Happy Fourth of July!

Hope you all eat lots of hot dogs and burgers, drink lots of whatever you like to drink best, and have no idiots in your neighborhood shooting off a ton of fireworks.

Yankee Doodle Dennis

Stars and Stripes Bettina


Training Bad

Dennis and I went to our first obedience class last night.  We are signed up for 5 weeks of classes at Mr. Dog located in West Bath, Maine.  The lady who owns it has been voted the best dog trainer in Maine for a couple years now.  I figured, how could we go wrong with that?  I must admit, with that kind of fire power I had high hopes.  Visions of a grand champion obedience hound.  I cannot say why I had these delusions given the fact that I had taken Bettina to a training class when she first joined me and learned pretty quickly that high hopes are dangerous.

Dennis greyhound at training
Watching all the other dogs sit and get tons of yummy treats.
But my hopes for Dennis were reinforced when two of the participants were so freaked out they had to take part behind blanket draped x-pens so as not to see the other participants in the class.  Most of the rest were yanking their owners all around the room.  We had two young labs, one on each side of
us, and they were hauling their owners out of their seats.  Dennis was excited but he calmly stood there in front of me, slightly leaning on my leg for reassurance.  He looked like a rock star in this group. 

My head swelled all up.  Dennis was going to be the gold star student.  We were going to show up everyone and I would practice being humble.  I was already practicing in my head.  The trainer went around and introduced herself to each pet parent and dog.  When she got to us the first thing out of her mouth after “this must be Dennis” was “you know greyhounds don’t sit, right?”

I assured her I knew that but in this case, Dennis was a natural sitter.  Frequently he sits for the heck of it.  We so got this.  Except of course, we hadn't got this.  Of course we had to start with sit.  My old nemeses sit.  The trainer told us what she wanted us to do and demonstrated with a little Chihuahua who sat perfectly.  Then I watched as the labs on either side of us also nailed perfect sits.  I took a deep breath and asked Dennis for a sit.  He looked at me.  I moved on to step two, taking a piece of hot dog, holding it first in front of his nose and then up over his head.  Dennis would only back up.  His butt, which the trainer assured us would naturally sink to the floor when you held the treat over their head, didn’t get anywhere near the floor.

Dennis greyhound sits
Blurry yes, but PROOF that he sits...when he wants to.
We tried a few times and then took a rest.  Tried a few more times, took a rest.  Dennis was getting discouraged because he wasn’t earning any of those yummy pieces of hot dog.  Soon he stopped paying any attention to me and started watching the dogs all around us who were getting stuffed full treats.  Finally I felt bad and just started giving him treats.  We’d celebrate the fact that he looked at me when I said his name.  Or that he held my gaze for a second before turning back to watch the other dogs. 

Eventually I just gave up all together and sat there while everyone practiced a sit and stay until released.   Dennis started to drool a little watching everyone get treats.  I was beginning to think maybe this was not such a great idea and now we were locked into 4 more weeks of this.  Luckily we switched to learning to target.  I think the trainer could read the look on my face since she chose to use Dennis as her demonstration dog for this. 

He picked it up quickly and was touching her palm like a super dog.  Then it was my turn.  I did manage to get him to touch my palm.  I will admit that it has been awhile since I’ve done much training and I quickly realized how sloppy I was with my commands and rewards.  We practiced target a bit and Dennis was happy to be getting fed finally.   So our first training class ended on a high note, but we are not setting the world on fire.  Mumma’s vanity and pride have suffered a bit of a hit.  That’s what I get, I guess, for being a stage mom.


Dennis and Bettina OLE

Disclaimer:  As with any newly retired greyhound (Dennis), hat wearing does not come naturally.  Most of them have not had the benefit of haute couture prior to their retirement.  So bear with us while Dennis learns to keep his duds on and Mumma has a little more time to snap a less blurry picture.  OLE!


May the Fourth Be With You

Dennis and Bettina greyhound BB8

Dennis and Bettina hope that the fourth is with you today.


The Dennis Chronicles

We have a new family member!  Bettina and I adopted Dennis (Hallo Prospect) from Fast Friends on March 9th.  Normally I would have posted such good news right away.  But this adoption was not like any of the other three I had already experienced.  I thought I would share our story so that any new (or experienced) adopters out there take heart if they find themselves in my situation.

