Friday, November 28, 2008

Sparky CKW, RIP

November 27, 2008 was Thanksgiving Day and unfortunately a sad one.

Our family pet of 10 years, a 15 year old greyhound died. We think he was born in about February, 1994. He raced in Tampa in the mid-1990s as "Armed and Dangerous." He was a good racer, big at 75 lbs. The problem he had is that he would tend to get injured from trying too hard or something. Maybe his connective tissues were not robust enough for a dog his size.

They retired him from racing and he lived on the farm for a few years to father some more racers before sending him to the greyhound adoption people.

Sparky was a good as pet as one could hope for. He was playful, mellow, eager to please, and naively intelligent.


Like a dragster, he was built for straight-line speed. He had no flexibility in his joints except back and forth. Sitting like most dogs do was a chore for him.

Contrary to what many people think, greyhounds are not hyperactive. Owners call them "40 mile per hour couch potatoes." He would lie down and sleep most of the day, then we would take him on his 3-times daily walks. When he was younger, we would take him for runs in the morning. He would keep up and in fact want to go faster at first, but after about a mile he would start to get pretty tired.

We'd get home and he would be a little overheated, so he would lie down on the cool tile in the kitchen with his tongue hanging out.

He had a lot of quirks too. Like most former racers, Sparky was not very well socialized to people and human surroundings. He freaked out a little the first time he saw himself in the mirror and we had to train him to go down the stairs (he learned to go up quickly).

When we moved to California, from Houston, Texas in 2002, the first time he came to our new house, he loved it. It has a big backyard and he was sprinting around. But what was that blue thing? He walked up to the edge of the pool took a step forward and fell headfirst into it. This is when we found out that he was not much of a swimmer and was terrified of water. We guided him over to the stairs and pulled him out. We dried him off and he was soon running around the yard again. He decided to take a shortcut by jumping over the pool.

This is when he realized that he can't jump as far as he thought...

One time when a friend brought a dog over, the two dogs were playing in the yard. Her dog, George, loved the water, so he jumped into the pool and started swimming. Sparky stood on the side of the pool followed him around and barked incessantly. "Get out of there. It's cold and dangerous. Get out of there. It's cold and dangerous. Get out of there. It's cold and dangerous. Get out of there. It's cold and dangerous."

He liked other dogs. We used to take him down to the dog park near our house until another dog bit him. The owner, a real gem, refused to pay any of the $400 that it took to stitch Sparky. We were going to take him to small claims court, but then decided not to. It kind of ruined the dog park for us. By the way, in the above, gem = irresponsible jerkwad.

One of our neighbors has a small female dog named Cheyenne. Cheyenne is small and fast. One time Sparky chased Cheyenne around their backyard for about 30 minutes. Finally, he had enough. He pulled up lame and we walked him home across the street. In the middle of the street he stopped and refused to walk further. Finally, I called him a wuss and he started to walk again.

He used to run around on the hill in our backyard, so we nicknamed him the Billyhound.

When we took him for walks he would be full of energy, ready to rumble. As we got around the block and started heading for home, he would kind of slow down. When the house came into view he would try to veer off in another direction. We contrasted this behavior with trail horses, which start running for home as soon as they turn around. So he became the Trailhound.

On our walks in the neighborhood, Sparky would suddenly start to limp. When we'd stop to investigate, we would find a large seed pod caught between his toes.

He had a tremendous urge to chase cats. On our runs, when he would spy a cat, he would often bolt in their direction. Picture 80 pounds of energy, accelerating from zero to 40 MPH and you get a picture of what that was like. He gave Kathleen whiplash and nearly pulled my arm off one time.

He actually caught a cat that had ventured into our yard. The cat belonged to our neighbors and was named Texaco because that's where they found him (at a station). Sparky grabbed him and started to shake. We yelled at him, and he dropped the cat, which scurried out of the yard, but it was too late. Ironically, I was a Texaco employee.

Sparky and Food

Most of his life he ate the lamb and rice dog food from Costco. We found out early that chicken gives him gas.

