Jesse Comes Home
Since Jesse passed this year and its Christmas Morning, I thought I’d remember our first days together. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter One.
Jesse Comes Home
Greyhound Registered Name: Jesstopo; Kennel Name: Jesse
Jesse left Pueblo Greyhound Park in Colorado with a signed Greyhound Release certificate dated 6-1-02. The medical information given to the adoption group indicated he was a reddish brindle male; weight: eighty pounds. He had numbered tattoos on both ears; had no bad habits, injuries, or aggressiveness; tied up easily; had bad kidneys. (The kidney comment baffled our vet. There is nothing wrong with Jesse’s urinary tract. We could only surmise that he may have soiled his crate.)
Attached to the release form was his racing record. His parents were listed as Mighty Sparrow and First Lady. Jesstopo had run nine races and came in third, fourth, or fifth every time—not a great showing. Comments included: “faded back stretch . . . dead heat fourth . . . raced well mid . . . ran evenly throughout . . . lacked early rush . . . even stride inside . . . knocked back early.”
Apparently, Jesse wasn’t much of a fighter.
As explained in the Foreword, my husband Blake and I adopted Jesse from Greyhound Friends for Life (GFFL) (http://www.greyhoundfriendsforlife.org/home.htm ). The organization provided Jesse with basic medical care, and neutering. He still had staples holding together the incision, where the vet had removed his undescended testicles. We were told we could remove the staples in two weeks.
As experienced greyhound owners, we assumed we knew what we needed to know to successfully adopt Jesse. Taking out staples—not a problem. And we trusted the folks at GFFL, knew they would help us any way they could. If it didn’t work out, they promised to take Jesse back and help us find another dog. Imbued with confidence, we were on our way.
Jesse rode home in the cab of our Ford F150 pickup truck. The bench seat allowed him to comfortably recline with his head resting in my lap. I stroked his head as we pulled away from the compound.
“Do you think he’ll ride okay this way?” I asked Blake as he gunned the truck toward the freeway.
“Quincy (our first greyhound) always rode like this and we never had a problem. Just hold onto him, in case I have to make a sudden stop or lane change. If he gets antsy, I’ll pull over and we can readjust.”
During the two-hour drive, the dog yawned a few times, but remained calm and quiet. What luck, I thought. He’s perfect.
When Blake pulled the truck into the driveway, Jesse’s ears perked up. I nudged him aside and climbed out, and Jesse followed as if he knew he was home. He relieved himself on the dirt strip at the edge of the driveway—another good sign. Once inside, though, we quickly saw a change.
Our two large caged parrots were glad to see the dog. They’d become accustomed to Jesse’s predecessor, Quincy, and they squawked their welcome. As soon as I slipped off Jesse’s martingale (humane choke) collar, he lunged for the parrot cages. Prepared for this reaction, I grabbed the dog and pulled him away from the birds. Then I gently pushed him down and said, “No!” in my most authoritative voice. Jesse remained passive in the face of my assertiveness and waited until I motioned to him to stand. So far, so good.
We reminded ourselves that racing greyhounds have no personal experience to draw from when they first arrive home. They know about kennel life, but nothing about furniture, slick floors, stairs, windows, sliding-glass doors, hot surfaces—the list endless. Experience told us that it would take time to learn and address Jesse’s individual needs.
Blake and I decided that the first lesson would be teaching Jesse how to navigate stairs. Blake went to the top and called the dog. I stayed below in case Jesse needed a push. Some greyhounds are afraid of stairs, and a push from behind is superior to trying to pull a frightened dog. Tugging creates resistance and the dog will balk. Pushing moves the dog forward, much like a bitch nuzzling her pups into a new position.
Jesse, however, bounded upstairs with ease, and we watched as he sniffed his way in and out of the three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Then Blake went downstairs to the bottom landing. Jesse’s ears went up and he stationed himself at the top of the stairs. I slid by the dog and descended several steps. I continued down slowly, and Jesse, not wanting to be left behind, carefully followed, one step at a time, to the lower landing. This was going too well.
As I started dinner, we saw another change in attitude. Jesse began to shake and whimper with low guttural sounds. He paced the living room, then ran to the sliding-glass door and rattled the blinds with his nose, as though trying to get out. It seemed Jesse had awoken to the fact that he didn’t know us, didn’t know where he was or what to do next.
Blake opened the door to the small fenced yard. Once outside, Jesse panicked. He darted around the side of the house, then back. He shook harder and his teeth rattled with a clicking noise. It wasn’t a bathroom break he needed; it was something, anything, familiar.
Too late, we realized we should have had a crate available. If so, the transition to home life would have been much easier for Jesse. Because our first greyhound was older when adopted and we were his second owners, a crate never entered our minds. Quincy had slept on a rectangular fiber-filled dog bed in the corner of our bedroom. Jesse showed no inclination to settle anywhere. He ran in circles, seeking a small, secure area to hide, until we decided to confine him to our bedroom—another big mistake.
We sat down to dinner to relative silence from upstairs. Moments later, the pacing started, then the running, then the sound of breaking glass. We ran upstairs to find Jesse jumping up at the bedroom window, knocking plants and a glass lantern off the bookcase. The dog had stepped on some broken glass and bloody footprints tracked the carpet.
“Okay, we need to slow this down,” I said. I put my arms around Jesse and rolled him on his side to look at his cut feet. “Go get a bucket of soapy water and a sponge and the first aid kit.”
Blake brought back my requests and began cleaning up the mess. “I hope we didn’t make a mistake,” Blake said, getting down on his knees to look for blood spots on the carpet.
