It had been a long, hard year.
Heather's mother had stage IV lung cancer. We'd just seen her over Thanksgiving, and though we dared not say it, we knew the end was near.
We'd moved from Illinois to Wisconsin, then back to Illinois—all in the space of eight months—due to an unfortunate set of job circumstances.
We'd sold a condo, moved, bought a house—then had to sell that house, turn around, move back, and buy another condo.
And we had just lost our nearly 18-year-old diabetic cat.
Others have suffered far worse misfortunes. Still, we felt the universe owed us one.
So, when we started out on our series of appointments to meet available greyhounds on a cold Sunday in December 2010, we expected a slam-dunk. An immediate connection. After all, we were both dog lovers—the type of people who stop to pet any canine passing on the street; the type to report back on the dogs we've seen while out on a run. Soon after we'd starting dating three years earlier, we'd met a couple walking their two greyhounds. We'd fallen in love with the breed and immediately made a pact: when we were in a position to get a dog, it would be a member of this lean, noble, gentle breed.
But Adoption Day, like most other days in our “hell year” of 2010, did not go as expected. We started out at a mall west of Chicago, where we met a brindle male. He was handsome, but his eyes searched for his foster family as we walked him around the Eddie Bauer store. This dog had already found his people—and they weren’t us.
We weren’t worried; we had an appointment to meet another greyhound being boarded at a kennel. We drove into the city, anxious to meet the small gray brindle female whose pictures and personality we'd been admiring online for weeks.
Yet when we arrived, the greyhound rescue staff instead introduced us to a fawn female. Thought sweet, she seemed fearful of us. (Or of Paul, anyway, who is 6'3” with a deep voice.) Next up was an energetic, entertaining, clownish female who seemed a bit too “busy” for our urban condo environment. Then, the volunteers ushered out a black female who dashed around the introduction pen, utterly oblivious to us. Another beautiful dog, to be sure—with, again, no interest whatsoever in joining our family.
Finally, we asked the staff, “What about the female that we had an appointment to meet? The one whose profile we saw on your website?”
Their reply: She had just been adopted by another couple.
Disappointed and heartsick, we tried to comfort each other as the volunteers scrambled to find another greyhound to show us. Why was nothing going our way? This was supposed to be easy. We loved dogs—greyhounds in particular. Would nothing good happen to us in 2010?
“Hambone,” the woman said. “We’ll bring out Hambone. He’s a big male.”
This was not what we had planned. We wanted a small female; hadn't they read our application?
Discouraged, we checked our watches and resigned ourselves to going home with no adoption papers signed. It was an annoyance, having to spend the compulsory few minutes with this “Hambone,” who undoubtedly would prove just as distant from us as the rest had been. What was the point? We’d rather be on our way to a glum dinner. We were ready for a few glasses of wine. We were ready to call it a day.
Then, we sensed motion at the door of the enclosure. In pranced the aforementioned male greyhound, white with blacks spots, ears pricked, tail held high. His stance seemed to say, “Who are you?”
And “Will you be my friends?”
And “Can we go home, already?”
He knew before we did; he trusted before we knew.
He trotted over, his leash in the hand of a volunteer. Paul dropped to one knee and held out his arms.
The dog stepped into the embrace without hesitation, resting his chin on Paul’s shoulder.
Heather knelt next to them. The dog leapt into her arms—and, in his enthusiasm, knocked her right over.
We walked him around the enclosure. He stayed close by, never pulling on the leash, turning every few paces to make sure we were still with him. There was wagging and petting and praising and cuddling.
At one point, Heather turned to the volunteer and grinned, “We are grooving on this dog!” (Heather has not used the word “grooving” before or since.)
We learned that the “grooving” dog’s track name had been “NMS Underdawg” and that he had been a star in a litter of stars. As his kind brown eyes watched us, the volunteer told us that his training name, “Hambone,” came from his love of going up into the stands after races to meet the crowd.
We walked, we talked, we patted some more. And then, our time was up.
“Would you like us to show you some more dogs?”
Our eyes met, and we grimaced. It seemed cruel to ask that, within the dog's earshot! Already, we didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
“No,” we answered. “No, we’re done. Where do we sign?”
Reluctantly, we said our goodbyes; our new friend would need to spend a week in foster care before he came home to us. (Not that we would last that long; we scheduled a midweek visit!) He trotted away, a smile on his face. Somehow, he knew.
Already, he had made the transition from product to pet.
From cage to couch.
From lonely to loved.
From Underdawg to our Sam.