After the nest had emptied for the second time, and the family dogs had died, this couple of zealous professional educators decided to take a break from the relatively high maintenance of canines.
Our canine adventure rebooted about ten years ago when we arrived in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware during the annual Greyhound Reach the Beach Festival.
Greyhounds and their adoptive owners were everywhere. If first impressions make a difference, every new canine acquaintance was affectionate and endearing. You have not lived until you have been warmed by the full-body leaning of a grey against your thigh. My wife ascertained my level of smitten during lunch with half a dozen mild-mannered greys on the deck of a local pub, and suggested, “Maybe, when we retire.”
Suffice it to say that there is a learning curve to adopting a grey. These noble creatures are mostly neglected as moneymaking commodities in their former so-called life. Their racing life consists mostly of crates, muzzles, training, races and no small measure of neglect.
Never having seen the interior of a house, adult greys even need to be taught to use the stairs. Basically, “everything” is a new life skill to be acquired, but they yearn to please, and they have well-practiced doleful eyes in search of human kindness.
While challenges are involved, adoption of an adult is still easier than raising a puppy.
In October 2016, Maggie showed me pictures of potential adoptees and asked if any stood out. One leapt off the web page: a red brindle with a gleeful smile and whose zany ears did not seem to point in any particular direction. She later confided that Rippen Rider—his race name—was going to be the one she brought home, no matter how I replied. A few days later, we were driving to West Virginia to meet him.
Rider had run about ninety races and won a few early in his career, but mostly he had run “with the pack” which for the fortunate racer may lead to a potential rescue. The signs of neglect were undeniable: hairless hindquarters from excessive crating, underweight and a few scars. Obviously, he had suffered long and, yet, he was kind. We went for a first walk in the autumn woods of West Virginia, and he leaned in sharing his body heat in the chill. The deal had been closed, and it was time for the ride home.
Following dinner, each evening for a month after his “Gotcha Day,” this sixty-pounder with impossibly long limbs would climb into my lap for ten minutes as if to confirm that this was now his forever home.
Ten times a day Rider brings a smile to our faces: whether it is the Zen of watching his long frame in downward facing dog each morning or the habitual twisting, earthquake shake that resembles a propeller-driven aircraft during a rough landing. Or the wreckless abandonment of four paws reaching for the skies while belly-up and claiming the whole of our sofa. Other dogs will occasionally just stop after a few steps and watch him run.
Rider has since become an accredited a therapy-dog who visits hospitals, assisted-living facilities and where stressed-out people can be calmed by the act of sharing a caress or a hug with a canine friend. He has become a consummate celebrity who knows how to work a room.
Our first major road trip, together, was to upstate New York to the Grapehound Wine Festival. Gathering around the fire pits at one of the wineries, a couple hundred greyhounds were basking in the warmth of their bonds with this new clan of greyhound folk. First, one female began to bay, then three more chimed in, then seven joined the chorus, and in a couple of heartbeats every single dog in the gathering was participating in what is known as “the ‘rooing’ of the hounds.”
A few folks pulled out phones in the hope of obtaining a recording; a moment later the serenade ended, as though they wanted to keep secret the song of their ancestors. It was joyous music, though, celebrating a better life, and a gentle reminder that our pets can teach us much.