Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Sighthound Life

When I was growing up, my family had a cocker spaniel.  He was a pretty good dog, well-behaved, though extremely wary of strangers trying to pet him (who could really blame him).  He aged less than gracefully: went blind, deaf, lost half his hair.  And for my sisters and I, those years are the ones we remember most.

I think it scared all three of us and put us off the idea of dogs.  But then I lived with a dog for two years.  He's a loud, sometimes angry, sometimes frightened little dog, but I still fell in love with him.  During those same years, I was surrounded by dogs at work.  I had two in a show I was asming.  And then, after that, I had coworkers who always brought their dogs around the theatre.  So, I began to consider getting a dog.

I wasn't really sure what I wanted and looked for months.  A fact about me, if I don't think something's going to work out, I don't talk about it.  This habit means that sometimes my choices seem to come out of the blue for the people in my life.  But for big life decisions, I've generally been thinking about them for around a year.

That was the case with my first dog, Argos.  I had been idly looking on petfinder for months when I stumbled across a shelter that had not one, but three dogs I was interested in: a shiba inu cross, an australian shepherd cross, and an italian greyhound cross.  All three were breeds that I was interested in (I couldn't decide back then, but I will never have that problem again) and all were fairly young and hadn't been abused.  The first two dogs were already spoken for by the time I filled out my application, but I went to see the little italian greyhound/chihuahua mix.  He was skittish and nervous, but so well behaved.  I fell in love right then and there.

So I talked to my roommates, who remarkably didn't object.  And I told my parents (because even though I don't live with them, they're still important to me) and they didn't object.  So the next week I picked him up and brought him home.  He was a trooper (his back dew-claw removal surgery (done before I adopted him) had gone rather badly, so he was in and out of the vet the first several weeks I had him).  What surprised me most was how quickly he bonded to me.

I knew, probably, within a week that I wanted to get another dog.  While I lived with roommates and another dog, this wasn't a possibility.  But then I moved out.  It's been almost a year since I adopted Argos and starting the week I moved out I was glancing over petfinder seeing if there was a dog I wanted.  Adopting an italian greyhound, even a mixed one, gave me the taste of sighthound life.  Argos is so fast and intelligent.  He could easily catch a squirrel or a rabbit if I ever let him.

I started doing research into sighthounds then.  Sighthounds are dogs that hunt using sight, rather than scent (bloodhounds, basset hounds, beagles, etc).  There's actually a good number of different species, but many of them are quite rare, particularly inside the US.  Sighthounds are known for being smart, independent, reserved, quiet dogs, with extremely high prey-drives.  For that reason, almost all literature stresses that sighthounds should never be allowed off leash.  Their instincts take over and they will just run and run, frequently straight into trouble.  The most famous is obviously the greyhound, but there are other breeds many people have heard of: whippet, italian greyhound (some people incorrectly call them mini greyhounds), irish wolfhound, afghan hound.

Now, I grew up reading Robin McKinley, who writes about sighthounds in several of her books.  One of my favorites to this day is Deerskin, which is a dark, hauntingly beautiful fairy tail, with a sighthound name Ash as one of its main characters.  Somehow, I got in my head that I wanted to have a dog like the book's Ash.

While researching, I discovered a breed of dog called saluki and knew that was the breed I wanted.  They typically have feathering on their ears, legs, and tails, but also come in a smooth coated variety.  These variations put me in mind of Robin McKinley's Ash, who goes from short coat to long coat after a trauma.  There were two problems with wanting to adopt a saluki. 1) Salukis are incredibly rare in the states and 2) since they are so rare, they are almost never available through a shelter, only a breeder.

I originally thought about going through a breeder, but I wasn't in a rush, and I'm a firm believer in rescuing over buying, so I waited.  Two months ago, I discovered an eight month old smooth coat, Saluki puppy on petfinder.  He was perfect.  He was young enough to be a good companion to Argos who is still under two years old.  He was not only cat safe, but cats actively seemed to like him.  He was even fostered with an italian greyhound and cat.  Things couldn't have been more perfect.  I looked into the shelter with low expectations, because it wasn't local.  But as it turned out, it was a nationwide shelter, dedicated to helping sighthounds specifically, and also willing to ship their dogs to their new owner.

I was ecstatic, but skeptical that everything would work out.  But planets seemed to align.  After several interviews with various people from the shelter, we set up the transport.  I picked him up from the airport, brought him home, and suddenly I had two dogs.  Argos wasn't sure at first, but the next day, started to play with the new puppy, who I dubbed Ash (I know, shocker).  It took longer for Fae, my cat, to come around, but she's always liked dogs, and she adjusted quicker than I expected.

I've heard it said, frequently, that two dogs are more than twice the work, but I'm not sure I'd agree with that assessment.  I've lived with two and dog-sat up to four, and if they're well-trained, adding more dog's is surprisingly not that much more work.  Ash, however, is still not in the well-trained category.  He's pretty much house-broken now, and knows basic commands, but walking both dogs currently is a handful.

What was the point of this story?  There wasn't really one, I suppose.  I've just been going through a lot the past year, and it's very much been my animals who have helped me through it, so they deserve a post (as infrequent as they may be).  If you ever do want to adopt a dog that can run 30+ miles an hour and then will happily spend the rest of the time cuddling with you on the couch, I have an excellent shelter recommendation.