by Joan Nageldinger
This is the story of a first Greyhound, adopted in ’95 from New Hampshire, when they often arrived sick and malnourished, not neutered, and unvetted.
And then there was Ed. After a long series of rescued mutts who shared my living space ever since I was a child, came this leggy, funny-colored, lop-eared, 70-pound, “can’t-walk-on-slippery-floors”, “can’t-do-stairs”, “afraid-of-the-TV”, “probably-not-house-broken” three-year old specimen of the canine world carrying who knows what kind of “shouldn’t-happen-to-a-dog” experiences.
I knew very little about these seemingly unattractive animals. Actually, neighbors talked me into getting a Greyhound. As the current owner of two “curbstone setters”, and never the possessor of a purebred, I really didn’t need a third dog in the house, especially one so big. But, I requested a medium-sized male when I filled out the adoption papers. When I went to pick him up, I had a whole new concept of what “medium” meant in the Greyhound world. They sure looked smaller in the pictures. Peeling him off my leg as he tried to mount me was more of a greeting than I had anticipated!
His name was Base-Playing Ed. Oh, how I hoped he wouldn’t know his name. My neighbor’s father-in-law was also named Ed, and I casually wondered which one might come when I called. As I looked at his pathetic form that first night, I wondered how I could have gotten myself into this mess. Had I made a major mistake?
Well, I wouldn’t send him back. I would provide him with a good home, and do the best I could for him. After all, being here would have to be better than what he had come from, or his impending fate. Little did I know then that this ex-racer would ask for so much more from me. He would make me define my commitment to him, and for every other dog that would eventually follow him.
There he was, too big for the back seat of my Grand Prix, timid, and in desperate need of a few good meals. He looked at me as if he knew he had a challenge on his paws. He obediently scrunched himself in, and actually appeared to enjoy his ride home.
Greeted by the neighbors, who seemed more excited by his arrival than I, Ed quickly endeared himself to all with his calm, gentle demeanor. It was pointed out that he was the “most beautiful dog”. Was he? All I could see were long legs, protruding ribs, and a listless tail.
We settled into a shaky routine with my other two dogs. Maggie was a 4-year old Golden Retriever/Terrier mix whose only purpose in life was to have a good time. Boomer, self-appointed King of the Roost, was a 13-year old with an attitude, an 18-pound Poodle mix, hardly impressed with this interloper. The established pecking order would be challenged, but he would soon learn that Ed could become a cozy pillow for afternoon naps in the sun.
Transitioning to dog food, learning that “when nature calls” implied a trip outside, and fighting the parasitic invasion in his body occupied most of my time and energy in the beginning months. During all the trips to the vet to find a cause and cure for the diarrhea, and never-ending stream of visitors who came to see their first Greyhound close up, Ed was always the gentleman, greeting people with a friendly sniff, but then retreating to his own space. There was no spirit, no “life” in him. He obeyed every command, enjoyed his treats, but generally shied away from any real human contact. Although he loved to have his ears scratched and head petted, he did not overtly seek attention. I began to think that this would be the way it would always be, jumping at every strange sound, hiding when unsure of himself. I was so accustomed to dogs that were feisty. Would he ever trust? Would he ever be any fun? I wondered what kinds of abuses he may have suffered……….and how I would live with him…..and love him.
What does it cost to adopt a Greyhound? My tongue-in-cheek reply was “$90, plus $25,000 for a mini van to get him to the vet.” Riding in his new ’95 Pontiac Transport, he looked very regal as he stood and looked around from his rear vantage point. I felt like a suburban car-pooling mom. I was beginning to be drawn into those beautiful soulful eyes as he watched me through the rear view mirror. What was going on inside that head of his? What stories could he tell if he could speak? Somewhere along the way he had gotten to me. I think he knew he was winning me over.
Ed lasted only a few weeks in his delivery crate. With the other two dogs having free-run of the house while I was away, he probably felt the only way to achieve a parole from his incarceration would be to appeal to my guilt. Certainly, on my knees with my shoulder pressed against his butt, skidding him across the kitchen floor to force him into his crate had nothing to do with considering when he might be given the run of the house. So, when he spun around in his crate until he rubbed all the hair off his tail and blood flew all over the walls and furniture, I surrendered. Coming home to nurse his bloody tail and apologizing for my insensitivity, I think I saw the first glimpse of that Greyhound smile. He’d won a pardon! From that point on, when I came onto the patio, I could see him vault over Maggie and Boomer to be the first to greet me at the door. What trouble he had gotten into during the day would only be known as I did a survey of the house.
