Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Rhiannon – The Shoe Obsessed Greyhound Who Thinks She’s a Pony. (This is Her Story.)

My greyhound is probably certifiably insane. Well, okay, maybe not, but she IS quirky…and stubborn.

We’ve has her for a few years now. I knew I wanted a greyhound, and when one of my older Shelties (Paddington) died, one of the ways I handled my grief was to pursue adopting a retired racer.

I knew I wanted to pick a group which was anti-racing. I think part of the public assumes that, because they’ve heard racing is bad, all groups are opposed to racing, but many are neutral (professing to take no stand,) or another arm of the racing industry.

I’m not what I would call a PETA Nut which I classify as either a mislead individual or someone angry enough to espouse a cause just to piss people off. I am not Animal Rights – I’m Animal Welfare. The difference being, I acknowledge that animals probably should not have the exact same rights as humans, but they deserve as much humane treatment and compassion as is possible.

My dislike of racing is that, though there are some people in the industry that care about the dogs more than others, I think the nature of the business of racing these animals makes abuse inherent to the system. (Whew!) What this means is that because the industry is failing, but still being expected to support families, short cuts and abuses will occur in order to be profitable.

There are many nightmare stories and allegations of the way these animals are treated. There have been lots of rumors and some genuine documented atrocities. Because this entry is not to prove the system is wrong, specifics are for another day.

Although Michigan (the state I lived in at the time) is not a racing state it’s a popular state for greyhound adoptions. After they retire the luckiest dogs are sent to the rescue groups across the country, and many end up at the several groups in Michigan– as well as all over the country. It’s routine for the dogs to show up at the groups needing varying amounts of vet care. There is a belief that the more pro-racing a group is, the healthier are the dogs they get, but I cannot speak to that.

The group I chose was Michigan REGAP. Not only were they anti-racing, but they were known throughout the country as being so. (The pro-racing people tend to call them REGAG.) When I made that decision I was unaware how fortunate it would be.

Having worked at the Michigan Humane Society, REGAP was actually a group I was pretty familiar with, and they would often share tent space with us at adoption events. They would not bring dogs to adopt the day of the event, instead opting to bring the dogs owned by the volunteers. Their adoption process was too long and involved to do in one day. I would always visit the volunteers and their dogs, along with another employee of MHS, but I had no idea I’d made an impression.

I had just made the decision to choose REGAP when I received a phone call at the shelter from a young woman seeking a rabbit rescue. She’d found a domesticated rabbit in her yard, wanted to keep it, but her boyfriend was not cooperating. (I think she had every intention of keeping it and was just getting numbers to humor him.) She mentioned that her whole family loved animals and that her mother was very active with REGAP. I told her I was planning on applying to adopt and she told me to go ahead and she would talk to her mother and see if she could speed it along.

I apply online and they say that someone will get back to you in a day or two for the initial interview. I get an almost instant call and am told that they know all about me, have been told to keep an eye out for my application, and that L- (the volunteer) highly recommended me.

I was disconcerted – highly recommended me because her daughter talked to me on the phone? Thank you, but how does she know I’m a good owner – even if I do work at a shelter? (I suppose because I did adoptions for living I was expecting to be put through a wringer, and – understanding the importance – welcomed the idea.) My fears were put to rest when it became clear that the recommendation was based on having seen me at the events and having remembered conversations. She actually had commented that my oldest sheltie must have died because I had told her that I didn’t have room until that happened.

So I answered more questions and was told that I was approved based on those answers, the answers in the online application, and because of the recommendation. I was promised a call in a few days with some suggestions of dogs they felt would be appropriate for my situation.

A few days later I got a call at work and the woman who semi-seriously told me she felt strange calling an animal shelter and talking about dogs for adoption elsewhere. I explained to her that many of my pets – including the dog I just lost – were from the shelter. I also told her how, when I mentioned my plans to the shelter manager, I was told that it was all good as long as animals in need got homes.

She mentioned 2-3 dogs with a STRONG accent on the first one – a red fawn named Goldie. I’d actually seen this dog on their website and liked her a lot. But the website said she needed surgery for an old racing injury that was not repaired up to the standards one would expect for a companion animal – in short, the leg would possible cause her pain in the future and hinder mobility if a better fix was not done. I worked with injured animals 40 hours a week – I took their suffering home with me – I had skipped her ad because I just really wanted to selfishly not have to deal with it after having lost one of my dogs.

But now this woman is saying she thinks she’s the one, and that they think my shelter experience will help me care for her post surgery. They also told me that REGAP would be paying for 100% of her surgery and post care. They felt that since I would be giving her a home and caring for her post-surgery and for the rest of her life it was more than a fair trade. The adoption fee of $225 would also cover vaccinations, deworming, spaying, and a behavioral seminar!

She was a retired Grade “A” racer, which means she did well. When she injured her leg, because she’s raced well, they decided to breed her. Well, she refused to go into heat. (You’re probably saying that’s not a choice – but if you knew her stubborn streak…) So she could not run and she could not whelp so it was either kill her or adopt her out. I was told she was the “Trainer’s Favorite” so she was offered to REGAP. I’m also told that the trainer made the trip up from Florida with her and cried when he handed over her leash.

(I don’t agree with racing, and I think it says a lot that a “favorite” would get only serviceable vet care, but I also acknowledge my gratitude to her trainer, and I know he quite possibly was the force behind saving her life. I know there ARE people that care about these dogs, even if I don’t agree with all their beliefs.)

