Greyhounds: A special breed
A little over three years ago, KB’s Seadog was flying around the Wheeling Island oval as he won seven out of his first nine career races.
Today, he’s still flying – only now it’s around Amy Aspenwall’s backyard in St. Clairsville, Ohio.
Aspenwall adopted Seadog, who goes by the name Duffy, two years ago.
Duffy (Seadog) not only raced at Wheeling, but was the subject of a column penned in 2007 shortly after he launched his career. The story focused on six young pups from different kennels.
In the nearly 15 years of covering the sport of greyhound racing, other stories have been written on adoption programs and their importance to the industry. At times one sees greyhounds walking in residential areas with their new owners, but never did I imagine being reunited with an old friend from the racetrack.
It was quite a surprise to rediscover Seadog.
“He still moves around the yard faster and more heartily than any of the others I’ve had,” Aspenwall said. “I just love to see them run in the yard. There is such a beauty in the way they run and move just for the joy of it.”
While running/racing is a passion for greyhounds, Aspenwall’s passion is providing a loving retirement home.
“Retired racers make wonderful pets. I am blessed to have them,” Aspenwall said. “Living with retired greyhounds has both advantages and challenges, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”
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Walking up the sidewalk and knocking on Aspenwall’s door, this writer was greeted by three greyhounds upon entering her house – each poking their noses out in front of the other as I patted their heads and ears. The love was mutual.
After the warm welcome from 11-year-old Canoodle, 2-year-old Graham and 5-year-old Duffy, the trio settled down to do what they do best – being couch potatoes. All three crashed on the floor.
“I am so glad to share my life with them. They’ve been a great addition,” Aspenwall said. “They are family, they are fantastic companions and they love people.”
Aspenwall’s greyhounds have allowed her to meet a lot of new people.
“They are great walking partners and we’ve met a lot of nice people during our walks. Some stop to ask questions about greyhounds while others just like to pet them,” Aspenwall said. “One time I took them to church for a program and the kids just loved them. I’ve also met some wonderful people through adoption programs.”
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Aspenwall’s first interest in adoption came in 2002. At the time, she was living in Columbus, Ohio.
“I took an online survey to see what animal/breed matched up. It turned out to be greyhounds,” Aspenwall said. “Some friends from church had adopted greys so I was able to get an introduction to greyhounds in person.”
After going through the adoption process, Aspenwall took home her first greyhound in 2002 – Aristotle – a five-year-old. He had raced in Florida under the name Milo Blake.
“Aristotle started out my adoption odyssey and I got to share my life with him for nearly 7 years. He made me fall completely in love with the breed,” Aspenwall said. “Greyhounds were the perfect choice for me on paper (online survey), but it wasn’t until I finally got to adopt my first greyhound that I knew how perfect they are.”
Even though Aspenwall first thought greyhounds were “odd looking creatures,” she hasn’t been without one the last nine years. “I’m determined to do all I can to soak up as much of each one as possible,” she said.
Aristotle was a perfect fit for Aspenwall and vise versa.
“Ari fit into my life easily. He welcomed me home from work and was always a willing walking buddy,” Aspenwall said. “Ari was also content to curl up and nap with me on a lazy weekend afternoon.”
Aspenwall admittedly was obsessed with keeping a clean car, but that all changed with the arrival of Aristotle.
“He did teach me that I’d have to let go of my long history of keeping my car spotless. I traded a clean interior for one with dog hairs and clear windows and shiny doors for ones with drool marks inside and out,” Aspenwall said. “I didn’t care because as much as I wanted a clean car, I loved my dog considerably more. Ari changed my way of thinking.”
In early 2004, Aspenwall adopted Bella – the only female so far. At the same time, Aspenwall was making a move from Columbus to St. Clairsville.
Unlike Aristotle, Bella proved a tougher transition.
“Bella was a beautiful brindle, but it took a lot of patience to get her to come out of her shell. She eventually did and learned to trust me,” Aspenwall related. “Bella was sweet, but not always to Aristotle. She was so funny, and made me laugh a lot.”
One instance was when Bella decided to check out a piano in Aspenwall’s home.
“She poked the keys with her needle-nose and looked up to say, did I do that?” Aspenwall said. “Bella bounced rather than walked and always carried my slipper socks around the house before curling up with them to sleep.”
Unfortunately, Bella was diagnosed with bone cancer and had to be euthanized in 2006 when her pain could not be controlled.
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A few months after Bella’s death, Aspenwall adopted her third greyhound – Canoodle. Now he is 11 1/2 years old.
“Canoodle is a large, gorgeous fawn and is the embodiment of the word grace. His personality is beautiful – calm, quiet, patient and sweet,” Aspenwall said. “Within seconds of our first meeting, he was nuzzling my leg and I knew I’d found another friend for life. I understand these characteristics can be universally applied to greyhounds, but Canoodle outshines them all when it comes to pure beauty inside and out.”
