by Joan Nageldinger
A Tragedy Averted
Dragged out from under an abandoned trailer in central Florida in February, 2000, she was too weak to stand, filthy, nasty, “alive” with fleas, and covered with insect bites; a scared-to-death, uncollared pet dump with muscles so wasted and atrophied that she looked like a six-month old puppy. It was reported that she crawled into the lap of her rescuer and snuggled down for comfort and warmth, too weak to run anymore. The emergency vet. said she would probably not make it through the night, and suggested letting her go. Her rescuers insisted she be checked for heartworm, and being “clear”, she was released into their care. They named her “Q’ue Sera Sera” (What will be, will be), and took her home to give her another chance at life, pushing fluids into her for three days before she could urinate. They were willing to accept whatever fate lay in store for her.
A New Beginning
Quesa (KAY-sa) thrived on the love and care she received. Daily she grew healthier, and began to learn the ways of the people with whom she now lived. She was traced through her ear markings to her owner, who willingly signed over the papers to the rescuer, Kathleen Gilley (of the World Renowned Dancing Greyhounds ). So began Q’s new life; 31 months old, 36 pounds, and quickly gaining strength and weight. How long she had been on the run, or how far she had come, will never be known. Had she been the victim of careless ownership? Had she been taken on a fateful ride and turned out to fend for herself? What was known is that she was about at the end of her survival skills, emaciated, dehydrated, desperate, and pathetic when found by the Gilleys. It was estimated that she had been on the run for a couple of months due to her weight and condition. She could have conceivably covered half of the state in that amount of time. The fact that she had even survived this long was a testament to either her luck, or her will to live, both of which would be tested again later.
When it became clear that Quesa would live, but was travel phobic, it was time to find an adoption group that would place her in a home with someone who would appreciate her struggle to survive, and who would devote the necessary time to give her a comfortable and safe new life. It was believed that she was destined for someone’s lap rather than the show ring. Kathleen stated that “She needed all the mothering and protection that she could get for the rest of her life.” A future as a Gilley Girl was not for her.
Peggy Levin (Personalized Greyhounds, Inc.) in Harrisburg, PA, was chosen to find the right home for this little survivor. Kathleen requested that the new mom should have experience with dogs, not be working all day, and would allow the little one on the couch and bed, as well as her lap. In addition, LOTS of toys would have to be provided. The mom would also have to be a push-over for golden eyes, want to cuddle a LOT, and must appreciate Q’s physical perfection, even if her mental maturity was only that of a puppy. “Q was too sweet and angelic”, she wrote, for us. Only those with huge egos, who know they can walk on water if given the chance, need apply.” What would soon become evident was that, not only did Quesa believe she could walk on water, she believed that she controlled and owned the water, like everything else in her life.
I had just called Peggy and told her that I was ready for another dog. I wanted a small female to join my huge, handsome, male Greyhound, Toby, and my “crazy” Golden mix, Maggie Magee. Peggy chuckled and said, “Have I got the dog for you! I just heard from Kathleen Gilley………..” and she told me the story of Quesa. That was in March of 2000, and it would not be until June that the Gilley’s show schedule would bring them to Harrisburg to unite me with my little girl. What began then as a fascination with this little waif who would soon share my home would develop into a love for the spirited little girl who would change the way I looked at dogs in general, greyhounds in particular.
Quesa would be my third greyhound. Another one of Kathleen’s stipulations was that the little one should go to someone who would be getting their first female, as she believed that you haven’t had a greyhound until you’ve (been) had (by) a female. Little did I know what was in store for me.
As the days closed in on my trip to Harrisburg for the June 3, 2000 “Transfer of the Dog” ceremony at Personalized Greyhound’s annual picnic, I became more and more unsure of my ability to accept and care for this little girl who had won the hearts of so many people across the country as she traveled from one venue to another with the Dancing Greyhounds. Maggie Magee, my wonderful, funny, loving Golden mix had died unexpectedly, and I was devastated. I was hoping, though, that Toby would see Quesa as a fair replacement for his buddy, Maggie.
I was also concerned, but said nothing, about the eyes of the country that would be upon me, being the one chosen by Peggy, approved by Kathleen, to care for this special package. Kathleen had chronicled Quesa’s progress via the internet for the four months she rehabbed and accompanied the Dancing Greyhounds to the west coast on their round-about journey from Florida to Harrisburg. I never felt that I was really adopting Quesa, but that I was being entrusted with her care, as so many people knew of her plight, had seen her, read about her, and had wanted her. For such a little thing that she was, she already had an international following and seemed to belong to the world. I felt that, although I had won the “lottery”, the eyes of the (greyhound) world were upon me. It wasn’t that Kathleen Gilley didn’t want and love this little furbaby; she would have kept her in a heartbeat had she exhibited “show mentality and personality”, and not been so fearful of travel. The 5,000+ miles already recorded were torture for the little one. So, it would be with breaking heart that Kathleen would let her go.
First Encounter: Roles Defined
Our first meeting occurred at the RV where The Gilley Girls (Plus 1) were out viewing all the passersby at the picnic. As my eyes scanned the “herd”, there was one, smaller than the rest (23” at the withers), a “cantaloupe and chocolate-striped maiden”, wearing a different kind of collar (presented to her by Sue Ross of Silk Road Collars in Washington State), clearly the ONE with attitude. There was a look on her face that I would see for years, one that showed her excitement and love for life. LaMarquesa, as Kathleen then called her, was pushing everybody else aside so she could see what was going on, so she could see me when I approached the x-pen. I will never forget that face, so eager and full of life.
What a transformation had taken place! There she was, 49 pounds of sleek, muscled, shiny greyhound girl, so full of herself, and powerfully agile as she danced around the six Gilley Girls. There was MY girl! What a cute little thing she was, all wiggles, and excited to see me, to see anyone who would reach over the x-pen and touch her…….”touch” being the operative word here, and the key to the core of her being. Kathleen and Gil were watching and smiling as I wiped a tear from my eye, and asked if I could take her for a walk so we could get to know each other. Thus began a relationship that would span over 11 years and cause me to realize that you haven’t had a greyhound until you’ve loved, and been loved by, a female………….with attitude.
When the official presentation was made in front of all the PG adopters, there was Miss Quesa right in the middle of all that applause soaking up every bit of the excitement. She was “perfect”: alert, standing proud, tail erect, “sitting” and “downing” and “bowing” and “heeling” for Kathleen.
Quesa never took her eyes off of Kathleen’s face when she spoke to her. Her adoration of Kathleen was surpassed only by Kathleen’s love for that little girl. The relationship they had would be a bond that would last forever, and if you believe in Fate, one that would eventually reunite them. It was HER moment to shine after all the months of being “one of” The Girls. She knew it, and soaked up all she could. She was QUEEN. This was her court. What a character she was! How she needed somebody to love her, just HER. Certainly, there seemed to be a design in bringing Q. and me together. Considering the odds against her survival, the intervention of the Gilleys, the support of Peggy Levin, and my request for another dog, all lining up for this one little baby girl, (“larval-stage canine” as Kathleen put it), this match might actually have been meant to be.
My first thought, after getting over how cute she was and how much I did want her, was that this dog was going to have to learn to heel……for ME. She pulled and dragged me as close as she could get to just about anybody who she thought she could pull and drag to get to. What a little hussy she was! We finally joined my friends at the picnic table, and many more people came to see and touch, and comment on the little girl they had all heard about. My role was simply an observer, a “companion to the star”, as she took it all in, and with an attitude as if she deserved it. She KNEW she deserved it. She demanded it.
Paying little, if any, attention to anything I said to her, she maneuvered her way around those who came to get a close-up look, working the crowd, so to speak, and acting as though she was somehow fulfilling her destiny. Nearly three, but she still had that silly, playful, puppy innocence. I watched in shock and amazement as she commanded the attention of everybody who she could reach with her cute ways, wiggling rear, peanut-butter eyes, blue fawn color, and that Hunter’s Crest down the back of her neck. She was so unique, in size, personality, and attitude, and had eyes that could look right into your heart. She knew exactly what she was doing, what she had done to win the hearts of so many people before me. She was, in fact, a non-performing Gilley Girl, as she had gone to all the performances, but was not allowed to actually participate in the shows. At each venue, Kathleen would tell the story of her rescue, and bring her out so people could see her. Of course, the attention she got, the applause, and the petting, let her think that it had been all about HER. I was thinking that I had my hands full with this one. A celebrity in her own right, I was to take my little wild thing home with me to live a quiet life in the suburbs……….or so I thought.
