Two starfish

It was December, many years ago, when my partner and I were out holiday shopping. We stopped at a bookstore to buy a present and were greeted by a retired racing greyhound. An odd combination to be sure — books and greyhounds. But the dog was there as an ambassador, accompanied by his guardian, to introduce the public to the special and gentle nature of the retired racing greyhound. And this one was a pro. We were smitten with greyhounds from then on.

Flash forward to the start of the pandemic, some 20 years later, and we were still keeping up with greyhounds and following rescue groups on social media even though we’d never had one as a pet. With tracks closing due to covid, the need to find permanent homes for racing greyhounds was more urgent than ever. We applied to become a foster family through GPA-MN, a rescue group that finds homes for greyhounds in need, particularly retired racers. The foster family is a greyhound’s first brush with their new life, helping them transition from working dog to companion animal while they wait to be matched with their forever family and home.

Pete was our first foster. He was 90 pounds, easily as tall as our kitchen counter, and black as night. A dog’s first day of retired life is, surely, nothing but stress. They are separated from their familiar routines, transported a long distance, then plopped down in a completely foreign environment (a house!). For most of them, they’ve never been alone or away from other dogs or even walked up a flight of stairs. They don’t know “dog beds” or what it’s like to sample the dirty dishes in the dishwasher. They have no idea what it means to be a pet. Pete paced around and panted a lot the first day, all signs of stress.

Pete laying in lush, green grass.

Pete enjoying lush, green grass.

In two weeks, having settled in fairly well, Pete was matched with his forever home and we said goodbye. Pete didn’t glance back once as he was led away to his new life, a reminder of a dog’s capacity for trust and change.

Our next foster was named Constance, or Connie for short. She arrived on June 28 with about 10 other greyhounds needing homes. She was the beauty of the bunch, white with fawn spots, and as sweet as any dog could be made. We were certain that she would be with us a short time, just like Pete.

Connie, tounge out, by a yellow daisy.

Connie ended up in our care for more than three months. She was matched twice, but both fell through. Her first family ended up distraught in our driveway when they returned her. Having spent the weekend together, they knew she was something special but couldn’t make it work between her and their cats. The second never met her but decided their current dog wouldn’t tolerate a sibling. And so, Connie spent more and more time with us as she waited to be adopted.

Connie sitting comfortably on the couch

Connie discovers there are more comfortable surfaces than the floor.

Connie sitting on top of a tent laid out on the ground ready to put up.

We set up a tent in our backyard and Connie helped us get it all set up. Nice work.

Connie in the shallow water of a lake, looking out to the horizon.

Sometime in late August, we took a trip to my partner’s family vacation home (we call them cabins here in the north) and Connie went with us. We spent the weekend outdoors, enjoying a short respite from home. As we were packing up to leave, Connie put two and two together and jumped into the back of our car and sat down. She was saying, “Hey, I’m coming too. I belong with you!” It was about then that we realized Connie had found her home.

Connie laying in her bed, in the car, surrounded by luggage.

And so, that’s how a dog named Connie came to be in our family. We had absolutely no plans of adopting a dog but sometimes, you have to recognize the incredible gift in front of you and accept. We work every day to make sure we are a gift to her, too. Thank you GPA-MN for bringing her into our life and all the amazing human-dog connections you make.

2020’s been a ride, to say the least. It felt like we could do very little to make things better, or perhaps, all we could do were little things and those felt like a drop in the bucket. In the end, we only fostered two greyhounds since we wanted to get Connie well settled after adopting her, but our plan is to return to fostering in the spring. I am reminded of a passage I read in one of my son’s graphic novels. It was the inspiration for the end of that novel, and it’s perfect to end this too.

A guy walking along the seashore saw a kid picking up starfish from the sand and gently throwing them back into the ocean.

“Whatcha doing?” asked the guy.

“These starfish were washed ashore,” said the kid, “and they will die if they don’t get back to the sea.”

“But there are thousands of starfish along this shore,” said the guy. “You can’t possibly make a difference.”

The kid gently threw another starfish out into the sea.

“I made a difference to that one,” she said.*


* This text lives in the back of Dog Man: Fetch-22 by Dav Pilkey. It is Pilkey’s very pared down version of the more complex work The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley along with another adaptation of it by Joel Barker. An unconventional reference, but hey, credit where credit is due.

Bette(r) Days celebrates the things that did not suck in 2020. Each day in December, we’ll be posting about the highlights of our collective garbage fire of a year, type-related or not.