by Peter Brandon
By 2000, Stefey and I had adopted nine greyhounds, and we considered ourselves to be advanced collectors. We maintained a pack of five, and when natural selection subtracted one we made another trip to the retirement kennel at Paul’s. We no longer looked for the pretty boys or saucy girls but went for the old, rejected, or infirm. So when Molly, our 13 year old died, we soon set out to add to our pack. We had experienced remarkably good luck over the years and were full with what turned out to be the arrogance of ignorance. As we drove to the kennel, we had no clue that things would soon change.
Bob was the most beautiful greyhound we ever adopted, a stunning, three year-old, red fawn classically handsome in every way. He was in the notorious “crate wetting” section of Paul’s kennel, but so had our favorite sweet boy Spot, who had also been a notorious “pissing dog”. But Spot had completely reformed after being caught disgracing himself on his blanket as he awoke on his first morning with us. As we took Bob home, he was super wild on the leash and had a funny look in his eyes. But we ignored these signs; after all, others had tugged and thrashed and looked a little strange now and then, but they had always worked out easily.
We had shared our lives with greyhounds long enough to live through the myths that some rescue groups have spun around them, so we didn’t expect Bob to be a Wonder Dog. None of our others had even been really smart, or clever (dare I say they were dumb?). They got confused easily performing routine daily tasks, like walking through a room full of furniture. And mostly, they lay around and thought about nothing, were ready to go with anyone, and would have eagerly joined an intruder in attacking us. But they were very sweet and we loved them.
Bob hit our house like a bomb! He couldn’t seem to adjust to anything. He fought with the other dogs; he couldn’t learn. He couldn’t be moved. And most of all: he couldn’t stop pacing. When I watched him, I thought of the terrible sight of a caged tiger I had seen years earlier at a small town circus, pacing back and forth in a cramped cage with nothing before him but a lifetime of more terrible pacing. When Bob wasn’t pacing, he was pooping and peeing here, there and everywhere. He seemed to live behind a wall of hysteria that was always in his eyes. We seemed to make no impression on him; we never knew what he was thinking, what he would do.
Even after dinner in the quiet time that we all loved the best — when everyone was home and together and warm. When we all settled into the family room with Stef and me in our places and the dogs on their blankets in theirs, when the cares of the day were forgotten and life was good– even then he paced. And he paced and he paced. When he wasn’t pacing he was usually taking a minute off to relieve himself here or there.
He glanced at me one night as he paced by me on his way into the kitchen lap, and I said, “You know, I think he’s nuts! I mean really disturbed, I think he’s crazy!” It seemed to make sense. We were doing everything we could, and he wasn’t getting any better. Right then and there, we decided Bob was psychologically challenged. No doubt about it; he had Dog Dementia.
After a mental health conference with our vet, who probably thought we were the ones who needed the pills, we put him on tranquilizers, and he got worse. Instead of seeming to hallucinate some of the time, he appeared to be seeing invisible snakes in the corners all the time. He also was not adjusting well to the pack and sent our biggest male to the emergency vet’s for a dozen stitches on his neck. I thought about making a tiny lightning rod and a little hat and putting him out in a thunderstorm to get him a little natural shock therapy. But jokes aside, Bob was wearing us down, nothing was working. We were sick and tired of cleaning up pee and poops. And on it went day after day, week after week, month after month.
I found myself getting more and more angry with him, and my jokes about bringing him back to Paul’s increased. I would shout and threaten him and push him outside when I found a mess he had probably made hours earlier. As I screamed at him, I realized it was too late to yell; he wouldn’t know what I was angry about. But I kept yelling and he would cringe and hide. At this point, I hadn’t taught him to go outside, but I certainly had taught him in a hundred ways that he was not only Crazy Bob, but he was Crazy Bob, the Stepdog.
Finally, on a Sunday morning in a post pee cleaning rage, I called Paul to tell him I was bringing Bob back. Evelyn answered and said Paul was out. Evelyn is one of the sweetest, kindest people I have ever met, but I unleashed a string of four letter words to describe Bob and screamed that I was on my way to the kennel and Paul better get the pissing crate ready. I struggled to put on Bob’s leash and dragged him to the garage. Still in a rage, I pushed him in the car. He always sat in the same place on the back seat and did enjoy riding, so he went in without much of a fight, but he was shaking. As I got in and reached to start the car, I looked in the rear view mirror and saw his face. He was sitting right behind me, only a foot or two away. Our eyes met, and in that instant in one of those few flashes in a long life, I suddenly knew Bob and I saw myself, my hand dropped off of the ignition key. He was so innocent and so scared because he knew I was angry and I didn’t like him, and he sensed the dread that filled the car. This was his life: an eternal present, trying to understand what to do to please me, how to fit into a world where he had no control over the most basic aspects of his life. A beautiful creature born to run, yet forced to live in a world without fields and trees and the race. Who was he, what could he become? More important, what had I become?
I brought Bob upstairs and vowed to love him the best I could for as long as he lasted. I had been patting myself on the back for adopting dogs for years; now, it was time to earn the kudos. I knew I would still get angry and probably shout and scream, but we were going to keep him no matter what. There has been so much drivel written about the power of love, and so many bad dramas have trivialized the subject that I am almost embarrassed to say that love is what did it for Bob. Slowly, we came to love him in a hundred small ways: his way of sitting, his playfulness, the way he sleeps with his head apparently up his butt, the way he hides in the cellar to ambush me on the way to my car when I’m going for a ride, the way he circles when he lies down. And as we learned to love him, he learned to relax, and he started to become who he is.
It’s been just over a year since that Sunday, and things have changed. Bob is my sweetest boy now, and I love him dearly. He sleeps by our bed with the rest and jumps in to snuggle when he can. He has even stopped pooping in the cellar when he gets excited. He is a happy very playful boy. He adores his brother Spot and loves, most of all, his position as Number One Car Dog. He has mostly stopped pacing.