With the world still tripping over the hurdles of COVID, and largely enthralled with the results of the US presidential election, I thought it would be an apt moment to write about greyhounds. Because, well, greyhounds.
I can never remember a time in my life when there wasn’t a dog around. My first memory of a dog as a family pet was Penny, a sheepdog. I was very young at the time, and we lived in England. My abiding memory was when she had pups, and I seem to recall she had A LOT of them – in the ‘teens, anyway, and she had them in the garage, and one got stuck behind the freezer, or something similar.
When I was in my early twenties, I chanced upon a dog of my own. Oisín was a furry hound of mixed origin, and he lived a long and (I hope) happy life. I had him since he was a pup, and I blubbed like a baby when he left us.
Our next dog was Toby, and S and I inherited him from a couple that were leaving the country. He literally landed on our doorstep one day, and stayed for a long time. He was a mixed bag of loveliness, and if you could have cloned a dog for the perfect family pet, Toby was your man. He too went the way of all family pets, such is the covenant we make, and again, I blubbed when he passed away. (I haven’t forgotten Ernie and Bert, which we had for a brief time when the kids were little, but they never quite wormed their way into our hearts, and alas, didn’t hang about very long).
Holly, the neurotic Cocker Spaniel, was another rescue to us. A chance phone call… would you like a dog? Yes, yes we would. We are indeed suckers for this (if you ever need to offload a dog, just ring). She arrived when Toby was getting a little bandy, and she gave him a new lease of life. She too lived a good life, and a long enough one for her breed, and alas I was out of the country when she slipped away. Damn, that was a tough phone call…
We decided, after the emotional drain of losing Holly, that we would be dog-free for a while, which lasted about, oh, maybe a month or two? As there are no end of dogs that need good homes, we were never going to buy one from a breeder, and instead, got in touch with Dogs Trust. That was over a year and a half ago.
I was thinking along the lines of another Toby, but S had other ideas, and suddenly we were out walking around the yard of Dogs Trust with a strange black, sleek object on a harness, with a muzzle.
Odi was a rescue greyhound. Not that he was called Odi. His name was Denny, and he had a racing name too. Well, this wasn’t what I wanted at all, at all! I wanted furry! I wanted fluffy! I wanted a mutt. A bowler. (That’s Dublin dialect for dog). But instead, I was staring at this alien ‘creature’.
It’s not that I had never seen a greyhound before. It’s just that I had never been so up close and personal. As a kid, my only encounter with greyhounds was a chance one, on the road, and usually the owner would have several on leads, all muzzled, and there seemed to be a lot of pent-up aggression there. The owner never seemed particularly cheerful and the whole experience screamed ‘keep away’. In later life, greyhounds were the villains. Their images appeared on pamphlets from anti-blood sports groups, and the classic image was of two snarling hounds about to chow down on a hare that was frantically leaping for its life. (Worth bearing in mind that Ireland is an outlier in this regard as being one of the few countries, along with Spain and Portugal, that still allows hare coursing to take place. Further irony is that the hare is a protected species, and yet the state department that protects animals under the Wildlife Act allows them to be trapped under licence for this ‘sport’).
The first thing you will notice about a greyhound is its arse. In simple terms, these dogs are built for speed. Odi had not long retired from the track, and he had the muscles of an Olympic sprinter to prove it, and most of these are in the hind-quarters. And yet, for all that masculinity, from the back, there is something oddly feminine about a greyhound, regardless of their sex. Indeed, they have quite humanoid anatomy which can be a little disturbing when they are sprawled out on your couch of an evening.
As we walked him back to his kennel, the handlers told us that he didn’t like walking on gravel. This seemed ridiculous until we actually reached the gravel path, and then I realised he didn’t actually want to walk on small stones and pebbles. He’s 32 kilos of muscle but with relatively slender paws, and all that weight makes treading on gravel rather uncomfortable. I still find this amusing to this day, to watch him pick his way daintily across the gravel yard of my parents. It’s like the gravel traps alongside car racing tracks; it just slows him down to nothing.
