggie version of, “wait your turn.”

I didn’t think too much of it but did say, “Eh, she can be a little bitchy.”

The woman then said, “My dog is sixteen.”

At first I thought it was an odd non sequitur. I then thought she was trying to say, “Here it is. My dog is sixteen and he still can’t keep his head out of the dog bowl when there’s another dog there.”

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The woman came up to Stella, pulled her off the bowl and said, “Get outta here you bitch. You *are* a bitch you know.”

She looked up at me and added, again, “My dog is sixteen.”

The guy on the bike and I just looked at each other like, “WTF?”

The woman went on to yell more at Stella for being a bitch and at me for allowing such behavior in a dog. She called me the dog’s “mom” which I always find a little cringeworthy too. I’m her owner. I love my dog. But Emma, a large black Greyhound now living up in Seattle, is her Mom.

Anyway, the woman then reminded us all again that…you got it…her dog was sixteen.

Uh, can anyone explain what her dog being sixteen has to do with anything? And if being sixteen was relevant, how were we (me and Stella) supposed to know? And really, who’s in the wrong here? Is it Stella for telling the dog to wait its turn? Or her dog for nosing into the bowl when Stella was drinking? From what I can gather, the dogs got it all figured out. And the only thing that felt really wrong was this woman’s behavior.

But instead of dissecting this in front of her. Instead of defending my dog. Instead of wanting to throw the bowl of water in her face for being so reactive and nasty, I said as cheerfully as I could muster, “Thank you for your advice. I really appreciate it.” ‘

And, as I was jogging off, “Have a great day!”

At the bare minimum I should have given her the Southern version of Eff You which I’ve come to learn is: “Have a blessed day.”

Hey. I’m open to being educated. Should I have thrown Stella down for TeethFacing a dog who went into the bowl while she was drinking? She didn’t hurt the dog, the dog got the message and waited, it was all over in four seconds or less. But still, I am open to seeing where my dog needs improvement. Just not from someone who shoves my dog, calls her a bitch and screams at me. It may be normal for dogs to growl, grunt and on occasion teethface. But that’s just no way for a human to communicate let alone educate.