I decided to go meet her in her foster home and liked her right away – as did my husband. (She was pretty damned pushy and you could tell she could be a brat – but there was something endearing there.) The foster parents seemed to like us also – making it clear we could have her if we liked.. I didn’t want to make a commitment without talking in private with my husband, and since I could not read him, I told the fosters that I needed time to think over the matter.

Before we even got home we agreed we wanted her and so I called from my cell and the foster mom answered. I told her that we wanted to adopt, but would need a few days to get supplies. She calmly thanked me and we made out arrangements.

What I didn’t know is she was on the other line with the adoption coordinator, telling her it was so obvious we were getting this dog, and saying she expected her phone to ring any minute to tell her just that … and so it did.

We head to the pet supply to look at crates. (Metal cages used traditionally to housebreak dogs and secure them for various reasons.) Greyhounds spend much of their lives in crates during their racing life and so it’s an environment they know and trust. When we get to the store we find out that REGAP is having a “Meet and Greet” there – basically a scheduled time where they familiarize the public with the breed, and drum up adoptions.

I tell the people that we were adopting and asked what size crate they thought best. I had a couple people from the booth go to look at crates with me! I’m standing there and a woman walks up and says, “Which one of you is ___ (My real non-pen name.)” I don’t know if she means me ‘cause it’s a common name, and how could she?

Well, she was the adoption coordinator and she’d just got off the phone with the foster mom, so when she got to the Petsmart and the remaining people at the booth told her about a woman adopting a dog, she knew it had to be me!

I had found out earlier that the foster home “Goldie” was in was the second one – the first home was L—, the woman who’d recommended me. Talk about coming full circle! It was not until months later I found out that L—called my dog Tasmanian Devil – trust me that this would have been good info to have!

Goldie became Rhiannon, but we took to calling her pony for the way she trots around – nobody remembers “Rhinannon” anyhow. The logistics of the surgery became a nightmare. We had her for a few weeks before surgery and then had to take her to Michigan State – and leave her there. It was a far enough distance that we couldn’t visit her each day. And we missed the little demon!

She had a bone fused together in her leg and a plate put in – basically it was the best way to undue the original damage and the damage from the earlier “fix.” She was at State for weeks – greyhounds are thin-skinned dogs and healing is slowed. We were glad when we finally saw her, wearing her gigantic cast, and doing a 3 legged trot.

When we got her back we were told that she had to be seen by a greyhound specialist. The best choice was almost an hour drive away. Initially she had to go each day, and then every other day, 3 times a week…and this went on for 6 months! REGAP offered to help with the logistics and transportation, but we managed. It took longer than anyone had anticipated for skin to grow over a large patch of exposed bone.

Now she gets around great and alternates between using the paw or holding it up – both seem to be of equal convenience to her. In the beginning it was clear she held the paw up for sympathy, but since the only people who notice she’s holding up the paw are strangers…When she runs through the house it’s very distinctive: step, step, step, CLUNK.

Her pictures show a few huge scars – those had nothing to do with the surgery – she came to us with them. Because these dogs are thin-skinned and because in the heat of a race dogs crash into things – and one another – most of the dogs who’ve raced have some scars. She just has a few doozies!

She also has a cowlick/ridge of hair which stands up on the back of her head, like a Mohawk. I’m told a total of 3 dogs that were on the truck from Florida had this patch. I saw another GH with a similar cowlick once, and sure enough, it was one of the other dogs from that trip. I’ve had a few parents yell at their kids not to pet her ‘cause her hair was standing up and she was about to attack. Please!

Attack?! Not unless you’re a bird or bunny and not unless it won’t interfere with a nap. I take that back – she’s also hell on flies! She is sweet – and like most of the breed – lazy! We try to take her for walks and she plops down on the lawn and won’t move. (Note the pose in picture 2.) When she consents to a walk it’s no more than a block.

She likes comfortable places to nap, she likes stuffed animals, and she likes shoes. When she needs to go out she grabs the nearest shoe or toy and runs about step, step, step, CLUNKING until you obey.

Like a lot of greyhounds, she doesn’t like to be surprised while asleep, but if she knows you’re there you can do anything to her. She used to do the Meet and Greets and kids would climb all over her. I don’t know how many times people asked what was wrong with her because they didn’t see how a healthy dog could lay there like a lump with children climbing on her, people petting her, other animals walking past her… This is pretty typical GH behavior though – possibly due in part to the chaos and realities of the racetrack and partially due to the original purpose and function of the breed.

These dogs run in intense spurts and originally hunted in the desert. They are sight hounds and can see prey over long distances, and because they are swift, catch the prey super fast. Basically there was no need to have long-term energy supplies, and in point of fact, exerting too much energy in a hot climate was not a good idea. They poured on the effort and speed when necessary.

As racing dogs they’re caged the vast majority of the time, with time out to get a little exercise, be fed, and eliminate. Every 2-3 days they might race. Again a life with lots of stillness and brief periods of extreme exertion. When they get into a home they feel no need to change their philosophy!

The upside is you have a dog that really only needs to have some room to run in your yard for a couple minutes, several times a day, enjoys brief walks, and the rest of the time wants to be napping close to you. I love cuddling with Pony or even petting her with my feet – her fur and body warmth feel terrific and she loves the attention as she lounges.

Many of the dogs can do well in apartments – better than many smaller, more-active breed and are safe with other animals. One of the benefits to foster homes is that they get to know the individual dogs and know what would be the best environment.

If interested, please call 1-800-GOHOUND or Google: “greyhounds, adoption, your state.”

And don't forget to visit Panthergirl, another blogger who shares her life with a greyhound (Kelso!)

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