Friday, September 17, 2010
Five years ago today, John and I adopted our first Greyhound: Zephyr. I really want to tell her story, but this is going to be difficult, because tears are running down my face and the screen is getting blurry.
I have loved all my dogs and have mourned the passing of all the dogs I have lost. Every dog is unique. Every dog has brought particular graces into my life.
But Zephyr was an Incomparable.
Mame was a Grande Duchess. Champers was a Good Soldier. Daphne was a Free Spirit. Britches, Portia were Princesses--as is Magic. Bingley is a Good Old Cowboy.
Zephyr was a Queen.
But when we were introduced to Zephyr at Greyhound Adoption Center, we had no idea that we were meeting Royalty. Her eyes were bloodshot. Her coat was dull. She did not look us in the eye. She wasn't even close to my idea of a Greyhound. She was BIG. She was dark--almost black--brindle. She didn't even let her ears flop sideways in the adorable way of most Greyhounds.
The first dog presented to us, she was totally lacking in animation, but leaned against me as other dogs were brought out for our consideration. While the other dogs romped and played, Zephyr just stood there, leaning.
I felt no connection, no attraction to her. But John and I looked at each other and said, "This must be the dog. The others are ignoring us."
We began to fill out the adoption papers when one of the other dogs came over and tried to tell us that we should forget the dull, over-sized girl and adopt him. But by that time, we couldn't reject the quiet, detached, but dignified creature we had named Zephyr.
This is her story.
Her racing name was Bella Rita Pita. She raced in Tuscon and was a winner. She was accustomed to beating the boys and coming in first. But time took its toll, and the first place finishings became less frequent. She was shipped to The End of the Line for American racing Greyhounds: Caliente in Tijuana.
Many rescue organizations do not bother with older, dark dogs, because they are the most difficult to place in adoptive homes. Fortunately, Greyhound Adoption Center gives these dogs a chance, and in October of 2004, Zephyr was rescued.
In January, 2005, Zephyr was adopted and became the companion of an older gentleman, who was in failing health. She spent her days by his side, watching television.
In early February the man's family became concerned when they had not heard from him for a few days. When they opened his apartment door, they discovered that he had been dead for at least two days. Zephyr was lying beside him, still keeping him company.
An experienced Greyhound adopter wanted to adopt Zephyr, but she had a cat, and Zephyr was absolutely NOT cat safe. So she went back to the rescue kennel and waited until June, when she was adopted again.
She became the third Greyhound in a household with two male Greyhounds. By mid-July, it was clear that no house was big enough for Zephyr and two other Greyhounds. Back she went to the rescue kennel, where she stayed until September 17, 2005, when we brought her home.
As we had been instructed, we took her on a tour of our house. She inspected the rooms, apparently looking for something. Finally, when she came to my study, she saw the television. She relaxed a little and hopped up on the love seat. She had found her spot and knew her "job". Whenever one of us watched television, we had a silent companion.
For six months, Zephyr was a quiet presence in our home. She let us know when she was hungry. She let us know when she needed a walk. She suffered raging diarrhea, but never had an accident in the house. She patiently ate the food we fed her until we finally discovered something that cleared up the diarrhea.
She was due for dental and blood work. She had to have eight teeth extracted, the result of years of being fed lowest grade beef--sometimes through a racing muzzle. We discovered that her thyroid function was almost non-existent. She was placed on heavy thyroid replacement. She began to shed, and shed and shed.
Meanwhile, she made friends during her walks. Neighborhood children ran out to greet her and she stood patiently as they petted her.
Then, one day, after she had lived with us for six months, she looked me in the eye for the first time. I realized that I had passed a test. From that day on, she let John and me know that we were her people. We were among the honored.
The shedding stopped. Her new coat was unique among Greyhounds, not only lustrous, but soft as duck down. The white of her tuxedo markings sparkled. Her eyes were clear and bright and her ears were always pricked and alert.
She walked with new confidence, treating each walk as a victory lap, accepting the admiration and praise of her fans. If we passed a house where some of her admirers lived and they failed to come out to greet her, she slowed and looked for them, not wanting to deprive anyone the treat of meeting her.
If she spied a friend walking toward her, she pranced and shook her head flirtatiously. Sometimes she did that with strangers who didn't know what to do about a VERY big, black dog accosting them in such a strange way. I would explain as best I could and encourage them to give her a pat or two. A Queen expects homage from her subjects.
I expected to grow old with Zephyr. She would have been a Grand Aging Monarch.
But it was not to be. Shorty after her second anniversary of living with us, she was struck with osteo sarcoma. She died as she had lived: with courage, dignity and style. That story deserves to be told. But I cannot bear to tell it right now.
Today, September 17 is a day for happy memories. The anniversary of the day Zephyr honored us by deciding to take a chance on us to be her humans.