Suddenly she hopped up on the picnic table, I guess, so she could get a better look at “her people”. I was sitting on the bench and motioned for her to come to me, my intention being to help her down. She came to me, alright; she used my shoulder as a springboard to leap to the people standing behind me.
Caught mid-flight, she was contained, for a second, until she wiggled loose and landed again in the middle of the picnic table. This time, she was corralled, and placed on the ground with a firm “NO!” coming from my mouth. If looks could kill, I would have been a dead woman. How dare I interfere with Miss Quesa’s audience-seeking mission! She gave me a look that said, “I’ll deal with you later.”
As I reflect on that first encounter, she must have been thinking that I had much to learn about my role in her life. Whereas I saw myself as her “mom”; she saw me as her “agent”, someone to book her appearances, and to create a world that satisfied her need to be in the spotlight. I would be expected to provide transportation, to accompany her, to hold doors, to bring snacks, water, and a comforter, but stay out of her way. My training had already begun.
What really caught my attention, though, was the eye contact. She had no fear of looking you straight in the eye and holding the gaze until she convinced you she was “in control”. A formidable little thing she was! I couldn’t help but love her spirit and spunk. The battle of the minds was on!
Promises to Keep
The morning we were to head for home, we all gathered on the Levin’s sun porch. Quesa scanned the group, checking out each person and making some sort of mental notes. She lap-surfed the group, finally hopping her little butt right up next to Lew Levin, and snuggled down. Of all the people, she found the “soft touch” in that group because that man was the one she knew would let her have her way with him, something I would see played out hundreds of times in her lifetime…..the ability to psyche out the people who would cater to her needs.
I had the chance to spend a few minutes alone with Quesa before we left, She sat in front of me with those piercing peanut butter colored eyes looking directly into mine. I ran my hands down both sides of her face, over her ears, and down her neck, something that would be repeated hundreds of times in her lifetime as we “talked”. She remained motionless as I told her that she would never again be alone, cold, hungry, or frightened, and that today was the first day of the rest of her life, and that I would do everything I could to make it be the best it could be for her. She had lived for a reason, and together, we would find out what that reason was……..”Everything has a purpose under Heaven” ran through my mind. She then reached up with her left paw and placed it on my right upper arm. I was HERS!
Once, in a conversation about greyhounds, Kathleen had told me that “If you want a pet rock or a couch potato, you can have one. If you want something else, all you have to do is learn to communicate, providing the space for it to experiment on you.” My education was beginning; the lines of communication were being established.
There was no question that Kathleen and Quesa had bonded in the four months they shared their lives. Kathleen’s quick, silent exit from the Levin’s driveway was an indicator of just how much the parting hurt. For Kathleen to be able to let her go, risking never seeing her again, was a true testament of the love she had for this animal she had pulled back from certain death. I had the prize, but the win was bittersweet. I had promised Kathleen that she would always know how Quesa was doing, but as I looked down and saw Q’s eyes follow the RV as it pulled away, I knew this little one was “lost” again. I had my work cut out for me, for both of them. I couldn’t imagine the confusion in Quesa’s head, and the sadness in her heart. I gently laid my hand on the top of her head when I heard the low whine, and she silenced immediately at my touch, her body relaxing under my hand, something else that would play out hundreds of times during her lifetime, the kind of communication that needed no words, just touch.
Having shed more tears than expected, we bid the Gilleys and the Levins a good-by, and headed back to Rochester. She rode the 287 miles sitting between the two front captain’s chairs, panting. There was now no doubt why Kathleen couldn’t/wouldn’t keep her, as much as I knew she loved her. What is that quote about “if you really love something, you can let it go”?
“What greater love………………..”
New Home: Staking A Claim
Coming into the house for the first time after our exhausting trip resulted in the disappearance of Miss Quesa within seconds. Checking to make sure she hadn’t slipped out the door, I went on a room-to-room search since calling her name brought no response. There she was on her back in the middle of my queen-sized bed with her head on the pillows, eyes closed, sound asleep. I guess Kathleen was right. She did need to be in a home where a bed would be available to her. I did ponder where I was going to sleep that night because sliding into a bed next to a strange dog didn’t seem to be high on my list of “Things To Do”. So, I let her stay there and I went to the couch in the living room. Within minutes after the lights went out, she trotted down the hall, surveyed the situation, sat down facing the couch, put one paw up to test the distance (I guess), and hopped her little body right up, and wiggled between me and the back of the couch, let out a huge sigh, and went to sleep after jamming her head under my shoulder. As I turned to find a more comfortable spot, I remembered my “talk” with her that morning, and that today was the first day of the rest of her life. I was getting a taste of what an adventure it was going to be.
Every word used to describe her that first day: dynamic, determined, willful, defiant, adorable, loving, smart, crafty, cute, provocative, would soon come into play as Miss Quesa settled into her new life in the suburbs of western New York State, 35 months old, and again starting over. How would she adjust? What would she do without Kathleen? What was so clear was her lust for life, her energy and determination to have her own way, and to have a good time getting it. I.Q. point for I.Q. point, I was sensing a feeling of inadequacy.
Whatever had happened to her in her other life was now history. She was healthy, bright, astute, and an observer of human nature. She would watch until she had figured out the behaviors of her humans, so that she could rise above any “human tendency” to try to control her.
She moved with the speed and finesse of a gazelle, and the silence of a snake. She could appear out of nowhere, or sneak up behind you without a sound, and just wait for you to turn around to acknowledge her presence. Once, when I apparently didn’t move fast enough to let her out, she moved up behind me and nipped me in the back of the thigh. When I spun around to grab her by the scruff of the neck, she stood her ground with a look of, “What’s your problem, Woman? Don’t you know I have places to go, things to do?” It was all I could do not to laugh out loud. She then (gently) grabbed my hand and led me to the door. Where did she learn that?
She took in everything around her, every sight, every sound, every scent, every movement, and stored what would be valuable in her crafty, creative brain. You could almost see the wheels turning when you gazed into those beautiful, deep eyes.
She didn’t walk; she pranced like a Tennessee Walker in parade mode. She didn’t run; she flew. She didn’t play with toys; she attacked toys and threw them over her head and marveled at how they bounced off of walls, ceilings, and TV screens. Life and all that it held for her was to be enjoyed to its fullest.
Home was a huge playground. Newspapers would not only shred, but they would make wonderful sounds as they met their fate at her paws and jaws. Even more fun was when a newspaper was being read by me. She would sit in front of me, rear up, and bat the paper with her paws until I surrendered, and (appropriately) relinquished the sports section.
Throw rugs were to be thrown. Water bowls were to be splashed in. Toys were to be dropped in water bowls or toilets. Toilet paper was to be ripped and spit. Pillows were to be flung across a room. I would invariably come home to find pillows all over the living room floor and toys strewn on top of furniture. She had not been bored while I was gone.
Windows gave her access to the world and the “skid” marks on the glass attested to the length of time she would stand in front of the door or lean against a window until she tired and “slid” down the panel.
Couches were trampolines. She didn’t jump on the couch; she flung herself on the couch. She didn’t lie down; she positioned herself on whatever was most comfortable……..pillows on top of a folded comforter. And if the pillows weren’t in position, she would drag them to the top of the comforter or stand and whine and growl until one of her human handmaidens did it for her.
The couch became her sanctuary, her “crate”, her base of operations. There was not much that she needed, or wanted to do that couldn’t be accomplished from HER couch. After she had been here a couple of years, it became apparent that a larger seating arrangement was needed as two greyhounds on a three-seater eliminated a number of options for the humans. The 7-9 person sectional was just what Quesa had envisioned so she could expand her choices for comfort.
Once it was situated in the living room, she actually trotted its full length a couple of times as if she was trying to get a feel for the possibilities. When she finally laid down, there was a look of ownership on her face.
Depending on where she might position her body, she could see out the side window to the driveway, the picture window to the street, the front door to the yard, or the hallway to the rest of the house. There was not much she could miss as she surveyed her realm.
She could sit straight up or rest her head on the back, or curl up in the middle or at one of the ends with her head on the arm rest, or lie on her side, or on her back with all four feet aimed at the ceiling. And, as much as she and Mr. Toby were not the best of friends, they could both be on the sectional without coming into physical contact. She was in her glory!
Then there were the choices to be made about additional comforts. Should she be on a pillow, or on top of the comforter, or with her head under a pillow or blanket. On hot days she would position herself right in the middle, the closest spot to the a/c vent. There she would be on her back, with all four legs in the air with the cool breeze drifting across her belly. This sure beat the track accommodations in Florida!!!!!
