Heroes in our Houses

by Marcia Herman

Rita Herman, nervous as she is, has been a heroine many times over in the medical diagnosis department.

According to an AP newspaper report, dogs are smarter than we originally thought. “As many a dog owner will attest, our furry friends are listening. Now, for the doubters, there is scientific proof they understand much of what they hear. German researchers have found a border collie named Rico who understands more than 200 words and can learn new ones as quickly as many children.”

So, are Greyhounds as smart as border collies?  Most would say no, but I beg to differ. Our greyhounds understand just about everything we say and can follow multi-part verbal directions, sometimes with a few hand signals thrown in for fun. Yours do all this, too, I’m sure. Not only are greyhounds smart, they are problem-solving intuitives who also happen to be heroic when the situation calls for it. To top it off, when they aren’t working directly with us, they are busy doing household chores of their choosing and increasing their vocabularies, which contain far more than 200 words.  They particularly love to redecorate their bedrooms by rearranging where their beds are.

Why do we so often not notice these talents? It may be because some greyhound folks fondly refer to adopted greyhounds as couch potatoes and some even refer to their greyhounds as not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Add to the mix that greyhounds are “hard to train” and will run mindlessly away from you if they get loose and we’ve conjured up a portrait of elegant spooks, sweet but a bit on the dim side and who are likely to kill small things that move. Rather, they are elegant, smart, loyal, kind, and intuitive heroes who see moving objects very well and generally fast.

Share the Bunny and Kitty Saver

Our greyhounds have all cared for our cats, kittens, and some even baby rabbits out in the yard. Our first hound, Share, who arrived in 1980 after a successful racing career, saved our cat from being killed by a German shepherd who invaded our yard. Our normally gentle fellow suddenly threw himself full height on the back door and roared until my husband took over. Pippa survived and recovered from life-threatening injuries. Share also saved rabbits from our first Whippet, by distracting Davy and gently carrying the little ones to me so I could put them safely outside the back yard. And he protected us too, as did Chaucer and Tucker. I was never nervous when alone if any of those fellows were around. When some servicemen came to the house, our normally-friendly hounds made it clear they were not welcome by growling at them to make it quick and leave! Other servicemen were fine. There’s no telling what set them off except for their ability to discern good people from those not to be trusted.

Jonesy the Houdini

Jonesy was a stray who had physical and psychological problems but he was so smart, we almost named him Houdini. He could break into and out of anything. He was on the lam in the dead of winter for months until he finally got tired and let animal control catch him at the railroad station. We sprung him from the pound and brought him home. We never traced his owner – his tattoos were unreadable – but he never tried to escape from us anyway. We did need to lock all doors and closets leading to food. (Some people child-proof their homes; we had to Jones-proof ours.) Our interior doorknobs all had his teeth marks on them from when he’d decided to open a door. If we had had a fire, I’m sure he would have opened a door so all could flee.

Chaucer the Loyal and Courageous

Years later, when Doug and I and our four hounds were hit by a car in 1995 while walking, Tucker, Sparkle and Chaucer stayed with us even though we were unconscious for many minutes while our second Whippet, Woody, lay dead in the road. While we regained consciousness as the rescue vehicles arrived, we found the greyhounds standing next to us ─ even Chaucer, who was externally injured and bleeding internally from a ruptured spleen, blood flowing from his rectum. Tucker and Sparkle were scratched up but never left us either. On that day I stopped worrying about those hounds accidentally getting loose, never to be seen again.

Cullen the Mystical

Old Mr Bones and newly-arrived puppy, Cullen, engage in a mystical passing-of-the-torch ceremony. Mr Bones passed away three days later.

Not only are greyhounds heroic, they are mystical. Cullen has taken over where Share left off; he became the official cat caretaker years after Share passed away. When a cat was at the back door and wanted to come in, he told us with his eyes and body language. He didn’t see the cat; he just knew. He also broke up the inevitable cat tiffs. Cullen was unique in other ways. I was present at his whelping and knew at that moment he was destined to come home with me. When he was exactly seven-weeks old I carried him into our kitchen and put him on the floor. He seemed to know exactly where he was and what his purpose was.  Expecting wild puppy behavior, we were stunned by him doing something totally atypical. He walked quietly and purposefully into the living room to make contact with our old Mr. Bones, who was sleeping on a dog bed. Mr. Bones had been failing the prior couple of weeks. Cullen placed his front feet on Mr. Bones’ head for a few minutes and quietly lay there with him as if saying it was OK for him to cross over. He then became a normal wild puppy after he completed his laying on of paws. Something spiritual had transpired; Mr. Bones peacefully passed away three days later. Cullen became a normal wild puppy after that.

Detection Dogs and Lifesavers

So, why don’t greyhounds make the news even though they save lives or accomplish fascinating things?  I don’t know, because they do that sort of thing every day. They do therapy work, service work, compete in agility, fly-ball, coursing, amateur racing, dogs shows, and even do what they were bred to do 5,000 or so years ago – they hunt in packs with hunters. They predict storms – Sparkle and Rita were and are storm detectors.


Tornadoes occurring 25 to 300 miles away when the weather is fine at home were obvious to them. Greyhounds, like other dogs, can track, be guard dogs and can tell you who is to be trusted and who is not. They detect injuries, illnesses, cancer, and hidden medical problems. Cullen and others like him smell or poke at bad areas with unerring accuracy. Some they even nurse the ill. Rita was able to detect when Cullen was going to have a seizure.  She has a knack for detecting anything electrically amiss. Our Graham, as are many greyhounds, is a blood donor. He was called to service last week to save a very sick Pomeranian.

