Yet still, I found myself hanging out at shelters. Talking with people from rescue groups. Doing a little research. A little reading. A lot of longing. And one dog kept coming to the forefront. The dog that likes to sleep all day and thrives in small quarters. The dog that doesn't bark, hardly sheds and is smart, sweet, and affectionate. The dog known as the 40-mile-per hour couch potato. The dog, it seems, was destined for me: the ex-racer Greyhound.
And that's how I got Elvis.
When I first adopted the three-year old retired racer from Golden State Greyhound Adoption, I was advised to be patient. During his racing days, the fawn-colored hound lived most of his life inside a crate, sometimes up to 22 hours at a time, and often lacked personal attention. It would take a few days, maybe weeks even, before he adapted to his "forever home" as adoptee homes are called. At that time the bonding would begin and his true personality would shine forth
And that's exactly what happened. For the first couple weeks all Elvis did was sleep inside the temporary crate set up in my living room. He poked his head out every once in a while to cautiously sniff and explore around the house, but he always returned to his crate in a matter of minutes, crying if he found the door shut. The crate was his haven, the only home he had ever known, and it was tough weaning him from it.
Eventually, however, he learned that the brushed velvet donut pillow lying in the pool of sunshine under the picture window was far more comfortable. He also discovered that life outside the crate featured numerous squeaky toys, the occasional doggie treat and a human who loved giving belly rubs.
Elvis began greeting me at the front door every day, jumping up and down when I returned from work. He started nuzzling me when I brushed his hair and dropping his favorite stuffed animal at my feet while I watched TV. He started going everywhere with me; parks, parades, friend’s houses and dog-friendly stores and neighborhood coffee shops. He became my shadow, trailing me everywhere throughout the house, the garage, the yard.
Everywhere except upstairs.
There he drew the line. He would stop at the foot of the stairs leading to my bedroom, whining, but not daring to venture a step. I tried coaxing him with his favorite treat,. I attached his leash and tried walking him up the stairs. I begged, I pleaded, I used my stern human voice, but Elvis would have nothing to do with stairs, uh uh, no way. During his tenure at the track he had never encountered stairs and he certainly had no interest in making their acquaintance now.
Even if it meant being separated from his human.
And so it was that every evening I would kiss his velvety nose and say goodnight. He would sit at the foot of the steps and whine, watching me with longing in his eyes as I trekked up Kilimanjaro. Still, he wouldn't budge.
Steps weren't his only idiosyncrasy. We were walking one summer evening when he suddenly started limping and biting at his front paw. A thistle had lodged between his pads. When I reached down to remove it, he yelped and bolted so violently, he almost wiggled free from his leash. Repeated attempts to touch his paw resulted in the same reaction.
Fine. I hated to incur a vet bill over a stubborn dog and a thistle, but I couldn't chance it becoming infected.
When we saw Dr. Bradley the next day, she asked if I'd been walking Elvis on hot asphalt. "His pads are raw," she explained. "That's why they’re so tender." In the summertime I know that asphalt can reach skin-scalding temperatures, which is why I always follow the rule of thumb: too warm for the palm, too warm for the paw.
I explained that Elvis was an ex-racer and had just been adopted a couple months ago. She shook her head knowingly. "Poor baby. His pads are still raw from racing."
Months passed and our bonding continued. Elvis was now quite secure, happily traipsing around the first floor like he had lived there forever. I had given up on the stairs, but consoled myself that at least the upstairs carpet would last longer without all that doggie wear and tear.
Because during winter walks, how would I ever wipe mud from his paws? Subsequent attempts to touch his paws, however gentle, were met with the same adverse reaction. I realized that like the steps, paws were forbidden territory.
That’s why it was with trepidation that I walked Elvis after the season’s first rainstorm. I was prepared, albeit reluctantly, to deal with muddy paw prints on the hardwood floors downstairs. Still, it couldn't hurt to try, one final time, touching his paws so I could attempt to clean them. I was stunned and moved when this time, after hesitating, he allowed me to lift each paw, never wincing as I gently wiped the mud.
That was as big a moment as a couple weeks later when I was reading in bed and suddenly heard a thunderous rumble downstairs. Leaping out of bed, I opened my bedroom door and found, to my surprise and delight, Elvis on the landing. He had galloped up the staircase and was looking wildly about in the dark, shaking and disoriented. His desire to be with his human had obviously exceeded his fear of the steps. When he saw me, he bounded into my open arms, nuzzling his head against my chest. He followed me into my bedroom and with a contented sigh, nestled in the second donut pillow that I had optimistically placed alongside my bed.
Where he now sleeps, next to his human, every night. Mud-free paws and all.