The best part of all of this was that she could easily stand up, rear up, and place her paws on my shoulders when I approached the couch. This made her feel like a “big girl”, I guess, because that tail would spin in circles when she made contact and her eyes met mine. And then, to be able to share her accommodations with visitors was the height of creature comforts. With all this additional space, she could easily throw herself across the lap of anyone who would sit down. Sometimes, if she thought it through, she could have her head on the lap of one person, while her little butt was up against the thigh of another person. The coziest position, if she could manage it, was to wiggle herself down between the person and the back of the couch. A girl couldn’t get any more snug than that. This was where she felt the safest; this was “home” to Quesa. Kathleen’s request that she be allowed on furniture was the crux of the security and sanity of this little dog.
The whole issue being in physical contact with something that she could cuddle played out with the stuffed animals. Initially, I had purchased a huge white bunny to place on the couch at Easter. I had no idea Miss Q. would adopt the bunny as her own. When it was time for the bunny to be put away, I decided to find her another “buddy” with whom she could snuggle. I have never seen an animal (sorry, Quesa) wrap paws around a stuffed anything, but there she was! Several huge stuffies were added over the years because she liked to move from one to another as she napped.
She tore the bicep tendon in her right shoulder careening into the fence in pursuit of an elusive squirrel. After a number of hours at the hospital she returned home still in some pain, but with orders not to let her jump on or off the couch or bed. Her frustration was at its peak when I decided, rather than crate her, to settle her down on the floor in the living room on comforters and a pillow. She was still stressed, so I laid down next to her hoping the pain meds would kick in and she would finally sleep. When I awoke several hours later, I was still on the floor and guess who was sound asleep on the couch?
Floors were not meant for little greyhound girls. Floors were only for getting from the sectional in the living room, to the couch on the patio to the queen-sized bed. Floors could be used for chewing bones as the carpeted ones provided traction, for shredding papers, and for throwing rugs, but very little time was spent in these activities compared to lounging on the couches. Lord knows where this little one began her life, but it sure was comfortable being an adopted suburban child.
A Special Friendship
Quesa’s first new friend was Vinny, an eight-year old, who lived next door. Their first meeting was over the fence because he was initially intimidated by my little girl’s wild jumping and wiggling, and “in-your-face” welcome. Cautiously, Vinny learned that a gentle hand and a soft voice would calm her energy and excitement at seeing him. I was amazed at how she would settle down, and look at him with adoring eyes. There was a unique connection between those two. But, when he became more confident around her, and was less threatened by her enthusiasm, she again let him see her full-blown energy and lust for life.
Vinny loved to stay overnight so he could spend more time with Quesa and Toby. The hours before he fell asleep were full of rough play with the little 50-pound dynamo who loved to sit up and “box” with Vinny using her “kangaroo paws”. They would throw themselves on the couch and roll and play until she would flop herself onto his lap and wiggle as close as she could get.
Six months into the relationship, Vinny was diagnosed with leukemia. His primary care nurse in the URMC Pediatric ICU said that their initial conversations had to do, not with when could he go home, or how sick he was, but rather how much he missed his friend, Quesa. When he stopped eating and refused to assist with his own care, it was the promise of seeing Quesa that got him to listen to his doctors. When he was discharged from the hospital 19 days later, his only question about his continued care was when could he stay overnight again with Quesa.
Less than a day later, frail, pale, bald, and with permission of his oncologist, he was carried by his father to my house. At the window was Quesa watching with wagging tail and quivering body. When he came in, she made her usual rush to him, but stopped cold, sniffed, and stiffened. Her nose immediately caught the scent of the antiseptic used to flush the tube implanted in his chest to carry the chemo drugs directly to his bloodstream.
Quesa sped into the living room and onto the couch to await his arrival and what she had come to expect as a rollicking good time. But Vinny did not throw himself onto the couch with her, but stood next to it while Quesa sat up and batted those mighty paws in the air. He looked at me and asked me to make her stop because he was afraid that she would hit and dislodge the tube, which would send him right back to the hospital.
I drew a breath, and told him that I could not make her stop, that she didn’t know any better, silently considering calling his dad to come get him until I could figure out a way to keep him safe. I watched him lift his t-shirt and expose the tube under its protective plastic covering. Quesa’s eyes glistened, her ears went erect, and she gently moved closer to sniff this new part of him. Vinny explained that he couldn’t play rough any more because she might hurt him. Ears twitching, nostrils flaring, she never took her eyes off of his face as he talked to her as if she was a person.
Somehow, some way she understood. As I sat on the edge of the couch ready to nab her in an instant if she lunged at him, her body relaxed and she laid down and gently placed a paw against his thigh. Vinny eased himself close to her. She very carefully crawled onto his lap, maneuvered onto her back, and gently placed a paw to his face. He patted her belly.
That night they fell asleep together on the couch. She, not on top of him as she had done so many nights before, but now nestled between him and the back of the couch with one paw placed precariously across his chest. I checked on them several times during the night and neither had moved.
Vinny continued to stay overnight many times while his chemo continued as an outpatient. Quesa always greeted him at the door, raced to the couch, and waited for him to sit down. Then she would throw herself across his lap. Vinny and I would laugh about “how many square inches of her body she could get plastered against how many square inches of his body”.
When the interloper appeared, both Vinny and Quesa had to re-evaluate their relationship. One night Vinny pulled a stuffed animal from his knapsack, wrapped his arms around it, and burrowed down under the comforter. Quesa sniffed it, but was told by Vinny that she could not have it (as was her obvious plan). She obeyed and released her grip on its leg. Although Vinny did not speak to her in a harsh tone, he did re-position the stuffed animal back under his arm. Quesa looked at me, jumped down off the couch, and came to sit next to me, putting her head on my knee. I patted her head and told Vinny to call her back to the couch. He did, but she ignored him. He called again, but she jumped up next to me and snuggled down on my lap. For the next hour or so, he made several attempts to get her to come to him. Nothing! Finally, I told him that I would put her outside for her last run and he should put the stuffed animal under the comforter and see what would happen when she came back inside. He did, and she sniffed it out. She slept with me that night, the first time ever not with Vinny. The next morning Vinny put the stuffed animal in his knapsack and called her back to the couch. She came, sniffed all around, and then settled down next to him, wiggling and snuggling, getting as close to him as she could………..just as if nothing had changed between the two of them.
If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it. She was jealous! During their time together, Vinny promised her that he would never bring a stuffed animal back into her house. She slept with him every night after that.
Theirs has remained a special relationship, one which I can only observe, as I am not invited to participate. As Vinny entered his teen years, he no longer stayed overnight, but he and Quesa continued to “talk” over the fence and visits to the patio and cuddle time on that couch remained a part of their relationship. When they are together, I still do not exist. The special bond is for only them to understand.
If there was a reason for this little lost dog not to have died from her malnutrition, abuse, and neglect and that she should end up over a thousand miles from where she was found, then it was to take that little boy through a terrible time in his life. That, in itself, justified her existence, but there was more to come. Her impact had just begun to manifest itself.
So Many Hands, So Little Time
It was clear that she wanted, she needed, the attention. She thrived on it. Whether this was who she had been before her “adventure in the wilderness”, this was clearly who she was now……….a prima donna, maybe, but a unique specimen of the greyhound world that would change many attitudes. Her purpose in life had been found. Kathleen has told me that the little one was destined for something special, and I was the medium; Quesa was the message.
Knowing how she was “shown” by Kathleen when the Dancing Greyhounds performed, I was sure Quesa would enjoy the attention she would receive at Meet and Greets. What I didn’t expect, but quickly learned, was that she assumed that everybody who came to a M&G came to see her. Actually, she did do much to increase awareness of the breed, but did little to endear herself to the other adopters as she pushed their dogs out of the way so SHE could be seen and touched by all who leaned over the x-pen. Leashing her inside the x-pen seemed ridiculous, so I would often get inside with her and try to curb her enthusiasm………to no avail. She was “driven” to be #1. She believed that she was THE dog to be seen and touched and adored.
Without a sound, she would make the others back away, and allow her first dibs on the spectators. If someone would lean over the wire, then a kiss was to be given. The ensuing squealing would (often) frighten the other dogs, but not the Mistress of Affection, who loved every minute of the excitement. Many parents have a picture of their child being kissed, and many said they wanted a greyhound “just like that one”. THAT ONE was a handful, but that information remained sealed in my heart, as her energetic personality convinced many to adopt. Once, when there was no chair inside the pen, I sat on the floor. Spotting me, she crawled into my lap, curled up, and fell asleep. I think a couple of adoption forms were filled out based on that display of cuteness.
