Thursday, 28 June 2012

The good and the bad

I have thought long and hard about whether or not I should write this post, but in the end, I decided that without it, I wouldn’t be telling the whole story about my adventures in Greyhound-ownership. As the owner of any pet will know, you take the good with the bad with your pets – and sometimes the bad is very expensive and will teach you a lesson that will stick with you for the rest of your life.

On Friday morning, at just before 7 am, I left my house to take the dogs for their morning walk. Mila and Tommy were attached to their brand new splitter and rugged up in their raincoats against the cold and the wet, and away we went. We got ¾ of the way around our normal route, and were walking up-hill when around the corner came a man and his little black curly dog on their morning walk, coming directly towards us. We were about to reach the corner ourselves and it was pitch black, so by the time we saw them, it was too late to cross the road or turn around before we crossed paths.

So, I decided to keep walking. I was already holding the dogs’ lead tightly and quite short to keep the dogs close to me. I did my best to radiate calmness and we continued on our way. As the man and his dog walked past us, we said ‘hello’ to each other and the hounds didn’t appear to react at all. On our walks, it is usually Mila that gets excited in the presence of other dogs/cats/rabbits etc. She will bounce about – and sometimes bark, which is one of the reasons she wears a Gentle Leader head collar. Tommy is not usually one to react at all. He will look at the dog for a moment (ears up), look at me, and then go back to what he was doing before. For that reason, and the fact that we had had him with us for over a month without any issue, he was walking that morning without a muzzle on.

But Friday morning was different. As I said, the man and his dog walked past us and we seemed to have coped very well with it all. I was just starting to think about how good everyone had been when Tommy decided that he wanted to explore this whole thing a bit further. He whipped around, pulling me off-balance and Mila along with him and lunged at the little dog, latching on to it somewhere near its rump and refusing to let go. As you can imagine, the other dog (and its owner) cried out in pain.

I somehow managed to extricate Tommy from the other dog, with a combination of tugs on the lead and stern words. Hearts pumping at a million miles an hour, we stood back to assess the damage and catch our breaths. The man asked me for my details as he thought that he would need to take his dog to the vet. Holding Tommy and Mila very close to me, while trying my best to radiate calm, I began to give him my phone number when I felt Tommy tense up again beside me. I told the man that I needed to put a bit more distance between us and him when Tommy lowered himself and started to walk backwards, wiggling out of his collar (and away from me). He was free and was in such a state that all he could think about was catching the lure. He lunged again, and connected again, and this time the damage was more severe. I grabbed at his raincoat, which tore at the seams and fell off him and then attempted to grab him up in a big bear hug – but me against a 33 kg ball of power was never going to be a permanent solution to this problem. By that stage, I had dropped the lead, leaving Mila standing beside me, powerless to help. Thankfully, she stayed where she was and didn’t do anything to aggravate the problem or cause me more concern.  The man and I eventually managed to get Tommy (with the help of an amazing passerby) away from the other dog, under control and back on the lead.  We suffered cuts, scratches and possible bites in doing so – more the result of getting physically involved in the scuffle than anything else. I finally gave the man my details and we went, battered and bruised, on our separate ways.

Later on that day (which I took off work), the man called me and told me that his dog would be okay but that Tommy had done some significant damage, tearing skin from its shoulder and throat, in addition to biting its rump. The vet bill later came in at $980 – a huge bill, but something that we are arranging to pay in full to the owner.

We also had a visit from the Council, and an Animal Control Officer took a statement from me regarding what happened. I was told that we would be allowed to keep Tommy (he would not be taken away from us) and that I would be slapped with a $200 fine for failing to keep my dog under control. Tommy also faces the prospect of being placed on the “Dangerous Dog” list, a classification that I do not agree with and intend to object to.

I still feel sick about the whole thing. That horrible feeling of knowing that you are ultimately responsible for causing someone else (and their pet) pain and suffering is something that will stay with me for a long, long time. To say that this week has been a particularly long and stressful one for me is an understatement. Tommy is now back on his muzzle (for the foreseeable future) and we have bought a walking harness to prevent the collar slip in future. He is enrolled in the next Canine Good Citizen course, which I am hoping will assist us in socialisation. However, our daily walks (at least at the moment) are not the fun, relaxing experiences they usually are. My own nerves are shot (what’s going to come around that corner at us? What will I do if….?) and the dogs are acting more jittery and nervous than usual too. It was a stressful experience for all of us, and one that will take a long time to get over completely.

