• Alison Tennent

For The Love of a Greyhound

Love versus the Greyhound industry

Photo belongs to Tara O'Rourke, used with her permission, all rights reserved

Sometimes our greyhound tests my love. Sometimes our greyhound is extremely frustrating, not to say annoying. But no matter, I can't help but love him. And I guess that's the difference between humans and the people who torture greyhounds for fun and profit.

I realised for certain I love him, despite him doing his best to drive me mad, on the morning he tried to jump on his (temporarily) dodgy leg and it gave way under him. He crashed to the tiles in a butterflied heap, from where I struggled fruitlessly to lift him as he wriggled, writhed and screamed, eventually managing to at least push him onto his side.

And they do scream, there's nothing like a greyhound in pain to make the neighbours wonder what the hell is going on. I called my husband and sat on a low stool beside Reubs on the kitchen floor, so he wouldn't try to move again until his beloved master got home. Soothing him with words and gentle pats, I felt my fear for him and, wrapped up in that, my love for him.

I didn't want a dog, although when I was younger, I adored dogs. When we had to have our darling Toby put to sleep because his kidneys were failing, it broke my heart into pieces that never quite mended. But that was before I had children.

Dogs are, in some ways, like children who never outgrow the needy, clingy stage. You will, forever, be picking up their poop, cleaning the floors they've just dirtied, feeding them, reassuring them and accompanying them on excursions. When you've parented two children of your own through the dependent years, a third, hairy variety doesn't necessarily fill your heart with immediate joy.

On the other hand, dogs don't tend to throw tantrums, don't grow into teenagers who would like to list all your faults as a parent and don't ever ask for a PlayStation 9 million, or whatever the current model is. A full tummy and a bit of a pat and they're generally good to go.

But really, I didn't want a dog. For one thing, greyhounds have a tendency to want to eat cats, and did I mention I am also landed with the family cat? When my ex-husband left - taking with him the fridge, bed, sofa, television and my trust in humanity - he somehow neglected to take our naughty little Tortie. Cally Cat, short for Calico, is a symphony in beauty, grace and aggressive entitlement.

None Shall Pass. Photo is autor's, all rights reserved

So some years later when I met and then moved in with Mick, we had to start the daily dance of keeping the animals separated.

Duty is also buried deep at the heart of love.

We owe it to them both to keep our hostages to fortune as safe as we can, and I could not find a home for Cally, though I did try. That's why I'm relieved that my daughter, a young adult now, has agreed to take her as soon as she's able to find a flat with her partner. Though I'll miss Cally Cat, as we've been together since she was a frantic, bitey little rescue kitten, it will be safer for her, and my daughter will take delight in having her.

And doing what's best for those you cherish is another inescapable part of loving them.

The memory of the day Reuben nearly feasted on Cally still makes me a bit twitchy. He was eerily fast. The front door not quite latched and he was on her like greased lightning. I always thought my cat could at least get a swipe in before he'd disembowel her, but I was quite wrong. She had no chance against his predatory speed.

Because that's what greyhounds do, of course. They savage smaller animals. And they are taught to do that by the same people who have the audacity to call themselves their owners. Humans who are supposed to be the higher species, people whom they should be able to trust, those same people teach naturally gentle creatures to be savage and predatory.

If I hadn't been right behind him with a bellow like a thunderclap (I'm from Glasgow, and am no shrinking violet) the second snap would have had her. She'd only just avoided the first snap by flattening herself to the ground. Her neck was damp from her brush with doom as I dragged him back to the house.

Fortunately, my cat is very stupid. She has no apparent memory of that trauma and spends her dopey, carefree days trying to put herself in harm's way. We spend our lives trying to keep them in separate parts of the house, and her away from danger. I suppose it's nice to be useful.

Greyhounds are incredibly quick, at least when they're running away from you with an insolent backward glance. When they're slouching around the home they have the grace of a bag of coat hangers crossed with a double-decker bus, with just a dash of a bouncing Tigger.