Visits to schools were the high point of her social calendar because there would be no x-pen to prevent a multitude of hands from simultaneously running over her body. She was wonderful in a classroom full of kids. She would check out each child, give each one a minute or two of her time (and often a kiss or two), and then find one child to love, putting her head on the lap, and then allowing everybody else to pet and caress. At any given time, she might have 10-12 hands roaming over her body, while she drifted into another world with eyes closed and breathing shallow.
On one visit to a school library, she cruised the whole 7th Grade class and then climbed onto the couch that was reserved for story-telling. Several students joined her and read to her. With her eyes closed, she listened intently, wiggling deeper and deeper into the laps and thighs of those children closest to her.
The best schools for Quesa were those where the classroom we were to visit were a long way from the front door so that we would have to pass many offices and other classrooms. Into each she could bolt to find out how many people would come to pet her. Passing people in the halls also afforded additional opportunities to stop and sniff, get petted, give kisses.
I felt that nursing home visits might be intimidating, so I kept her leashed until I was sure she could be calm with wheelchairs and walkers. On our first visit, she was OK with the wheelchairs because people were low enough to kiss. There were no walkers, so I let her off the leash. All of the patients were seated on chairs or in wheelchairs in a horseshoe at the far end of a huge community room. We, the adopters, stood in the open end and presented our dogs. Quesa was somewhat frustrated at being on a leash and not being able to get to the people, so I let her go. She cruised from chair to chair visiting briefly with each resident, getting petted, maybe giving a kiss or two, sniffing wheelchair wheels, and generally endearing herself to one and all. It was interesting to note that the other dogs were content to stand next to their “parents”, but Quesa always wanted to meet on her own terms,rather than be on display or be led to the people, so I learned to let her go as she would “work the room” as she saw fit. Having never met a human she didn’t like, this was a great opportunity for her to increase her “following”.
Then she spotted a man approaching with a walker. Before I could grab her leash, she trotted right over to him as I called, asking him to stop and stand still. She walked right up to his walker, sniffed it, and gently tested the lower rung with her front paws. Once she stabilized and he leaned over to tell her, ”What a pretty little thing you are!”, she planted one right on his chin. The residents applauded. Where had she heard that sound before? Had she not reclaimed her fame? She was in her glory. No way would she come back to me now. I had served my purpose in bringing her there.
At about that time she realized that there were also people sitting on couches on the other side of the room. Couches? An audience? What a combination! She marched right over, got petted again, and hopped right up and flung herself across the lap of the Director!!! I was right behind her ready to yank her little butt off that couch when I was told (firmly) to let her be. O-KAAAAAY.
After catching her breath and generally manipulating the attention of everybody, she then saw a nurse carrying a tray of meds heading for the rooms of patients who were confined to their beds. Right behind her she went, I think figuring there was food and a possibility of a sample. She was not allowed to enter the rooms, so she waited patiently outside each room with ears cocking at every sound coming from under the door. When the nurse emerged, she was at her side to go to the next. Meanwhile, nobody was watching the other greyhounds, as they were behaving themselves and waiting patiently with their people. All eyes were on my little one, prancing and dancing with ears up and eyes glistening. She was again in her glory, in training to become a Nurse’s Aide.
By the time she returned to the couch, the chef had come out to discuss dinner. Smelling his hands, she found a new best friend. Before I could capture her this time, she had a piece of bread in her mouth, “Compliments of the Chef.”
And so the tone was set for numerous nursing home visits over the next few years. Not only did she do much to demonstrate the characteristics of the breed (at least THIS specimen of the breed) and provide a soft memory of a pet once loved, but she got to get the attention she so needed and wanted. Everybody was better for it.
As we were walking down a long hallway to exit a nursing home, there was a woman sitting hunched over in a wheelchair. I asked the nurse why she was there. I was told she would not participate in any group activities and had not spoken since her arrival. The other adopters and dogs were passing by, but I just knew Quesa would not let this opportunity slip through her paws. I shortened her leash and called her to “Heel” as I was concerned that she might frighten the woman. As we got closer, Quesa’s ears were erect and her tail raised. Nostrils flared and her body flinched at the end of this so short leash. There was no way to get by without actually yanking Quesa away from the wheelchair. I said a quick prayer. Q. gently maneuvered to get between the foot rests and laid her nose on the woman’s lap. Not a sound out of her, just those gorgeous eyes fixed on the woman’s face. Slowly a frail hand positioned itself atop Q’s head, and we all heard the word “Dog” mumbled so softly. I felt the nurse’s hand grip my forearm. No kisses, no drama, just communication. How did she know?
Battle of the Sexes
Unfortunately, Quesa never saw herself as the second dog in the family; she saw herself as THE dog in the family, Numero Uno; the Queen in Residence. Toby, such a gentle giant of a boy, just wanted his life to be peaceful and quiet. He, who was three years her senior and outweighed her by 35 pounds, should have been King of the Roost, if only by “squatter’s rights”. Quesa, on the other hand, younger, smaller, and from a different gene pool, was only interested in action and intrigue, and letting the world know she was here. “See me! See me!” was her battle cry as she plotted and planned her conquests. Had Toby been interested in having a partner, he would be disillusioned as she used every bit of her feminine wiles to control, dominate, manipulate, and terrorize him, unimpressed by his senior status.
Within a couple of days after her arrival, it was apparent that she thought she was the alpha dog. Toby was a mere distraction, a small bump in the road on her glory ride through life. She didn’t intend to share anything, especially me. His only value was that she could watch him to “learn the ropes” in this house, to figure out how to control me, also. Once she learned the routines and procedures, he was of no use to her any more. She was a free agent. If Toby wanted a drink and she was at the water bowl, he had to wait. He was not to eat until she had finished. Cute doesn’t count against dominance play. If she and Toby passed in the hallway, she would reach over and quickly nip at his side. If he yelped, she would stand her ground when I arrived to investigate, and try to stare me down. Tough little thing she was!
I gave them a number of months to work out their differences, monitoring the time they spent together, watching out for her subtle and sly maneuvers to control him, and trying to protect him, as well as prevent the blood bath I was sure would come. He was to get off the couch if she wanted to be on it. All of this was done without a sound; it was a “presence”, a “look”, or the raising of a paw that signaled her (presumed) superiority, that seemed to intimidate Toby. The Voodoo Princess was in action again.
She and I had a number of “talks”, none of which seemed to have any impact on her quest to be reigning monarch. When she stood up and challenged Toby for HIS place on the bed, it was over! I grabbed her by the scruff of the neck, put her on the floor, held her muzzle shut, and we had a serious talk about who was in charge in this house. She fought like a wild cat, but never made a sound. When I let her go, she looked me directly in the eye for a couple of seconds, turned and walked proudly away, tail erect and ears up. But, from that point on, she seemed to understand that she was not the alpha, and Toby’s life became more tolerable. Of course, I had to hide the smile on my face. How I was coming to love that little witch!
Having lost control in the house, she sought out other places to exercise her need to be in charge. Next door lived a male Chow who had a history of aggressive behavior towards other dogs. Toby had learned to pretty much ignore Cheetah, stay away from the fence when he was out, and come in if Cheetah started to posture near the fence. Quesa, on the other hand, was not to be intimidated by a male, and saw Cheetah as fair game. Again, smaller and younger than her opponent, she was “ready”, and laid plans to make Cheetah’s life as miserable as she could. Each time they both entered their yards, they met at the fence and “fought”. Had they been able to get to each other, I suspect one of them would have gone to the finish.
Cheetah took to sleeping in the shade created by the thick raspberry bushes along the fence line. Quesa figured out where he was and would “stalk” the area until she could get close to him. When he sensed being watched and opened his eyes, he would find her within inches of his face, he would bolt to his garage for sanctuary. She would rear up like a stallion, growl, strike the fence with her front paws, and posture like an Apache warrior about to go into battle. From that point on, Cheetah would not venture into his own yard if the Warrior Princess was in hers. Cheetah’s “dad” said that when she looked into a mirror, she saw a 90-pound Doberman. Maybe she was protecting her turf, as she had no problems with males at the M&Gs. In fact, other than Toby and Cheetah, I would often say she never met a boy she didn’t like. But certainly, these two would set her off. It was pretty clear that any additional dog coming into this home would have to be female, a young and innocent baby girl who would worship the ground Quesa patrolled.
