I suspect that every single family in America that has had the experience of moving from the restrictive life of apartment living to the freedom of a house with a yard has had some version of this conversation:
ME: We're moving into a house!
KID: Yay! That means we can get a dog!
Now, depending on what kind of person you are, the bit immediately following that exchange can go in several directions. Ours was like this:
ME: Wait, what?
WIFE: Oh yeah. We're getting a dog.
ME: Wait, what?
In other words: we now have a dog.
I am not a dog person and never have been. This is something I've noticed about America over the years: you're allowed to like or dislike cats as you see fit. Nobody bats an eye if you say, "I don't like cats." However, saying "I don't like dogs" is often akin to saying something like "Apple pie is terrible stuff" or "Man, that Benedict Arnold guy is sure a misunderstood figure" or "Jeez, who needs grandmothers". Disliking dogs is simply not something you're really allowed to do in this country. The sentiment was summed up perfectly a while back by Jenna Woginrich:
I'm also not a very sensitive person when it comes to folks who dislike dogs. I understand them about as much as I understand folks who throw up when they are hugged. They gross me out.
See, that's me...although perhaps I wouldn't so much say that I dislike dogs as feel very uncomfortable around them. It's probably a combination of things. I never once owned a dog as a kid (and frankly never much wanted one, either), so I rarely had any chance to get comfortable with the idea of a large beast coming at me. There were several instances when I was bitten by someone else's little asshole of a dog, which didn't help, and to this day, I am generally deeply suspicious of any dog whose size is on par with a cat's. I find barking to be an unpleasant sound, and a dog's whining makes me reach for the earplugs or headphones. And this whole business of "doggie kisses"? No. Just...no.
(By the way, I don't quote Ms. Woginrich up there to pick on her or call her out or anything like that. She's actually one of my favorite writers, constantly sounding a ringing call to the idea that if there's a life you want you live and you've not already living it, then get up and go make it happen right now, even if that means you figure out the money stuff as you go. But as wonderfully as she writes, I know that I'm not cut out for the life she has chosen. I do hear the call of nature and earth, but I also hear the call of cities and the stars. To be honest, I'm not really sure what life I'm meant for, which may be why I'm so driven to create worlds in my head where I can live. But that's another topic for another time. Today we're talking about dogs.)
Now, I don't want to give the impression that I hate dogs, because I don't. I've known a few dogs that I've liked, here and there, throughout the years. I had a friend in high school who had two large dogs, one of whom was old and a bit addled and slow-moving (so of course his name was "Flash"). My mother-in-law owned a terrific spaniel named Spanky, who one year when we were visiting finally "got the kitty" he'd been stalking for a while. (The "kitty" was cat-sized creature with black fur and a white stripe on his back, if you take my meaning.) My sister has owned a bunch of dogs, one of whom was a nifty animal named Homer, and the old youth pastor at our church once had a really cool dog whom all the kids adored. We also had a family friend with a golden retriever who was a lot of fun. So I do have it in me to like specific dogs, and it turns out that every dog I've liked has been a big dog, for the most part. If I was to own a small dog, it better be like Verdell in As Good As It Gets.
Back to the business at hand: the decision was made to look into getting a dog. I wasn't completely on board with this, obviously, but I wasn't dead-set opposed to it, either. It just seemed like quite a big change to me. The Wife did her research, and she came to the belief that the best dog for us would be a retired racing greyhound. We wee a lot of these in our travels; local greyhound adoption groups often host "Meet the dogs!" events in places like the local malls and the County Fair, and we've long admired the way these dogs look, even if they make me really uncomfortable. It turns out that greyhounds tend to be quiet and well-behaved, and quite a few of them are cat-friendly, which is obviously an absolute necessity. We contacted the local group and started the ball rolling.
I don't know how all greyhound adoption groups work, but ours puts quite a lot of thought and effort into things. They go down south and pick up retired dogs from the racing tracks; then they bring them back up north for adoption. When you first tell them you're interested, they set up a "house visit" in which they bring a couple of their own dogs just to show you what it's like to have a dog that big in your home, and during the visit, they take note of circumstances that will help determine which dog you should get. We needed one who would be calm most of the time, comfortable in our backyard, and naturally, good with cats. Not all greyhounds are those things, it turns out, and I greatly appreciate that our local group doesn't just bring back a bunch of dogs and hand them out like candy. It doesn't, and shouldn't, work that way.
That's how we got our dog. We didn't get to pick him out; he was the one that best fit our needs, based on his behavior as it was observed by his foster family. I don't know how it is for all greyhound adoption organizations, but the one we worked with really does want all dogs to succeed in homes for which they are well-suited. We got our notice a month or so ago that a dog matching our profile had been identified, and that we'd get him on Sunday night. Thus, we became dog owners.
I, of course, proceeded to panic.
