• Sue Short

The joy of owning a dog, especially a greyhound

I recommend having a box of tissues handy.

In my life, I’ve owned seven dogs, three Siamese cats, two guinea-pigs, a terrapin, a newt, a goldfish and a family of rabbits, not all at the same time.

In the 1960s, my parents rescued a Heinz 57 puppy from Battersea Dogs’ Home. His name was Michael, rather an unusual name for a dog? We decided to rename him Mischa as it was close to his original name but more appropriate to his character and looks.

He was three months old; previously he’d lived in a flat with a young couple who were out at work all day. Because he was lonely he barked a lot and annoyed the neighbours; this resulted in his being taken to BDH.

He became an important member of our family. When my father drove to work, Mischa would sit on the front seat with his head hanging out the window, ears flapping in the wind.

Mischa had a long life and died of natural causes; a much loved animal.

Quite a while later, in fact twenty years or more, I decided to purchase a Blenheim coloured King Charles Cavalier Spaniel puppy, named Charlotte. A vet once told me that he thought Charlotte was a silly name for a dog; I thought the name suited her. She was a charming puppy; a loveable adult. She treated Brunnel, my Chocolate Point Siamese cat, with great respect.

A couple of years later, I added Pippa, also a Blenheim KCCS to our family of pets. It was clear from very early on that she had inherited some health issues, common to the breed. Aged four, she developed a serious kidney condition. It was necessary to end her suffering; it was the saddest but kindest thing I could do.

A year or two later I found a different breeder and purchased a tri-colour KCCS puppy. I named her Poppy.

Around the same time I had Poppy, my cousin Billy was having severe health issues; he was in hospital. His lurcher, Smudge, was neglected and left to roam the neighbourhood; I agreed to adopt him. I took him back to my home in Kent to live with Poppy.

The two animals got on well from the very beginning and made a lovely couple curled up on the settee. Smudge was the nicest animal you could wish for. His early life played no part in the way he behaved; he was the model of what an obedient and loving pet should be. Those who met him fell in love with him; my brother-in-law would rest on the floor, putting his head on Smudge’s tummy. We cried many tears when Smudge died.

Poppy lived for eight years before succumbing to health issues linked with diabetes.

Now, to greyhounds, I’ve had two. Sadly, Tigger, my first rescue dog, passed away last year; I now have Willow.

I first saw Tigger at a dog rescue centre in Faversham, Kent. He was an ex-racer; his racing name was Danrich Star. He was a large, light brindle coloured dog. I renamed him Tigger because of his tiger-striped markings; a name he always answered to (his racing name meant nothing to him).

After Tigger’s recent passing, I was lost and unhappy, missing him as you would a human being. I visited a greyhound rescue centre in Cornwall. I was introduced to an eight year old female named Nellie; her racing name was Kylenoe Nell. I decided to adopt her and brought her back to my home in Cornwall.

After some research on the internet I discovered that Tigger and Willow had a great-great grandfather in common; not unexpected in the world of greyhound breeding. Finding that out was a lovely surprise. Top Honcho was Tigger’s great, great grandfather on his father’s side and Willow’s great, great grandfather on her mother’s side of the family. Top Honcho was a champion racer, with black colouring. Tigger had the same colouring as his grandfather, Manx Treasure, while Willow has black colouring like Top Honcho.

Nellie had seven puppies, five bitches and two dogs. They were born in England three years ago after Jo adopted her. Two puppies were light brindle coloured and five were black. Alex, her youngest, was bottle fed.

Here are some things you should know about greyhounds.

They make great pets.

They don’t need a great deal of exercise, contrary to what you might think about a racing dog needing lots of walks.

Greyhounds are loving and loyal pets; the Egyptians and Tudors thought so too.

They are known as Sight Hounds.

They have an excellent sense of smell. Tigger could smell a crumb of cheese two rooms away; Willow from another town.

They have little foibles, like standing too close behind you, when you’re dishing- up food or demanding your attention by looking sadly, deeply into your soul.