I first met Dennis via a photograph on Facebook.  I had just started following the page for Fast
Dennis with bunny ears
Friends that very day.  Shortly thereafter Dennis’ photo popped up in my feed.  He was a stunning hound.  Just breathtaking.  He’s a super dark brindle and his face almost appears black.  The photo looked like they had photo shopped a black hounds head onto a brindle body.  It stopped me and I took a moment to read the blurb that was posted with the photo.  It said he was a “big” boy with a big heart who loved to play (especially with balls). 

I looked at him a moment longer and moved on.  But then I came back.  I posted a comment asking how big was big and how old was he?  I got a quick response and an invitation to call.  I found myself picking up the phone and calling.  From there Bettina and I drove to Fast Friends to meet Dennis.  I took a deep breath and said I would like to proceed forward with a home visit.

It took a few weeks before they could bring Dennis to Maine.  I waivered back and forth during that time as to whether or not now was the right time for me.  We were only 2 months out from Blue’s unexpected departure.  But as we got closer to the date of the visit, I found myself getting more and more excited and thinking of him as mine.  I decided that was a good sign.  The wonderful ladies from Fast Friends arrived on the appointed day with Dennis in tow.  They found us and our habitation suitable and soon I was waving goodbye to them with Dennis’ leash in my hands.

Dennis greyhound
Here is where things began to get tough for me.  Let me start by saying Dennis was the easiest of my greyhounds with respect to just coming out of a kennel and into a home.  He picked things up very quickly.  He wasn’t perfect of course.  None of them are.  But he did amazingly well.  That was likely our saving grace.  I found myself having a completely unexpected emotional reaction to Dennis’ arrival at our house.  I found myself comparing him to the perfect Blue I had just lost and finding him lacking because he didn’t come knowing all the stuff Blue knew.  I felt numb inside and couldn’t muster up one ounce of loving feeling towards this hound.

Let me say right here that I adopted Bettina 1 month after I had lost Girly Girl.  GG was my heart dog.  And I did not go through any of this with Bettina’s arrival.  I never once compared her to Girly Girl.  And I knew intellectually that it wasn’t something that you can do with any hound.  None of them will be the same and none is “better” than another, just different.  I expected the same situation with Dennis.  But my heart wasn’t cooperating with me and my brain couldn’t make it do so.

He arrived on a Wednesday and by the third day I found myself sitting on the couch and completely breaking down.  I was convinced that this had been a huge mistake and that it had been way too soon to bring another hound in.  I felt like I wasn’t ever going to connect with Dennis.  I am sad and somewhat ashamed to say that I was probably a few hours away from calling the rescue and asking to bring him back.  Instead I spoke with my mother.  She let me sob for awhile and then said, “You know, if you’re going to bring him back, you need to do it now before he forms a bond with you.”
Dennis naps on the couch

When she said that, I felt my chest tighten up and I realized that somewhere down under all the emotional crap I did indeed feel something for this dog.  But my unexpected emotional reaction was blocking me from realizing it.  I decided then and there that I was going to work my way through it.  I knew that Dennis was not the issue.  So I made a rule for myself.  Absolutely no judgments about Dennis, how he was doing, fitting in or learning until a minimum of 2 weeks out from his Gotcha Day.

I also sat down at my computer the next morning and wrote out a few other rules for myself.  Whenever I found myself panicking that I’d made the wrong decision adopting so soon, or felt like he was never going to be as smart, good, loving or funny as Blue, I would read the rules.  I posted them in my kitchen where I could see them all the time.  What are the rules?  Here is what I set down for myself:

1.  Make no judgments until 2 weeks in.

2.  Do not put pressure on yourself or on the dog to make some sort of instant love connection.  Relationships take time to build.

3.  Your job initially is to keep the dog safe, healthy and teach them how to live a retired life.

4.  Keep telling yourself-they know essentially nothing about life in a home.  Don’t expect it of them.

5.  Trust also takes time to build.  Do not expect it right away.

6.  Pare your animal husbandry down to a minimum.  Feed basic food, wait to bathe or clip nails or brush teeth until you have built some trust.

7.  If the dog does not like yogurt, or olive oil, or omega oils this is not the end of the world.

8.  You cannot compare this dog to any dog past or present.  None of the past or present dogs were perfect initially, even if they seem that way now in comparison.

I made sure they were in nice large type and also saved them to my computer desktop so I could look at them throughout the day.  Now, any of you with prior greyhound experience will be saying, these are no brainers.  We all know that.  And I agree.  I knew them also.  However, it is apparently possible to get so overwhelmed by your emotions that you lose sight of what is or should be common sense.

