Where to start?

“Let’s go back, let’s go back, let’s go way on, way back when…” (Aretha Franklin): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqYnevHibaI

You know when you start telling a story and then you realize that in order for it make sense, your listener probably needs to know X and that in order to know X, they need to know Y and by the time you’ve gotten to your point everyone has drifted off to their various devices?

Well. It occurred to me that to truly understand the current pets, you probably need to know where this whole pet thing started. I won’t dwell on my childhood but I do have to give a quick shout out to:

THE BEST DOG EVER*: our golden retriever, Tanya, who ate rocks and bees, could go down playground slides (after climbing up those very dicey metal ladders), and had neighborhood kids coming to the door to see if she could come out to play. Here she is, hunting bees:

*Note: strong objections raised by my son over assigning Tanya the “best dog ever” status over our current dog, Jack.

Now fast forward a decade to the first dog of my adult life and the first dependent that Jonathan and I signed up for together – our greyhound, Barney:

Barney, as you can see, was movie star handsome. Like, drop dead gorgeous. I am emphasizing his stunning looks because Barney had lacunae. You know that whole judging a book by its cover thing?

To get you situated, Jonathan and I got married in Dec 1998, moved to England directly thereafter and settled into a teeny rowhouse in Oxford. After Jonathan set off each morning to his fancy postdoc in the Statistics Department, I sat at home and tried to figure what in the world I was going to do with my life. 

Here is what I had: a new husband, a new country (where, puzzlingly, despite sharing a language, no one seemed to understand what I was saying), a recent decision to jettison the career for which I trained, an overabundance of job rejection letters, an underabundance (check that, a total absence) of friends, and RAIN. I wasn’t sashaying along, I’ll tell you that. 

What I needed was a dog to keep me company while I got my ducks in a row. I got the idea into my head that we should adopt a greyhound. There was the whole rescue angle, which always feels good, and greyhounds are magnificent. Our lovely landlady wondered aloud about the size of a greyhound in our tiny place but rolled with it.

We called up the nearest greyhound trainer (first name of Jim) to see about adopting a dog. The conversation went something like:

LK (in strong American accent): “So you are located in Worminghall (a tiny village in Oxfordshire)?”

Jim (in strong Oxfordshire accent): “I don’t think you should start with three dogs – one is probably best.”

Additional exchanges ensued along similar lines. I did, however, glean that he had a puppy who was missing a toe and thus would not be able to race. Perfect.

Jonathan’s new office mate, Matt, borrowed a car from one of his housemates and off the three of us went to pick up the dog.

Finding Worminghall turned out to be complicated and it was dusk by the time we arrived. Jonathan, Matt and I met Jim and we all went over to a chain link fence behind which a large number of young, muddy greyhounds – 10 months old perhaps? – were barking madly and lunging at the fence. Matt, who is a little nervous of dogs, said he thought he’d wait in the car. Jim went in and tried to haul out the missing-toe puppy, but it had just eaten dinner and had no interest in meeting us. 

A quick pivot:  Jim said that he’d thought about it and that there was another dog we should see. Off we traipsed to a barn-like structure housing adult dogs. He opened the door to one of the stalls and called out Dolly, who was 6 years old and done with racing. Out she came, trembling a little, with a muzzle tinged with grey and something of a moth-eaten look about her. She had been bathed and was ready to go. I’m guessing this dog would have been a lovely pet – docile, loving, the whole nine yards. 

Ok – hands up now – did we make the right decision and choose Dolly?

Us: “Hmm, is she a little old?” Back into the stall went Dolly. 

Jim: “I do have another dog – younger – fast, I think, but he doesn’t see the point.” Out of another stall came Burwood Araba in all his fawn, young, muscled, resplendent glory. Burwood Araba (soon to be renamed Barney, by us) did not even look at us, but instead headed straight down the aisle way to check out the food station at the end. 

After handing over 10 British pounds for a thick leather collar and lead, we were the proud owners of a new greyhound. We wrangled him into the small car, headed home, and started our new lives together.

Published by Lianne Kurina

I am an epidemiologist, the proud director of the Program in Human Biology at Stanford University, and a very keen horsewoman.

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