Read Dog Stays in the Picture Online

Authors: Susan; Morse

Dog Stays in the Picture (5 page)

Linda's dogs prefer to rest on their massive chests (amazing sculpted affairs like the hull of a Viking ship), their fine, long front legs stretched out in front, ears pricked, everything symmetrical; the slimmest of sphinxes. Glamour and elegance aside, the wonder of Linda's dogs is that they are still dogs. King likes to bring out his toys to show visitors. Dylan is smart, a charming gentleman, always engaged with great interest in what's going on around him. Excellent hosts.

With David on board
I'm now hell-bent. I
have
to have a greyhound of my very own, and I've been doing my best to prepare by reading up:
Retired Racing Greyhounds for Dummies
, of course, and
The Reign of the Greyhound
,
by Cynthia A. Branigan, a veteran of the rescue movement. Branigan provides lots of colorful history: Greyhounds go back thousands of years—there are drawings of them in old Egyptian temples, and they're the only breed of dog mentioned in the bible. Alexander the Great named a city after a personal favorite, his courageous greyhound Peritas, said to have attacked the elephant of a Persian king during battle. Renaissance artists were as mad for these dogs as I—they're all over those wonderful tapestries of
The Hunt of the Unicorn
. Greyhounds went on the Crusades, somehow survived the Dark Ages, and traveled with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World. Gen. George Custer had a whole pack of greyhounds; he napped on the ground with them at camps between campaigns, and took them out coursing on the plains the day before the Battle of Little Big Horn. The more I read, the more determined I feel, fueled by a centuries-old fever for these iconic animals, so many of whom are now desperately in need of homes.

The rescue association really grills you; the application was like being handcuffed in a dark room with a harsh light shining in my eyes. They try to trip you up with all kinds of suspiciously loaded questions:

  • Why do you want a greyhound?
    (Excuse me, but this is purely a humane and selfless gesture of fellowship to an animal in need. I utterly resent the implication my interest has anything to do with Empty Nest Syndrome, or creepy midlife crisis fetishism of any kind whatsoever.)
  • List all previous pets you have owned, how long you owned them, and the reason you no longer have them.
    (Arrow
    had
    to be put down; she had a tumor, honest. Okay, okay, please don't hurt me; the tumor wasn't
    actually
    inoperable, but the vet said it was going to burst any second, causing her
    horrible agony and certain death
    , and Arrow was too old to take a chance on surgery, I swear!)
  • Where do your animals sleep?
    (This is about the cats, right? Look, the cats kept waking the children up when they were little, so we made them sleep in the basement. Not the
    children,
    the
    cats
    ;
    jeez! But that was in our old house, and they had
    really comfy
    beds. …)
  • You have children?
    (I don't think these teenagers count as children; they're taller than
    me
    . They're almost gone anyway. I'd rather not talk about it.)

Greyhounds' reflexes are like lightning. They can never be let off the leash without a fence (meaning a physical fence—when a greyhound takes off, the electric jolt from an invisible barrier will kick in too late). And the biggest issue of all is Joey the cat, Arrow's black-and-white hunting partner. Greyhounds can go from zero to just over forty miles per hour in three strides. They are sprinters: bred, trained, and rewarded specifically for chasing little fluffy rabbitlike prototypes at top speed for about thirty seconds at a time, with intent to kill. It's what they live for at the track, literally, and the rescue people have told me that because of Joey they'll only give us a “cat tested” dog without a strong prey drive.

—
Wait, you'll give us a dog? I passed the test? I can
have
one? Oh my gosh, when? Oh thank you, thank you, okay I'll go straight to Pet Value—what kind of food—oh and a coat. They need coats in winter, right? I'll get a coat—

—No. Please don't buy anything till we're sure you'll make a good match. We've just e-mailed you pictures of a three-year-old female named Lilly—tell us what you think.

What I
think
? I'm having a fit. She's skinny as a rail, sweet brown eyes, ears a little cockeyed—oh my gosh, how adorable—and she's brindle! My favorite! Greyhounds come in all different shades (the rarest is gray, oddly, which they refer to as “blue”), but I didn't dare spoil my chances by specifying. Brindles are striped—one of the O'Brien dogs, King, is a brindle, but King's a bit darker than Lilly, who is fawn with black stripes, like a tiger—perfect! In one picture she's chomping on some kind of stuffed animal, looking happy, so of course I have to rush out to the store. My dog needs toys!