So, why am I telling this story? It is obviously not a great advertisement for the joys of Greyhound ownership and doesn’t sound like much of an “adventure” either…

I am telling this story because I honestly believe that this whole thing is not Tommy’s fault. He is a wonderful dog and a fantastic pet - very gentle, very patient, very loving and very eager to please. And when it comes down to it, I let him down. I let him down by putting him in a position that he did not have the skills, training, or understanding to deal with properly – he was after all, just doing what comes naturally to him and, while he has met and socialised with a couple of other dogs in his time with us, he is not yet at a stage where he is able to cope in all situations. And I let him down by failing to have contingencies in place to get him out of trouble when he needed it. Basically, I made a terrible mistake and he is copping the flak for it.

So, this week is about going back to basics – walking one hound at a time, until we all feel confident and relaxed again – and about reassessing the way that we do things. It is also about spending some time, letting Tommy and Mila know that they are safe, okay, and most importantly, loved (pats, treats and games all round!!). And with a bit of luck, we will get back to where we were before, a little wiser and a little stronger for the experience. 

Here is Tom, mid-yawn, demonstrating just how snuggly his new GAP PJ's are - he loves them!

Monday, 18 June 2012

An Experiment with Splitters

Following my recent tale about my attempts to walk two dogs on separate leads, a couple of fellow greyhound owners (thanks Falyn, Sally and Fatima!!) suggested that we get ourselves a splitter, so that we can walk together nicely on one lead. I’m glad they did…after getting my hands on one of these bad boys (see below), my hound-walking experience is now SO much more enjoyable and much less of an exercise in contortion. 
A splitter is a special attachment that hooks on to your main lead by a central ring and then splits off to attach to the dogs’ individual collars. As you can see from the picture, you can apparently have up to 4 dogs on one lead at a time - although I reckon you would need some pretty strong arms to walk 4 determined greyhounds all at once…especially anywhere near a cat! 

I had wondered about splitters before but had no idea (a) whether or not they were suitable for Greyhounds; and (b) whether I could use one along with Mila’s Gentle Leader.  However, the potential benefits were too good to ignore, so I emailed Frank at Ezeleash ( to see what he recommended we do. 

Frank is a huge supporter of GAP and has a greyhound of his own, occasionally fostering another. He informed me that he had had great success using splitters with the hounds, although he had never before tried one in conjunction with a Gentle Leader. He suggested that we do a little experiment – and sent me both a Long splitter and a Short splitter (the difference being the length of lead between the central ring and the dog) for us to test and report back on. The splitters arrived in the post and away we went. 

Straight away, the change was amazing!! I could walk the dogs with one hand wrapped around the lead and the other free (to keep warm in my pocket) and there was no more worrying about tangled dogs, tied up legs or the need to reposition myself to keep out of the way. Because the dogs were so closely linked, they had to work together and weren’t as keen on trying to wander off in different directions. Everything was less of a struggle…where had this magical device been all my life??

The hounds had mixed thoughts about it all. As the rookie, Tommy was very enthusiastic about the idea of walking alongside his new favourite friend and letting her guide him around the block – there was much tail wagging and face licking to show his approval of the idea. Whereas the boss, Mila, was not such a fan, preferring not to be followed around so closely on her mini-missions. When I first put the lead on her, she looked at Tommy standing right beside her smiling and then looked up at me with eyes that said ‘You cannot be serious?! She then proceeded to spend a good chunk of the first couple of walks trying to get away from poor Tom, ending up only dragging him along beside her. It was a Catch-22 – either walk with the splitter, or don’t walk at all. Not really a choice at all when you are a greyhound.

Mila didn’t seem at all concerned about the additional attachment (now having the Gentle Leader, the splitter AND the lead) even though it gave her less freedom of movement than if she had been on her own lead. Eventually, she got the hang of the whole thing (perhaps realising that Tommy’s not such a horrible walking buddy after all??) and we are now even at the stage where she can walk without the Gentle Leader a lot more sensibly than she did before, with Tommy (instead of me) unwittingly acting as counter weight whenever she wants to pull away somewhere.

