This article may be seen in its original form by purchasing the back issue from which it came.
by Patricia Gail Burnham
The night Sheena was gone, Kira was very clingy, supervising while I made the pickled carrot salad that would be expected at the family Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t want to do any cooking the night Sheena was to come home. It was strange to go to bed without her. Kira snuggled into bed, heart to heart, with her head on my shoulder. I’m used to having a bigger dog snuggled in next to me. Kira felt too small to take her mother’s place.
Sheena Comes Home
The next afternoon was “Free Sheena Day.” She had the same long incision down her abdomen I saw on Spode. She was eager to get home, but she was one very sore dog. I helped her into the car, as she climbed very carefully into the back seat, and helped her out at home as she stepped down very tentatively. She had been gutted and sewn up and it obviously hurt. Kira met her with a face full of small kisses, rejoicing in her mother’s return. Sheena looked pleased and greeted her briefly before heading out to the back yard to see what had been going on in her absence and to let the other dogs know she was back.
She ate a small dinner while I fed the other dogs. She drank water without being frantically thirsty, and we all went to bed. The world is divided into people who will share a bed with a dog and those who wouldn’t dream of it. For those who do sleep with dogs, Greyhounds are the perfect bed dogs. They are so smooth-coated that their 102˚F body temperature is easily shared. Their silken coats make them wonderful for snuggling. Rather late in life I discovered how things feel to the touch is important to me. Like the feel of silk fabrics, the feel of the silken Greyhound coat, the softness of their ears, the warmth of their bodies, the mysteries of their intricate paws all attract me.
Memories of Elsie
Long before even Sheena was born, I flew to New York with Christopher and Love to show them at Madison Square Garden. I was sharing a motel room with Dr. Elsie Neustadt who had been showing Greyhounds since the 1940s. She and her husband had both been famous psychiatrists for decades, having left Europe before World War II. Now she was a widow and a spry 83 years old. She plied Chris and Love with yogurt-covered raisins from a snack suitcase she brought. She wasn’t traveling with a dog, and when it was time for bed, she invited Chris to sleep with her, but both dogs slept with me that night.
Eight years later, I flew to Long Island for a Greyhound specialty. Elsie invited me a to share a room with her again. This time I had not brought a dog and she was showing a red brindle bitch named Sprite. Sprite was Sheena’s cousin and looked a great deal like her. I was missing Sheena and was glad to see Sprite and help take care of her.
By this time Elsie was 90 and walking with difficulty. We attended an ostentatious club dinner and when we went back to the motel for the night I joked about getting Sprite to sleep with me. Sprite was friendly and did rest briefly on my bed but when Elsie got into her bed, Sprite joined her, crawled under the covers, and snuggled up against her owner. And I thought, “If I live to be her age I hope there will still be a Greyhound to sleep against. It’s not a bad way to age.” Sprite was Elsie’s last Greyhound.
Now Sheena slept curled up in my arms as she had for nearly nine years and, if the operation had been successful, perhaps she could continue to sleep there for several more. She twitched and dreamed a little as the after-effects of the anesthetic faded.
The next day I took her with me to the family Thanksgiving dinner. She waited in the car through dinner and I brought her a few treats. I belong to a large family of competitive cooks.
It is difficult to find anything to bring to a family dinner that will actually get eaten. My niche was the sweet and sour carrot salad but all that competitive cooking means the food quality at a family dinner is extraordinarily high. My cousins make dinner rolls that will melt in your mouth. I slipped a couple to Sheena and she approved. It was a good Thanksgiving and I was thankful for Sheena’s survival.
She liked her prescription ID, a food designed to whet the appetite of ailing dogs and cats, and ate well for the next week. She was very sore. Sheena, Kira, and I drove to the mall and took slow walks to accommodate Sheena’s pace. The Thrifty Drug store filled the walk in front of their store with Christmas trees. Sheena and Kira thought the portable forest was intriguing and the pungent pine scent made it seem like Christmas. At first there was barely room to squeeze through single file between the tree rows, but as more and more of the trees were sold, the walkway reappeared. Sheena increased her pace and began to walk more like her old self. At least she was no longer hurting.
Sheena never did get back to her pre-puppy speed. When she was pregnant, we jogged around Sunrise Mall. It’s an enclosed mall, so there aren’t any interesting outdoor stores to investigate. We jogged the perimeter at Sheena’s choice of pace — a brisk trot. As she got heavier, I kept waiting for her to slow down but she never did. We last jogged the morning of the day she went into labor. Now she walked with a kind of stately dignity, as if she could leave all the bouncing around to Kira.
