Our brush with fame

I’m skipping ahead in my pet chronology here because this particular story is so topical, given the presidential election in two days. I’m going to need to set the stage, however, so get comfortable.

Cast your mind back to our very first greyhound, Barney. You remember him, of course – handsome beyond handsome, but with some issues. Principal among those was a disinclination for affection, which was really the whole point of getting him, from my perspective. So, doubling down, I angled for a second greyhound and my very forbearing husband said something along the lines of, “Are you joking?”

Jonathan then went on the job market. One of the places to which he applied was the University of Chicago. Never having lived in a big city and feeling nervous about the idea, I said that if we moved to Chicago then I was going to need a second dog to feel secure. Now, there was next to no chance of us moving to Chicago. Neither my husband nor I are big city people and neither of us like cold weather and those happen to be two things at which Chicago really excels. Given the very long odds on this move, Jonathan said “Sure!”

Well, those of you who know us know that we did, indeed, move from Oxford to the University of Chicago, where we spent 12 productive and very chilly (except in the summer, very hot) years. In advance of this move, I spent a lot of time at the greyhound trainer’s place looking at candidate 2nd dogs. We finally chose Stag (racing name, Burwood Stag), for the following reason. While standing by the chain link fence admiring the dogs and patting them through the fence, one by one they all left except Stag who, when I took my hand away, pressed his face up against the fence for more affection. Now as things turned out, Stag himself had various issues, but we’ll visit with those in a future post. To people, he was a sweetie pie beyond compare. Here is a picture of him, looking particularly resplendent, on a camping trip in the Tetons:

Now one of Staggie’s glitches, and the reason why the greyhound trainer parted with him, was that he had problems with his feet. After an astonishing amount of money expended at vets, the assessment finally made was that Stag simply had too little fat in his paw pads. The solution? Any time we went outside he had to wear boots to avoid damaging his feet. Winter, summer, it didn’t matter – if we even stepped out the door he had to have on his Polartec booties. I developed a very nice relationship with the woman who ran “Voyager Greyhound Apparel” who sewed Stag’s boots to his specifications; they’d come in batches of 4 sets every 6 months or so.

Just about everyone we met on the street, wherever we were, commented on Stag’s boots. At first, I bought boots in a sassy red color but Jonathan got so tired of being stalled out on walks by conversations about the boots that we then just went with black boots as a sort of camouflage. I am including two pictures below to give you the full effect. Both include our son when he was little. And yes, it is indeed the case that Simon is chewing on Stag’s leather leash in the picture on the left. Hygiene hypothesis friends!

When I walked Stag in Hyde park, I liked to head to Kenwood, the neighborhood just north, because it was so much fancier. We lived at 52nd and Greenwood, for those who know Hyde Park, and Kenwood starts north of 51st St. One of the houses on our route had had a for sale sign out for a while. 

One sunny summer morning in 2005 as Stag and I were strolling past that house, a moving truck pulled up and out jumped…the most beautiful person I had ever seen. You know that charisma that people say some politicians have? Yes. That. 

He strolled right over to Stag and me, who were standing stock still at this point, extended his hand and said “Hello, I’m Barack Obama, we’re going to be neighbors.” Cue one of the few times that I’ve ever been at a loss for something to say. Once I found my voice I said, “I know – it is such an honor to meet you.” Then Senator Obama had, of course, by that time already made a big impact with his speech at the Democratic National Convention and his election to the Senate. In Hyde Park, we were all particularly struck that one of ours – a University of Chicago professor! – was so prominent on the national scene.

After misidentifying Staggie’s breed (“That a saluki, right?”) and my gentle correction, we dove into the important question of why Stag was wearing boots. Here, at last, was a conversation that I was prepared for. To-be-President Obama kindly acted interested and then went to supervise his move. All abuzz, Stag and I hustled home to share the big news of our encounter.

We then, of course, watched with awe as our neighbor went on to ascend to the highest political office in the land. Our neighbor! 

(Ok now – well – sort of our neighbor. We were definitely on the other side of the figurative railroad tracks, and I sincerely hope that the Obamas’ heating and cooling systems worked better than those in our drafty row house.)

In the years that followed, I’ve had two thoughts about that conversation that I had with to-be-President Obama:

First, I had the opportunity to converse (albeit very briefly) with the future leader of the free world and what pressing issue did I discuss? My dog’s footwear.

The second thought I’ve had was: ok, of course President Obama wouldn’t have stored or reflected on this interaction at all, but it was the case that the leader of the free world for eight years knew about dear Staggie’s foot problems.

And here we are, two days before election day! Politics completely aside, my own view is that President Obama held his office with dignity and grace, two qualities of leadership I really admire.

In closing and just because I couldn’t resist, here is a picture of Staggie with Jonathan and Lucy when she was a baby.

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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