Saturday, November 26, 2011

Why We Chose Greyhounds

We always knew that we would eventually get a dog.  We really were only waiting until we owned our own home.  We never really thought about breed all that much either: it was just assumed that we would get a dog, and that we would love him or her no matter what breed, or mix we wound up with.

The seed of an idea was planted back in 1997.  Jeff and I had been conducting a long-distance relationship (He, in Boston, Massachusetts, and I, in Northwestern Missouri.)  We had decided to end this long-distance nonsense, and I made preparations to move out to Boston to be with him.  I'd gotten rid of most of my worldly goods, as I didn't have much anyway, and much of what I had just duplicated something that was already up in the apartment in Boston.  We were out at my aunt's house for a family send-off, and Jeff and I showed up a little early.  I remember that we opened the front door to enter the house, and a huge river of whippets streamed down the hall towards us, leaping over one another, cavorting, rejoicing that new people had come.  (My aunt bred whippets.)  Behind the wild pack of whippets, walked two greyhounds, quiet, self-assured, patiently waiting for us to give them some attention.

We both kept getting drawn to those two greyhounds, as much fun as playing with the lively whippets was.  My aunt explained that they were rescues, and that was the first that I had ever heard of rescuing greyhounds from the racetrack.  That information got filed.  Since we were in no position to even consider getting a dog at the time, neither of us even stopped to think about whether we would do a greyhound rescue ourselves.

Fast-forward through our years in Boston, our wedding, a move to Pittsburgh, several years of apartment living, to finally getting our own home.  Many of you have read the story of how we got our cats, so you know that we adopted all three of them within a week of moving in.  A dog, we put on hold.  Jeff was the first one to mention that he wouldn't mind having a greyhound, when the time came, and I agreed that it would be awesome.  We both could just picture a greyhound walking down our hallway.  I started to do a little research, and unfortunately was immediately dissuaded by someone saying that greyhounds were not capable of peaceful coexistence with cats.  I didn't read any more about them.  Disheartened, I shared the information with Jeff, and we regretfully decided that having a greyhound was just not for us. Even though this might have been the time to start researching other breeds, I just didn't have the heart for it.  I figured that I'd get around to it eventually.

I was back in Kansas City, visiting family one Easter, and my aunt dropped in to visit at my parents' house.  She brought one of her greyhounds with her.  As I was petting him and paying him  much attention, I mentioned my concerns about greyhounds and cats to her.  She quickly reassured me that not all greyhounds were incapable of living with cats - that some didn't have much natural prey drive, and could be taught to leave them alone.  A spark of hope!

I went home, and Jeff and I started researching in earnest.  Cat safe greyhounds did exist!  We found three different rescue groups in the general Pittsburgh area, and decided that we would give Steel City Greyhounds a try.  We went to a Petco Meet & Greet right before Christmas two years ago, and interrogated the two volunteers there for a solid hour, while petting and fussing over their two greyhound "ambassadogs" the entire time.  We were convinced.

We went back home, and right after the New Year holidays, I submitted our application to adopt a greyhound.  They called me the very next day for a phone interview, and must have liked what they heard, because we were invited to drop in that weekend to meet a big red fawn male that they had, named Willie.

And from there, we were gonners.  They led a great big, skinny dog out to meet us.  He looked at me with his enormous brown deer eyes and wagged his tail at me uncertainly, and in that one moment frozen forever in my memory, stole my heart.  It didn't hurt that we brought him home for a "test run" and he didn't even seem to realize that our cats existed.  He sniffed EVERYTHING in the house, except for the cats.  They'd hiss and follow him around, and he just never even looked at them.

The typical adopter seems to bring the dog back and then goes home to think about it for a couple of days, or to at least prepare.  We couldn't do that...  we took him back, but only to sign the adoption paperwork and to hand over the adoption fee.  We didn't have bowls, bedding, a crate, anything...  so took him on his very first outing to Petco that very day and outfitted him with the basics.

And as you all know, Willie became Argos.