He liked people food a lot. The most memorable was when we had a party and got about a hundred or so three-inch sandwiches. They were on a table at about head height for him. Towards the end of the night, someone told me that they had seen Sparky eating a sandwich. It turns out he didn't really have to tell us. Sparky graphically illustrated it to us the next morning or maybe that night. And by the way, it was more than one.

He also was a chocolate hound. Chocolate can kill dogs. It has a caffeine-like compound called theobromine that is poisonous at some level. Dark chocolate is worse than milk chocolate.

Two incidents come to mind. The first was when I had bought about a pound of chocolate covered raisins from Whole Foods for my daughter's trip. She put them into her pack, but didn't quite close the pack all the way. Sparky devoured the entire bag. Thankfully it was milk chocolate.

The other chocolate incident happened just a few months ago. We had a chocolate tasting party to celebrate Kathleen's MBA from Saint Mary's. We bought various bar chocolates and got some really delicious chocolates from Recchiuti in San Francisco. There was leftover chocolate after the party, so we put it in a paper bag on top of a high counter. It stayed there for a while, but one day, while cleaning the house we moved it to the dining room table. We went out for something and when we came back he had done some damage to the remaining chocolate. He ate a fair amount of mostly dark chocolate, which got his heart rate going, but he calmed down after a while. He was a big dog and would have needed to eat a bit more. Sadly, even though he didn't eat the Recchiuti chocolates, he laid down on the plastic bag of them. His body heat turned them into a flat chocolate pancake.

The last four years or so, he got increasingly more finicky. we first went with some premium bulk foods (Beneful), then when he had a pharyngeal tie-back earlier this year, we soon realized that dry foods would give him aspiration pneumonia, so it was on to wet foods. We started feeding him meatballs, then after a while he stopped eating those. He would literally have starved except we discovered the food that he would love until the day he died--Costco Carnitas.
He would always eat carnitas. Even when he wouldn't eat raw meat, the carnitas kept him going. The last few months we fed him a brand of canned dog food that had names like Mediterranean Feast, Buffalo Grill, and Cowboy Cookout (he left the peas behind because that's what food eats). He liked those, but we could always fall back on carnitas.

Sparky's Tricks

Like most dogs, Sparky liked to eat with his pack. He really liked it when we had tenderloin and/or bread. We decided that mealtimes would be a good time to teach him some tricks. We taught him to sit and lie down. The best trick that we taught him though was to show his "grill." We would say "grills" and he would bare his teeth and sometimes even snap a little.

We taught him to say his prayers too. When he was lying on his side, we said "say Your Prayers," he would lift his paw to his head. It kind of looked like saying prayers.

Rumbling With Sparky

Sparky was male. He therefore thought that he should be the alpha dog in the house. Every morning he would walk into our room and put his cold nose on my arm. I don't know if it was to wake me up and take him on a walk or to check if I was dead and ready for eatin'. I did not realize that this alpha thing was something I had to deal with until he refused to go into his "cave" (a big crate where we kept him while the family was at work and school). So he and I had a showdown. I put him on his leash and literally dragged him into the cave. That was the end of the alpha wars.

We still had fun though. We would rumble. I would put two fingers from each hand behind his canines and pull. He would be like a hooked fish. I could pull him around, shake his head back and forth and even lift his front legs off the ground. Sometimes he would snap at me. We tested each others reflexes. Finally when he had enough he would take off running. When we lived in Houston, he would beeline from the back to the front of the house. That was really cool when he ran through a crowded party.

The last few months of his life he slowed down. He no longer could run up the stairs and didn't have the energy to rumble. He would still go on several walks per day, and sometimes on his walks he would want to jog the whole way. He liked to go out in the backyard and catch some rays on the grass.

Goodbye Sparky. We miss you.

More on Greyhounds

Greyhounds are wonderful, noble animals with a long history. They can hold their bladders for 10 hours, so are great for working families. They are very gentle. If you are looking for a family pet, I would encourage you to go look at some greyhounds to rescue from the track.

Here are some links to Greyhound adoption.
National Greyhound Adoption Program
Southeastern US
New York