Hey, whaddaya want from me, anyway?
A lot of people I know who own dogs joked that I was soon to become a dog person, to which my response was the same each time: "No, I'm not going to become a 'dog person'. I'm going to become a 'this dog person'." I figured that my experience would be a lot like becoming a father. I have never liked being around children, so when we had The Daughter, I realized that I would still be uncomfortable around children, with the exception of my own. And that's pretty much how it still is. Having a dog of our own would mean that I would like this dog just fine. Your dog? Keep it at a distance until I get to know it. And maybe even after that. That first night, though, was tough -- particularly the hours before the dog's arrival, hours during which it seemed as if every single Facebook friend I have who owns a dog decided that it was time to post their latest horror stories. Ouch.
We've been at it a bit more than a month now, so we're finally settling into what life with the dog is like. And it's...interesting. And fun. And scary. And sometimes a bit surreal.
Our dog's name is Hurricane; we call him "Cane" for short. Along with his documentation was a listing of his results as a racer, and it turns out that he wasn't very good. He only raced seven or eight times, but he never placed higher than seventh in those. Now, we have a pretty nice large yard that is bound by a four-foot fence, so in nice weather (not so much anymore) we take him out back and let him run around. When he gets a good head of steam going, I can't believe how fast he is, so I keep wondering just how fast the six dogs were who finished ahead of him. It's amazing how fast he runs. He also loves toys that squeak, and he will just happily carry around his squeaker-ball in his mouth, making it squeak a lot. He has already destroyed two squeaker-balls. (By the way, a four-foot fence is fine because greyhounds aren't jumpers. Other big dogs that are jumpers would clear this fence with no trouble at all!)
I've also discovered that taking a dog for walks is a very pleasant thing to do (other than having to clean up the poo, of course). Cane is a fairly decent walker, when he's moving; he puts his head down and keeps on going. Until, that is, he finds a scent, and then he stops dead in his tracks and sniffs it. This can go on a long time, until I intercede and pull him away from the smell. Cane is also terrified of other dogs.
This comes from his early life, I suppose; he was bred for racing, so the only dogs he knows are other greyhounds. Dogs of any other type scare him, and when they're nearby he'll start whimpering and whining. This happens even when we pass house where the dogs are inside. He has met some dogs that he'll be friendly with, but generally, other dogs scare him. I find this surprising, as Cane is quite a large dog, and yet he is terrified of nearly every other dog. I did not expect this. (He is not afraid of other greyhounds. I took him to a greyhound "playdate" type of thing last week, and he and the others were social, which means they stood around and looked at each other. Occasionally there was a bit of butt-sniffing, but mostly, just a lot of "Oh hey there. Whassup, dog.")
Let's see, what else? Well, for someone who is accustomed to cats and their relative independence (as long as you fill the food dish at regular intervals), dogs are a different kind of work. We feed him at certain times, but we don't leave food down. He gets treats when he gets home from walks or at other times when he's behaving nicely, and we've discovered that he loves popcorn. There are also these things called "Kongs" (the company is called Kong and makes a lot of dog-stuff, but generally the name "Kong" refers to this item), which is basically a hollowed out piece of thick, tough rubber. It's shaped like a snowman, and you fill it with dog food ("kibble", which I always though part of the brand name, "Kibbles-n-Bits") and then close it off by smearing peanut butter over the opening. Then you freeze it, and when it's time for bed (which involves putting Cane in his crate), we toss the Kong in with him. It gives him something to do while he winds down for the night, and puts something in his stomach so he's not whining at 5:30 am because he's famished. That's happened.
Oh, and the cats. We have had almost no trouble at all with them adjusting to the presence of a dog, or vice-versa. The cats' attitude seems to be, "OK, there's this big thing living here now", and Cane's attitude seems to be, "OK, sure, whatever. Can we go for a walk now?" Cane has vocalized at them a couple of times, when they've come too close while he's eating or enjoying something yummy, but for the most part, nothing at all has happened. He's made no effort to chase them or menace them in any way. The cats, for their part, sure do like Cane's nice, big water bowl. So much so, in fact, that we may retire their current water bowl.
It took Cane a little while to get accustomed to things here. He went from his racing life to living with two different foster families and then finally to us, all in about a month. He does seem to be a part of the family now, and I'm fine with that. I like this dog.
I'm still suspicious of yours, though.
I have a friend who is a huge Disney fan. She said, on the basis of this next photo, that his back markings look like a hidden Mickey. Now that's all I can see when I look at his back!
This next one I quoted as any good Seinfeld fan would: "And you want to be my latex salesman!"
Julio saw this twitchy thing that looked like it might be fun to play with. Cane, realizing his tail was entertaining the cat, thought otherwise. Julio struck his best "Who, me?" pose as Cane gave him the "Dude, really?" look.