Argos, still at track weight, about a month after we adopted him.
Meeting a greyhound "in the flesh" is definitely what won us over.  And that is why I volunteer to help out with Meet & Greets and similar activities whenever possible, and why I am patient to stop and answer questions when we're out walking...  I don't think that adopting a greyhound is something that a lot of people think about doing UNLESS they've met one, or know someone who has one.

Could we have been happy with another breed of dog?  A happy, grinning pit bull?  A peppy, energetic Jack Russell?  A protective and gorgeous German Shephard?  A big mixed breed of indeterminate lineage?  Absolutely.  We're animal-lovers, and would have loved whichever breed that we adopted.  But I'm so glad that we got to know greyhounds.  I love them.  And not just ours - the breed is one that simply delights me.  Their elegance.  Their reserve (though it should be said that greyhounds, like everyone else, are individuals.  Some are more reserved than others!)  Their beauty.  And yes, I'll admit it, their strong desire to sleep on the couch all day.  The fact that yes, they do need exercise, but not hours and hours of it.  The fact that they are largely quiet.

I love my dogs.  I cannot imagine a time that we will not decide to have a greyhound.  I've made plenty of mistakes in my life, but adopting greyhounds is NOT one of them.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving, Friends

Happy Thanksgiving to all!  I hope that everyone (that celebrates it, that is) was able to feast today, and to spend time with loved ones, furred and not so furred.

Our Thanksgiving was a quiet one, as they tend to be.  Three humans and one cat, at my mother-in-law's.  You might remember that my mother-in-law's one cat is Patches, an alumnus of the House of Carnivores.  For those who have started reading late, Patches was a foster-cat at our house for six months.  My mother-in-law liked him, and so now he is in his forever home with her!

Here he is.  You'd almost think that HE was the one that was stuffed full of turkey and carb-heavy (but tasty!) food.

Patches, sleeping.
Patches is one of those cats that is a good lesson:  sometimes it is GOOD to let go and let one of the kitties go on to their destiny, even if that is with someone else.  He was reasonably content in this house, but he is very obviously HAPPY at my mom-in-law's.  He was far more relaxed without having to constantly assert his dominance over another cat, and seemed pleased with the amount of space that he has to romp with.  And he seems very fond of his new person as well.

I had planned to take advantage of the daylight hours home and get some new pictures of everyone when the lighting was good, but those plans were shot by a late afternoon nap that went on just a little too long...  ah well.  It was a good nap!

Again, happy Thanksgiving to all!  I am thankful for all of you, and for the support network that you are part of.  It has really been good for me to get to know so many people with animals; it's been such a learning experience!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reasons to Have Multiple Pets

Many people think that we're crazy for having a houseful of animals, and well, they may have a point there.  But I wouldn't give it up for anything, as I'm sure most of you would agree.  I've been mulling over a list for a few weeks now, and would like to provide it to you.  Reasons to have multiple animals.  Some reasons are more serious than others.

1.  You never, ever have to sleep alone.  There is always SOMEONE who wants to snuggle up beside you.

2.  You never, ever have to go to the bathroom alone.  I don't know.  Maybe this isn't such a good one to include in the list.  Even if it is true.

3.  Their antics will make you laugh.

4.  Their interactions with one another will give you plenty of insight into the human condition.  Since I've had my animals, I've become much better at stripping the varnish and gloss from people's words, and seeing the truth underneath it all.  We're not so different from them.

5.  You save multiple lives by adopting them.

6.  You will never ever have an excuse to be bored again.

7.  You will become great friends with the workers at your local Petco or similar store.  Between dog kibble, cat kibble, canned cat food, cat litter, toys, training treats, litter box deodorizer, enzymatic cleaner, etc. etc., it is a rare weekend that we don't have to pop in.

8.  If you have dogs, you will get to know every dog owner on your block, in your dog park, etc.  They will know your dog's name, and if you're lucky, will remember yours.

9.  It's tremendously fun to see a new animal's personality emerging as he or she gets more comfortable around you.

10.  They are all so excited to see you when you get home, and compete for your attention throughout the day.  It's difficult to not be flattered by this, even if you do sometimes have to put the brakes on the competitive attention-hogging for them.