The Sky Is Falling (and Other Fears)
Although Queen of her own domain and fearless when it came to stalking and protecting HER yard, there were things that could send her into a mass of quivering little girl. One was storms. I suspect that many of the Florida dogs have a fear of the kind of noise that accompanies the wind and pounding rain that can occur over the metal kennel roofs at the tracks. She would sense when a storm was coming and begin to pace and whine and cower. Once it hit, she would tremble and pant. I finally figured out that if I could get hold of her long enough to cover her with a comforter (nothing showing but her nose), tuck her in, and sit with her rubbing her back, she would eventually calm down and fall asleep.
And then there were alpacas. Alpacas? As we entered an elementary school for a day with pets, there were four alpacas in the foyer. Even I stopped cold at the sight and stench. On the floor was a class of second graders enthralled by what they saw and heard. Quesa was terrified and tried to climb into the laps of two 7-year olds, one lap not being large enough for even a little greyhound girl. As the kids squealed and one alpaca spit, it was time to peel Miss Quesa off the children and head to the classrooms to see what else awaited us. All the way Quesa shook her head and snorted trying to get the smell off.
By the time the hawks moved into the neighborhood, she had learned to stand still and watch them soar, and to curtail her urge to bark and chase them. Once, when one swooped down over her head, she dove under a bush, finally making a run (with tail tucked between her legs) for the safety of the deck Her new vantage point was hiding along the back fence and peering out from the thickness of the shrubbery. Wise move!
She was also afraid of electrical cords, so I suspect she was either beaten with one, or had gotten tangled in some rope. Slippery floors were another fear, so there were throw rugs over the hardwood in the kitchen so she could get in and out of the room and get to the water bowl without panic. Of course when she threw the throw rugs into a pile, she would then be trapped in the kitchen with no way to escape and I would have to come and rescue her. With Quesa, everything was drama and excitement.
On the Road Again……….
And then there was the ongoing issue of riding in the car. For months we practiced getting in the car, sitting in the car, riding up and down the driveway, and then around the block, trying to get her to become more comfortable in motion.
Thinking that connecting food with riding might be the solution, I loaded her one night and off we went to get an ice cream cone. No problem until we were to leave for home. She absolutely refused to get back in the new SUV. No amount of coaxing, or holding her cone inside would get her back in. As I was lifting her rear end up to push her in, a car pulled into the space next to us. The man watched for a couple of seconds as I tried to get her rear end to follow her front end up onto the seat. He casually asked, “New dog?” I drew a breath and answered, “No, new car.” He just looked at me.
What really turned the tide were the trips to the vet. She LOVED to go to the vet because they LOVED her. They were HER people with time just for HER. Where else could she go and get that kind of individualized attention? All I had to do was ask if she wanted to go to the vet. and she would head to the door and wait for the leash to be put on. It all started with an 11-day stay when I went on vacation a year or so after her arrival. Up until that time, she had been to the office a few times, and was treated like a princess by the whole staff, who had never seen a greyhound that small, that cute, that friendly, that color, with a Hunter’s Crest. But, what got the attention of everybody was the personality, the “in-your-face, here-I-am” attitude. You couldn’t help but laugh, and love her. I was told over and over again that they had never seen a greyhound with an attitude like hers. Everybody had to see and touch her. As soon as we entered the lobby, a call went out that Quesa had arrived and, invariably, someone would come from the back to see her and scratch her ears and give liver treats. Sometimes, she was even taken to the back before it was time for her appointment so she could “visit” while she waited. She was in her glory. I, on the other hand, could remain in the waiting room until it was time to join her. So, when the vacation was planned, it just made sense to leave her in one of her favorite places rather than in a strange kennel.
When I returned to claim her 11 days later, I was met with stories of how Miss Quesa “ran” the whole hospital. It seems that she was totally opposed to being “locked up” in a kennel, so she threw what was called a “full-scale hissy fit” until the bookkeeper decided to let her stay in her office during the day. First battle won!
I heard the story of the escape to the back of the hospital where the lab was located and the visit with the Techs. From there, she managed to visit the kennels and get everybody riled up. Back to the office she went. The final blow was a yell from one of the vets as he was about to start his round of surgeries………..”Would somebody PLEASE come get Quesa. She’s under the operating table with a bone.” From that point on, one of the receptionists took pity on her and she found herself with a job…..to greet clients as they entered the building.
Every trip to the vet, from then on, was an ego trip; the Adored One visiting her subjects. First, she had to get Ann’s attention, which implied that whining and prancing must occur so that Ann would put down the phone and come from behind the counter, pet the baby girl and provide several liver treats. After that, Quesa had to visit everybody in the waiting room and get touched. She loved hearing how pretty she was, how muscled she was, how petite she was, how she looked like a fawn, how her coloring was so unique, etc., etc., ad nauseum. THEN she would listen for any sign of life from behind the closed doors to the exam rooms. Sooner or later, someone would emerge to call the next patient, and Quesa would begin the wiggles and whines hoping that they would take her, too. After all, she had friends in those back rooms. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn’t. When we did get the call to go to the exam room, she had to get treats from whoever took us in. Then the back (sliding) door needed to be kept open enough for her head to get through so that she could see what was going on in the lab. Finally, when the doctor came in, there were more kisses and treats and THEN she would be examined. Should she need to go into the back for a blood draw or nail trimming, more liver treats had to be given, and Techs had to apply the touching and petting. By the time we left, she had “encountered” more than a half-dozen people, eaten enough to justify skipping the next meal, and was completely exhausted., but what fun she’d had. She slept on the way home.
As we pulled out of the parking lot, I could see her leaning against the back window watching the hospital get smaller and smaller. I heard a low whine. “Sorry, baby girl, you’re going to have to go home with me now.” It was clear she needed the attention; she thrived on it. Whether this had come from her time with the Gilleys, or this is who she had been all along will never be known, but it was clear who she was now, and we both loved it.
My Baby Girl
Through all the wildness and bravado and energy displayed by my little one, I treasure the memories of the quiet moments when we would be alone. She would throw herself across my lap, rut herself as deeply as she could get into my thighs, sigh, raise a paw to touch my face, and stare into my eyes. All she ever really wanted was to be touched, and those times when she wasn’t on a mission to explore, conquer, or destroy, were the best. The times we could spend together with my hand gently sliding over her sides and back and legs and neck and belly, running her tail between my fingers. Her favorite spots were her face and head, but any place that could come into contact with a human hand was good enough. She was the lapdog Kathleen predicted.
If the touching and caressing should stop, she would first thrust her body deeper into the lap, then she would emit a low whine. If that didn’t work, then there was a sound something like a distressed mallard duck that would emit from deep within her throat, possibly punctuated with a slap on the face with that paw. If all else failed, then she would growl. The last would be a kick.
If she came into the living room and found me lying on the couch, she would instantly hop up and position herself between me and the back of the couch. She would wiggle and grunt until she got herself on her back with her head either on my shoulder or on the pillow. I didn’t necessarily have to pet her then, only rest my hand on her belly. With a huge sigh, she would close her eyes and snooze, secure in the knowledge that I couldn’t escape without her knowing I had moved.
But, often before she slept, and if I had just taken a shower, she would position herself with one foot against my ankle or leg or calf as if to brace herself and she would begin to lick, and lick, and lick. Soon her breathing would become shallow and her eyes would close. She, literally, would lick herself to sleep, often drift off with her tongue still positioned against my skin.
The phrase, “She must be touched.” so typified her whole personality, and reason to be. I’ve had many dogs over the years, but none had such a determination to be close and to be in contact as much as La Marquesa. The routine was that she would often be at one end of the sectional and I would sit at the other end. Within minutes she would start to whine, then grunt, then thrust her whole body, then growl louder, then thrust again, then kick, then growl some more, then kick and thrust and whine and growl……..the point being that I was to get up and come over to HER end of the couch and hold her. If I told her to come to me, she would growl even more. And they call them dumb animals!!!!!
She was fascinated with people and their ability to caress and wait on her. She was truly the “queen of all that she surveyed”. Physical contact was what she wanted. Physical contact was what she spent her awake time trying to figure out how to get. Being “cute” sure worked most of the time. Being demanding filled in when cute failed to bring the desired results. If we were to have another “talk” about what she had done or was about to do, she would sit in front of me, swing up and place both paws on my shoulders as I leaned to run my hands over her head and neck. I was mush at that point. My favorite position with her was when she sat against the back of the couch. I would sit next to her and reach for her. She would raise a paw to my shoulder I would lean and place my forehead against hers. She would release and relax and slide down into my lap.
