Many people asked me this question, and frankly, I did not always know the answer.
We adopted Bailey (Buffetbobleclair) on September 25, 2004. She was extremely timid, and in hindsight, probably not an ideal greyhound for first time adopters. She would not come out of her crate at the adoption kennel, and although we walked a few other greyhounds, I was still drawn to Bailey. Finally, we made the decision. We did not have children or any other pets, so I believed we could provide a nice quiet stable home for her. The kennel owner assured us that with a lot of love and patience she would come around, and we naively believed her.
Bailey was always timid in public, but in time she learned that our home was a safe place, an abundance of pillows would replace her crate, she would be spoiled, she would receive the best possible care, and no one would or could ever love her as much as I did. She bonded to me first, and in time, to my husband. I can’t remember all of the milestones and have always regretted not keeping some kind of diary or blog, but she was able to overcome some of her fears. Eight months later we adopted a male greyhound, Ben, to help ease her timidness. In the meantime, my husband and I learned how to argue quietly and be on the lookout for plastic bags and other everyday items that would scare her. Additionally, our home became a beep-free zone; no watch or camera beeps, we only turned the dishwasher on after she left the room, I removed all noise-makers from their toys, and It’s okay Bailey become the most common statement out of our mouths. She was the great greyhound statue on walks, children frightened her, and thunderstorms terrified her. Initially we had to carry her outside to do her business. I carried her home many times. Neighbours turned off their lawnmowers or snowblowers when they saw us coming. Our neighbour took down his windchimes when he learned they scared her. It took her four years to go out into the back yard on her own, which I later discovered was to eat rabbit poop that was not just plentiful, but also a greyhound delicacy. Although she dominated Ben in the home, the outside world remained a scary place most of her life.
Bailey was a trooper though. We went on many vacations; we travelled to greyhound events such as Dewey, Grapehounds and Greyhounds in Gettysburg, and she learned to tolerate crowds as long as she did not feel too confined and people generally left her alone. My baby came a long way in five years, and just as importantly, so did I.
Bailey came into my life when I so badly needed companionship and helped me become the person I am today. I never realized how compassionate I was until I had Bailey to care for. We learned a lot about life together, and I learned a lot about greyhounds in general. Sadly, I also learned about cancer in greyhounds and yet felt very insulated from this insidious disease. It could never happen to us.
In the fall of 2009, Bailey started vomiting bile mixed with blood. I took her to our vet who stated she may have been retching so hard that blood vessels broke and convinced me that it wasn’t the dreaded “C” word. In my haste to erase any thoughts of cancer out of my mind, I innocently believed him; after all he was the expert.
Bailey was still sick off and on so we returned to the vet. X-rays were normal; however she continued to throw up entire meals many hours after she had eaten them. Even I knew this was a problem. My vet assured me this was probably IBD, food allergies, or some other dietary issue and not to worry. Bailey continued to vomit, so a week later we returned and an ultrasound confirmed the worst possible news; Bailey had cancerous tumours in her stomach and was in a lot of pain. We had to let her go. I heard that greyhounds will give you signs when it is time to leave. Either I didn't get the sign or I missed it entirely. Bailey was still happy and hungry, she wanted to eat. In fact I shovelled a track in the back yard five days earlier so she could do her zoomies in the snow because she loved to run. At eleven years old she still kept up with the younger greys. Furthermore, I had everything all planned out. We pre-adopted another female grey who would arrive when Bailey was much older. We'd have three greyhounds for awhile, but that was okay. To me Bailey didn't look sick or in pain. This must be some sort of cruel joke. And then she threw up again.
I knew in my heart that this agonizing decision would also be the most loving, so Bailey was set free from pain the next day on December 17, 2009. But even this decision was a process. It was supposed to be our last vet visit with Bailey. However, I had many many questions before I could let her go. Can the tumours be removed, were there any other options, are you absolutely 100% sure the tumours are cancerous, and on and on. My vet knew I was not ready at that particular moment to let her go so he gave us some medicine to coat her stomach to make her as comfortable as possible and suggested we take her home to make a decision. I chose not to tell anyone; I wanted her last moments on earth to be quiet and peaceful with us. I did not want to share her with anyone. Plus I still clung to the hope that she would be able to keep her food down and I would be given the gift of a few more days or weeks with her. I was in denial. What an emotional roller coaster! But when she threw up again I could not deny that my love was not enough to save her. If it could, I swear she would have lived forever. I loved her too much to let her suffer any longer. Three hours later we returned to the vet's office. I still regret laying her down on a cold stainless steel table to die. As I cradled her head in my arms, I stroked her and kissed her softly while I whispered how much I loved her and not to be afraid any more, everything was going to be alright. She slipped away peacefully in my arms with my husband standing by, leaving her paw prints forever etched on my heart.