Canoodle also was another easy transition.
“While my other dogs have lived up to the 40-mile-an-hour-couch-potato description of greyhounds, Canoodle is even more laid back,” Aspenwall said. “The only time he gets agitated is when a storm is coming.”
Although Canoodle has learned to tolerate storms better, he still can be found hiding in either the bathroom or between the kitchen cabinets and the island (the two darkest places he has access to) when foul weather hits, Aspenwall said.
The last couple of years, Canoodle has been hampered by a deterioration of muscle tone. Pain medication and walks have halted the decline.
Some days, Canoodle has a mind of his own on their walks through the neighborhood.
“At times, Canoodle gets as far as the door or the end of the front walk and won’t go any further. Other times, he refuses to go the way I want to and freezes in the middle of the street until I go the direction he wants,” Aspenwall said. “I figure he’s old and not feeling well and should get his way as much as possible. Most of the time when I’ve given in and followed him, I’ve been blessed by seeing a beautiful sunset, encountering a friend or getting the opportunity to answer a stranger’s question about greys.”
Canoodle also was diagnosed with Canine Cognitive Disorder (Alzheimer’s in dogs) about a year and a half ago and plans were to euthanize him.
“But when the vet observed Canoodle at home, he noticed we had missed something because he had a burst of energy and was playing,” Aspenwall said. “Once we started him on medicine for CCD, he has improved greatly and has had another year and a half of quality life. If my vet hadn’t been so patient, I’d have lost Canoodle much too soon.”
Aspenwall said the experience served as a reminder to pay close attention to the dogs’ personalities and behaviors.
“None of what Canoodle is dealing with has changed his beautiful, sweet nature. He’s the perfect model of aging gracefully,” Aspenwall said. “If he’s really inspired, he’ll still run through the yard with Duffy – looking strong and majestic.”
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In early 2009, Aristotle passed away at age 12 – leaving only Canoodle in the Aspenwall’s household. About a month later, Duffy (Seadog) was adopted.
It was a challenging transition.
“He’s the first dog I’ve had straight off the track with zero experience living in a home,” Aspenwall said. “So we’ve had to balance the joy of his newfound freedom with learning what’s acceptable to play with and what’s off limits.”
Aspenwall also has become more vigilant about putting things away and not leaving them out to tempt Duffy.
During a trip to the vet clinic to pick up Canoodle’s prescriptions, a tech asked how Duffy was doing and if he’d destroyed anything lately.
“Nothing important. I know I won’t give up on him,” Aspenwall said. “Duffy has come so far toward being a model pet very quickly that I just know that he’ll be a good pet for a long time.”
Nevertheless, Duffy is a handful.
“It’s a lot of work to keep up with what amounts to a puppy mentality in a full-grown, 75-pound body,” Aspenwall said. “I’ve been rewarded with the joy of seeing his eager to explore and learn eyes which at times make me feel young again too.”
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Earlier this year, Aspenwall made it a trifecta by adopting Graham.
“In the six weeks he’s been here, Graham has learned quickly and is doing great getting along with the other dogs,” Aspenwall said. “He’s adjusted well to the normal rhythms of daily life like letting me sleep until it’s time to get up, having his paws cleaned after going out and waiting patiently while I fix meals.”
One thing greyhounds need to master are steps.
“Graham handled them in just a matter of days with the help of treats,” Aspenwall said. “Now he seems to think he should be rewarded every time with treats and is trying to turn the tables to train me to hand out more treats.”
At first, Graham stuck to Aspenwall like glue.
“He is working his way through the I’ll soak up as much love as you’ll give phase of adjusting to pet-hood,” Aspenwall said. “During this phase it’s like they’re Velcro-ed to you as they watch everything you do and follow you everywhere you go.”
It’s a bittersweet process when they advance out of this stage, she added.
“It’s great to see when they become more confident and secure, but it also makes me a little sad that they no longer need that level of physical contact,” Aspenwall said. “Once they settle in they tend to be rather independent.”
Since Canoodle is not so active, Graham mostly just naps with him in close proximity. Duffy and Graham run together in the yard and also play with squeaky toys together.
“They really are a true joy and highlight of my life,” Aspenwall said.
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April is national Greyhound Adoption Month. For those interested in learning more please call Greyhound Pets of America (1-800-366-1472) or Mary Lou Metz at the the local adoption agency at Wheeling (1-304-231-1899). Additional information may be found at www.greyhoundpets.org
The purpose of Greyhound Pets of America (GPA) is to find responsible loving homes for greyhounds, to acquaint the public with the desirability of greyhounds as pets and to inform them of the availability of greyhounds for adoption.
Greyhound Pets of America greyhounds are primarily ex-athletes from various racetracks around the country. The breed is noted for being very gentle and non-confrontational. They are very adaptable upon adoption, and fit very well into all walks of life.
Pawloski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org