The TV was his fascination and pacifier. He learned to communicate his desire to watch Animal Planet by standing in front of the TV and growling until I came to turn it on for him. (The cracking and splitting of three remotes attested to his determination to watch his favorite program if I was not available to perform my duty immediately upon request.) Then he would hop up on the couch, rest his head on the arm, and be fascinated by the sights and sounds, ears flicking and nostrils flaring, until he finally fell asleep with visions of animals dancing in his head.
As the months passed, Ed developed an intense relationship with Maggie, a barking, fall-on-the-ground, tail-wagging little girl who thought Ed was the best toy she had ever received. To be able to teach him to stand on his hind legs with her and kangaroo-box was the high point of their time outside. As her new best friend (she paid homage by licking his tongue and the inside of his mouth), he learned his social graces from watching her manipulate me. He learned to chew on the rawhide bones that she held for him, to ask for snacks by standing in front of the counter, and to whine to get his ears scratched by following her to me. Finally cured of his initial illness, what emerged was a tail-spinning, self-assured, racing maniac. His body had filled out, his mind was alert, and his muscles rippled under a sleek coat. He truly was a beautiful animal!
His relationship with Boomer was less than enthusiastic at the beginning. Ed was most willing to play, but Boomer’s attitude was one of suspicion and intolerance. The first time Ed swatted him with his paw, Boomer slipped between his front legs, and sank his teeth into, shall we say, Ed’s most vulnerable spot. From that day on, Boomer would simply give Ed “the eye” when he was sprawled on the couch, and the big guy would immediately vacate. The pecking order was maintained.
Eddie’s first trips to the backyard were ones of exploration and, I suspect, marvel. The freedom to just wander, or chase squirrels and birds, seemed to amaze and thrill him. He would rush back to me with a look of “Did you see what I just did?” after he had treed a squirrel or terrorized a flock of sparrows. The lessons of the limitations of a fence line were quickly learned as he tumbled ass-over-teacup into its unyielding expanse in pursuit of the ever-elusive squirrel. A few rose thorns gently plucked from his shoulder brought new meaning to the concept of stopping when confronted with a barrier.
He soon learned the “race, stop, spin, race again” strategy. My once perfectly manicured lawn had a racetrack carved around the perimeter by flying feet. Watching him run was like seeing several golfers teeing off at the same time, sending tiny bits of earth into the air. Out of what appeared to be a sound sleep, Ed would suddenly jump up and spin circles in the middle of the room. The question, ”Do you need to race?” would send him rocketing to the door, skidding the rubber-backed throw rugs that now covered the tiled kitchen floor, scratching the stain off the deck as he sprung into the air, to run in the back yard until his tongue hung limply from his mouth. Maggie would try in vain to keep up with him, but would end up barking her excitement as he made swooping passes at her and flew on by. His power, coordination, and speed were something to be seen!
Freedom brought some interesting behaviors that I had not witnessed before. His insatiable quest for food nearly did him in as that anteater nose investigated every nook and cranny for crumbs……and counter tops……….and shelves…………and cupboards. Even the top of the refrigerator was no longer secure. I came to have a close relationship with the staff at Life Line and Emergency Veterinary Services as I learned the difference between what might actually kill him and what would only cause “severe intestinal distress”. Pepcid became our friend as we survived a half a ham, a container of chocolate frosting, a 5-pound barbecued chicken (bones and all), a bag of Hershey’s Kisses, a three-layered coconut cake, and numerous samples of human food snatched in a split second from the table or counter top. The sparkling deposit exposed next to the deck after the spring thaw dispelled the theory that all things can be digested. My Kamakazee boy had a stomach of steel.
I kept dog food in a 33-gallon container in the kitchen. I came home one day to hear pleading whines and yips from Maggie and Boomer. They were trapped in the hallway leading to the kitchen. Ed was at the door anxious for me to come in. He had apparently attempted to drag the container of dog food to the bedroom (where all treasures were stashed), had caught the leg of a kitchen chair which caught the leg of the table, and all three were jammed in the doorway, with Maggie and Boomer trapped on the other side. His strength was amazing. His sides were bulging, he was looking pretty uncomfortable, and crumbs were all over the floor. I called the vet after releasing Maggie and Boomer. Another suicide attempt foiled!