11.  You will wonder what you ever talked about before getting the animals.

12.  You will find yourself saying things that you'd never dreamed of before:  "Maera, get your head out from under the radiator" was the winning phrase of the day here.

13.  You will never be cold again.

14.  It will make your heart grow.

OK, I'm sure that most of these are true even if you have one pet... no judgment if you decide to stick with one!  But if you DID want to sneak in a second, or third, or fourth...  maybe one of these reasons will be your justification?  (Me, the Enabler.)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Life Goes On...

I guess it's one thing that you eventually (maybe) learn when you agree to become a foster home for animals, is that after their departures for what are hopefully happy forever homes, life does go on.  I'll keep you posted on whether I'm EVER able to completely learn this lesson.  Patches gave us a nice "soft start" to giving up a foster - he went to my mother-in-law, which means that we knew exactly what kind of home he'd be in, and we knew that we'd get to see him again in the future.  It was a little harder with Mitchell, since we are looking at every possibility of never seeing him again.  But it does help that we know that he went to a good home.

And like I said, life does go on...

Maera seems to have developed a UTI.  I understand that this is not uncommon in female dogs, particularly young ones.  We took her in to see the vet last week, as soon as I started to notice that something was wrong:  there were a couple of potty accidents in the house, and several additional attempts to potty once outside.  They gave us an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory after testing her urine and finding bacteria.   I have to laugh at how much easier it is to give her antibiotics than it is for us to do the same for one of the cats...  push the pills into a piece of hot dog, offer hot dog to Maera.  Gulp.  End of story.

We've been trying to play with the dogs a little more in the yard.  A tired Maera is a much better-behaved Maera, and it's good for Argos to be a little bit less lazy as well.  Usually they can be convinced to chase each other around and around the yard, sometimes we need to throw one of their toys for them to go get. Sometimes, it takes getting down on the ground with them for a little friendly wrestling match.

Mom, what are you doing on the ground?
No, really?  What ARE you doing?
Both dogs got a certificate after we finished up their obedience training classes on Saturday.  The classes were invaluable training for all of us.  What we got out of them - dogs that have started a more "trainable" portion of their lives.  Maera sits on command now, and Argos will after much grumbling and complaining.  They're getting better about stays, and better about "leave it" and their recall has improved.  But I think that most importantly, Jeff and I have learned how to train the dogs appropriately, and have learned about how to use the clickers/treats to get them to do what we want.

As for the cats, I  think that they miss Mitchell.  Well, Charlotte doesn't.  Charlotte probably would be happy if all of the other cats vanished.

What do you mean that I can't be Queen without other feline subjects?
The night after Mitchell left us, Bit paced around the house all night, occasionally crying.  It was like she was looking for him...  the two of them were playmates, Mitchell being the only one who was willing to chase her up and down the stairs.  Annie probably misses him the most:  he snuggled with her and groomed the top of her head for her every day.  But they've adjusted, as they always do when we humans go and mess things up.  Annie and Bit are spending more time together again:  they were inseparable before Mitchell, but when he was around, Annie seemed to choose his company over Bit's more often.

So that's really our lives right now...  the cats are getting used to being Three again, doing lots of snuggling with us in the process, and the dogs are completely unaware that we're short one cat.

Everyone keep your fingers crossed that poor Maera's UTI clears up ASAP.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Good-bye, Mitchell (in a good way)

Mitchell got adopted tonight. I won't say much, out of respect for the new owner's privacy.  However, I will say that I am pleased with how everything turned out.  Mitchell is going to be very happy in his new home, and I wish him all the best.

But damn, I'm going to miss the little guy.

I suppose that's one of the hazards of the "job" when you foster.

That being said, I just emailed the foster coordinator of the shelter and told her that we might take a brief break, but would be up for fostering more in the future.  So clearly I haven't learned my lesson!

It's okay, Mom, you still have ME.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Who was your first pet?

My actual first pet was a black and white boy (cat) that I named, in all of my three-year-old wisdom, "T-nut"  (my valiant attempt to say Peanut.)  He died of unknown causes when I was five years old.  I was barely able to understand the concept, and didn't grieve overly much due to that lack of understanding.  Which is why, when I think of my first pet, I don't have many memories of Peanut, though he must have been a sweet, gentle soul to have so gamely put up with me at that age.

