By Laurel E. Drew
What is the greatest reward that you can receive as a breeder of purebred dogs? Titles? Championships? Best In Shows? Stud fees? National recognition? All of the above? Any of them?
While all of those are exciting, there is something far more important. It is the knowledge that we have provided a person or a family with an integral link — furry soul that is devoted to them and will repay their love in unexpected and wonderful ways.
Sounds like a lot of romantic malarkey, doesn’t it — Lassie, Rin-Tin-Tin, and shades of Lad of Sunnybrook. Before you say, “What a bunch of bull” and turn the page, let me guarantee you that it does happen. Perhaps this happens not with the dash of a movie hero or in a manner that gains great publicity, but rather in ways that are worthwhile and heart-filling for all concerned. The way simply may be actions that allow a human to live a reasonably normal life despite physical disabilities. The way may be a matter of the dog giving the human an incentive to keep on trying.
Greyhounds are becoming known as good therapy visiting dogs, but few have been trained and used as “handidogs.” They are not noted for total devotion and trainability as are many of the breeds used for such purposes. However, in every breed there is the dog that exceeds its limits and purposes.
Love (Ch. El-Aur Lovely Adventure F.Ch.) was bred as an AKC show dog and coursing dog. I sold her sold as a pup but she returned soon after. She remained in my kennel for some time, and I finished her Championship and began to train her for lure coursing. She was sort of an extra in the kennel, and I just wished I could find her a good home.
One Fourth of July, a group of us was in the process of forming a new coursing club and met for a picnic and coursing practice. I took several of my hounds, including Love. While at the practice, a couple of folks — ranchers — were looking over my dogs with the idea of perhaps buying one. For some reason, I wasn’t eager to sell to them. I still don’t quite know why, but I turned to another friend. I commented, “As much as they might offer, I’d honestly rather give one of these hounds to you and Bob* where I’d be positive of it having a good home.” An odd expression crossed Mary’s* face and she said, “You know, we’ve been talking about getting a hound.” I stared for a minute, and then said, “Look, don’t get the idea I’m trying to foist a dog off on you but I mean that. If you want one of these, just choose.” They took Love, a pretty red and white bitch who wore a heart shape on her left flank.
Oh, they loved her enough, and she became quite thoroughly spoiled, moving into the house and sleeping at the foot of their bed, but that was just the beginning. They took Love to lure courses where she earned her Field Championship and was quite successful. What I haven’t said is that they both have multiple sclerosis, a debilitating and painful disease that becomes progressively worse.
In September that year, Mary went to the hospital because of a very bad time with her back. Love was miserable and would hardly eat. When Mary finally came home, Love was there to greet her, overjoyed, but never once jumped on her, and believe me, from that overzealous greeter, this was amazing. Mary did not have to order her off or make her sit or give any command. Love leapt in the air and frolicked about, but never once came too close to Mary.
A few days later, Mary decided to wash her hair while in the bathtub and slid down to do so. Love was there watching. Mary told me later, “I had my eyes closed and was soaping away when my arm was gently but firmly grasped, and I felt myself being pulled up. Love had decided that I wasn’t to be allowed to drown and was doing her best to save me.”
During the same period, Love also became Mary’s guardian for sessions in the hot tub. If Mary got too far from the side of the tub which Love could reach, Love would promptly go and get Bob to rescue her. She would not settle down until she had determined that Mary was safe again. As Mary became stronger, Love relaxed her vigilance a little, but she was always at hand. It was only a matter of time until her services would be required again.
To show you a bit of the other side of this loving hound’s personality, let me tell you that she could be mischievous and sneaky and charming. She played games with Bob, racing him for the bed at night with the click of the light switch being the starter’s bell. Love always won, but after a few rounds (it was never just one race), she would flop on her bed and grin a goodnight to both of her people. She would also jump up on the kitchen or dining room counter to oversee the dinner preparation and clean up whenever she got the chance. Despite the assortment of knick knacks and kitchenware, her counter ramblings never caused any breakage.
A few months later, back and leg problems confined Mary to her house. Mary was able to move about the house only with great difficulty. Because the wheelchair that had been ordered had not arrived, she had to use a cane and a wall or the backs of furniture to move around. Mary could not possibly go outside without assistance, so she did not.
Frustrated and discouraged at being kept from going out on a glorious day, and almost hindered by her hound who continually stayed at her side almost constantly touching, Mary slipped a collar on Love and leaned on her like a second cane. She took Mary outside for the first time in weeks when Bob was not there to assist. Love took tiny, slow steps and provided all the support Mary needed.
This soon became a ritual. Love continued taking Mary for slow walks on their property, but she would not allow her beyond the driveway of their country home. At the end of the driveway, she nudged Mary around until they were headed back to the house, refusing to go further. Mary was now able to go outside, and Love never once stirred from her side. Just think; this is a running dog which only a short time before had finished her Field Championship at lure coursing and adores chasing jackrabbits. I am firmly convinced that if Love were with Mary, she would ignore the biggest jackrabbit in the world as long as Mary needed her.
Love never rescued ten kids from a fire or saved a sailor from a sinking ship or did any of the great and heroic actions that we read about. Yet, without any training, with only her instincts and love to guide her, this hound turned her life into one of service to the people she truly loved. Love had found her niche, providing a marvelous sense of fulfillment and happiness in two separate homes. I think that must be the greatest reward for a breeder; I know it is for me.
*Names changed to protect privacy of the persons involved.
Author’s note: I still cannot explain how or why Love did these things. It’s enough that she did. She died in a tragic accident while lure coursing a couple of years after this. I don’t think that my friends have ever totally recovered from that. They never replaced her, and their health has deteriorated a great deal. To her end, Love did conquer — all of us.
CG W 96
Laurel Drew has been a CG regular contributor ever since this issue.