Grace the Wonder Dog (part 3)

I adored Grace. I loved putting on her collar and stepping out with her into the neighbourhood. We walked a lot. I wanted to socialise her, minimalise her fear of cars and noise, people and other dogs. In the street, despite her skinny frame and nervous temperament, people stopped and turned back to get a better look. They would comment on what a beautiful dog she was. Children in particular stopped and tugged at her ears or threw their arms round her neck and hugged her tightly. I was delighted to see how good she was with kids: treating them as puppies- she was always tolerant, patient and affectionate with them, even the tiniest toddlers. I strode down the street with my gorgeous blond dog and pretended she was mine for ever, like girly best friends at school. The responsability and rhythmn of walking and feeding her became incorporated into my daily routine, and I felt that in a way it was a novelty and a revelation to care more for something else than for myself. The first thing I did when I walked through the door was hug her and immediately take her for a walk, whether I felt like it or not. Walking through my front door to a happy welcome every day became a pleasure. Grace was never a tail-wagger, never a sloppy, goofy dog who pleaded for your attention. She was aloof and self-contained, affectionate in a lazy, wolfish way. But she did whine in the back of her throat when I opened the door, and she would heave her wasted body off the sofa and limp, tail swaying a little, to greet me. For her this was expressive. It touched me. Also she brought to my home a peaceful aura that only a curled up dog who occasionally snores can bring to a home. Suddenly I had permanent company and a household rather than just a house. I had what people call a ‘home life’, something cosy and infused with love and dependence, rather than just me sitting in my pants eating pizza and watching NipTuck obsessively. I was loved. I lived with someone and that other being loved me with far more devotion and faithfulness than any partner had done up until now.

On the other hand I sometimes felt resentful and worn out. I was beginning to experience, for the first time in my life, what it is to be a woman and look after everyone else before yourself. Getting up at 6.45 to walk her before work was killing me. It was even worse when she started to develop agrophobia. I don’t know whether she disliked the traffic or the people, or the overload of smells and sights, or whether she was just genuinely exhausted and in recovery but she became utterly lethargic about going out to walk. She was more of a coach potato than me. Some days I slipped the collar round her neck and she just looked up at me. It was the same look I got when I dealt her the Dog Whisperer rolled-up newspaper trick, when in order to startle a dog out of bad behaviour and get its attention you smack a rolled up newspaper on the floor near it. The first time I did that she rolled her eyes up at me, bored and totally unimpressed as if to say ‘Yeah?….. And your point was…? I got this look early in the morning when she didn’t want to go for a walk. Sometimes I had to physically lift her off the sofa and drag her across the floor by the neck. She played dead like a sack of potatoes. Luckily I have parquet rather than carpet and could slide her along, otherwise she would have worked out a way to just dig her claws in and cling like a threatened Koala.

On top of the lethargy she developed an irrational fear that was becoming embarassing ā€“ a fear of black men. This wasn’t going to go down very well in Lavapies, and to be honest, the last thing I wanted was a white supremacist pet. She was so unsubtle about it as well. I remember sitting on one of the benches with her one night, having a quick rest halfway through our walk. An African walked past and as he drew level with us she jumped like Scooby Doo almost into my arms and hid her face behind me to get away from him. She would do this sort of thing all the time. She also shied away from groups of arabs. It was very race specific. I would cringe with embarrassment, after all, where do children and animals learn these kinds of prejudices if not at home?…. I could only assume she’d been the victim of some abuse while on the Estate at the hands of Africans or arabs. In general she wasn’t great with men, though she could be a fag hag in this respect, building an instant rapport with gay men and women.

She was also becoming expensive. I had known some money was going to be spent, but vets fees began to mount up, money I didn’t have but could hardly refuse to spend on her. I wanted her vaccinated and healthy. She was becoming jealous and a little difficult when she was out and about with me. I was her wolf-mother now, and she guarded me viciously, baring her teeth at other dogs if I showed them any gestures of affection or attention. I imagine there was a deep-seated fear I was going to be taken away from her, I did understand it. It was not a pretty characteristic however and it got worse. I was in the park with her one day chatting to a very nice young man with the cutest puppy. In fact it was hard to decide who was cuter- him or his pet. The puppy bounded over to me to say hello after I had been chatting to its owner for a while, and Grace growled at it, and before I had the chance to stop her, she nearly bit its head off. I don’t think it was actually hurt but it pelted into its owners arms yelping more in fear than pain, and he moved away suspiciously, eyeing up my hound as if she were a dangerous beast. I was to see this look again shortly, the first time I tried to re-house her.

This was no easy task. Do not think for a moment Spain is anything like the UK with regard to animals. It has the highest percentage of abandoned and mistreated animals in Europe, one of its least attractive features. Greyhounds in particular are dumped in huge numbers just after hunting season, when they have served their purpose. It was just after hunting season. All the refuges were full. I wasn’t going to send her to the municipal dog pound as I knew how little time animals have before being put down. The thought was unbearable, after everything else she had been through, to drop her at a dog shelter and run, in the hope she would be adopted before being injected. No, I had rescued this dog, and I had a responsability to see this through. I rang round all the privately run refuges in Madrid and was told the same story everywhere ā€“ ‘sorry, we’d love to help but we’re totally full. If you hold onto her till we find an owner we can put her on our database for adoption. It can take some time, though. Months or sometimes even years in some cases….’