At an intellectual level I knew this would be painful, yet I was not prepared at an emotional level for this amount of pain and at times it felt overwhelming. Adopting Bailey was undoubtedly one of the happiest moments of my life. Losing Bailey was undoubtedly one of the saddest moments of my life. I grieved for her far more than I had for friends and relatives. Fortunately our male greyhound, Ben, still needed my care and was often the only reason I got out of bed in the morning during those bleak dark days following Bailey's death. I love Ben so much and he loves going on walks so off we went even though I was devastated and heart broken beyond belief. My life was forever changed. Now I understood how distraught people felt when they lost their greyhound and sending condolences took on a whole new meaning. So did the term “heart dog” for I had just lost mine. Profound sadness invaded me right to my soul. And at the same time, I was angry with my vet because he told me last fall that it was not cancer. I felt that my concerns at the time were not taken seriously. I was also angry with myself and the whole universe. Why did I not have an ultrasound performed sooner? Why didn't I do something to prevent this? Why did I not recognize this last fall and have some sort of medical procedure done to save her? How long had I let her suffer? What did I do to deserve this? Why me?
Thankfully, my husband and I mentioned long before Bailey was sick, that we would always have greyhounds in our lives as a way of honouring her memory. So when a dear friend from Philadelphia called two days later and offered a shoulder to cry on, she happened to mention that a greyhound farm in Pennsylvania was closing and I started thinking about adopting again. She gave us a great reference and an adoption group, Greys Landing in Pittsburg, agreed to adopt out to us even though we lived five-and-a-half hours away.
I struggled with some nagging doubts and questioned whether or not it was too soon, could I love again, would I be willing to love again, would I make comparisons, would Ben be okay with another companion, can I grieve and love at the same time, and on and on. I was especially concerned about dealing with death again because my feelings were still so raw. However, I was able to ignore some of the negative chatter going on in my head and listen to my heart for a brief moment, or at least long enough to discuss it with my husband who quickly agreed to a road trip over Christmas. I needed a diversion, plus I read about a timid red greyhound in Philadelphia, Glo (Glo's Destroyer), looking for her forever home long before Bailey had to leave us. Although some potential adopters had inquired about Glo, they chose another foster and she was still waiting to be adopted.
The director of Greys Landing graciously invited us to their home at Christmas and also lined up visits to a number of greyhounds waiting for their forever home on farms and kennels in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. I did not realize it at the time, but my husband was not aware of Glo’s existence. I thought I mentioned it; however, in my grief strickened state I was not really sure of anything. We took Ben to meet all of these greys so he could pick out his new companion. But Ben was out of his comfort zone so we knew it was up to us to choose. Ben is such a loving gentle greyhound; I knew he would get along with any of them. My husband really connected with a female greyhound on one of the farms. Yet, I convinced him to drive on to Philadelphia because I just had to meet Glo, and if I did not meet her, I was afraid I would always wonder if she was the “one”. For some reason I felt such tenderness towards her even though I only heard about her on a greyhound forum. When her foster dad brought her into the room, my face lit up. Later he told me he could see the adoration in my eyes . The date was Sunday, December 27, 2009, just ten days after Bailey was put to sleep.
My husband trusts my instincts implicitly; after all I searched for Ben for at least a month after meeting him and his foster parents at a greyhound playgroup before I found his adoption group. He is an amazing greyhound and we are grateful that his adoption group who normally chooses the dog for you, allowed us to choose him. Once again my instincts were right on, even while grieving deeply for Bailey. Moreover, I honoured Bailey’s memory as promised and in the most loving way possible by providing a caring home for Glo.
I renamed her Brooke because her call name, Glo, just did not feel right for me. I nicknamed her Gloworm, along with many other cute nicknames, out of respect for her racing legacy. It didn’t take long for this sweet shy female to fill our hearts with love and our home with joy again. She cuddled with Ben right away which I suspect made her feel safer and more secure in her new environment. Although Ben was not used to a snuggler, he tolerated her. Ben was instrumental in helping Brooke adapt to our home and our routine, and she learned to trust us within a few days. She's so comical; she makes me laugh every day and my heart overflows with love for both Ben and Brooke.
There were times though, when I felt very guilty. How could I fall in love again with another greyhound so soon? Brooke was red and Bailey was red, was this a replacement? If Bailey did not die, then I would not have adopted Brooke, and these questions added more guilt on top of guilt. But no one ever said life would be easy or fair, it just is what it is. When these troubling thoughts enter my mind, I remember my vow of honouring Bailey’s memory and deal with the guilt fairly quickly and easily.
The grieving process for me is just that, an ongoing process. I still cry, albeit not as often, and I still feel sad, however, I'm not as overwhelmed by it. The anger, despair, depression, and feelings of loss have become less intense over these last six months, and yet my feelings of grief still surface from time to time. In spite of this I accept it, surrender to it, breathe through it, and continue to soldier on. And I can now say Bailey died. For so long, I used words such as left us, or put to sleep, or said good bye. Death seemed so final, cold and heartless.
I love Brooke more than I ever thought possible and will never regret adopting her so soon after Bailey's death. Brooke will always be an addition to our family, never a replacement. My heart is big and has room for many more greyhounds to come.
As I reflect on this today, I wonder what would have happened if my friend did not call me. What would have happened if a greyhound farm was not closing? What would have happened if the director of Greys Landing had not allowed us to adopt Brooke because of distance? Fortunately, I am a believer in fate and try to remain open to opportunities in life. When one door closes, another door will open if I am receptive to it even when unsure of the outcome. What I do know for sure is that I am very grateful for listening to my heart for one brief fleeting moment because Brooke has been the best grief counsellor, and I love her more than I could ever express here with words.
What I also know for sure is that it is possible to love and grieve and the same time. And how did I know it was time to adopt again? My heart told me.