There are 78.2 million pet dogs in the United States. Thirty-nine percent of American households own at least one dog. Twenty-one percent of these dogs have been adopted from a shelter, and seventy-eight percent of them have been spayed or neutered.
I’m sure that if asked, each “dog person” could think of at least one thing we’d change about our dogs. Let’s face it, we all have notions of what our “perfect dog” would be like. Whether it’s less shedding, less barking, less drooling, more obedience, better manners, or something else, we can probably think of a change that would “improve” our dogs. Like humans, dogs are not perfect, but like us, they possess the ability to learn and change, regardless of age.
That being said, there is an ideal dog breed for each of us. One that has an energy level equivalent to our own, grooming requirements that fit our lifestyle and/or budget, and a personality type that fits in with our family. For my husband and I, somewhat to our surprise, a Greyhound was “the perfect dog.”
I grew up with a little terror of a Beagle named Perdy and later, her successor, a friendly and obedient German Shepherd named Sheba. Perdy was a stray that literally just strolled in one day. She was absolutely adorable but incredibly unmanageable. She chewed and ate everything – even stealing a steak right off my father’s plate! She ate my mother’s sneakers, leaving just the soles. She urinated on my bed. She shredded a phone book. When outdoors, she drove us and the neighbors crazy with her baying.
Sheba, on the other hand, was eight weeks old when we bought her from a puppy store. Being a naive teenager at the time, I had no idea that those puppies in the stores came from puppy mills. I’m not sure if I even knew what a puppy mill was back then.
Sheba set a new standard of behavior. Housebroken in a week, she quickly learned to scratch and bark at the door to let us know she needed to go outside to relieve herself. She quickly learned “sit,” “down,” “come,” “give paw,” and other commands. Yes, she begged for food, but that was our fault – we allowed it and fed her from the table. She became a maniac in the car, but again, that was our fault (or I should say my parents’ fault) because nine times out of ten, the car meant a trip to the vet, nothing else. Eventually weighing over 100 pounds, Sheba was powerful enough to pull my sister and I when we walked her – again, not her fault, because that habit was never corrected. But she seemed to understand that she shouldn’t pull when my mom walked her. My mom has balance issues, and Sheba would walk so nicely with her.
Years after getting married, my desire to have a dog had never gone away. Toward the end of a year that had been very difficult as far as my health was concerned, I began again thinking of getting a dog. I had been having frequent panic attacks, and in discussing my options of treatment, my therapist mentioned how dogs can help. I began a search for “the perfect dog.”
A friend (who, oddly enough, owned a Boxer) asked me if I had ever considered a Greyhound. I never had given the breed any thought. They’re large dogs, and my husband didn’t want a large dog. Nevertheless, I began researching the breed while taking online dog breed selector quizzes. Ironically, the breed that kept coming up in my quiz results despite various tweaks I made to my responses was the Greyhound. In my research, I learned that Greyhounds are quiet, calm, mild-mannered dogs that nap profusely and make excellent pets after their racing careers are over.
After meeting a Greyhound in the flesh and seeing firsthand how calm and quiet they really are, after talking to volunteers at Greyhound rescue groups, after discussing the possibility of adopting a retired racing Greyhound with my husband, I filled out my application with an adoption group.
I had a phone interview with one of the group administrators to determine if we could provide a suitable home to Greyhound. Two days later, we went to meet several Greyhounds that had just come from a racetrack in Florida.
We didn’t choose her, she chose us. She chose my husband, to be exact. Her racing name was KB’s Dakota Kat and she was a lovely medium sized black Greyhound with white ticking, white chest and white toes. She was 3 and a half years old. She “velcroed” to my hubby’s side and stayed there. She was incredibly quiet and calm, even a bit timid. We brought her home that day and named her Gracie.
For a dog that had spent her entire life up to this point in a cage surrounded by other dogs in cages at a racetrack, she adapted remarkably quickly to life in a home environment. She didn’t really need to be taught to relieve herself outside; she caught on very quickly to what we wanted, having only one accident inside, which was probably our fault anyway. Alone training took a little longer, as can be imagined, but by the time she’d been with us for 3 months, we had a routine and it felt like this was what life with a dog should be.
It only got better. We watched a dog that had been timid and fearful blossom into a loving, gentle, playful member of the family. My husband, a cat person, fell in love with this fastidious, quiet, lazy dog. I loved her from the moment she stuck herself to my husband’s side. Our love for her has grown with time, and she has become completely comfortable with us. She “chitters” with excitement and affection when we return home to her. She snuggles in bed with us. She naps on the couch while we watch TV. She is part of our family. She has helped me immensely with my panic attacks, pacing and whining to alert me when I begin to get upset. Since she’s been with us, I’ve gone from approximately three panic attacks per week to maybe one every six months! Taking daily walks with her and enjoying her company on a day-to-day basis has improved my overall health and mental outlook. Gracie is a living testament to the benefits of dog ownership.
Are there things I might change about Gracie? Sure. I’d love for her to get along better with small dogs. I’d like it if she didn’t deliberate for several minutes before jumping in the car. We work on these little issues regularly. Will she improve? I hope so, but even if she doesn’t, we love her. Because, for this family, she is the perfect dog.