Hero Hounds in Print

Back in 1996 when I was busy creating and preparing Celebrating Greyhounds, then a new magazine, which is still in print, I had been toying with the idea of presenting a regular column about the heroic and sometimes wondrous things other peoples’ greyhounds do. I knew our greyhounds were sometimes heroic, but I wasn’t sure others would share their stories to sustain the column. My doubts were soon allayed when the time came to prepare the third issue.

Jack the EMT, Liddy the Guard Dog, Mars the Fire Dog and Sword the Babysitter

My friend, the late Joan Dillon, told me about Jack, a greyhound in California, who saved his owner’s life. Bob Buckner had had a seizure at 2:30 a.m. and had bitten off the tip of his tongue. His mouth quickly filled with blood. Jack and his greyhound sisters barked and yowled, waking up Yara Lewin, who called 911. Without his greyhounds, Bob’s outcome would not have been a happy one. Joan also told about some New England greyhounds adopted in the 1980s. Liddy Perry chased a drunk out of a basement bedroom. She growled once in her life; that was the time. She didn’t do steps either, but she went down them half way that day. The fellow took off, begging for mercy. Mars LaMotte nudged his owners awake when their electric blanket fringe began to smolder. Sword Griffin stopped a toddler from running into traffic by grabbing onto his sleeve.  With Joan’s early and serendipitous recollections came a constant stream of other hero hounds featured in the magazine ever since.

Peaches, the Serial Killer Chaser

Many people have said of their Greyhounds, “Oh, he’s so friendly, he’d give a burglar the key to the door or just open the door ad invite him in.” Not so. Just ask Cynthia Cash of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Cynthia is well-known among greyhound adoption folks as the one who has moved 3,000 plus greyhounds who were in deep trouble and in bad situations (research labs and end-of-the-line tracks with no adoption programs) into good situations. Little did she know that a hard-to-place greyhound named Peaches would quietly save her life. Cynthia realized a couple months after Peaches had died at 14, that Peaches had literally saved her life two decades ago.

Peaches had lived with Cynthia for about a month when someone broke into her home.  Cynthia later wrote, “Baton Rouge now has the dubious distinction of having two major serial killers. The first was caught almost a year ago. But 12 years ago, when I first moved into this quiet neighborhood, no one knew another lurked among us. I adopted Peaches within a month of moving in. She was the consummate spook at the Mobile adoption kennel, refusing eye contact, plastered against the back of her kennel, and had another week at the adoption kennel or else. But I was so taken with her, you all know the very minute your eyes meet; we’ve all been there …. She came home to Baton Rouge.

At first and for years to follow, she hid and ran from anyone entering the house. It took her eight years before she would approach visitors and cautiously at that. Yet, it was after only six months of living here that someone broke into my house while I was asleep.  The detectives said clearly something had startled the intruder as nothing was taken. The patio door was wide open. My TV and VCR were right beside the open door. The detectives told me it was very puzzling.

I then told them of my greyhound, who was then hiding back in her bedroom; yes, she had her own bedroom. They told me the dog must have startled “the burglar.”  Knowing poor Peaches’ overly shy, spooky disposition, I had my doubts, but….

Now, today, we know that our latest serial killer lived right across the street and was, in fact, the intruder! More importantly, he has now confessed to murdering eight women. So far, DNA has linked him to three. The police are working on the other five. The first known victim (at this time) was killed just a few months before the break-in at my home.

Before his killing spree he knocked on my door and told me I needed to change the drapes in my bedroom as he could see through my house. At the time it was Peaches’ bedroom and I thought to myself, I’m not changing the drapes for my dog’s room. After the break-in, my purse was found in his backyard. At the time, there was no reason to connect the dots. Now we know; the intruder was HIM.

Whatever the sad, sickening number turns out to be, my sweet Peaches probably saved my life. How she mustered up the courage to face the intruder is still beyond me. As I look at her pictures around the house, I can not describe the feeling. It is simply heart-wrenching. What a precious gift of life she gave me.” – Cynthia Cash

No, greyhounds are not like Labrador or golden retrievers or border collies, but viva la difference! They may not do a perfect sit, or herd or retrieve anything, but they’ll quietly guard your house and they will save your life and stay with you in time of need. If that isn’t smart or heroic, I don’t know what is.

Pups Without Partners  Newsletter 2005

More stories added August 8, 2012.

Renee Antaya wrote this about Cheyenne a day or two before putting her to sleep. “God bless this little girl’s soul. Letting go won’t be easy.

I love this little girl with all my heart. Cheyenne saved my life when I first got her. My blood sugar was dropping and she was going back and forth in the back seat making her little greyhound noises to keep me alert behind the wheel until I could get a bite to eat and pull over. When I pulled over she kept near me and going back and forth to keep me alert. A cop stopped and asked if I was OK. I told him I was a diabetic and she was motioning and making her noises toward him and me. She is my hero and because of her I am alive today.”

Marissa Ashforth wrote that her hound “Saved my life by finding a lump in my breast alerting me by “nitting” this one spot. Lump found, removed and given all clear thanks to my grey’s needle nose.”

The author’s hound, Cullen – the avatar dog here and on the website – did the same thing to the left ovary. He was also nitting at it and bumping into it. Once it was removed, the behaviors stopped.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  This article and any photos or artwork contained within may not be reproduced or reprinted without express written permission from the author, artists, and/or photographers. 

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