No, the first pet that I remember was a cat of a completely different stripe.  After Peanut was buried, my parents gave it a couple of weeks, then took me to the "pound" to pick out a kitten.  I don't remember much about this shelter, though I don't think it was a very progressive, no-kill type of place.  Even at five years old, I knew that not every animal was getting out of there.

The shelter workers put me into a room, and then turned loose about twenty kittens on me.  Haha, I can't even begin to imagine setting that kind of chaos loose on a five year old child, but I seem to recall that it was fantastic and fun regardless.  Kittens of all colors climbed all over me, cavorted with one another, and had a party in the way that only a group of kittens turned loose on a small child can manage.

And then there was one.  He climbed up my back, using his claws as tiny crampons.  He got to the top, that is, my shoulders, took one look into my eyes, and panicked!  He leapt off of my shoulder and went skittering across the room to hide... behind a giant chest freezer.  And that was the one that I wanted.

My parents tried to talk me into choosing an easier-to-get, possibly more compliant kitten, but I was dead set on that one.  We had to make it a team effort to get him out from behind that freezer, and then he was mine.

He was pure white, with short, soft fur and green eyes.  And he became "Snowball" that day.  (No, my naming abilities hadn't really progressed that far beyond the days of "T-nut" yet.)

Never a more cantankerous cat existed.  He would ride my toddler brother down the hall by sinking claws into the poor kid's back...  though come to think of it, my brother thought it was kind of funny.  He would hide from us sometimes, and then leap out of the shadows and scare us into gibbering insensibility.  And this is what he did for FUN.  And yet he would come in and snuggle up beside me at night, before my father would come and send him to the basement until morning.

Snowball contracted FeLV at some point.  He was an indoor-outdoor cat, and so likely got into a fight with an infected cat.  Not much was known about the disease at the time, this was back in the 1980s.  (Or if it was known, it was not conveyed to us.)  Despite his disease, he lived to be a very old cat, passing away when I was a teenager.

He wasn't much of a child's pet, really.  He liked my mom more than he liked anyone else, and had an unfortunate habit of lashing out at us kids if he felt like we were invading his space.  But I loved him.

It is probably Snowball's "fault" that I have my current taste in cats.  The cantankerous, difficult to get along with ones are the ones that I have a soft heart towards.  The ones that I itch to remove from the shelter so that they have a home in which they can be themselves without worrying about euthanasia due to personality.  I'm sure that I have him to thank for Charlotte - if I hadn't had him around for eleven of my formative years, a cat that bloodied me on our first meeting would have probably scared me to death.

Thanks, Snowball.  I hope that you peer down at me over the Bridge sometimes, and that you think of me fondly.  I've grown up quite a bit from the little girl who would occasionally tug your tail, I promise.

So, who was your first pet?  Did you have a pet as a child, or was this an adult-onset mania?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


We are in the process of training the dogs in basic obedience.  We attend a class just for greyhounds every Saturday afternoon, and we have been introduced to the world of clickers and treats, and using these wonderful tools to get the dogs to do what we want for them to do.  It's just the basics for now - sit, down, stay, come, "leave it."   And a little bit of very basic agility work.

I have to admit, in the beginning I was hopeful yet a tiny bit skeptical.  Argos is a very well-behaved gentleman, but he is stubborn and a bit set in his ways.  I knew that he would be resistant, at least in the beginning, to learning new things.  And Maera, while very anxious to please us, is still so very excitable that sometimes she forgets how to listen, and in the process forgets her manners and does things like jumping up on us, nipping (though gently) at our hands, etc. etc.

But it is working very well.  Maera is still excitable, though we are slowly starting to get through to her, and she's starting to look to us for cues.  If I get a milk bone out of the "treat closet" for her, her butt instantly hits the floor into a "sit" as she anxiously awaits her treat.  This is a vast improvement over launching herself airborne, sometimes at my head-height, to get the treat ASAP.  And Argos is still stubborn.  He still doesn't really WANT to learn to do all of these things, but he's doing them.  And in class, he just lights up and enjoys showing off when he has either me or Jeff all to himself (the other has Maera and is all the way across the room, with several dogs in between.)