Dennis and Bettina greyhound at Grammy's
I’m happy to say that at some point between the 1 and 2 week mark, I got control of my bizarre emotions relating to this adoption (and the emotions were totally about me and adopting, nothing to do with Dennis himself).  I started looking at Dennis the same way I looked at all my new greyhounds prior to him. This is to say, I was able to do away with the rules because I already knew them and now my heart was on board to.  We have connected and trust is starting to build.  I’m using the same methods to teach Dennis about his new environment that I used with the others and it’s working out so well.  He’s super smart.  I love this dog.  He’s darn near perfect now and I can’t wait to see him in 6 months, a year, and 5 years down the road. 

I knew I loved him when I finally sat down and ordered a tag collar for him.  That involved committing money to the project (being a Yankee, I hate to waste money) and more importantly the fact that his name and my contact information were going to be engraved permanently on a piece of metal that he will wear.  His tag collar has been shipped and hopefully it will arrive next week some
Dennis gives Grammy a hairy eyeball

Making use of your network of greyhound friends and family can really help to.  Many times when I was emotionally overwhelmed I had a chat with someone I knew and trusted.  They were usually able to help talk me off the ledge.  Fast Friends has also been totally supportive and they have kept in contact with me.  It’s possible someone from Fast Friends may read this post and learn just how hard a time I had initially. Up to now I hadn’t shared any of my emotional struggles with them.  If they do read this I want them to know that Dennis was always well cared for and never put in any kind of danger, nor was he treated with anything but kindness.  Now that my heart has caught up with my brain, he’s very much loved.  I hope they don’t cross me off their list of potential adopters in the future! 

I also hope that sharing my story may help someone else dealing with a similar situation realize that sometimes there are bumps when you adopt.  Even someone who has experience with greyhounds can be taken totally by surprise by these feelings.  Sometimes the best and only thing you can accomplish on some days is just to breathe.  And that is OK.


My Grosse Liebe (My Big Love)

My Big Poppy, my sweet boy, my grosse liebe has crossed the bridge on January 16th.  I’d love to be more eloquent in delivering this news but honestly I’m not sure I’ll be able to get through typing this.  This turn of events was so unexpected that I’m still in shock.  I’m numb.  But unfortunately not numb enough because I feel the incredible pain that his departure has caused.

I know that some of you may be thinking, geez he was 12 years old.  Your time with him was short.  And I agree.  Every day I had with him was a gift and I knew that.  But I had managed to convince myself that he would not leave me until after his 14th birthday.  And up until Saturday morning, his issues were very run of the mill.  At least they had seemed that way.

He had turned up with a small bruise on the inside of his thigh Monday evening.  I hadn’t seen any event that would have led to such a bruise, but it certainly happens that they fall, or play a little rough and someone has an unexplained boo-boo.  The next day the bruise had spread, and the day after that as well.  But by Thursday it had begun to heal up.  It was all going exactly according to my prior experience with greyhounds and bruises.

Blue the Gentleman Greyhound
Photo courtesy of Bille Axell, Axell Photography
I did notice it was still fairly swollen but assumed that was part of the healing process.  Friday it still looked to be healing.  Saturday morning he went outside and came back in OK.  He was eager for, and ate his breakfast.  Right after that I noticed he was limping and having real difficulty lying down.  I went over and checked his leg and it was swollen more than the previous day.

I called Dr. Amy and soon we were on our way to see her.  By the time we reached her office, his leg had swollen further and an ugly purple bruise covered the inside of his leg.  Dr. Amy did x-rays and blood tests.  Her news was not good.  It appeared to be hemangiosarcoma.  She had seen it before and it had presented just like this.  But to be sure, she wanted to send us to a vet hospital further south where they had experts to evaluate it.

I headed south.  My poor baby tried to be stoic but I could hear him crying in the back and it was killing me.  Given we were in the midst of a snowstorm I could not go any more than 45 miles per hour and I have never felt more helpless in my life.  We finally got there and Blue wasn’t able to get out of the car.  His entire leg was swollen up and extremely bruised.  They got him situated and eventually came to talk to me.

Their opinion was hemangiosarcoma, osteosarcoma or possibly a blood clot.  Of the 3 only the blood clot was potentially survivable but given the fact they could not get a pulse in the damaged leg and it had been that way for so long, he would most likely be facing amputation regardless of the eventual diagnosis.  And to properly diagnose it they would have to conduct more blood tests and a series of pelvic x-rays that, given his state, would have been very painful for him.  After the tests, they would have wanted to keep him onsite on IV pain medication pending a consult with an internist on Monday. 

