phynedyning

What dreams may come?

In Lifestyle on November 8, 2011 at 8:00 am

After a little over eighteen months of worrying over the steadily declining health of our old greyhound “Jack”; yesterday, it was finally time to say “goodbye” to him forever.  Over the past two months, it seemed like we prepared for Jack’s departure on a weekly basis.  But then the old dog would rally and he would enjoy a period of relatively good days.

 Last week, Jack began to struggle more.  He was so unsteady that he abandoned his “Supper Dance” and uncharacteristically left food behind.  His gaze became more distant, as though he were looking at a distant landscape that only he could see.  The scents in the garden no longer attracted him to linger…he preferred the softness of his bed and sought only to sleep there.

 Friday, on the last truly warm day of fall, I took Jack into the garden for one last combing.  He could no longer stand for a long session of grooming but he had just finished shedding his summer’s coat.  He was probably itchy, but he could no longer scratch where it itched.  We stood in the sun, Jack with his eyes closed in canine bliss and mine clouded by human tears.  When the soft brush glided over his “good spot” he made that contented “roo” sound that greyhounds are famous for.

 It was a good day to stand in the sun and Jack had enjoyed nearly fourteen years of warm sunny days.  He had a wonderful life with us.  The final brushing finished, I carried Jack back to his bed where he sighed and laid down.  I bent and scratched his old, white head and he closed his eyes.  His lips curled into a smile and he crossed his front feet before he drifted into a deep sleep.

Jack, Adam, and Abe

The end now undeniably close, I telephoned our vet.

Jack was one of three greys that we adopted on a December day in Houston.  And, because he was a kennel pal of “Adam”, we decided not to break up the pair.  “Abe”, who died last August, rounded

out our little pack of needle-nosed couch potatoes.

Abe and Adam slept “cockroached” on their backs when they were most comfortable and content.  Jack would find a pillow on which to lay his head while he wrapped those long, slender front legs of his around each other as though he were hugging himself.  And, while greyhounds may not have invented relaxation, they perfected sleep into an art.  The quietest of the three, sleep was a passion of Jack’s.

As a young dog, Jack had another, darker passion…controlling the feral cat population of West Texas.

Feral cats are a sad reality of any rural setting and, normally, there is no creature on earth with better survival skills than a feral West Texas tomcat.  Although they could outrun coyotes and “ordinary” dogs, they never anticipated the arrival of a 45 mile-per-hour (in three strides) greyhound.  Also to their disadvantage was the fact that Jack could spot a feral cat crouching under the foliage at the back of the garden on the darkest night.

If Jack had been a fighter jet, he would have had cat silhouettes painted on his neck.  But one encounter made Jack legendary in the annals of pest control.

One warm night, I took Jack out for his last potty break of the day.  I flipped the yard lights on and a battered-looking tomcat sprang from the rail fence and into a nearby tree.  The maneuver did not escape Jack’s notice and he bolted for that corner of the lot.

“If that old cat is smart”, I thought, “it will stay in the tree until the yard lights go out.”

It was an old cat, but it was not a smart cat.

The old tomcat glared at Jack from a “Y” in the tree, the yard lights reflecting yellow in its eyes.  Jack sniffed where the cat had sprayed a taunting message and then began to slink off in his most casual greyhound walk.  He walked about twenty feet from the tree and went into a crouch, like a Marine sniper waiting for a clear shot at an enemy commander.  The cat, unaware that a grandson of famed racer Dutch Bahama could clear the distance to the tree in two leaps, made a fatal tactical error.

The cat vaulted from the tree and landed, now, twenty-five feet distant from the fawn-colored cruise missile that had locked on its target.  There was a faint rustle and the cat recoiled to glance nervously over its shoulder toward the sound.  Seeing nothing, the cat visibly relaxed.

And then…

…the cat looked up to see a grinning Jack descending from an altitude of about five feet directly overhead.

The end, as always, was mercifully swift for the battle-scarred old Tom.  There was not even time to hiss.

Jack gave up chasing feral cats several years ago when arthritis and old racing injuries began to rob him of his grace.  But even in his last weeks as he lay sleeping, his lips would curl back and his withered legs would thrash his bed as he closed the gap on some hapless dream-cat.

Yesterday, as we waited for the vet, we sat on the floor next to Jack and I retold to him the stories of his victories over the feral cats of West Texas.  The retellings were in the finest tradition of ancient chieftains who, at their impending

"Pards" forever together

deaths, listened to the people singing raucously about their conquests and their bravery in battle.

The stories finished, the doorbell rang, and I lifted my hand from Jack’s paw as I rose to admit the vet to perform his final kindness.  Jack glanced at me and stretched his paw to gently touch my hand.  He sighed, returned his head to the pillow beneath it, wrapped his front legs into their trademark knot, and smiled.  A few minutes later, fully content, Jack slipped into an endless sleep.

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