I think what I like about the rewards-based, clicker training, is that the dogs really ENJOY learning.  They love class, because they get gobs of treats.  And it's really helping Maera get over her fear...  the first couple of classes were spent with her tail between her legs and not letting anyone besides me or Jeff approach her but slowly, very slowly, she is starting to wag her tail at the other dogs, and sometimes she even lets other people approach her without shying away.

I've read some additional manuals, guides, whatevers, to training, and am just impressed by the amount of knowledge that is out there about training the dogs.  But I am also starting to see that there are some differences in opinion on how to train dogs...  many differences in opinion and approach.  I won't go into very many of the particulars, because I don't want to make it sound like I'm condemning anyone for choosing different training methods than we're using.  All dogs are different, so different approaches are no doubt warranted.  My opinion is that if the dogs are learning, and they are happy, then the approach isn't  important.

But there are certain things that I've chosen to reject in THIS HOUSE.  I can certainly respect that other people have chosen differently, and can see valid reasoning behind it, though.  One light-hearted example:  many of the training guides (not in our Saturday training sessions)  say to keep the dogs off of human beds and human furniture at all times.  That to allow them to be so elevated gives them ideas that they are higher in the pecking order than they are.

I say "meh" to that.  At least with my dogs.  I don't notice them trying to establish their authority over me even on their less than perfect days.  I want them to be comfy.  I want them to know that this is THEIR home too.  They don't just take up space.  They live here.  If one ever challenged me for my place on the bed, then they would lose bed privileges, but until then, as said before, "meh."

Not to mention, I would get heartily sick of listening to the sad violin music every time I tried to shoo Argos off of the couch!

I believe that there is nothing in this world that he is so attached to more than the couch.  (Jeff and I being the happy exceptions to this rule, I think.)

Though Bit is equally attached to her "crow's nest" at the top of the kitty tower.

But anyway.  Here is to happy dogs (and cats.) May we always be able to balance our training with fun for them.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Fall in the House

As the seasons turn, things start to change in the House of Carnivores.  As it gets cooler, it is rare for me to wake up without cats curled up behind my knees, beside my torso, and sometimes snuggled up to the back of my head.  The dogs are friskier in the backyard, and run kicking through the leaves, in their still awkward playing style... a combination of nipping each other and RUNNING away, and sometimes getting mad at one another for nipping too hard.

Maera got to see her first snowfall last weekend, which came before the leaves started to fall,  (Luckily for us, even if it snowed enough to give us about an inch, it all melted within hours.)

Windows are closed, and cats are a little more interested in hanging out on top of the radiator covers these days...  they are actually putting off heat, after all.

I do always mourn the loss of summer and its green growing things, but I have to admit, it is a cozy feeling as we close up the house and start preparing for winter.  Very homey.  I've been cooking a lot of comfort foods (which is in a way unfortunate, as I am TRYING to lose weight for a trip to Jamaica in a few months.)  And I'm inside more often, which means that I get to enjoy the company of the cats more often.  And we've finally hit that "golden" stretch of fall where there is blue sky and bright sunshine that seems to make the colors on the trees glow almost like fire.

Oh, and Patches is back.  Just for a couple of days while my mother-in-law is away at a conference.

So enjoy a collection of my fall photos:

First, some fall color.
Now on to the animals...

The first thing that Patches did upon his return was to prove his dominance over the dogs.
While Charlotte carved out more of her kingdom...  elsewhere.

Why did no one TELL us that this is a throne?
Mitchell finds the sweet spot:  warm towels stacked on top of warm radiator.
My 65 lb lap-dog.
Jeff's rather shameless 65 lb lap-dog.

Argos and Maera model their winter coats on a cold day
And Annie steals Charlotte's basket.
And here is a picture of Bit, hiding from the camera:  Ok.  There is no picture of Bit.  She kept running away whenever she saw the purple case of my iPhone.