Their spines are so long they can't turn around easily, so they back up out of the small spaces they inevitably cram themselves into, and require at least a comfy cushion (or preferably a couch) on which to stretch their languorous limbs for large parts of the day. Their legs appear to be fashioned from coiled springs, and as sighthounds they have an ability to ignore all distractions, including you calling their name and telling them to leave that damn plant alone and stop digging yet another hole.

Which gives you an idea of how loudly I can shout, when I'm terrified. Even a greyhound cannot ignore a Glaswegian hurricane roaring towards them.

And that's why we have him, of course, his speed. Because here in Australia, there's a racing industry which uses up greyhounds and spits them out again. When Reuben first came to his new home from the Greyhound Adoption Programme he was trembling and timid, characterless and silent; hopelessly awaiting whatever treatment he'd receive. He's covered in scars from his racing days, where he'd earned his owner nearly 25,000 Australian dollars.

And the instant Reuben was injured he was unceremoniously dumped. Injury is almost certain death to a racing greyhound.

The greyhound industry calls the injured greyhounds "wasteage."

Some greyhounds can be trained to be safe around small animals. Not, sadly, Reuben. He literally licks his lips if he sees a nice Pug, or a cat on his daily jaunts. It's astonishing how stupid some dog owners are, allowing their precious furry family members to wander free. "Oh my dog won't hurt you!" They cry. "He just wants to be friendly!" Yes, Reuben would love to get to know your precious pet, quite intimately.

It sickens me to my heart to know that human beings warped him. For the sake of a few thousand dollars, people distort the sweet nature of these gentle, placid creatures.

And yet he is gentle to a fault with humans and larger animals. Delicately taking the treats he is offered, dreaming only of being a 40-kilo lap dog, revelling wholeheartedly in pets and rubs. A little affection goes a very long way with Reuben. His adoration of my youngest stepdaughter knows no bounds. He worships her, and when she visits glues himself to her legs. He tolerates with great equanimity her dressing up in outfits. I think you'll agree that being a Christmas elf suits him.

Merry Christmas, December 2020. Photo is author's, all rights reserved

He needs only 20 minutes walk a day to be perfectly content. All he wants in the whole world is a little love.

I've seen him run, in old videos from his racing days. My God, he was splendid. It beggars belief that any human being could look at that magnificent creature in full flight and think "Now how can I monetize this?" I was thinking of including a link to him in his racing days so you could see him in his glory. But I don't want to give them the page clicks.

Whether you're gone five minutes or five hours, his joy at your return is unmistakable. You'll never find an animal more loving than a greyhound. His love for us is unconditional and without question.

I watch him caper and dance in our back yard and my heart fills with reluctant, but inescapable love.

I didn't want to love another dog, let alone an ungainly giant lump of an animal who steals food from my plate if not watched like a hawk, who derps on the couch when he's not digging chasms in the garden, who sometimes howls his miserable memories in his sleep, terrifying me at midnight, who will, without hesitation, leap onto any bed, couch or chair available, no matter whether forbidden or not, whose greatest delight is to exude an indescribably awful gas as he lies at my feet.

I didn't want to love him, but love him I do.

Unlike many of his less fortunate brothers and sisters, Reuben will be cherished for as long as he is with us, and beyond that.

In the end, I suppose that is the difference between us and them. Between people who are capable of empathy, compassion and kindness, who don’t look at living creatures and try to figure out how to profit from their misery, those of us who tolerate the duty and the dirt and receive in return endless, bottomless love. And them.

The difference between someone who can call a living, breathing dog wasteage, and we who look into their brown, knowing eyes and see them looking back at us.

The difference, I believe, is simply the ability to love.

Copyright Alison Tennent 2021, all rights reserved. Scottish by birth, upbringing and bloodline, Australian by citizenship. If you’re reading this anywhere but The Garrulous Glaswegian, Vocal+ or Medium, this work may have been plagiarized.

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