She could often be found under the comforter on my bed. I would sneak in a and tell her that I was going to “grab her butt”, and she would lunge at the pillows, growl, wiggle, thrash, as I would tickle and grab and pull at her legs. Finally, she would emerge, out of her mind with excitement , and run around the house leaping over furniture and bounding through doorways until her tongue hung limply form her mouth. That done, she might quiet for a couple of hours, or so I hoped.
She was just plain “full of it”, and at age 3, I was thinking that she might soon settle down. She was every bit a Gilley Girl with boundless energy, and a desire to show off and please. Every waking moment was an adventure in exploration, intrigue, and fun.
The only time she was ever still was when she slept, and even that was punctuated with kicks and whines and even an occasional bark, as well as thrusts of her body as she dreamed of who-knows-what. She would pant in her sleep, and growl at imaginary monsters. Once we worked out the sleeping arrangements on the queen-sized bed, I would awake with a foot in my spine, a thrust at my shoulder, a growl in my ear as she dreamed and repositioned herself against my side with her little butt up near my face!!! Come morning, I would often have to coax he rout of bed, especially in the winter when she seemed t know what fate awaited her when she had to go outside before she was ready. “Come on, Quesa. You have to get up.” I would pat her on the back or butt. She would kick and bury her head under the comforter, and the games would begin again. My problem was not to laugh out loud. The bed was HERS; Toby and I were Uninvited guests.
The Queen is in Residence: Humans To Do Her Bidding
Quesa believed that everybody who came into the house had come to see her. She did believe, I am sure, that all people were put on this earth for her amusement. As far as I know, she never met a human she didn’t instantly like, and expect to do her bidding. Her need to be with people might explain why there was no racing record. Possibly, she had been more interested in the trainers than the lure.
As soon as she heard a car or patio door, she would make a beeline to the kitchen to await the discovery of which one of her friends would be arriving to cater to her needs. Actually, it didn’t matter much if she knew who was coming because everybody was/would be a friend. Even a plumber, an electrician, a delivery man who came onto the patio, making their first visit to the house, could be trained to wait on her. And they all knew, or could learn, what their responsibility was in HER house.
First, a dog biscuit had to be retrieved from the glass jar on the counter, and given right at the door. Then, she would race to the living room and onto the couch awaiting the arrival of the “petter”. Should the person actually wish to speak with me for a while in the kitchen, then she would come careening back, and stand in the doorway with that look of, “Is there a problem? Let’s go! My back needs to be touched.” Why are you here, if not to see me?” Once the human started to come her way, she would take off again to the couch, throw herself down, and start kicking her paws in the air. Once the person sat down, she would immediately throw herself across the lap and extend that paw up to the face. People who were afraid of dogs in general, and large dogs in particular, fell in love with her because of her cute ways and adoring personality. Several said they got over their fear of being hurt by a dog by spending time with my little witch. She greeted each person who came into the house as if they were the most important person in her life and, for that moment, they were!
Quesa was never a counter-surfer, nor did she ever “steal” any food, but she was always alert to the sounds and sights of the kitchen, and any opportunity for a snack. Most people who came to the house were dog lovers in general, Quesa lovers in particular, so she got to “taste-test” just about everything that was consumed. How she loved her snacks! I used to tell her that, if she needed to make dog biscuit or toy money, she could get a job as a dish washer (licker). I don’t think she ever met a food that she didn’t like.
Since their relationship had never been, shall we say, “close”, Toby’s passing did not seem to impact Miss Quesa’s lifestyle. Since he had been sick for several months prior to his death, she had not received the amount of attention to which she had become accustomed. As a matter of fact, I remember telling someone that she would have danced on his grave if given the chance. She seemed to thrive then on finally being the Only Dog, with all the attention coming directly to her. This lasted for several months until she slowly began to quiet and seemed to be less interested in play and nonsense. As the novelty wore off, I think she realized that being the only dog could be somewhat dull.
Kathleen and I exchanged a number of emails about how she was doing until I got one asking if I had considered getting another dog, for Quesa. My positive response was met a couple of days later with a reply from Florida saying that a trip to the Melbourne track resulted in a baby girl joining the Gilley household…..a perfect companion for LaMarquesa. In two months we would meet in Erie, PA to greet the new little sister, hoping that the young female would be compatible. In the meantime, the innocent 19-month old Arianna would learn the ways of life off the track and be prepared to join her new family.
The trip to Erie was smooth as Quesa, now age 7, was fairly comfortable riding, as long as there were enough pit stops so she could visit with whoever might also be stretching their legs. This would be her first experience in a hotel, though, and I hoped for a quiet night. Checking in was great fun as there were a number of people in the lobby who spotted the little greyhound and asked if they could pet her. Pet her? She was in her glory.
She walked right onto the elevator, turned around, and faced the door. A man and woman skidded in as the door closed, and stood to the side. As soon as the elevator made the first jolt, Quesa panicked and jammed her head between the legs of the man, her whole body trembling. Clearly, she didn’t see me as a sanctuary. After all, I was the one who was subjecting her to this abuse. The man laughed and stood still. I would, too, if I had no way to escape from a strange dog with its head between my legs.
When we arrived at our floor and the door opened, she was still “in position”. I had to actually ask the man’s permission to pry her loose, as she appeared to have no intention of leaving on her own. Luckily, he did think the whole thing was (sort of) funny. As we entered our suite, she trotted right through the living room, through the kitchen, past the bathroom and hopped right up on the bed closest to the window. As she started to circle prior to laying down, her eyes caught a glimpse of the sky and tree tops through a huge picture window. She scampered off the bed, retraced her route back to the couch, and claimed that as her bed. She never did re-enter that bedroom. I guess when you’re short the world looks pretty scary from a 3rd floor window.
Anticipation for the reunion with the Gilleys ran high as it had been 4 years since Quesa had left. Kathleen and I had shared many emails trying to predict if she would remember or not. At first encounter with Kathleen she walked right by her and headed into the RV. I held my breath, fearing she no longer remembered her rescuer. Once inside she checked out every inch of that familiar floor and then laid down in the exact spot that used to be hers. THEN she jumped up and was all over Kathleen. True love never wanes.
She was not much impressed with Arianna, who was eager to meet us and snuggled with me. What a beautiful white and brindle 21-month old puppy she was, and so gentle and loving. Kathleen had done a great job finding one who might adore Miss Quesa and not threaten her dominance. We allowed the two of them to spend a good amount of time together and, although Quesa didn’t fall instantly in love, she didn’t make any negative gestures towards the baby Arianna. Where her relationship with Toby and Cheetah had been one of antagonism, because the boys had previous agendas, Arianna was a blank slate and adored Quesa, followed her around, and “hung on her every word” so to speak.
What surprised Kathleen the most was what a “tenderfoot” Quesa had become. We all headed out for an afternoon walk along a graveled road. Ari trotted right along, but Quesa lasted about 5 minutes before she just sat down and refused to move. Four years of running and playing on a lawn had returned those tough little feet to soft pads. Although sleek, muscled and still powerful, she was no match for little stones. I had to go get the car and come pick her up.
At the performance of the Dancing Greyhounds, Kathleen brought Quesa out, told her story again, and asked her what she remembered from her “performance” days as a rescue. Without missing a beat, Quesa snapped to, and did her heeling, sitting, bowing, with the precision as if she had been doing it every day. Amazing little girl she was! Ari’s contribution to the event was to “sing”. Could she roo!
Miss Quesa’s ego was inflated to the max and she actually seemed to enjoy the baby girl, running with her in the yard at home, tugging on toys. They would even be caught drinking out the same bowl and sharing treats. Who knew that my little witch had maternal instincts? The one chosen to share Quesa’s life was a perfect match. Quesa was 7. Ari not quite 2, and the best thing that could have happened to Quesa was to have a new friend who would keep her young and on her toes, and to make her feel important. Kathleen’s ability to profile was truly amazing. This was the beginning of a great pairing.
“The Goddess of the Hunt”
Q’ue Sera Sera, Quesa, The Mighty Q, LaMarquesa…..these were all names Kathleen had given her. I added “The Great White Hunter” when I realized that her prey drive was right up there with Bengal tigers and alligators. If it moved, it had the potential of being lunch. I should have realized when she nearly pulled my arm out of its socket when she spied a rabbit at a rest stop on the way home from Harrisburg, that she had learned to hunt (albeit, feebly) when she was on the run. Countless worms, bugs, and slugs met their end at the paws of the Mighty Huntress. I let her out one night for that last run before bed and she didn’t come right back in the usual amount of time. I heard a rustling at the back of the yard and there she was with a raccoon’s tail in her mouth, the poor animal hanging for dear life on to the telephone pole with its front feet, the back ones flailing in the air while Quesa pulled with all her might to get it down. “LET IT GO!!!!” I yelled, and she did. She pranced back to me, huffing and puffing, with a look of, “Phew! That was close. The next time that thing comes in MY yard, it’s dinner.” Not a mark on her. Unbelievable! And then, she stood at the closed patio door growling at the terrified raccoon balancing precariously on the top of the telephone pole.
