What I Learned in Ecuador: El Lechero

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Rachael and I spent 10 days in Ecuador. We learned some things. This was one of those.

El Lechero, the magical healing tree, is neither magical nor easy to find. Also, it’s true, life really is more about the journey than the destination.

A few years ago, when Rachael and I went to Bali, we used a Lonely Planet guide book as our travel bible. We loved everything it recommended. In Ecuador, we had a different experience. The book listed outdated prices, promoted businesses that had since closed, neglected to mention key attractions, and made a big deal of things that turned out to be just meh. El Lechero, for instance.

As I mentioned before, we spent our first full Ecuadorian day in Otavalo at the market. I bought a warm winter hat. Rachael learned Spanish numbers while negotiating the price for some colorful earrings. We ate outstanding street food, including a spicy plate of fried rice and a sweet figs-and-cheese sandwich. In the afternoon, to burn off a few of those calories and stretch our legs, we decided to hike to a tree known as El Lechero. Our book heralded this tree, just outside of town, for its magical healing properties and claimed that the peaceful uphill walk there would provide fresh air and great views. It got the second half right.

We headed out of town on Piedrahita avenue, and as soon as we left the city center, the road went vertical. We followed a series of switchbacks, then some stairs, then more switchbacks, slowly making our way up the hillside (mountainside?). For maybe the first kilometer of the walk, there were regular signs pointing us in the right direction. But soon enough, we found ourselves puffing up narrow rural roads, climbing past meager homes and open fields, with very little idea of where we might find the tree. Whenever a taxi sped past, we wished we had taken one, while also taking it as a good sign, since surely those other travelers were also on the path to the magic tree.

Once, we missed a turn, walked several hundred meters in the wrong direction, and might have kept on going forever, if not for a nice local woman who pointed us back the other way. The hike was difficult, forcing us to take regular breaks to wipe the sweat from our brows and catch our breaths. Luckily, as the book said, the air was fresh, a nice change from the smog in Quito. And while we didn’t have much breath left to lose, the views were, indeed, breathtaking.

Like this one:

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And this one:

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And this one:

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And this one:

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And this one:

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We kept walking…and walking…and walking, and the only trouble was, we never came to a magical healing tree. I was expecting something old, tall, and strong, with maybe some lights or birds or something. We couldn’t have missed it, could we? The guide book had promised frequent signs pointing us in the right direction, but we’d seen none in quite a while. Our guide book said that the walk to the tree should be 4 kilometers, and that if we continued 1 kilometer farther, we’d arrive at Parque Condor, which, for those of you who are exceptionally bad at Spanish, is a park for condors. Endangered Andean condors are among the world’s largest flying animals. We did see some signs for the bird park, so we followed those.

We walked past a church, a bunch of cows chomping on grass, a few kids drinking beer and screwing around on bikes. We walked past a few scraggly trees that couldn’t possibly be magical. And we even walked past a restaurant with a sign that promoted its proximity to El Lechero. We did not, however, come across El Lechero itself.

Eventually, we arrived at Parque Condor, just in time for its afternoon bird show, which managed to be awesome despite the fact that we understood basically nothing that the guide said. I spent most of the time envying the view from his office (and wondering about how we missed that stupid tree):

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The birds were cool, too:

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Afterward, needing to catch a bus back to Quito and not having the time or energy to walk all the way back down the hill, we had someone at the park call us a taxi. When the driver showed up, we asked for a ride back into town. The price would be $5. We asked if on the way, he might be able to drive us past El Lechero. He smiled. He said some things in Spanish that I didn’t understand, but the gist was that the tree was old and wonderful. He would drive us there, but it would cost us an extra buck. We agreed.

It turned out, we had missed an unmarked turn near the aforementioned restaurant. A rutty dirt road led to a cluster of trees, including the great El Lechero, which was not impressively tall, not impressively round, not impressive in any way. (It’s in the center of the first photo above.) The magical healing tree was marked with just a plastic sign strung from a different tree.

In the end, El Lechero was not worth the extra dollar we paid to see it. But I wouldn’t trade the beautiful walk we took to find it for all the money in the world.

What I Learned in Ecuador: Guinea Pigs in a Bag

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Rachael and I spent 10 days in Ecuador. We learned some things. This was one of those.

There are bags full of guinea pigs.

On our first full day in Ecuador, we took a bus from Quito to Otavalo for the Saturday market, one of the largest street bazaars in the Andes. Most of the market is devoted to the sale of clothing, artwork, and food produced by the city’s large indigenous population—impossibly warm stocking caps and sweaters made of alpaca fur, bright hammocks and scarves woven in traditional designs, jewelry made from stones in every color of the rainbow. But on the outskirts of town is a sideshow known as the animal market. There, our Lonely Planet guide book promised, we would observe chickens, pigs, and “bags of guinea pigs.” It turns out that in Ecuador, guinea pigs are known as cuy and are something of a regional delicacy. If you have any emotional attachment to guinea pigs, you should definitely not do a Google image search for “cuy.”

To reach the animal market, we got off the bus to Otavalo a stop early, then crossed a few heart-stopping lanes of speeding traffic to a dusty lot dotted with portable toilets and pies of the variety into which one does not want to step. We arrived around noon, too late to see the morning’s big cow and pig sales. But toward the back, merchants were still offering smaller animals. We saw makeshift wire pens crowded with chickens. Customers left carrying hens by their feet like live grocery bags. Boxes held puppies, while older dogs milled about among cages of ducks.