A week after the surgery Dr. Barrett phoned me to say they were concerned about the inflamed liver lobe that remained. He prescribed 1,000 mg of the antibiotic Keflex and 10 mg of prednisone daily to try to head off future problems with that liver lobe. The prednisone was tapered off to 5 mg every other day, but it still made her fat.
Early in December I got a call from Rick Boyd asking if I could attend a recording session. Rick is what I call a country western singer, and what he calls a “cowboy singer and guitar player.” He is also a songwriter. The first time I went to hear Rick play in the city of Folsom, I took Star along to keep me company and Rick got to meet his first Greyhound. He was properly admiring of my black brindle lady. After that when he played at locations where it was possible to take dogs, I took various combinations of Greyhounds. On a warm fall afternoon, Traveler and Sheena and Silver got to hear him play in Sacramento’s Old Town where we met a lot of tourists on the boardwalk. Kira and Sheena would go back to Old Town to listen to him the following spring.
The Recording Session
I was his oldest fan, having first heard him several years earlier when he was playing at the downtown farmers’ market. I was just blown away by his music. He was too darn good to be a street performer. I loved to stand in the crowd and hear people say in amazement, “He’s good. He’s really good.” And he was. He made me wish I knew how to be a music promoter, but mostly he made me want to listen to him.
I interviewed him for an article and stood at many of street fairs and farmers markets to listen to his own brand of musical magic. It didn’t hurt that, not only could he sing like a professional, play a mean guitar, and write touching songs, but also he was a genuinely nice human being. I took to following him around with a tape recorder, so I could play him on long drives. I was pleased when he came out with his own cassettes and now the CD.
Rick had a recording contract and the company drove him crazy during the recording session, trying to make him sound like a run-of-the-mill country western singer. The result was he now froze up in a recording studio. He needed his audience in order to sing. So I agreed to be part of the audience. Sheena could come along and wait in the car where I could check on her frequently. Winter is the only time that I routinely leave dogs in cars in California. Our winter temperatures average about sixty degrees and overcast. In the summer, the car is air conditioned, but it is too hot to park the dogs.
Never having been to a recording studio, I thought the control board looked like the control panel of the Starship Enterprise. It turned out the studio owner was a Trek fan and we chatted between takes. The first 20 minutes were tense. Rick sang, stopped, started again, and stopped again. He put down the guitar and came out of the soundproof booth in a fine fit of anxiety. He went outside, walked around, talked to the studio owner, settled down, and went back inside to start again.
He then recorded 12 songs in the next eight hours. Between songs I walked Sheena and watched the sun go down. The CD was a combination of his old and new songs. At the session’s end he recorded two of his earliest songs. It was fun to see the reactions of the other fans. His early songs are upbeat with a fast tempo while the more recent ones are more wistful. Eight hours of listening to Rick Boyd sing was an early holiday present
All too soon the session was over. Rick was happy as he left with his master tape. We all congratulated him on a successful session and headed home. On the drive home I put on one of his cassettes with Sheena curled up on the passenger seat, her head in my lap.
While I was unpacking holiday decorations, I came across a small red reindeer figurine with big eyes that reminded me a lot of Kira. It had her jaunty air and the same direct look. It paired nicely with Ringo’s unicorn.
Betty Lou’s Holiday Photo Shoot
Betty Lou called to ask me if I would photograph Spode and Lancelot. Usually she asks me to photograph her dogs only once in each dog’s life, so I trotted right over with red and green fleeces for backgrounds. We were doing Christmas card photos, so I hung a fleece over a fence and she posed the dogs.
It’s always a joy to photograph her dogs because they are so well-trained and are able to do lots of interesting things for the camera. I took photos of Lancelot kissing Betty Lou and of Spode kissing Lancelot while Lancelot protested. They each held Christmas stockings for the camera. My favorite photo, however, was of Lancelot ringing his silver bell. He would hold the bell by its ribbon and swing it back and forth to ring it. He got so carried away swinging the bell, that it swung up and wrapped its ribbon around his muzzle. I clicked the shutter while he sat there baffled at his predicament. He was a dog with a very expressive face. We finished with a family shot of Betty Lou with both dogs.
Christmas Zipper Wish
By Christmas, Sheena had healed and I grappled with removing her stitches. When Betty Lou removed Spode’s stitches she said it was like a blanket binding stitch and indeed it was. The row of stitches looked formidable, but it was all a single strand of interlocked thread. That meant I didn’t have to cut every single stitch the way you do with individually tied stitches. I could cut the thread every three or four inches and pull it out along the thread line. This was Sheena’s third major abdominal surgery. I began to wish for a zipper.
CG Summer 00