A casual glance out the kitchen window brought me to the door to see my huntress and her buddy, Arianna, tossing a squirrel back and forth. It would land on the ground and before it could get up and run, the other one would grab it and toss it again, and the steps were repeated. Again, “LET IT GO!” and they did. This time, though, neither one escaped without evidence of their crime. Both girls’ faces were covered with blood. Wet paper towels revealed scratches and cuts on their faces and inside their mouths. A call to the vet assured me that as long as their eyes were OK, they would survive. The squirrel? Never saw it again. Now, only newbies touch the ground. The locals know better; they run the phone lines. Word was out!
This neighborhood has a number of feral cats roaming around, most of which do not vault the fence anymore. Although Quesa and Toby were not the best of buddies, they did manage at times to team for a common goal. I heard some screeching and howling one day and looked out to see Quesa with a cat pinned down in the yard, her mouth around the cat’s throat, Toby, apparently not willing to chance getting bitten, had the cat by the leg, pulling, something like making a wish at Thanksgiving. “LET IT GO!” and they did. The cat limped off never to be seen again. While Toby came obediently back to the house, the Huntress huffed and puffed and walked the fence line waiting and looking for her prey to return so she could finish the job.
Vinny was mowing the lawn one day when he called me to come out and see what Quesa brought from under the bushes in the back corner of the yard. A squirrel tail! Did we dare go look behind the bushes, or would it be better to never know? Nah, let’s look. There it was………….a squirrel skeleton picked clean with just a few pieces of fur left scattered around on the ground. Had she caught herself another squirrel and stashed it behind the bush, or had she been enjoying the fruits of another’s kill? I had seen her going back there a number of times, but figured she was watching the kids in the pool next door….snack food for a lazy afternoon.
The summer of the chipmunk! What a pair they were! It seems they “met” on the deck, and as fast as my huntress was, she did not, thankfully, nab that little guy before it scrambled into the downspout of the gutter. Miss Quesa scratched at it, growled at it, whacked it with her paw, and no chipmunk came out, so she got down on her belly and stuck her nose into the end of the gutter. YELP! She pulled back in a flash with a little bead of blood on the tip of her nose. She ran circles around the yard and then got down again, stuck her nose in again, and got bit again. The relationship between The Mighty Huntress and the The Chipmunk went on for the whole summer, The chipmunk would squeak and Quesa would run to the door to go out. She’d look all over the yard until she found it and then she would chase it to the downspout, and she would get nipped again. By the end of the summer, she had a permanent scar at the end of her nose. The field mouse was not so lucky. It came out from under the deck and sprinted between her legs. She was off! The zigzagged path across the yard ended with a conquest for the mighty huntress. How she could move!
The idea that My Girl could think and process information came as somewhat of a shock when I realized that she was actually learning to express opinions when asked a question. She was never much interested in toys, except to “talk” to me. For instance, if the answer to the question would be a “Yes” (“Do you need to go outside? Are you hungry? Do you want to see Vinny?) she would flip into parade mode, swinging those front legs high into the air, and then run for a toy and squeak it incessantly for a minute or more, reminding me of the Marx Brother with the bicycle horn, and then swinging her head and throwing her body from side to side as she raised those front legs, prancing and dancing with excitement.
On the other hand, if her answer was “No”, there would be no movement or acknowledgment that she had even heard me. The ears would not even flicker. For instance, if I asked her if she wanted to go for a ride, or if she wanted to go outside (when she could hear the rain), she would remain completely motionless as if she didn’t hear me at all. Witch!!!!!
I never allowed dogs to chew rawhide bones unless I was in the room to monitor. I began to appreciate Quesa’s intelligence once when she was chewing her bone and had gotten it down to one small slippery piece that I was afraid she might swallow whole. I was about ready to get up and remove it from her mouth, when I said (something to the effect of), “You know, Little One, you need to get that out of your mouth before you choke and die right here in front of me.” She looked at me, opened her mouth, and let it fall to the floor. She got the biggest kiss on the forehead and a huge Milk Bone for that one. Since I had not yet moved to take it away, I am convinced she fixed on the word “out” which was the signal word for releasing something from her mouth.
With all the interesting things for her to do and see and smell in the back yard, it was often difficult to tear her away to come into the house. I had a strong aversion to chasing any dog, especially a greyhound. I figured I would reward her by giving a dog biscuit when she did come in and hopefully encourage her to come when I called so she could get another biscuit. It didn’t take her long to figure out that a snack was available, and all she had to do was walk through that door. She would come bounding in if she even saw me stand close to the door.
Staying in was another issue. Within days, she realized that, if she went to the door and asked to go out, I would let her go, because another thing I had an aversion to was cleaning up after a dog who couldn’t hold it. Once she had me trained to let her out on command, she must have figured that the snack was more of a prize than going out…………….soooo, she would wake up form a nap, decide she needed a snack, trot to the door, go out on the deck, stretch, and immediately turn around and come in and stare at the dog biscuit jar on the counter. Witch! I.Q. Point for I.Q. Point, she was an admirably opponent.
Red seemed to be a recurring theme. There was the day she bounded into the house with what looked like blood dripping form her mouth. I grabbed her and wiped it away with wet paper towels. It didn’t have the consistency of blood, and it had little “dots” all through it. What????? Raspberries!!!! She had been eating the raspberries that had fallen off the bushes…….or had she?
Sending her back outside and watching from a nearby window, it became obvious that she was PICKING raspberries right off the bushes. Eyes closed (apparently she had gotten pricked), she stuck her nose into the thicket and sniffed until she found the ripest ones. Using her front teeth, she nabbed them and pulled backwards to dislodge the chosen ones. Poor baby!
When the berries were gone, she would continue to sniff the bushes looking for more. Each spring she would start to check as soon as the flowers appeared. In the meantime, her berry cravings were satisfied with raspberry jam on her dog food, raspberry yogurt, and raspberry ice cream.
The area behind the garage was consistently shady, so I planted a line of hostas. They lasted only a couple of days as I didn’t realize that the area had been claimed by a small brindle greyhound with mighty paws. She tried lying on top of them, and when that was too uncomfortable, she just dug them up and dragged them out of her way.
Her front legs and shoulders remained very strong, mainly due to the digging and excavating that occurred in (what was once) a nicely manicured yard with much square footage for perennials. Once (the operative word being “once”) I planted 200 gladiola bulbs along the fence line, and she systematically dug them up and tossed them all over the yard. I first blamed the squirrels until I caught her digging and pitching. The best part was the occasional bark when one flew particularly high.
Quesa loved being outside as there were many things for her to do and see and smell. She would lie on the deck or in the shade for the longest time just watching and waiting for something to catch her attention. Often I would find her sound asleep with her head on her paws. She saw the deck as HER vantage point for viewing the whole yard, as a hunter sits in a blind. When it was stained a couple of years ago, and she was barred from its access, she managed to squeeze herself between the spindles, determined that her hunting would not be compromised. It took days for the stain to wear off her feet.
“Close Encounters of the Medical Kind”
For the first ten years of her life, she was illness-free. She was muscled, powerful, agile, and full of it, outside in all kinds of weather on the hunt and checking her yard for invaders. For a Florida girl, she loved the snow, refused to wear a coat, and would run and play as long as the sun was out. On cloudy days, she would go out only to “Get Busy”.
Quesa remained muscled until the last few months of her life because she had her daily squirrel-chasing adventures. Those butt muscles were as hard as rocks. When the squirrels no longer touched down, she would chase them as they ran the phone wires overhead. Learning to watch for the fence proved initially problematic. The torn bicep tendon and the excruciating screams that followed only served to slow her down for a while. Later, she skidded into the fence on her butt and received a “brush burn”.
She was routinely seen by the vet for bladder and kidney screenings because of the degree of dehydration when she was rescued. It was thought that, if anything would take her down, it would likely be kidney disease, so we wanted to get a head start if/when it appeared.
When she was ten she was diagnosed with a heart condition, and was placed on the list at Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine for a pacemaker. She did very well on the meds, never requiring any surgical intervention, but hated having to wear the Holter Monitor periodically. For the duration of the 24-hour test, she would refuse to move form the couch except to eat or go outside to “Get Busy”.
