How a cat person grew to love a dog.

We never had a dog growing up.  We begged and asked my mom for a dog.  She never gave in.  She and my dad had decided to get a dog before they had kids.  Gypsy was apparently a great dog, but only when they were home.  She did not do well with both of them at work, which was most of the time.  So they were smart enough to know she wasn’t happy and found her a new home.  My mom never forgot Gypsy though, and I suspected she knew how much work getting another dog would be, especially as she was a single parent.  We did however, get a cat when my sister turned nine.  He cost $8, and the SPCA he came from thought he was about a year old.  He was awesome-affectionate, but in a cat way.  He lived a long time, at least another 14 years before running away.  My mom never found him, but just knew he was gone, doing things on his own terms as usual.  I was and still am a cat person.  I love their independence, intelligence, and all around badass attitudes.  We adopted a kitten several years ago when a feral cat had 4 kittens in one of the neighbour’s porches.  Slinky Malinki has been a fantastic addition to the household, even if his is a bit standoffish most of the time.  He does have his problems- we don’t own sofas so much as expensive scratching posts. But a cat is not the same as a dog.

Up until a couple of years ago, I did not understand dog ownership.  I used to think, based on the complaints from dog owners I knew that it was a wonder anyone ever owned a dog.  The barking, shedding, drooling, vet and kenneling bills, humping, destroying of furniture and other household items, biting, training, vomiting, and pooping problems seemed to be endless.  Yet dog ownership in North America continues to rise, with billions being spent on dog food and other dog related paraphernalia every year.  Our small town has at least 4 separate stores just for pets, and 90 % of each store is dedicated to dogs.  So there must be something in it and now I have a little bit of insight into what that something is.

After having child #3 and then moving into a house with a large property where we planned to stay awhile we again approached the subject of getting a dog- it was getting to now or never.  The property was perfect for it and had an invisible fence already installed. We had tossed around the idea for awhile but there was always something in the way, a move, a transition, a trip. We ended up getting stuck for some months on what breed?  Neither one of us could think of a breed to get enthused about. A puppy?  A rescue?  I was all for a rescue, really not wanting to support puppy mills and avoid the health problems of lot of purebreds face.  Every few weeks or so, an ad describing one or two rescue dogs available for adoption would appear in the local paper.  The dog would sound perfect- friendly, needs lots of affection, space and walks, but the qualifier would always come at the end.  “This dog needs to be placed in an adults only home or with older teenage children.”  Every single time. Our youngest was a tiny 4 year old at the time and the oldest far from being a teenager.  Then I saw a greyhound being walked and remembered my grandfather used to have greyhounds.  From the 1940’s onward, he would pick up unwanted racetrack dogs in Belfast and give them a home.  This well before the term “rescue dog” was even coined.  The funny thing was Pop (my grandfather) even looked and sort of acted like a greyhound himself- tall, elegant and thin with a very quiet and gentle nature.  I did a lot of research and became convinced we should adopt a greyhound.  Only about 10 % of North American greyhounds are rehomed once they are finished their racing careers.   The other 90 %, well you know what happens to them.  Greyhound racing is now largely done in the Southern States, Florida, Alabama, etc, having disappeared in Canada a good while ago.  There are now a lot of fantastic rescue groups trying to bring the number of dogs euthanized down. My husband was against it at first-“They wear muzzles,” he said, “they must be aggressive.”  After some more online reading, I found this was not true. The reason they wear the muzzles is they can get aggressive and nip each other, but only while racing.  They have very thin skin and need a lot of suturing afterward if they do get bit, which the muzzles help prevent.  I am not going to touch on the debate of whether or not greyhound racing is cruel, that’s a story for another time, and matter is not black and white.

This is going to be a bit of a shameless plug for adopting a retired racing greyhound if you are already thinking about getting a dog. But for crying out loud, REALLY, REALLY think about it before you get a dog, of any breed.  Dog ownership, when done responsibly, is not a low maintenance commitment, either in time or money.   But if you are going to get a dog, greyhounds are usually quite gentle and docile, bark very little, drool very little, shed very little and are low allergen.  They are fantastic with small children, are used to being handled, are absolutely gorgeous to look at and it is magnificent to see them in full flight.  They do not require any expensive grooming, and contrary to popular belief, do not require excessive amounts of exercise. They can also do well in small spaces, although some do better if adopted in a pair. We have not gone there yet.  A few months after Bitzer Maloney (named after Bitzer Maloney, all skinny and boney, a greyhound in a children’s book, racing name KNC Jim Beam), arrived from Alabama (via Greyhound Rescue Canada), it was hard to remember what life was like before we had a dog.  His love is unconditional, he is our non-judgemental Velcro dog (although we do get the stink eye sometimes.) He is definitely not a security dog, I wouldn’t trust him to do anything but wag his tail if anyone broke in.   My husband is convinced he would rip the throats out of anyone trying to break in or attack me in the woods.  Hopefully we never find out which of the two would happen.  If I was someone breaking in, I do think Bitzer would sort of look like a Doberman if it was dark enough, so maybe that would help. He is on the large side of greyhounds, being 80lbs, and is black.  I do love having him around on the few nights my husband isn’t around, I just feel safer.  Same for walks, I just like having him there when walking outdoors without human company.  He loves being near us, being walked or played with, and is generally pretty easy going.  He and the cat are still working on their relationship 18 months later, but seem to have it figured out now, which basically means, the cat is the boss- see photo.  They can be in the same room together now,  but when Bitzer arrived, they couldn’t even be on the same floor of the house.

There are some strange things about greyhounds though, which you don’t get with other dogs.  They need to be climate controlled, as their ability to thermoregulate is not great.  That means AC in summer, and coats for walks in winter.  They need a short leash, and cannot be tied up as they can injure their necks due to the amount of power they generate when launching themselves into a run.  They usually cannot sit, hence the “greyhound lean” where they come up beside you and lean on your leg.  They need beds to lie on because of their lack of body fat and bony edges.  We now have dog beds in every room in the house, as he follows us from room to room.  Our greyhound cannot climb stairs, so is limited to the main floor of our house.  They can be taught to do stairs, we just haven’t bothered, as I don’t like sharing my bed with a dog who takes up more room than I do.  They do tend to have bad teeth, are hopeless beggars of food and counter surfers, and are also prone to bone cancer (sarcomas), although not as much as some of the other purebred breeds.  They do not fetch (at least ours doesn’t) but can be trained to do coursing and other agility training.

Rough estimate of the cost of greyhound ownership- 18 months in.

Dog- $450

Crate and pad- $350

Dog beds- $200

Leash- $20

Treats- $20/q 2 months

Vet bills-$300 (one year, one parasitic infection)

Food- I don’t even want to think about how much this is costing us.

Elevated dog food and water bowls- $80


Paw protector for winter- $23

Bones to chew for teeth health- $6 every 3 weeks

Being loved unconditionally- Priceless

The world is not made up of women and men as much as cat people and dog people.  And just to be clear, I am still, at heart, a cat person.   I don’t like your dog any more than I like other people’s children, especially when badly behaved.  Having had some bad experiences with dogs, I also respect anyone’s dog phobia or decision not to like/love dogs for whatever reason.   I love my dog, because he’s mine, and he loves me back.  I do now understand a little better why dog owners love their dogs and the expression “if our dog doesn’t like you, we probably won’t either.”


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