The Love of an Italian Greyhound: My Experience of Love and Loss
A Pivotal Moment in My Life
Age is taking its toll. Her face is turning gray and she doesn’t jump up with the same enthusiasm when she hears me coming these days. The faint clouds of cataracts are beginning to form over eyes that once glowed in the dark, and I look at her and think how different life will be when she is gone.
Luna came to me when she was eight weeks old, a happy, healthy puppy with a mind of her own. She wasn’t the retired racing greyhound I had wanted—but from the moment I saw her, I knew she was mine. Her arrival, like so many other events in my life, was a pivotal moment. She had come to teach me something but it would be a while before I understood.
A Mother's Wish
When I think back, I can remember a time when I was a challenge to my parents. Strong willed and hardheaded, I thought I knew it all. During one of my less-than-fine moments, I distinctly remember my mother saying to me, “I hope you have a child just like you one day.” That statement may have something to do with my decision not to have children. I was confident that I would not have handled the challenges of a teenager with the same grace and patience as my mother. I thought it best not to find out.
As I aged and grew into a more mature young woman, I forgot those words of my Mom, until—Luna came to live with me. I had done the research and understood that Italian Greyhounds could be challenging, but I wasn’t influenced by the experience of others. Still hardheaded, I didn’t think that this puppy of mine was anything like all the others. How wrong I was.
The First Two Years Were Tough
The first two years of sharing my home with Luna were almost more than I could handle. Her unwillingness to be fully potty-trained drove me to occasional screaming rants that did nothing to improve the situation. Over many sleepless nights of wondering what to do next, it finally occurred to me that I had been warned. Italian Greyhounds are frequently turned over to rescue for their horrible potty habits. I would have to live with it or surrender her, which wasn’t an option.
Luna had another irritating behavior that seemed impossible to conquer. This little dog demanded attention and could transform from an adorable puppy to an aggressive tyrant when her needs were unfilled. Her attention-seeking behaviors ranged from incessant barking to the lunges that are typical of the breed. The lunges were often accompanied by playful bites from razor-sharp baby teeth. I began to wear long sleeves to hide the bruises and scars.
At my wit's end, I hired a trainer to do what seemed impossible for me; to teach this crazy dog some manners. The trainer failed too. Never one to give up, I hired a second trainer who was convinced that clicker training and treats would turn negative behavior to a more positive one. It probably does for most dogs but not this one. My beautiful Luna would perform flawlessly until the treats and trainer were gone and then revert back to her old attention-seeking, bad behavior. It lasted two years.
The Turning Point: Two Years Old
It was clear that at the age of two, the switch in Luna’s brain was flipped and she became the most endearing and loving dog I had hoped to have. She entertained me with her whimsy and I began to see the “little clown” that had always been there but just needed time to grow up. Luna was bright and learned tricks quickly and with little practice. She could be entertained with almost anything but nothing was better than chasing the red dot of a laser pointer or one of the colorful balloons I purchased at the discount store in volume. She was also partial to the dozens of stuffed toys that filled her basket in the living room and would drag them out one by one each evening for a game of toss and retrieve. She resisted all the training that I attempted to have her put them back in the basket. That was my job.
We've Both Grown Up and Learned Some Lessons
It has been 10 years now and we have become lifelong buddies. We communicate without words and a look from Luna can bring me to tears. I am still amazed at the love I see in those beautiful eyes when I need it the most. Thinking back over the years, I am sure that she has never judged me for not greeting her with the same enthusiasm she showed me sometimes. She has never held a grudge when I worked late and her food bowl wasn’t my first priority when arriving home. With age, Luna has learned to sit and stare at me when I am too busy to sit and provide the lap she wants to curl up in. She waits patiently for me to lift the covers up so she can burrow under the electric blanket on a cold winter’s night. She has grown with me in this journey of sharing our lives and perhaps we have both absolved the pain of those earlier days.
An Italian Greyhound and a Mother's Wish
Italian Greyhounds have few health problems, but to love one is to be ever watchful for the opportunity to break the tiny bones of those long, slender legs. It is a fear that everyone lives with if an Italian Greyhound shares your home. Luna and I have been lucky. We have survived 10 years of a very active life without a broken bone.
In fact, Luna had never had an injury until very recently when she turned too quickly and banged her muzzle on the door frame. A large hematoma quickly appeared on the bony structure beneath her eye. I expected it would resolve on its own with time. But no, that wasn't the case for Luna. Her boo-boo turned into a raging carinal abscess and required the extraction of most of her teeth.
I found myself worrying with the same intensity that my mom must have felt when I wasn't well. I was reminded of my mom’s love for her children—and for a moment, I understand the depth of that love. And, I think my mother’s wish has come true.
Learning the Lesson of Unconditional Love
Some might say that it s foolish to compare the love of a pet to the love of a child and to them I would say: rubbish. Children and pets love unconditionally. They forgive our transgressions without judgment and they love us even when we are not worthy of love. Children and animals allow us to learn from our mistakes and sometimes provide us with the opportunity to make those mistakes. Theirs is a love beyond measure. It is a love that lasts a lifetime and shows us the best and worst of who we are.
When Luna came to live with me, I did not know or understand that 10 years later we would have such an undeniable bond of co-existence. There were lessons I had missed in life when I chose not to have children. Luna has taught me the meaning of unconditional love and she has shown me that love does conquer. She has taught me to be patient and forgiving and when I look at her cloudy eyes and touch those soft white hairs that once were blue, I am moved beyond words. Time passes and life changes but where there is love, all is possible.
January 20, 2014: The Final Chapter
It has been a year since I wrote this piece about the love of an Italian Greyhound and this morning, at 9:30 A.M., I said my final goodbye to my precious Luna. Her last month was a hard one as she developed tumors on various parts of her little body. Her breathing became labored over these last few days, too.
On a recent visit to her veterinarian for what we thought was bronchitis. While there, Luna had a seizure. Tumors began popping up rapidly and growing equally fast. She was scheduled for surgery this morning to remove the tumors and to get a pathological diagnosis. A kind and loving stranger suggested a chest x-ray before doing surgery. Our vet agreed and this morning a chest x-ray showed that Luna's lungs were filled with tumors.
Luna could not get well. Her days of being a happy-go-lucky, silly girl were behind us. I made the only right decision— to end her suffering. It hurts and it will take time for the pain in my heart to heal but I know that Luna understood. She was very brave, but I always knew that. This was a decision made out of love; the love between an Italian Greyhound named Luna and her "person." Run free little girl, run free!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2013 Linda Crist