I put Baci, my almost fourteen year old greyhound, to sleep Tuesday morning. He hadn’t eaten the roast chicken that I’d prepared the day before and he was struggling to stand. When Elisabeth stood behind him after the failed breakfast and pulled on his back fur, causing tufts to come off into her hands, he hadn’t tried to get away. The end was here. Not “near” because I have no idea if his death was imminent. All I knew was his misery and that I was the only one who could do anything about it.
Greyhounds are a stoic bunch. An ancient breed who were once noted as the companions of kings and pharaohs, by the 1930’s they were being raced here in the United States. Greyhound racing continued and thrived for the next forty years before casinos started to hone in on the industry. Happily, it’s been a dying industry since the mid 1980’s. When I adopted my first greyhound in 1998, a seven year old ex-racing greyhound named JK Go Moonstruck, there were almost fifty greyhound tracks in fifteen states, including two in Connecticut where I lived. Today, there are twenty-one tracks in just seven states. The biggest culprit being (wait for it…) Florida, of course, where there are twelve tracks.
Baci, however, was not a retired racer. I adopted him at eight weeks, well into the thick of my six year greyhound adoption / advocacy madness. At the time, he made number four. Jackson, Reuben and Cleo were siblings from Mississippi living together with my ex-partner and I. A puppy wasn’t ever on my radar and after Baci, it certainly wouldn’t ever be again. But he came home with us and my life hasn’t been the same sense. Hadn’t.
Born on Valentine’s Day, Baci (a word which means “kisses” in Italian) was sweet in a doggedly fierce way. He was the most un-greyhound like greyhound I’ve ever known. Harsh words or admonishment didn’t melt him as they do with most greyhounds. He was seemingly impervious to criticism. The heartiest greyhound I’d ever had, Baci ate only a raw diet for almost ten years. He’d been vaccinated only for rabies and was never sick. Most greyhounds are described as “velcro dogs”. Not Baci. He loved people but “his” people weren’t everything to him, as they are with most greyhounds. He loved action, other dogs, adventures of all sorts. Strangers meeting Baci for the first time would remark upon his scars, “oh, the awful life of a greyhound,” they’d murmur sympathetically. But Baci’s scars came from hard play, not a hard racing life. Baci hadn’t been afraid of anything, ever. I remember him once carrying a massive, dead groundhog into the house and proudly dropping it at my feet, its neck broken. Only in the past few years had Baci stopped taking risks.
Baci was the last of the greyhound gang that was five when I arrived here in Fall 2008, Done with a bad relationship and ready for all kinds of healthy changes. When the vet talked to me Tuesday morning about what might be going on with Baci, I didn’t listen. “I’m done, he’s done,” I said instead. I didn’t want to wake up and find him dead one morning. Or unable to stand and whimpering in pain. Then I would know that I waited too long. That it had been about me, and not him.
In a way, Baci’s death seals an old door finally shut for good. That sound is a breathing light, though, among all the loud sadness that hangs heavily. Can I speak the words, though, when asked: “we have one dog.” (My husband’s from his previous life). How can I have just one dog? It seems so few. The old skinny white dog who barked so stubbornly when I came home, but not at strangers or other dogs, isn’t here anymore.