As I stood in line at Homegoods the other day, in the maze of last-minute temptations they place near the checkout, (I don’t need another phone cord or holiday tea towel thank you very much!), I noticed a colorful journal. On its cover was a fun, flowy font that read, “Life is short, spoil your dog.” I had to laugh a little because I was purchasing a large woven basket, not for towels or blankets, but to contain the ever-growing pile of dog toys that have taken over my living room.

How did it get to this? Me, a cat lady through and through, who suddenly decided at age 41 that she didn’t want to live her whole life without the experience of having a dog of her own. A very large dog at that, to share my space in my tiny house. I every so often have these moments where I question my mortality and lifespan, wondering what I’m missing and how to live my life in a more fulfilling way before the minutes of it all slip by. This one resulted in a one and a half-year-old retired racing greyhound named JK Royal Family, also known by her kennel name of Risky. I immediately felt a foreboding with such a name wondering how much I was ‘risking’ taking on this new challenge. I started calling her Freya, after the Norse goddess of love, to try and banish all sense of risk from the adoption.

The pandemic was still in its early stages at this point and the public was realizing masks weren’t going away any time soon and staying in was the new going out. It was at this time there was a wave of pet adoptions that swept me up along with them. I was working from home even before life took its turn that year and realized for the first time in my adult life, I had free time to devote to a dog. Unfortunately, as time went on, shelters found many of these poor pets returned after the frenzy subsided and people grew used to their new pandemic-ly challenged way of life. Not me though, I was in it for the long haul.

I’ve always had a soft spot for animals and knew there was no turning back. Maybe that’s why for the first 4 months or so I felt anxiety wash over me so frequently at times. In fact, right from day one, I felt a small dose of panic the minute after the greyhound rescue woman left my house. My new dog stood by the door whining as if it were sheer torture to be left alone with me. The two of us were trapped together in life forevermore. She was so strange to me back then. I hadn’t seen many greyhounds before and her long skinny face, frightened eyes, and tall frame made her appearance seem like she was half anteater half deer. The fur of her unhealthy coat was sparce in areas and her protruding ribs indicated to me that life on the track wasn’t ideal.  Even her tail was missing fur on every vertebrae as if she had been repeatedly rubbing it on the small metal kennels the dogs are kept in for most of their lives.

To add to the tension, after about 15 minutes of whining by the door, she proceeded to pee on the floor. We aren’t talking a mere little splatter here either, dogs pee a lot. Big dogs pee even more. I quickly cleaned it up and took her outside in the rain, which she hated as she just stood and looked at me with contempt. When did her whining for her recently departed foster mother turn into, let me out, I have to pee? I felt like I was failing in dog communication already.

In those first few months, we adjusted a lot. The first change was my current lack of a set schedule was now run by this strange black creature. She became my new alarm clock and noodled her long nose into my armpit at 6:30 each morning to let me know it was time to get up. I was instantly grumpy at having to put on pants so early and trudge out into the cold and often wet, early spring weather to follow her around the yard encouraging her to go to the bathroom. (Greyhounds need to be on a leash if you have an unfenced yard like my own.) I didn’t want a repeat of our first day, so I let her out frequently and rewarded her with treats every time she went. I grumbled to myself, what a life! Rewarding a dog for pooping in my yard, that I now have to scoop up and try not to gag while doing so. Next in the schedule comes breakfast at 8:00am which she inhales in a matter of a minute. From there it’s more potty breaks and most days a nice walk in town or a hike in the woods.

The good thing about greyhounds is that even though one might think they are very active due to their speed and racing background, they are actually quite lazy dogs, sleeping around 18-20 hours of the day. So aside from the potty breaks, walks and feeding times, they are pretty low maintenance. An added bonus is that greyhounds don’t get that dreaded doggie smell. They lack the oils to stink up their coats which makes it so they pretty much never need a bath.

It’s hard to believe any dog rejecting a walk, but Freya didn’t like to hike at first and would stop about a mile into a trail and just stare at me not budging. I’d panic and tug from every angle wondering how I was going to go anywhere with her. Or if we took the same trail two days in a row she was uninterested. I didn’t give in to her stubbornness though because I’m an avid hiker and wanted her beside me. Gradually, over time she came to love hiking and now happily trots next to me with her tail wagging each time. At first, she didn’t even know what the word walk meant and would stare blankly at me when I tried to excitedly tell her what was going to happen. Now, she eagerly hops up with her ears flopping and dances by the door at the mention of one.

There was a lot of this non-reacting from her at first that made me feel like I had gotten a dud in the dog line up. She showed no hint of excitement and no personality in regards to anything. The only small excitement was over her feeding times. I worried I had gotten a dog that would never show affection and certainly not love me. Now I was bound for life with the most boring dog I had ever met!

No one prepares you for integrating a greyhound who has only known the racetrack and a small metal cage into a loving home with playtime, rides in the car, walks, swimming, and stairs. Everything was new to her, but not always in a fun way. We did a back and forth dance of boundaries and trust for a long period. Sometimes after a yelp or a bite on my head for petting her the wrong way, I’d retreat to my room in tears and wonder what I had gotten myself into. If I even brushed her with the front door as we were going outside she would let out a hurt bark, cringe, and look at me like I had abused her for the rest of the day. Sometimes I had to be gentle, sometimes I had to be firm. Sometimes I had to hold her 60 pounds of muscle as it quivered with fear when trying to conquer my small steep stairway to the bedroom.

There were joyful moments too, like when she walked in a lake for the first time, sticking her snorkel-like nose down into the depths and blowing bubbles as she waded through the water. She also began to bond with me over time and when I returned home from an outing, she’d greet me with an excitement I hadn’t seen in other dogs before. Greyhounds are long and elegant, but they tend to run and tuck their backside forward when really excited, giving themselves a funny arch as they dart around the house. She’d also buck like a bronco and with her ears back and try to nibble my chin when I bent down to greet her. While at first, her small harmless bites freaked me out, I read later that nibbles are a sign of affection in Greyhounds. But for a new dog owner, the first time you see a greyhound’s long alligator mouth open and try to put you between its teeth, well, it can be a scary ordeal. Now I laugh when we play and she barely grazes her teeth along my arm as if she’s eating corn on the cob.

Another activity that at first resulted in an anticlimactic reaction was taking her to a fenced-in baseball park. After a few visits though she soon learned the art of the zoomie. Seeing your dog go from 0-40 miles an hour is quite impressive. Greyhounds were made for speed and can run up to 46 miles per hour. Even more fun is taking your greyhound to the park after a fresh snow. I laughed so hard I cried at her crazy antics in a white wonderland of fresh powder.

While at times I still get the occasional land-locked feeling from having a dog, my waves of panic have subsided into a comfortable routine. Instead of hating being pulled around by my dog in the yard, I see it as more moments spent in nature and often take in the sunrise with a deep grateful breath. Freya has come out of her shell by leaps and bounds and is loved by any passerby we meet. She’s quiet, well behaved, and a joy to be around. I’ve walked many more miles than in the past years from having Freya and am teaching her new tricks with each passing month. Now instead of wallowing in the frustrations of having a new dog, I look at her sleeping and get a  twinge of protectiveness in my heart for the giant, goofy, ever-amusing mythical beast I’ve grown to love.

For more information on adopting a greyhound in Michigan please visit: G.R.A.C.E.