Racing greyhounds live a very regimented life. They live and sleep right at their racetracks, in kennels with other racers, and usually have little or no experience with the outside world. They’ve never seen a house, a car, or a human bed. At the track, they live a strict schedule of exercise, rest, meals, and toileting. They are well cared for, have good medical care, and most are treated with affection….but they are not pets. They are working dogs. And they are a commodity. When they stop being a commodity, they are let go.
A newly retired greyhound will see things that are miraculous to him. A bit like young Alice heading through the Looking Glass, Chalie spent his first few weeks figuring this new world out. Some things caused anxiety, like the sharp ring of the telephone and the white tile kitchen floor, which looked far too dangerous to walk on until we thoughtfully added carpet runners. Stairs seemed impossible to master and in spite of his past as a professional athlete, Chalie just couldn’t get his legs to coordinate properly to get up to the second floor. He refused to jump up into my minivan, so all 90 pounds of him had to be lifted in. Discerning what was and wasn’t real was hard work too and Chalie had several head on collisions with plate glass doors, ran face-first into a chainlink fence while chasing a rabbit, and spent too much time howling at that other dog that seemed to live in the mirror! Alice in Wonderland had it easy compared to Chalie!
But other parts of this new world were wonderous to Chalie. Before meeting this repurposed dog, I had never witnessed a dog actually smelling flowers. But Chalie did. One afternoon, I watched him slowly walked the perimeter of my vegetable garden first smelling each plant and then very gingerly reaching out his tongue to touch the tomatoes, bean plants, and even leaves. His gentle curiosity was amazing to watch, but I did make extra sure to wash the vegetables really well that year!
Over time, Chalie learned and adapted and he embraced certain aspects of this new life, while holding on to the parts of his old life that he loved. On the new front, being a family pet means being loved and petted and scratched and Chalie learned quickly that he could receive these things on demand. He learned that big sad eyes earn him an occasional taste of human food. And above all, he learned to play. My once neatly groomed yard is now littered with balls and frisbees and under the apple tree is a hole the size of my dining room table. Although my husband fills it up every few weeks, the leisure dog Chalie just digs it anew the next day. As for his old life, Chalie chose to keep his allegiance to the security and quiet of his crate and he will sleep happily there all day, even with an open door. And he continues to demands routine and will remind you with a howl and a stare if you seem to forget that it is mealtime or bedtime.
Retirement seems to be treating RoofTop Chalie well. In this new life, he continues to view the world with wondrous curiosity…and amazingly, he still actually smells the flowers. Greyhounds are sighthounds, but boy does he have a sense of smell! If you had the opportunity to reinvent your own life, what would you do differently and what would you keep the same? Although things worked out well for Chalie, he had little choice in the direction his life took. However, as humans, we do have that control. So reinvent yourself, if you choose. Or don’t, if you choose. But be sure to smell the flowers along the way either way.