My big baby boy was just that, a big baby.  He was very squeamish and he did not deal with pain very well.  I had made him a promise when we had lost the fight for Girly Girl’s life that if it ever came to that with him, I would not put him through it.  Such an easy promise to make when you
Blue greyhound at Hound-O-Ween
aren’t actually facing that situation.  I spent a good deal of time going back and forth trying to decide what to do.  The vet we were seeing was very kind but refused to give me any percentages on outcomes and wouldn’t even give me her opinion on “what she would do.”  That probably wasn’t a fair question to ask her.  But I was so lost sitting in that sterile room trying to decide life or death for a soul that meant the entire world to me.  My heart wanted to do everything possible to keep him longer.   

I finally asked if they would bring him in so I could sit with him for awhile.  I hoped that I’d see some clear sign in his eyes.  I had hoped for that with Girly Girl as well.  People always say that you’ll know when it’s time.  But so far I have not had a clear message on that score for either Blue or Girly Girl.  Most of you reading this will have been in my shoes at some point in the past.  So you know that there is truly nothing more terrible than trying to make a life or death decision for someone who cannot express their wishes.  Who has no say and only relies on you to make the right decision.  It is a terrible awesome responsibility.

I kept going back to three things.  He was 12 years old.  We had had a great run and by greyhound standards he had lived a good long life.  I had promised him I would not make him suffer any more than absolutely necessary, even if that meant I had to let him go.  And a dear friend who had just gone through this same tragedy with her greyhound told me that her guiding principle was: it was better to do this thing a day too soon than a day too late.  In other words, no extra suffering just for your selfish wishes to keep them with you as long as possible.

So I called the vet back in and told her it was time to let me baby go.  I had sat with him in my arms while trying to make this final decision and I stayed there with him in my arms while they prepared everything.  I told him over and over again how much he meant to me.  Thanked him for making my life so much brighter.  Reassured him that Girly Girl would be waiting for him and that he’d run again with no pain.  I told him Mumma and Bettina would be all right.  And when it was time, he would come and meet us.  He went out of this world with Mumma telling him how much she loved him.

Blue greyhound at Auntie Carol's
Blue was an old soul.  A friend called him a gentleman greyhound.  He was very much that.  I am already missing his gentle good morning wake up (always an hour too early but he did have a snooze button).  I miss our special cuddle times on the couch on Saturday and Sunday mornings.  I miss seeing him lying on his big boy bed with his man pillow and his cozy blankets.  I miss the cheer-leading him up the stairs when he struggled to come up due to pain in his back end.  I miss mushing up his peas so he could eat them with all his missing teeth.  I miss having to slightly cook his chicken livers because he couldn’t stand the texture of raw ones.  I miss him standing at his food dish at suppertime and chirping at me to urge me to hurry it along.  I miss him staring at me intently with his ears straight up, trying to tell me some important thing.  Mumma’s head was always too thick to receive the message.  Blue had more friends than I ever have had or ever will have.  He was responsible for a number of greyhound adoptions among our friends.  I know that all greyhounds are special, but there was something about his manner that made him stand out among a field of stand outs. 

At this point, with the waves of sorrow and pain coming every few minutes, I don’t know if I’ll bring another hound home.  I told Blue we would do so in order to honor his memory.  I’m sure in a month or 6 months or a year when the pain is a dull ache and the waves are more spread out, I’ll feel differently.  At least I hope so.  There will never be another Blue.  But he made such a difference in so many lives while he was here.  If ever a hound earned his wings, Blue has.
Blue greyhound asleep
Sleep softly sweet prince. Royal Bluejay (Blue) 12/10/2003-1/16/2016

Post Script:  I hope all of our friends will forgive us for letting you know this news via this channel.  It was hard for Mumma to type this at all let alone type it many times in various emails.  

Post Post Script:  Grammy had a visit in a dream on Saturday night (the first night without Blue).  She was visited by Blue, Girly Girl, Fox and Bea (Blue’s littermate and beloved of Joe Shuster).  They were running together in a big field of tall grass.  They were all young and sleek and running with sheer joy.  Blue stopped and came back to the bridge, as though unsure which side he belonged on.  Fox, Girly Girl and Bea lay down to wait for him.   Then Grammy woke up.