Our meet and greet was three weeks ago. His foster mother who cared for him over the past six weeks brought him up the front pathway. He tugged in directions he wasn’t meant to, finally pausing at my letterbox, sniffing at the overgrown thicket of plants turning my front yard into jungle. Then he loped up to the front door, tail wagging. I already knew greyhounds were large but once inside he seemed to make rooms smaller. He arrived in our home at a time of unemployment, a time of feeling jaded by endless Covid-19 news, every cough and sniffle an anxiety and a changed world of not seeing friends, experiencing curfews and laws against travelling more than 5 kilometres. And here we were thinking it was us rescuing him.
Adopting a greyhound at least meant he wasn’t one of the 11,000 put down annually by the racing industry in Australia. Many of these are puppies, not even making it to a race track. When I look at him sleeping I can’t imagine his prior life. Perhaps his legs kicking in sleep are his dreaming being back on a racetrack, chasing after a mechanized lure sweeping along the circuit. The information told us he had 43 starts for 36 wins. That read like fiction to me. I cannot imagine him living that life when I see him dozing in his bed. It seems as unreal as a brochure describing me having trekked a minus 50 degree landscape in Siberia or flown on one of the Apollo missions to the moon.
Our greyhound accepts my touches. At times he seems indifferent, wandering off while I pet him. Do animals want us to touch them? We assume so. I’m not an especially tactile person and others accept that, seeing it in my body language or sensing it. But how would we know that about an animal? I wonder if our greyhound is merely polite, waiting through my touches the way I might stand nodding through a conversation I’m not really interested in. But I persist, my hand lightly behind an ear, on his third rib or down his cobbled spine. I quietly stroke him, each time adding a millisecond of trust, respect and love into his mind. I hug him too even though it can’t be natural to him. His head tucks into my neck and through the palms of my hands I feel his heart tapping. In those seconds I wish I could see his eyes, are they calm and docile or wide and surprised? During evenings I patiently wait for him to lower his head into my lap. It hasn’t happened yet.
As with most dogs his hearing is acute. He looks at me when I speak, sometimes sniffing in my direction as if the words contain a scent. I wonder if he may even hear an accent, except an accent based on experiences rather than countries. Does he hear tones of kindness, sadness, ambition and restlessness in my voice? Are there inflections of parenting, cooking, gardening, writing and reading?
We walk him every day. Across a local park, grass already thick and green in the warming temperatures. We hurry past dogs rushing up to fences, barking and snarling at him. He strides away from them, deciding not to waste a bark or growl in reply. We occasionally stop at a local café and some people hang back, intimidated by his size. Others wander over, petting him and telling us we are so thoughtful to have rescued a greyhound. I feel an impulse to say no, he rescued us. He brought joy to a family during a time of pandemic and fear. But the story I’d then have to tell to explain further is too long.
Last night when I petted him his eyes closed. For the first time.