But, as luck would have it, apparently it wasn’t going to be too long before there was an offer to re-house her. Becoming increasingly dejected about the whole procedure, I started telling everyone I knew about her. Maybe someone would know someone who… and in fact, somebody did. I was put in touch with a friend of a friend who was looking for a rescue dog. Funny isn’t it, how things can look so good on paper, everyone says how compatible you are, how perfect you’re going to be for each other and how you’re just going to love each other and then the chemistry turns out to be so wrong? A bit like internet dating or a blind date set up by misguided friends. It was a nice idea. It’s the thought that counts.

On paper it looked good even to me. I had met the woman, been out to her house in the outskirts of Madrid almost in the Sierra. She was a New Age hippy type training to be a masseuse and holistic practitioner- I’d been out there for an indifferent and expensive Shiatsu massage, but her heart was in the right place. The home was an untidy medley of rickety homemade furniture, long grass, bare feet, childrens’ toys strewn about under Athena-Buddha posters, wind chimes on the porch and rainbow washing. The garden was enormous and rambling, in fact, I’d be tempted to call it ‘land’ rather than ‘garden’. She had a small, friendly baby with a ridiculous hippy name I can’t remember now, a name which in Mayan means God of peace or something, and a daughter of about ten called ‘Luna’ (Moon). You get the general idea. They’d had a dog before, always had dogs in fact, but it had recently run away and been run over. The husband worked in travel and was away a lot. They were looking for another family pet. It all sounded so perfect, really. Except it turned out Grace wasn’t particularly taken in by New Age bullshit either. I hadn’t counted on her being such an opinionated hound.

It started out well. I was due to go away with work for 5 days, to Barcelona for Expoquimia with Angel and Pili and she offered to take the dog and look after her while I was away, with the end result that if it worked out they could keep her and if they weren’t sure I could take her back on my return. It seemed a very sensible proposal, no strings attached, which would work out for everyone. We all met in the Retiro. That day Grace behaved like a lady. She was docile and obedient, happy to run on the lead with Luna and roll around in the grass with her and the baby. The baby liked her and soon she was trotting around after him on the lead and sniffing him gently. The mother eyed her approvingly, and said,

‘She seems very nice. A good dog. Er.. will she get any bigger?’

‘Oh no,’ I assured her confidently. ‘No chance of that. She’s at least 2, shouldn’t think she’ll be growing much more.’

‘It’s just that we were looking for a big dog. We’re used to big dogs.’

‘Uh-huh?’

‘Luna seems to like her.’

It was decided that they would take her for now and with a heavy heart I walked back to the car with them.

‘Don’t worry,’ said the masseuse, ‘She’ll be fine, we’ll look after her.’

Grace jumped into the back seat with her new best friends and didn’t even look out of the window as the car drew away. She seemed to be part of the family already. I was aware that she was a pack animal and comfortable running with others. She needed her own pack. Two isn’t big enough. Still, I’d hoped for and expected at least a subdued glance as she left, possibly even some playing up. Dogs are such whores… I contemplated as I walked home along the terrace-lined Calle Argumosa, glad I was wearing sunglasses in the winter sunshine so you couldn’t see my eyes red and sore.

Near the end of the week I got a text message informing me that they wouldn’t, after all, be keeping Grace so could I collect her when I got back? When I got to the house it was dusk. Luna and I looked and called for Grace in the long grass outside. Eventually she came loping through the undergrowth like a big cat, eyeing me warily. She circled me a few times, slouching and trembling, as though I was there to punish her. When I crouched down to greet her all of a sudden she was all over me, snuffling and whining as her paws tangled in my hair and her tail wagged for the first time properly. Did Grace want to come home with me? I sensed that she did. Didn’t she like the new family, then? Apparently not. As soon as the father came home she refused to go inside the house, prowling round the garden instead and running for cover when he called. She didn’t much like the food they were giving her either, and started digging up bones in the garden. One day she had padded into the kitchen with her jaws clamped round and chomping happily on a skull. Not just any skull: the skull of her predecessor, the first dog who had run away and been run over. This was in front of the children. Repulsed, the mother had shooed her outside again and taken the dog’s head off her. To make her intentions even clearer, Grace had run away the night before, and had only just been found this morning by neighbours. They’d been worried sick all night.

‘Think you could just leave me here with these freaks, did you? Why do you think the other one ran away? You have got to be joking.’

The mother looked at the offending hound as I clipped on her collar and tugged her back dwon the steps to the car. She said,

‘She’s been a really good dog, though. She’s a lovely dog. Good luck’ Her eyes said ‘Get that devil vampire dog away from me and my babies. Don’t ever let it come near us again-‘

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