A composite of three photos taken moments apart.
Back in the day, Nina only ran when seven other dogs were at her heels.
Frankly, most of the time she was the one watching seven other behinds, as she wasn’t particularly fast – winning just 13 out of a nevertheless remarkable 111 races. It’s amazing to think of the thousands of dollars won and lost on her over the years.
But as I watched her run today at the beach – in full retirement and sporting a bit more tummy than would’ve been permissible during her career – something occurred to me.
We’ve always assumed the main reward of retirement for these dogs was just that; a glorious, unexplained transition to a life of endless naps, better food, plenty of treats and way more love. And certainly that’s very rewarding for us as owners.
But seeing them off leash reminds you that being the fastest seems to be immensely satisfying to these dogs: catching up – and ultimately passing – everything in front of them. While other breeds live for tug of war, playing fetch, swimming or wrestling with other pups… blowing everyone else’s doors off seems built into a greyhound’s DNA.
So along with all that fluffy retirement stuff that makes us people feel good, Nina and her big sister have obtained another wonderful, intangible prize in their post-track lives: the fact that they’ll never be beaten again, if they choose not to be. They’re the fastest goddamn things on any stretch of land they step onto. Nothing can touch them.
Maybe I’m personifying them too much, projecting feelings like pride and, by extension, disappointment onto animals. But something tells me Nell, Nina and all their fellow greyhounds experience a genuine burst of confidence in the knowledge they’ll never see another dog pass them by.
A sunny blanket was all it took for Nell to test out Nina’s thread count this past Saturday.
Before Melissa went to Deerfield this morning, we drove over to dog beach to let the girls run around for a bit. We’re at the beginning of what’s shaping up to be a genuine stretch of warmth around these parts, and N&N seemed happy to be free of coats, leashes, and frankly their constant proximity to us.
That last point is rather striking when you think about it; sure, they’re animals and likely don’t have the whole “self-awareness” thing like we do. That said, they’re living the rest of their entire lives just a few feet away from us: sleeping, eating, or at the end of a six-foot leash. Now, we can leave them whenever we please… but maybe there’s something about being all alone once in a while that appeals to dogs, too.
We push our way through the second chain link gate at the entrance to the beach, piled high with sand on both sides from lack of use over the winter. The sound of the leash clicking as it unhooks from their collars is the girls’ permission to run as far and as fast as they want. It’s a powerful signal for them, and rarely do they pass up the opportunity.
We’ll throw a tennis ball, for instance, and rather than bring it back to repeat the sequence Nina will instead trot to the far end of the beach and plop herself down in the wet sand – as if to say, “Ha! Alone at last…”
Nell behaves similarly. It’s all we can do to tire her out by throwing balls or encouraging her to chase the other dogs, because after one or two sprints, she too will jog to the far end of the beach and then turn left, up into the small sand dunes. There she wanders through overgrown prairie grass, which is ignored by the maintenance crew. She lets it brush against her stomach and pays no attention to our whistling, hollering and commands to come back. I know she can hear us; her ears flick as she hears her name. But she is overwhelmed in that little world… endlessly examining the sand, the wildflowers, the tiny shells and driftwood.
They should get to feel that way once in a while.