In the week we spent trialling the splitters, we quickly became a well-oiled walking machine. You see on our walks, Mila is all about the smells, spending most of our time with her nose in the grass sniffing out what’s been happening since we last walked past. Tommy is the eyes and ears of the operation – head constantly moving and ears forward. I’m really just there to act as tour guide (and to clean up the mess). The splitter helps us do all of that (and communicate our findings!!) in an orderly fashion, with less pulling, less tangling and much less fuss!

So, with our (very) scientific experiment complete and the reports back to Frank positive, we decided to go with the short splitter. At first I thought it would be too restrictive for the big (and sometimes awkward) dogs but I actually found that my control with the short splitter is much better and the hounds themselves seem to prefer the structure a bit more too. Frank very generously allowed me to keep the splitter free of charge and has now put our testimonial on the Ezeleash website.

To anyone thinking about getting a second, third or fourth dog – I would highly recommend firstly, that your next dog be a Greyhound and secondly, that you get yourself a splitter (from Ezeleash) ASAP. If I’m honest, the walking thing was one of my main hesitations in having a second dog about the, I feel much more confident and in control - another tick in the “Two Hounds” column. Hooray!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Curious Case of the Chewed Up Cellphone

Our new black hound Tommy has a fondness for bags. Plastic bags, rubbish bags, gym bags, and his particular favourite, handbags. If there is a bag within reach, he will pick it up by the handle and carry it around the house in his mouth. Tommy is learning that bags are not meant to be played with, particularly when they belong to other people - but just at the moment, they seem to be his version of Mila's squeaky toys. It's quite sweet really...until he discovers that the bag he is carting about contains STUFF that must be explored.

And that's what happened the other night when I left my handbag on the chair in the lounge (first mistake) and went to bed. At the bottom of the bag was a long forgotten apple (second mistake). Also inside, were my sparkly new smartphone, my headphones and my watch (third, and most expensive, mistake).

In the middle of the night, Tommy got up from his bed to stretch his legs. Stretching the legs usually involves uncurling yourself from the bed and doing a circuit of the lounge, before returning to the bed and going back to sleep. Except on this particular night, Tommy's circuit of the lounge led to a very interesting discovery...the handbag.

A muzzle of the bag's interior uncovered the apple sitting innocently at the bottom. But to get to the apple, we had to get past the cellphone, the headphones and the watch. Of course, each of these items is interesting enough on its own...Tommy had struck gold!! He carried the bag over to his bed to get a better look at the contents. Then out they came, one by one, or perhaps all at once - I wouldn't really know, I was still sound asleep. The watch had a nice chewy, rubbery strap which is now gone. The headphones were bendy with nice foamy ear buds...and the phone? Well, the phone's screen lit up and its case was just the right combination of chewy and tough - the perfect chew toy for the technologically-minded Greyhound.

Sometime after Tom's exploration was complete, he decided that he needed to go out to the toilet - and very thoughtfully came down to the bedroom to let us know. The excitement of all that chewing must have really done a number on him. So, I put on my slippers and feel my way down the hallway in the dark, past the dog beds and out to the back door. It's 4.30 in the morning and I'm still half asleep but after Tommy has done his business, I flick on the light to make sure he gets back to bed okay...and then I see all that he has been up to. Strewn over the floor. Not surprisingly, I am now wide awake.

The watch and the phone took a trip to the repair shop to be seen to. The people at the phone shop found my story to be particularly amusing (although I might have skipped out on some of the detail) and the sight of my phone, with its cracked screen and puncture wounds was definitely an interesting one. You see, if you are going to break a phone, you might as well do it properly - and I guess Tommy was thinking along the same lines!! The damage to the phone is irreparable but thankfully, I took the precaution of getting phone insurance when I first got the phone (fully expecting that it would be my own destructive tendencies, rather than anyone else's that would end up being the death of it). $300 later (grr...), the bright side is that I now have a sparkly new phone that is much better than the old one was anyway!! Maybe he is a technologically-minded hound after all...

So, just when I thought I was beginning to understand (and outsmart) the greyhounds with my clever tricks and training and hiding places, along comes Tommy to bring me back down to earth. The bag, and its contents, now live by my bed at night and uneaten lunch stays in the work fridge, out of hounds' way and there are now (fingers crossed) no distractions for Tommy on his midnight stroll. And where was Mila throughout all of this?? Sound asleep in her jarmies on her bed (or at least pretending to be). As if the thought of causing mischief had never occurred to her. Something tells me that she is not an entirely innocent party in all of this...but I guess I'll never know.