It's in their Eyes...

By Bill Marshall

This was written soon after the Whitemyres incident, which is the subject of another historical article on this site. I have also added a Postscript at the end of this article which was written three years later, when our pack was at its largest. Basically, this article is an explanation for my inability to foster a hound.

Some time ago, I wrote an article about an old dog that we adopted (see ‘Who Wants an Old Dog?’). Everyone felt that Flynn was not long for this world and we took him with the intention of making sure that his last days were to be very pleasant ones. The point I tried to get across was that the rewards are different but are even more satisfying when rehoming an old dog than to giving a home to a younger one. These old four-legged folks do seem to be very grateful. Others that have had this experience will know exactly what I mean. If you are still puzzled or intrigued, try adopting one and you will see a side of these greyhounds that you may never had known existed. You will not be disappointed.

Anyone who remembers my previous article will probably be thinking that Flynn has now passed on but did indeed have a very happy ending to his life. On the contrary, Flynn is very healthy, absolutely delighted with life and, if common sense didn’t tell me otherwise, seems to be getting younger, not older. I am pleased to say that there have been no problems whatsoever with him, particularly medical ones. He is just a fine old boy who blends well in the pack and is very much part of the family. He is dearly loved. Perhaps it is because of love that our dogs can do so well despite everything. Let me explain.

Recently, an emergency situation arose in Aberdeen whereby a large number of dogs had to be removed from unbelievably bad conditions and rehomed or fostered as a matter of urgency (see the article on Whitemyres). Since we already had four dogs, we felt that another two would not make a lot of difference and agreed to fostering knowing full well that the dogs would probably never see another home after us. Our problem is that we become very, very attached and would find letting the dogs go to be extremely difficult. People thought we were mad to take on an additional commitment like this considering that we already had a full pack, but I still say that people who think this have never had to face the harsh realities of seeing dogs in such a desperate need of help. Could anyone who has just a hint of compassion possibly walk away from such a scenario when for just a bit of inconvenience, can really make an immediate and very satisfying difference?

When our two foster dogs arrived, they were literally walking skeletons. Although they had been rescued a few days beforehand and were already starting on the road to recovery, my first sight of the dogs filled me with a rage that I found hard to suppress. It took all my strength to focus on the dogs’ needs and to direct my feelings in a more positive direction. It was suspected that the dogs had been without food, water or cleaning for ten days prior to rescue. One of them barely had the strength to stand up and when she did, her back legs shook violently under the strain. Now I know that the people at various charities have encountered much worse that this. For someone to be able to remain calm when faced with some of the terrible atrocities that seem all too common is to my mind, the mark of a very special person who is worthy of the highest respect. It is a job I simply could not do. On seeing the physical state of the two dogs which came to us for fostering, I found it completely beyond comprehension that such things can actually be allowed to happen in this day and age. The people who give up everything to remove dogs in this situation, spending their own time and money to help them in any way, well, what more can one say?

On a more pleasant note, I am amazed at what a bit of TLC and good food can do. It is just over three weeks since we started our foster dogs’ recovery process and instead of being literally skin and bones, we now have two dogs which you can now only describe as being ‘slim’, and only when you look closely. The vet reckons that in another couple of weeks they will be at their proper weight. The dog that could barely stand up now jumps around like everyone else in the pack. The other still doesn’t understand that there is no need anymore to fight for every scrap of food, but slowly, she is getting better in that respect. Their coats are starting to become soft and glossy and they really do seem to appreciate their new life.

Unfortunately, one of our new arrivals has taken a liking to our cats, in the worst possible sense. She thinks that cats are simply sport, end of story. It is with regret that we will have to let her go when a new home is found. The other dog, however, has very much become ‘daddy’s girl’ so she won’t be going anywhere. The biggest problem my wife and I face now is when we go out in the car. With four dogs we managed fine but the current six results in some ‘entertaining’ moments. We have a large 4x4 as it is. What do we get now? A bus?

Although we imagine we will be settling on ‘only’ five dogs in total due to the irresistible temptation of cats, I cannot help but wonder what other people do in this situation. We are perhaps strange people who like to take our dogs in the car whenever we go anywhere because they are our family after all. On the other hand, leaving them behind for a short while instantly results in the drooping head and wide-eyed stare that makes you feel like you have just inflicted the severest cruelty known. I am sure other greyhound owners know that look only too well. It is the same look that prevents me from visiting kennels or going to places where there are other dogs waiting for new homes. I know that I am too weak a person to resist the temptation to take them all home.

I think that there needs to be a distinction between being an ordinary dog owner and an owner of greyhounds, whippets or lurchers. Two ‘ordinary’ dogs sounds about right for most households but two greyhounds… How many are too many? There is always the feeling that one more won’t make much difference. When you count the number of furry legs in the house and divide by four and you still get double figures, is that enough? It is easy to make judgements while remaining detached from the reality of having to face a homeless dog, to look it in the eye and to tell it that it is not the lucky one on this occasion. I am totally unable to do that which is why I must avoid such situations. For me, all it takes is eye to eye contact and guess what, we need another bigger vehicle, again…

I am absolutely convinced that a dog recognises when it is loved and stand by my belief that many dogs do understand the concept of being grateful, especially those that are old enough to remember less happy times. I get the impression that the dogs without a home somehow know that you could provide them with one and their eyes seem to be specially adapted to ensuring that you feel the maximum guilt regardless. This is why I can never look a homeless greyhound in the eye…

Postscript: Sepetember 2007

Three years have now passed since these terrible events in Aberdeen that were described in the article. So, what happened to the foster dog who decided that she would like to eat our cats? Well, after a while, it became clear that maybe she didn’t want to kill the cats but just thought that they were toys which happened to move. She soon discovered that these moving toys would also turn round and box her ears. After a couple of incidents that resulted in extended claws and perhaps a very tender snout, she came to realise that the cats were also part of the household and were not items provided for her amusement. So, there was a sort of ‘truce’.

The end result of this is that she (‘Chrissy’) is still with us. As she matured, she became very affectionate and thus earned her right to stay. Any thoughts about letting her go to another home became impossible if you just looked at her face and wide eyes – an absolute picture of innocence. The other dog from the same kennel, ‘Saffy’, is also still here and enjoying her life. She loves attention and was thus the obvious choice of dog to take when we helped with the annual collection for the charity. She’s been twice now. Saffy has also been ‘borrowed’ a couple of times to go round an old folk’s home to be petted. So, Saffy is the gentle one, Chrissy is still full of beans but is so utterly loveable.

We have seven dogs now. Much as I would like more, it is totally impractical to even consider that. We were caught, once again, trying to help out by fostering a dog for a short while but then were unable to let her go. It is now quite an exercise getting them all in the car and people tend to stare in amazement when they look in the windows. Yet they all have their place and there are rarely any disputes about space. For those interested, when we are driving, there are the two biggest dogs in the back, three on the back seat and two on the floor behind the passenger and drivers seats. When we get out, leaving the dogs in the car, two of the dogs come into the front seats. It is all very civilised. In theory, 7 dogs and two adults in a car (a Range Rover) seems ridiculous and dangerous, but in practice, it works.

I think the lesson that we learned is that we are incapable of fostering dogs. Greyhounds that come to us tend never to leave again. Admittedly, having this many dogs does get expensive in kennel fees if we want to go anywhere without them, and if a stupid rabbit decides to try to outrun them in the field, the vet bills can become rather frightening if the rabbit ventures into an area where there are lots of objects to scrape and cut the dogs. But overall, this is our family and to be honest, it is difficult to think of life without them. Everything seems so strange and quiet when they are not with us.

Greyhounds are, indeed, addictive…