A few winters ago, she came in and headed right for the couch without the customary stop for a biscuit. Right on her trail, I found her licking her front paw, which was oozing blood. She had torn the outside toe nearly off her foot. Not a sound out of her, but clearly in pain, we were off to the vet for emergency surgery, at age 10, on a full stomach. The only other option was to wait and chance losing the full use of that foot. There was really no decision to be made. If she couldn’t run and chase squirrels, she might as well be dead because there would be no life in her soul. Being “alive” would be meaningless to her. With a quick prayer to the GreytGod, and much trust in my vet, I planted a kiss on her head as she was taken away. She came through the surgery with flying colors and came home that night to settle in on HER couch. Another tally mark on her survival chart.
Two weeks in a cast to the top of her leg, two weeks in a second cast, two weeks on a leash, and two weeks of no running, and we were home free……………or so I thought. Three weeks later she did it again, this time to the back left foot. I was embarrassed to call the vet. to say we were on our way in again. Back in a cast again, and a repeat of the two weeks, two weeks, two weeks, two weeks. When I asked her if she saw any correlation between running on frozen snow and being in a cast, I got my face licked and then she settled down again on her couch on her pillow, and snoozed.
At 11 she began squinting so she got sunglasses to help her ocular atrophy. They were quite successful since she refused to move from the couch when they were put on so, in fact, they did protect her eyes from the sun outside.
At 12, why she decided to push her head between the gate and the fence post is beyond my imagination. When a neighbor and I heard the blood-curdling scream, we thought some poor animal had been hit by a car. It took both of us to extract her face from the fence, and with only minor cuts to her nose and lip, she recovered to have a new respect for that gate.
When she was 13, she had a stroke and spent 6 days in ICU at Cornell, making a full recovery from her paralysis and confusion in three weeks. The dreaded kidney disease was then discovered. Responding very well to the meds and special diet, she resumed all normal activities. It was assumed that she would lead a normal life as long as we regularly checked kidney and heart and monitored the meds. The specialists called her “amazing” at how well she responded and recovered, and predicted another couple of good years. She was soon back to running the squirrels and patrolling her terrain, the decision being made to allow her the freedom of living her life to its fullest for as long as she would have. Seeing how unhappy she was when confined with the foot surgeries, there was no way I would keep her alive (just for me), and have her be miserable being confined and limited. Once she was stable on her medications and diets, she was free to do whatever she wanted to do however she wanted to do it.
As she aged, she never stopped doing what she had always done. It was just that she did it with less stamina and/or duration. She would race across the yard and then walk back. She would tree a squirrel and then sit down. She slept longer and more deeply, but never lost her appetite or did not continue to maintain her weight or show an interest in dog treats or people snacks. Her need for comfort, though, seemed to increase as she found more and more ways to snuggle and cuddle. Her bears were most important to her security and comfort. How necessary it was for her to snuggle and burrow and hug. Life would go on as long as she could be in physical contact, but at a slower pace for my little one. Her indomitable spirit never waned.
Of all the ways this dog could meet her end………..heart disease, kidney disease, a final massive stroke, not surviving another foot surgery, who would have predicted that the one thing that was so important to her…………….the need to be touched…….would be what would precipitate her death.
It started with ear sensitivity, and quickly spread to her head and then down her neck so that she did not want to be touched. Meningoencephalitis (inflammation of the tissues of the brain and spinal cord) was suspected. Since pain management at home was unsuccessful, she was admitted to the hospital so that an IV could carry meds to ease her pain. After three days it was determined that even this heroic attempt was futile, she continued to scream if she even thought that she would be touched. I remembered the promise I made to her 11 years earlier on Levin’s sun porch.
For all the years that she would beg to be touched and would throw herself across the lap of anyone who would sit still, and she would bury herself in their warmth, now she feared and cringed at the slightest touch. Q’ue sera sera.
Since I was not able to hold her for her last journey and provide the physical security that she always craved, I could give her something else that was so important to her. In the time we spent alone that night, she savored a chocolate milk shake from McDonald’s and a whole order of fries, lying down and breathing deeply as if knowing that this would be her final snack. How she had loved her junk food, especially since the amount had always before been limited.
Once her eyes were closed and she was finally peacefully pain free, I reached over and scratched her ears, something I had not been able to do for a while, and ran my hand down over her face and neck one last time. There was little to say in this, our last “talk”. I put my index finger on that little chipmunk scar on the tip of her nose. I let my hand glide over those butt muscles that once carried her to great speeds across the back yard, terrorizing all forms of wildlife, relishing every sensation of that silky fur. I then lifted a still paw and gently held it in my hand, rubbing it as I had done so many times before. No more batting and swinging at newspapers or prancing and dancing with excitement with those “weapons”. Those paws bore no evidence of the 16 stitches needed to reattach those toes. They would now be forever still.
All those words and phrases used to describe her over the years………..My Little Witch, LaMarquesa, Warrior Princess, The Queen, “Q”, The Scrapper, Prima Donna, Baby Girl, Little One, Powerful Little Thing, Waif, provocative, loving, adorable, cute, hussy, defiant, spirited, crafty, willful, determined, dynamic……………….all played over and over in my head as I held that paw for the last time. The one word that had the greatest importance and impact on my heart in these last moments was “loving”. Of all the adventures and capers that were so much a part of her existence, what overshadowed all of it was her need to love and be loved.
Kathleen had been right; in that you haven’t had a greyhound until you have been loved by a female. 11 years of laughter and defiance, of love and cuddling, of showmanship and affection, the never-ending battle of wits, of charming the masses, of changing the minds of people who had never considered adopting an ex-racer, of those treasured moments with just the two of us………………..it all came back now to that little greyhound girl looking up at me over the x-pen in Harrisburg so long ago, so happy and eager to just be. What a ride it had been these eleven years! How lucky I had been to be the one to share her life. I gently laid the paw down, and left the room, after one final kiss on the forehead.
When I picked up her ashes a few days later, I reached in the package for what appeared to be a sympathy card. As I opened it, I gasped. There, inked forever on that card, in my mind, in my heart, was Quesa’s paw print. My last contact with her will be with me forever. How chilling! How poignant! How Quesa!!!!!!!!!
11 years earlier, Kathleen Gilley had accepted a dehydrated, weak, malnourished, “bag of bones”, dragged from under an abandoned trailer into her waiting arms, onto her lap, and gave her a second chance at life. Quesa died on 1/27/11 and would be waiting at the bridge for Kathleen to join her 12 days later. The circle closed. Two incredibly powerful females were back together………… who in their own way, changed hundreds of opinions of the ex-racing greyhound.
“Kathleen, she is yours again. Please hold her now, for me, one more time. Take care of each other. I kept my promises to you both.”
Arianna, who never spent a minute alone in her life, is now lost without her big sister, Quesa. Soon, I hope to see her again enjoying life. The torch has been passed. Ari will now have to be the “big sister” to the next one to arrive. Such huge paw prints she will have to fill. But, I suspect she has learned well from the Queen.
I have had the opportunity to rescue many dogs over the past 50+ years. I have lived with the ones who had been thrown away, lost, neglected, abused, with the ones who were dull, bright, lazy, dangerous, cute, arrogant, but never with one so bright, so perceptive, so precocious.
Quesa was truly a unique specimen of the canine world, of the greyhound world, one whose purpose on this earth was defined and charted that day in 2000 when Kathleen and Gill Gilley decided to give her a chance to live. That I was lucky enough to enjoy her companionship and devotion, and to watch her grow into a magnificent animal was truly a gift, an imprint on my soul she will always own.
Update: July, 2012
Arianna now has a new “little” sister. Cassidy joined us when it became apparent that Ari could not be an only dog. Brought out of her sorrow by the bouncing 74-pound, 24-month old “puppy”, they have become fast friends, and Ari has been able to teach the baby girl all the tricks of the trade in this home. She learned well from her mentor.
Cassidy, on the other hand, is a handful of charm and eagerness and silliness and love, much like another young female who entered this family eleven years ago. She is meant to be here, for Arianna, for me, for all those who will come to meet her, and love greyhounds because of her. When describing some of her antics to Peggy Levin, she said, Quesa LIVES!”. Possibly the torch has been passed again………………..
Webmistress’s note: If you enjoyed this story please see Joan’s other stories “And Then There Was Eddie” and the freestanding “A Special Friendship” in the Greyhound Stories section.
Original story written for Greyhound Articles Online and posted October 6, 2012.
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