4.

Lilly [
sic
]

DECEMBER 2009

T
hat mean black-and-white rabbit is up in the tree again.

In Crate-land they wet us with a hose, not the sky. In this place there is no us. There's only you, and the wet here is an unknown outside thing that will hurt you. It freezes up your insides so you don't feel like doing it at all; you just can't, even though it's your first time out today and you have been walked (dragged) around several times until you are shivering like crazy.

She says,
“Awww poor Lilly.”

And then you can go back inside and shake it all off. She laughs, and dries you some more (her scent is perfect!). Then you can have your breakfast and wait in your crate and think about it.

You can still see her. Good. You keep a close eye while she talks to her box.

“Hi, Linda, it's Susan again, sorry. How about I dip her paws in hot water to make her do her business in the rain?”

She pulls out the brown thing with all the hooks and wraps it around you. It must be all right, because she is from heaven. She has treats. (And oh, the scent of her! You could die for her.)

She says,
“Do you think you can do it with your coat on, Lilly?”
and she takes (drags) you out again.

She says,
“We won't go back in until you are not afraid of being out here.”

And THEN she lets you off the leash in the big yard, and you decide to sniff all over it, as long as she is right next to you.

Big wind never happens in Crate-land. She says,
“Crikey,”
and you go hide with her under the mean black-and-white rabbit's tree. And because you are less cold with the brown hooks thing on, it begins to feel more like an adventure.

She says,
“Okay, Lilly, seriously.”

You just ignore her, because what an idea, trying to squat when you're trapped in this crazy brown thing. And you walk around some more with her, and then she bends over (that scent!) and takes it off. And suddenly you feel like doing it, so you do both kinds.

She says,
“Glad that's over for f^%#'s sake,”
and finally you can go back inside.

I'm not quite clear how this happened. I remember a minivan pulling up to the house, and I know a dog hopped out of the back. It came into the house with me, and I immediately presented it with a toy, which it accepted with great enthusiasm, and everyone cheered. The rest is a blur. I think I fell into some kind of enraptured trance, muttering under my breath,
Yes keep her yes yes yes.
The rescue people spent a long time inspecting the height of our fence, but they must not have been concerned by my condition, because now they're gone, and Lilly is not. She's landed, like a disoriented tiger-striped neutron bomb.

A waist-high crate is taking up half the dining room. Every floor has a huge dog bed now, because a greyhound's skin is too thin even for carpets. You have to put coats on them when the temperature dips below 40 degrees, and I bought all kinds: lightweight fleece for everyday, turtleneck for snow. My favorite is a brown barn-type quilted raincoat I found. It has hooks, like a horse blanket—and it goes perfectly with Lilly's new braided leather leash. The rescue lady was very stern and ceremonial about that leash. I had to promise to put the handle over my wrist and wrap the strap twice around my hand before she would let go.

Greyhounds use specially elevated food bowls—their giraffe necks might get a crick from bending all the way to the floor.

We're keeping the name the rescue people gave her when she first left the track. It's likely the racetrack staff didn't teach this dog to respond to the sexless, impersonal professional name on Lilly's papers, CL Lighting. My feeling is she's had her share of upheaval. It's not like me to pass up an opportunity to be snotty about that double “l”
(What exactly did they have in mind, a flower or a preppy dress designer?)
but something tells me this dog has already been through enough change for a lifetime. She's Lilly, and that's that.

I think James Cameron's designer must have used a dog like Lilly as visual inspiration for the creatures in the movie
Avatar.
Her brindle stripes are a dead giveaway—black-on-fawn eyeliner fanning out Cleopatra-style from the outer corners of her eyes. Every rib shows—you can literally see daylight through skin stretched over the tendons on the backs of Lilly's hind legs. At night, picking her way around the yard, slipping in and out of shadows in the moonlight, she really does look like a mysterious creature from another world. She's missing part of one ear and most of the fur on her haunches, and she is going to take a while to settle in. I am beside myself with delight.

And boy is Joey pissed. Lilly's still on cat probation; wearing a muzzle when he's around. Joey spends most of his days glowering out at me from deep inside the mattress frame of a guest bed on our third floor.