Once you’ve had a greyhound, you’ll want another one.

Tigger was a champion racing greyhound, but his preferred activity (or lack of it) was sleeping; greyhounds love doing that.

Willow has six beds, one in each of her principle resting rooms.

During his racing career, Tigger came first in thirteen races, second or third in many others. Once he stopped winning he was not considered profitable and was passed on to another owner who, it turned out, wasn’t able to keep him. Tigger was taken to a rescue centre in Faversham, Kent; that is where I first saw him.

Fortunately, I had a large garden in Kent; an acre of grass and flower beds to challenge his abilities as a fast and clever racer. He hurtled around as if he did was on the racing circuit.

He hated his ears being touched, that is because he had suffered pain when they were tattooed. Greyhounds have tattoos in their ears to identify them in the racing communities. I’m sure you wouldn’t want your ears tattooed? That experience was indelibly etched in his mind. He gradually got used to having his ears stroked and would put his head to one side or the other as I tickled him.

Both my greyhounds have had problems with their teeth. Although I cleaned Tigger’s teeth as often as he would allow, he needed to have all but three, removed.

Willow had already had lots of teeth removed when I first saw her. I’m helping her to look after the remainder by cleaning them with special dog toothpaste and giving her tooth cleaning chewing sticks.

If you have to go through all of that with your greyhound would it be better choosing another breed?

Yes, they make excellent pets and it’s worth it because you can protect them from further ill-treatment and give them a happier life.

They are loving animals towards their new kind, protective owners.

Willow is a very fast runner and spent her early life as a racing greyhound in Ireland, winning at least two races.

If you want a quiet dog, greyhounds are for you as they rarely bark; at least, that is what I was told. Tigger always barked when someone came to the front door. He would stand by my side, as if to say this is where we live, who are you? Then he would stop barking having made his presence known. So he made an excellent guard dog: I always felt safe with Tigger.

He could make me understand by the type of bark. Willow is more subtle than that; I think she uses thought transference instead.

Tigger would bark in a certain way which indicated he needed his bowl filled. That may be hard to believe but is absolutely true.

Then there was a bark to tell me he needed to go out into the garden for exercise etc.

About nine o’clock every evening, Tigger would bark in quite an aggressive way, all directed at me, a female. I decided that this might have been the time of day when he was handled by female kennel staff and required to race. I got used to it and just waited for him to stop.

Willow hardly ever barks; maybe twice in all the months she’s been with me. Both times it was when her favourite soft toy fell off the bed where she was resting.

She has taken-over Tigger’s soft toys and loves the ones that squeak. All her possessions are stored in a cotton sack which she shakes about until all the toys come out. She selects the best squeaky toy to throw about; all very amusing to watch.

Tigger died early one morning at the beginning of the pandemic in July 2020, aged twelve. I was devastated at his sudden demise and was unsure what to do next, whether to get another dog or not.

Very quickly I realised I couldn’t live without a greyhound by my side; that’s when I adopted

Willow. I’m now thinking about adopting one of Willow’s puppies, maybe a large male or smaller female. Both have lived their first three years on a farm with acres of land. They have never been inside a house or been potty trained; both are black in colour like Willow. Watch this space.

Willow asked me to write this poem to read to you.

Not a youngster but definitely an achiever

A black ex-racing greyhound

Kylenoe Nell, a great mover

Two first places under her belt

Tattoos in both lovely ears,

That unexpected pain definitely felt

She raced in Ireland, where she acquired her name

Raced and raced,

Very little world-wide fame

Having sailed to England as a pregnant female

She became the mother of seven puppies

Five bitches and two male

She lived with her puppies at Jo’s place

Until, her next move away from family

To a Cornish greyhound rescue place

Kylenoe Nell was eight in 2020

Of all the teeth she was supposed to have

She’d only got a few, not plenty

Not Nellie anymore but renamed Willow

She gives me a greyhound smile

And a wink

With her head on my pillow

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