It wasn’t that he performed all his capers when he was alone. In fact, much of the nonsense occurred while I was home. His brain would flip into high gear, and thoughts of fun and challenge and excitement would overtake what should have been common sense. I’d come out of the shower and the towel and bath mat were missing. I’d reach for toilet paper and not only was the roll gone, but so was the spinner. Stuck straddling the bathtub with a bar of soap jammed between his jaws made me realize that this dog was truly different than any “puppy” I had ever owned. When he managed to take a new bottle of vitamins from the window sill over the kitchen sink, remove the child-proof cap without cracking it, and consume 31 vitamins, I knew that he had learned to back up and, if I could keep him alive, he would become the love of my life. I was assured by the OB-GYN on-call M.D. at Life Line that the iron overdose would probably result in an abundance of energy and hyperactivity……….36 hours of pacing and panting, to be exact.
Matching shoes was also difficult. Where the other one went was always a puzzlement when I wanted to leave the house. Car keys. How many times was I late? However, Ed never destroyed anything, except for remote controls, and that was accidental…..he just claimed everything that wasn’t nailed down for his own. He was never much interested in toys, but could be found with his head resting on one of his new treasures, anything that carried my scent.
I soon learned…….after all, I had a Masters Degree………..that Eddie should be the only one to wear a collar and tags in the house. The sound of those tags jingling when he did his “Pink Panther Trot” while he was on a mission, brought a call of “ED-WARD!!!”. I’d hear the sound of whatever he had in his mouth hit the floor, and instantly he would appear, head peering around the corner, tail wagging, with that innocent look of “Hi, Mom! What’s up?”. The tag-alarm was muffled, though, when he managed to open a cupboard and pull out pots and pans sniffing for food remains.
Then there was the relaxation pose on the couch, always on his back, four legs straight up in the air, mouth open, tongue hanging down………looking like road kill. I’d lean over and casually ask if there was anything I could do to make him more comfortable. He would blink his eyes, gasping to suck the tongue back into his mouth, stretch the right paw up to touch my face…………..the signal to rub his belly. There was no doubt. I was in love!
The bed was the most interesting indicator of Ed’s adjustment and socialization. Initially, it was covered with a satin comforter and pillow shams. I purchased a very expensive plush dog bed so that he could be next to me on the floor at night. He had already exhibited sleep aggression, so there was no need to encourage his company on the bed. After many attempts to urge him to use his new accommodations, I surrendered and bought new ”dog-tolerant” bed coverings when I found the comforter, pillows, sheets, and blanket in a pile on top of the dog bed cushioning a sleeping Greyhound boy. Getting into bed at night always required an “under-pillow check”, as interesting things were often stored for future examination: bird parts, squirrel parts, acorns, stones, car keys, shoes, bugs, used tissues, and sticky, wet unidentifiable objects gathered from who-knows-where.
He started off at the foot of the queen-sized bed with a body pillow preventing him from slipping to the floor. I learned to sleep in a fetal position since even the most innocent touch by my foot would send him into a panic and onto the floor, followed by the most pathetic whine that, in the middle of the night, seemed to last forever. Over the months, Ed cautiously inched his way up from the foot of the bed pushing me ever so gently to the edge so that he would have the pillows on which to lay his head. I adjusted to sleeping with one giant Greyhound paw on top of my head and a cold nose nuzzled behind my neck. Scratches on my face one morning evidenced my delay in rubbing ears in the middle of the night.
Macintosh apples! Where had they all gone? I know I didn’t eat a whole peck in so short a time. It was Fall and I had left them on the patio by the door going to the back yard. I grabbed one now and then as I passed through. So did somebody else. Interesting that he never picked one up on his way into the house! Did he know that apple seeds were toxic?????
I had heard about and read enough to know that Greyhounds and small animals could be a dangerous combination, so when a friend begged me to “puppy-sit” for a whole day, I reluctantly agreed, planning to keep all the dogs separated and a close eye on Puppy Maya……12 weeks old and weighing in at about 8 pounds, squeaky toy size. Boomer, generally intolerant, spent the day hiding in the bedroom. Maggie, jealous, spent the time under a lounge chair on the patio scrutinizing Maya’s every sound and movement. Eddie, fascinated and amused at the little brown marvel, became chief overseer and guardian. He sniffed, gently prodded with his nose, cocked his ears at every sound, and let Maya chew on his feet and tail, pull his ears, climb all over his body, and snuggle between his huge paws. Who knew this gentle giant had maternal instincts? When Maya left at the end of a long day, Boomer exited the bedroom, Maggie danced circles of elation, and Eddie stood at the door watching the car leave, and whined.