It's Christmas vacation. Eliza's been home from her semester in Tuscany since Thanksgiving, and there's not a single scratch on her. David is happily between jobs. The boys are working systematically through masses of college applications. Joey's found a nice, safe tree in the yard, and Lilly—well. Lilly is trying. For some reason, she can't bear to let me out of her sight.

The rescue people told me I had to aggressively bond with her at first, and I think I may have overdone it. Lilly is even more infatuated with me than I am with her, if such a thing is possible. I'm extremely flattered—it's sort of like being befriended by the coolest kid in your fifth-grade class—but I'm also feeling a little like a hostage. I can't leave her much, because if David or the boys are in charge, Lilly barks incessantly no matter how nice they are to her.
(Mama, she won't shut up. She thinks we're going to kill her.)
She definitely senses the difference between men and women—she will tolerate Eliza, but if one of our men so much as looks at her she will literally get up and run out of the room. David says Lilly actually cringes when he reaches to pet her.

For a greyhound rescued off the track, everything is a first, and it's overwhelming. Lilly has no reference point for the simplest things. She's not dimwitted; quite the opposite—the rescue people gave me her racing records and Linda O'Brien is impressed. Dylan and King were retired from racing almost immediately, whereas Lilly actually won a few races over the years.

I'm sensing Lilly's career success is part of her problem. She's three years old and now she has to learn a whole new way of life. She's been handled a lot by humans, but not in a domestic situation. They say her trainer was one of the good ones, but still, there are these haunting scars—the slightly shredded ear, and a bald patch on her shoulder that looks like the result of a particularly nasty accident. A total mystery. She's spent her entire life in a crate, only turned out a few times a day, and raced, raced, raced, always in the company of other greyhounds, so this new lifestyle must be overwhelming; even something as inoffensive as the
brrring
of a doorbell can throw her in a tailspin. And when these dogs are stressed, they go rigid; they're incredibly strong. When they freeze in place, the greyhound people call it “statue-ing up,” and that's exactly right. It's like trying to coax an iron statue that's psychically bolted itself to the floor.

Stairs were the worst. The rescue people recommend Lilly sleep in our bedroom, which is fine with us. But at first, maneuvering this creature up to our second floor was ridiculously hard. There are no stairs at the track, and greyhound bodies are not built for them anyway. You can't blame them; it's a matter of engineering. I heard about this one lady who couldn't lure her new greyhound up stairs for anything. If she tried to sleep in her bedroom, the dog would cry all night, so she slept downstairs on their sofa for months. She finally caved and adopted a second greyhound to keep the first one company at night.

I can't get a second dog. David is thinking about doing a television series once the boys go to college. A television series would take months out of every year with a six-year commitment, and I have promised I'll go on location with him. I might be able to figure out a way to bring one dog, but two? And besides, a second greyhound could come with a whole new set of problems, making everything even more complicated. I've heard of this happening from rescue people. Forget it. This lovely animal deserves a good retirement, but there are limits. We'll figure it out.

She says,
“Here we go Lilly, it's bedtime,”
and she goes up that thing that wants to break your legs, leaving you down here with THEM, and they are all standing waaay too close.

They're saying,
“Go on, Lilly,”
and you just ignore them, so she starts to come back.

But the one, the one with the hairy face, says,
“Stay up there, Susan, she'll follow you.”

She says,
“She will NOT, David. Lilly never does. I have to put her feet on the stairs one at a time all the way to the top like they showed me.”

And oh, you will not, you will not.

She takes your front paws and forces them up there. She gets behind you and says,
“Aargh, my back,”
and shoves your haunches up so you have to move your front paws ahead.

She says,
“That's right, keep going, oooh I stubbed my toe, dammit,”
and gives you another shove and Whoops, you're climbing, and it's too slippery and your toenails can't find anything.

She says,
“Man, her legs are so skinny, I'm scared she'll fall backwards and break something but she's so frigging strong!”

“Keep going, Lilly, YES!!! Good girl!!”
All of them are cheering—horrible.

She yells,
“Sam and Ben, I can't come back down there now or she'll follow me. I'm counting on you to finish your college supplement essays.”

And then you go in this quiet place and here's your bed. Phew.

Someone remind me why this was a good idea.

E.T. has arrived from his planet and moved in with us, like a gift. But our E.T. is strong as an ox, she weighs almost seventy pounds, and she is completely fixated on me.

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