I can’t really talk about Odi without mentioning Freya. Freya came to Dogs Trust at the same time as Odi, and we had a Sophie’s Choice moment when we decided to take him and leave her behind. So after about six weeks, we went back and got her. As some of you avid readers of my blog know, Freya was killed earlier this year on the train tracks. We nearly lost them both. It was deeply traumatic and I still get the wobblies when I think about it. We only had her for about a year, but she left her mark in no small way.
A while later, we adopted Loki the crazy and handsome lurcher (in an attempt to replace the Freya-shaped hole in our hearts), but we re-homed him after a few months as we was highly aggressive towards other dogs. He has moved to Waterford and is currently the High King of the Copper Coast.
And currently as I type, Susie the emergency foster greyhound is on the office floor behind me, rehabbing from a broken hock that brought about the end of her racing career. She has had an operation to repair some of the damage, and hopefully, in the new year, she can get out walking and maybe running again, in the woods and the dog park. There’s no point in me explaining the greyhound racing industry. I’ll just get angry and start swearing, and wander off-topic. Perhaps you could read this article, and maybe watch the documentary online. Though I should warn you, it’s not an easy watch.
So, back to Odi.
Odi is an Alpha male. When he goes to the dog park, he tends to attract a lot of attention from other dogs. I can’t see it, but I suspect from a dog’s point of view, he just exudes dogness in the way I would ‘manliness’ if I slathered on Boss Bottled. He loves a chase, so anyone up for a run is fair game, though he will always catch you. He was a winner on the track, so even at five and half years old, he’s still speedy. His 525 yard record is 29.11 seconds, or about 60 kmh. I have trouble doing that on a bike, going downhill…
Some things you should know about a greyhound, and in particular, Odi.
Firstly, you do not own a dog. You own a velociraptor twinned with a pony. A greyhound is a V8 engine on top of four long limbs that can get everything moving at up to 70 kmh within seconds.
In Odi’s case, his makeup is quite simple. He has a small, sleek head like an Exocet missile. Apart from the legs, he is one parts muscle to four parts bladder. The dog can wee for Ireland. I have no idea where it all comes from. Some nights, when I let him out for a whizz in the garden, I too have a whizz, because I have usually had a dozen cups of tea throughout the day.
Odi will start his wee before mine, and will still be whizzing after I have finished. It truly is a phenomenon (for which you have to take my word).
He has beautiful brown eyes, though I admit I have absolutely no idea what is going on behind them. I suspect, perhaps, not an enormous amount. Greyhounds are not known for their massive intellect. They don’t read Proust of an evening, or discuss String Theory. No. Indeed, greyhounds are rather excellent at two things: running very fast (they are the fastest dogs in the world) and sleeping. (They are the laziest dogs in the world. Odi fell asleep on the couch once, and gently slid onto the floor over the space of about a half hour, and he never woke up…).
He also farts, but in fairness, this is a dog thing. Their tummies can be a little delicate, so you need to feed them well, and not bugger about with their food once you have found the right combination. It’s safe to say Odi gets fed the same quality food as the rest of the house.
The only other thing you need to know about greyhounds (apart from their very obvious prey drive, or instinct to chase small, furry things) is their ability to ‘roach. We had never seen this before, so were equally amused and mystified the first time he did it. Think of a beetle lying on its back with its legs in the air. That’s ‘roaching. It’s a big deal for greyhound owners when their beloved ‘roaches for the first time. It means they are comfortable and accept you.
If you want a fantastic dog that needs very little exercise and will potter about in your house without any fuss (they don’t even bark much, or shed hair) then you should get a greyhound.
Better yet, get a rescue greyhound. There are, sadly, quite a lot of them about, all in need of kind, loving homes.
But be warned.
It’s a life-long addiction!