“I don’t know, but let’s not jump to conclusions. It’s only the first day. We should have been better prepared. Let’s give it some time.”
We had expected too much, too soon. Jesse wasn’t at fault; we were. I carefully examined the cuts. Convinced there was no imbedded glass, I cleaned and disinfected Jesse’s feet. He relaxed—this he understood, veterinary care. I could feel the tension ebb.
We slipped on Jesse’s collar and led him downstairs. We took our dinner plates to the couch, and Jesse curled up at our feet and fell into a well-deserved sleep. With the initial crisis over, we spent some quiet time discussing what to do next.
“We need a kennel,” I said as I gazed down at the sleeping dog. “He’s terribly insecure.”
“I think he’s shown his bucking bronco side,” Blake said with a nervous smile. “He’s no Quincy, that’s for sure.”
Blake and Quincy had been tight. It was a dark day for Blake when we had to put Quincy down. He wanted Jesse to work out and be his new best buddy.
“If we get organized, it’ll be fine,” I said in the most convincing tone I could muster. “And we’re all stressed and tired. Let’s get a fresh start in the morning and try again, with more control.”
I gently stroked Jesse, who opened his eyes and stretched.
“C’mon, big guy, let’s go to bed,” I said to the dog. Blake started up the stairs, and Jesse jumped up to follow. He did not want Blake out of his sight.
I closed the bedroom door behind us and led Jesse to the dog bed in the corner. He made a turn then followed my finger down and fell to one side. A soon as we climbed into bed and turned off the light, Jesse jumped up and began to pace the room. I got up, led him back to the pillow, and repeated the process. He stayed for awhile, but none of us got much sleep that night. The greyhound jumped up with every sound, as though the starting gate had just opened. He’d curl up in a ball in a corner, only to awaken minutes later when a neighbor slammed a car door or a cat meowed. Then he’d nervously pace the room until settling down, however briefly.
“Unless we want to go psychotic from sleep deprivation, we need new sleeping arrangements,” I whispered to Blake.
He grunted his approval and turned over.
The fact that Blake worked from home influenced our decision to take a chance on Jesse. Still, I took a week off work to help Jesse adjust. This is good advice for anyone with a new adoptee. During this initial period, watch your dog closely for signs of health or behavioral problems. Greyhounds are masters of disguise. They can appear docile and calm one moment, then spring into action in a split second. Never, ever, let them off lead unless surrounded by at least a six-foot-high fence. These dogs go into a zone when pursuing prey or running scared. And remember, they can sprint up to forty miles per hour, so you’re not going to stop or catch them.
The first days are a crucial time for your greyhound to bond with you and other family members. To leave him alone, even for a short while, before this bond is cemented will set back his adjustment period, sometimes severely. This is especially important if the dog suffers from separation anxiety.
Consider this story about greyhound Separation Anxiety gone awry. The local sheriff responded to a 911 call from someone who couldn’t be understood. They traced the phone number, arrived at the caller’s house, and found a neighbor with a key to the place. Once inside they found a greyhound, home alone for the first time, standing over the phone, which he had chewed to disfigurement. The rest of the house was fine—only the phone damaged. When contacted, the owner answered the obvious question this way: “No, we didn’t have 911 pre-programmed. We knew he was bright. I guess we’re lucky he didn’t call out for pizza.”
Remember that your greyhound has probably not been brought up like other pet dogs. You have no idea what experiences, ghastly or otherwise, have shaped his personality. Having never been alone before, isolation is particularly frightening. He knows nothing about how to behave in this new environment. The sooner you start basic training the better. Your dog will begin to understand that you’re in charge and that he’s safe.
Greyhounds are a docile breed, allowing for easy control. It’s best to start with the basic “down-stay” commands. Greyhounds, because of their anatomy, have a hard time sitting, but they will crouch and lie down. Unlike some breeds, such as collies, greyhounds have no desire to please. They do, however, respond well to praise, approval, and food rewards.
Damage to your home and danger to your dog are two good reasons to move slowly through the early adjustment period. If you must leave your dog alone, I suggest you invest in a quality portable kennel. I’m partial to the high-impact plastic type, which is easily cleaned and gives you a way to transport your pet if sick or injured.
Greyhounds are used to kennels, and their denlike quality provides them with a safe, secure, private place for their favorite activity—sleep. Don’t, however, substitute kennel time for quality training. At first, when you’re home, set the kennel in a quiet location and leave the door open. Outfit the inside with a soft cushion, ideally with a washable cover. Most greyhounds when introduced to their kennel will walk right in and make themselves at home. Then, if you must leave for short periods—no more than two or three hours—you can lock the crate’s door.
We took Jesse with us to our local pet warehouse store so he could sample some kennels. Most stores welcome pets on leash, and a custom fit for your greyhound is essential for long-term comfort. Proper sizing gives the dog room to turn over and around, but not so much space that it no longer provides a secure den. Jesse acted a little skittish in the store, so we reigned him in close. He soon spied the kennel displays, made his choice, walked in, and lay down.
Blake and I laughed and said at the same time: “Well, I guess that’s the one.”
The next few days passed without mishap. Jesse slept through the night in his open kennel and stayed close to Blake in his office most of the day. We began a routine of two walks a day at a nearby park. Most greyhounds are accustomed to leashes and rarely need additional training in this area. Still, we remained vigilant around other dogs and people. With firm, gentle control, we won Jesse’s trust, and he seemed to relax. At least for the moment.