If he wasn’t trying to coordinate his long legs in an attempt to climb into my lap while I was holding Boomer in the rocking chair, he was constantly making me laugh. Tell him “NO!” and he would immediately obey, only to wait until my back was turned to resume his thievery. The tail wagged to even the whisper of his name. He adored Maggie and they would lie next to each other for the longest time with his head resting on her back. First to the door when a visitor came, first in line for snacks, head against my thigh as I did the dishes, a snuggly cushion for an aging Boomer, he was a delight!
We had bonded. How or when he had crept into my soul I’ll never know. From “Base-Playing Ed”, to “Ed”, to “Eddie”, the transformation took place ever so subtly. My neighbor called him “Mr. Ed”, which seemed appropriate for such a gentle soul. His determined spirit, his need to be loved, his quiet yet dominant place in this household, his ability to capture the love of everyone with whom he came into contact………..all came together to shape one of the most endearing dogs I have ever come to love. He had only been here for 4 years, but it seemed that he had always been a part of my life.
All of my previous dogs had lived to be 14 or 15, all euthanized when their eyes told me it was time, all mourned, and all immortalized in my heart. Always in the back of my mind was the question of to what extremes I would go to save an animal’s life if death threatened too soon, jeopardizing the freedom to run and play, or to just “be”. I have friends who had spent hundreds of dollars on surgeries, and medications, but I never had to make those decisions myself.
And then there was Ed. I called him “Mama’s Boy” because he was always at my side. The dog I wasn’t even sure I wanted, the dog that demanded so much of my time and energy, would now help me define my commitment to him, and to all the others who would follow him into my life. My buddy, who had caused me to install child-proof locks on the cupboards, who took over my couch, who made me sleep on the edge of the bed, who inhaled every meal put in front of him, and who was still trying to figure out how to open the refrigerator, suddenly lost interest in eating.
A couple of trips to the local vet and some routine blood tests brought us to a team of veterinary specialists. Eight weeks of medical care, thousands of dollars in tests and medications failed to find the cause of, or prevent, his continual weight loss and dropping red blood cell count. Tick-borne disease? E-coli? Parasites? Localized infections? The list of possible diseases was cross-checked with the symptoms. Transfusions were administered to try to slow the advancement of whatever it was that was overtaking his body. I brought his blankets and snacks to the hospital so that he would be more comfortable. Even some of the neighbors visited. I’d often find him sleeping at the nurse’s station in I.C.U. because he would whine when left by himself in a cage. No matter how weak he became, that tail would wag ever so slightly and his eyes would slit open whenever he heard my voice or felt my touch. Finally, after 5 days in intensive care, those eyes told me it was time.
As I sat on the floor holding his head in my lap, it appeared that he did not know that I was there as he no longer responded to my touch or voice. I was told he was in a coma. While the final syringe was being prepared for his I.V., I leaned over and whispered, “Are you still Mama’s Boy?” A slight raising of the head told me he could still hear my voice.
Mine were not the only tears that night. Ed had also captured the hearts of the medical personnel who cared for him in his last days and fought so hard to save his life. The primary care doctor said he had never seen a relationship like the one Ed and I shared. Neither had I. Who would have known that it would end this way? Who would have believed we would have bonded like we did?
The house is now quieter. I have reclaimed my couch and my bed, and the child locks have been removed from the cupboards. I think I will not re-stain the deck for a while…….evidence of the lop-eared, long-legged, funny colored, sprinting greyhound who once inhabited this house, and who captured my heart. Maggie and Boomer continue to look for him
Somewhere across the Rainbow Bridge there is a beautiful, sleek, dark brindled free spirit running after a squirrel. There is a smile on his face. He knows he was loved and that there will never be another “Mr. Ed”, but there will be another Greyhound to take over where he left off.
The necropsy indicated that Ed died of systemic malignant hystiocytosis, a rare form of cancer as yet undocumented in the Greyhound breed, but the leading cause of death in Bernese Mountain Dogs (by age 7-8). Ed was 7 when he died. The specialists who treated him had never seen a case in their combined careers.
Ed’s loss was soothed by the arrival of Toby a few months later, who has now joined Ed, Maggie, and Boomer across the bridge. Quesa and Arianna continue to perpetuate my love for Greyhounds, and honor Eddie’s memory.
Published in the newsletter Greyhound Adoption of Greater Rochester 1999; updated in ’09