BY EILEEN MITCHELL
Animal Tracks is a series of articles exploring the human/animal connection from Noah’s Ark Animal Foundation in Fairfield, IA. For information about dog or cat adoptions, visit www.noahsark.org or call (641) 472-6080.
At some time in every guardian’s life comes that inevitable moment when we must say goodbye to our pets. It’s just a fact of life: Most animals don’t live as long as humans. While the brain may realize this, the heart isn’t always as accepting.
My mom knew that her elderly German shepherd mix, Sabrina, was on borrowed time. What she never guessed, however, was that while she was away on vacation enjoying her first trip to Europe, the dog she fondly called “my little girl” would die. Mom was inconsolable on two levels: Not only had she lost her cherished companion, but she also hadn’t been there to say goodbye.
Over the next couple of weeks, my heart would lurch every time the phone rang, because I pretty much knew who the caller would be: Mom, starting with a forced casual greeting but ending in wavering sobs while telling me how much she missed her dog. I kept telling her that time would lessen her pain, and to remember the good home she gave the pound pooch that nobody else had wanted, but nothing could help soothe her aching heart.
Or so I thought.
Mom reached her nadir about three weeks after Sabrina’s death. It was a beautiful autumn afternoon and I was with my dog, Elvis, at the Danville Arts and Crafts Fair, participating in a meet-and-greet with Golden State Greyhound Adoption (www.goldengreyhounds.com). Meet-and-greets provide many people their first opportunity to see a greyhound up close and give potential guardians a chance to learn more about these marvelous creatures. But throughout the afternoon, I kept getting interrupted by the annoying jangle of my cell phone—Mom missed her dog more than ever. After the bazillionth phone call, I mentioned Mom’s loss to Stu Homer, president of the greyhound adoption group, and he offered a suggestion. There was a female greyhound in foster care, he said, but the temporary guardian had an emergency and had to leave town. Would my mother like to foster this dog for a few days?
I rang Mom and pitched the proposal. “It’s just for four days,” I stressed, “and you’d really be helping GSGA.” After a long pause, she said that she’d take the dog. “But just for four days,” she reminded me. “I don’t want a greyhound. They’re too big.”
And so that evening, I delivered the dog, a four-year-old female with straight-up ears and several strategically placed black spots over her lithe, white body. Her racing career was finished when her leg was badly broken in a race, which was probably the best thing that could have happened. Because when Barbara Homer of the greyhound adoption group learned of the injured dog’s plight, she arranged to have the leg repaired and then flew the dog from Colorado to California to begin her new life as someone’s pet. Until she was adopted, she would remain in foster care. And for now, at Mom’s.
But just for four days, mind you.
Having a soft spot for greyhounds, naturally I found the ex-racer endearing. She was already housebroken, responsive to commands, and leash-trained. Upon arrival at my mother’s house, she made a beeline for the toy box filled with Sabrina’s stuffed animals and started flipping them in the air, pouncing on them, and then taking them in her mouth and shaking them back and forth. Mom, however, was resistant to her charms.
“She’s too big,” she insisted. “If I ever get another dog, it’s going to be a lap dog. Something small and easy to manage. Like a Jack Russell terrier.”
I almost choked. How many articles had I written espousing the fact that when it comes to a dog’s temperament and personality, size doesn’t matter? And here was my own mother, talking about getting the equivalent of a canine cyclone!
Over the next couple of days, Mom continued calling me, but the nature of her calls was changing. They started out with surprise over how well-behaved the ex-racer was. “I take her for walks,” my mom exclaimed, “and she glues herself to my side! No yanking, no pulling.” Subsequent calls informed me how the dog we had nicknamed Little Miss No Name would climb on the sofa and rest her head in Mom’s lap while Mom watched TV. How amusing it was to observe Little Miss No Name playing with toys. How obedient she was in the car. How friendly toward strangers. “This darned dog is my shadow,” Mom complained with a hint of affection. “I practically trip over her because she never leaves my side!”
Always, she would add, “If only she wasn’t so big.” But the protests were getting weaker.
That’s why I wasn’t entirely surprised when, on her last day of fostering Little Miss No Name, Mom called me and said, “I can’t give this dog up!” She sounded happier than she had in weeks. “I have to adopt her.”
That weekend, as the adoption papers were completed at the Homers’ house, Stu reminded my mother why a greyhound adoption is so special. “You’re not just saving one life,” he informed her. “You’re actually saving two. Because when you adopt a greyhound, that allows us to pull another one off the track.” Mom could only beam at her new dog, the one that was too big.
On that day, the dog we dubbed Little Miss No Name was officially christened Lucy. And while my mother knows she will never forget Sabrina, poignant memories are now set aside as she and Lucy begin to create new ones.
Eileen Mitchell is a freelance writer from Northern California. Her monthly column, titled “Dog’s Life,” appears Saturdays in the San Francisco Chronicle.