Staking A Claim by Leslie A. Wootten

When I heard that a national Greyhound Pets of America (GPA) convention was to take place in San Diego, I knew immediately I wanted to go.  San Diego is, after all, where Arizona residents like me wish they were during scorching summer months.  A few days to cool off was reason enough to sign up for the event to be held September 8-10, 2006.  Time and cost (a short flight and minimal fare) added to the list of good reasons to attend.  Although I’d never been to a national GPA meeting, I’d attended regional events in Arizona that drew members from several surrounding states.  I liked what I saw, particularly a genuinely pro-Greyhound attitude and commitment.

The capstone note that clinched my attendance was news that up to two Greyhounds were allowed per hotel room, no extra fee.  Although I had no Greyhounds of my own at the time, I was eager to participate in a convention –my first–where Greyhounds were not only the primary topic, but also welcome guests.

Nothing quite prepared me for what I discovered upon arrival at the posh Marriott Hotel, host site for the conference.  First of all, Greyhounds were everywhere.  The innocent observer might easily have concluded that Greyhounds actually owned the place.  In a way, they did.  Certainly, the muscled beauties were magnets, drawing eyes and “oohs and ahhs” from hotel guests of every persuasion.  Some had never seen a Greyhound up close or in the flesh.  To suddenly encounter a veritable sea of the ancient breed in a modern-day Marriott, well, it was an eye-rubbing-am-I-seeing-what-I’m-seeing kind of experience for one and all.

The Greyhounds mingled casually with their humans in the elegant lobby, looking quite at home among sparkling marble, rich wood, and fine art.  Most of the four-footed guests glided with magisterial ease towards elevators that would whisk them to well-appointed rooms.  One or two quivered unhappily on the polished floor, discomfited by the bright shine and click.  Most, though, breezed along as if they had an important rendezvous planned–a nap, for example, in the middle of Egyptian cotton linen on a queen-sized bed or a toy to gnaw from a gift bag stuffed with tempting canine treats.

It didn’t take long to realize that humans, in fact, were present mainly to serve their greyhound companions in public as well as private matters.  Grassy knolls reserved for duties of a delicate nature had plastic bag dispensers strategically placed so people could pick up after their hounds.  Greyhounds of every color and age snoozed through lectures and presentations, offending no-one.  Meanwhile, humans took notes on ways to better serve the Greyhound population through fund-raising, fostering, medical innovations, and more. During refreshment breaks, the slumberers awoke to enjoy biscuits and meaty chews along with stolen bites of cookies, muffins, and fruit.  Later these same characters would steal the show at the Saturday night awards dinner.  Decked out in frill, velvet, and costume jewels, they out-shined their humans by sparkling lengths.  As supper was served, the sleek fashionistas panted hopefully, eyeing the prime rib au jus, which was obviously cooked just the way they liked it.  Humans kept plates on the table to maintain a semblance of decorum, but more than a few morsels no doubt slipped into awaiting mouths under the table.

In short, the GPA convention was a strange, and strangely compelling, phenomenon that opened my eyes in new ways.  Here was a group of single-minded people dedicated to Greyhound pets.  The dogs might have earned thousands of dollars for others, but would never earn a nickle for their adoptive parents, and that didn’t matter a whit.  An urge to experience what these folks experience on a daily basis began to seep, then surge, through me.

Before the convention ended, I leaped into the fray by claiming two Greyhounds at Caliente’s adoption kennel in Tijuana during a GPA excursion.  Folks congratulated me as if I’d given birth, and in a way, I had.  The step to adopt Greyhounds was enormous for me despite the fact that I hailed from a family with Greyhound coursing and racing roots dating back to the late 1800s.  I grew up in a house beside the paddock at Tucson Greyhound Park where I fell asleep to the sound of a hundred Greyhounds barking outside my bedroom window every night.  My father, uncles, and grandfather were Greyhound “dog-men” in every sense of the word.  No other dogs existed for them.  I did not follow in their footsteps, though I have devoted much of my writing life to the “Sport of Queens” and its varied heirs.  As an adult, I’ve shared life with Irish Setters, Labrador Retrievers, Great Pyrenees, and a slew of mutts, but never a Greyhound, the dog embedded so deeply in my heritage.  Time and circumstance took me in other directions physically and emotionally.  After loosing a Labrador I’d spent 15 years with, I didn’t think I could open my heart and home to another dog again.  During the convention, however, the door creaked slightly, opening just wide enough for two Greyhounds–Annie and Louise–to enter and stake their own claims on me.

Responding to my impulsive, but steadfast, decision to adopt, I heard a triumphant, “It’s about time!” from an ardent adoption volunteer.  I knew it was true.  To the quip, “You’ve finally joined the cult,” I could only nod, smiling the half-crazed, half-beatific smile of a person who has crossed into a new realm, knowing–somehow–that it is right.  Absolutely.

About the Author: Leslie A. Wootten lives and writes in Casa Grande, AZ.  Her friends, Annie and Louise, were adopted through Greyhound Pets of America-Arizona. 

This article originally ran in The Greyhound Review, November 2006, and is used with permission.

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