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Then, we saw it. A red mesh bag full of furry little lumps—guinea pigs destined to become dinner. Briefly, we considered a rescue mission. We could buy a few of the cute rodents, then set them free around the corner. But as we discussed the details of our plan, holes emerged. For one thing, such an emancipation effort might be a cultural affront to local cuy eaters. For another, Otavalo is full of wild dogs. How long could a newly liberated guinea pig expect to survive on the street? Plus, we were pretty sure that upon returning to the U.S., we’d be asked at customs, “Did you come into contact with any livestock during your trip?” Walking through the market probably wouldn’t qualify. Starting an Underground Railroad for guinea pigs probably would.

In the end, we neither freed any guinea pigs, nor did we sample any cuy. These cuddly-looking guys might have still ended up roasted and on a plate, but it wasn’t going to be ours.


Rachael took the second photo; the first one, I found here.

Dog With a Death Wish, or, A Raisin in the Slider

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Slider is a model pet with one tragic character flaw. It’s a shortcoming that he shares with millions of Americans and with his male owner: The dog can’t say no to food. Peanut butter is his kryptonite, chicken his crack cocaine. He’s addicted to counter-surfing. The seductive temptress luring him into a double life is named Little Debbie. In the past, this canine Achilles’ heel has been mostly amusing. We’d clean up the mess, then laugh about the latest misadventure with friends. But two weeks ago, Slider’s ravenous appetite almost killed him.

We had gone to Rachael’s parents’ house in Quincy for the weekend. On Saturday, most of the family went to a charity trivia night, leaving Rachael’s mom home alone with two sick grandchildren and a greyhound, probably not our most considerate move. When Becky went to bed, she brought Slider into the room with her, but she didn’t shut the door. She fell asleep around 10:30, and we came back about an hour later.

I was the first one through the door. As has become my habit when returning home, I walked around the house to see if Slider had caused any mischief. The upstairs living room was clear, but when I started to walk downstairs to where Slider’s bed was, I tripped on a can of Campbell’s Chunky. When I came around the corner and saw Slider’s bed, well, I’d never seen anything quite like it. At first, we thought he’d somehow gotten into the pantry, but the possibility that he’d suddenly learned how to operate door knobs seemed remote.

Then we recognized the real culprit. Rachael’s sister Lydia was traveling for work, which is why her children were staying with Rachael’s mom. Thoughtfully, she’d brought over a large cloth grocery bag full of food that the picky, sick kids might eat. Slider had found the bag on the dining room floor and dragged it downstairs to his bed. There, he’d devoured an entire package of egg noodles, a box of cereal, a sleeve of Ritz crackers, and a box full of fruit granola bars.

For a moment, Rachael, her dad, and I all just stared at the carnage. Then we divided tasks, taking Slider outside for what promised to be an interesting excrement experience and beginning the arduous cleaning process. Once we swept up all the crumbs, Rachael’s parents went to bed. Worried that the pooch looked ill, she asked me to check what was in the granola bars. Slider had mostly shredded the box, but the panel with the ingredient list was intact. In the section about the fruit filling, the first thing listed was raisins. On our fridge at home, we have a poster listing foods that are poisonous for dogs, and I remembered with horror that raisins were on the list.

We frantically called a 24-hour vet hotline and were told to induce vomiting. I think we were too worried about Slider’s health to be grossed out by that prospect. I roused Rachael’s dad, Dave, then ran to the store for hydrogen peroxide, since there was none in the house. By the time I returned, they had Slider in the garage, standing on cardboard. Dave got a funnel and put it in Slider’s mouth. I held the dog still, while Rachael poured a few tablespoons down his throat. Then Dave pulled out the funnel and clamped Slider’s mouth shut. Slider thrashed about and hacked, but he swallowed about half of the liquid. We repeated the same process twice more, then waited. Within about five minutes, Slider’s stolen feast made its unwelcome return.

Rachael and I stayed up with him all night, partly out of concern and partly because nobody could have slept through his hours of coughing. The next day, following the vet’s orders, we withheld food, but did give Slider a little water. Twice, when no one was watching, he threw up wrappers on my in-laws’ carpet. Around midday, we decided to get him home, covering the back of my new car in protective blankets. That evening, he seemed to be feeling better, but in the middle of the night, he got up and vomited again.

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In the meantime, we’d done quite a bit of reading about how grapes and raisins affect dogs. Some don’t seem to be bothered. But for others, raisins cause kidney failure that is often fatal. Symptoms include lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea. We took Slider to the vet on Monday morning for a blood test that would show how his kidneys were holding up. Our vet gave us even more scary information about raisin poisoning—even a small dose can be fatal if a dog reacts poorly—then reassured us that as best he could tell, Slider appeared fine.

The vet gave Slider a shot to stop the vomiting (our dog always deals with being stabbed by a needle better than Rachael handles watching it). The vet recommended giving Slider a bit of water to see if he could keep it down, but the old saying proved true: No matter how many times we led him to his water bowl, we couldn’t make the greyhound drink. Later, we fed him some ground beef and rice, which I guess is like the canine equivalent of chicken soup and toast.

That night, after hours of nervous waiting, we finally got a call from the vet. He had good news. Slider’s kidneys were in tip-top shape. The test did reveal, however, that our dog’s thyroid number was low. The vet prescribed medication that should improve Slider’s skin and make him more active.

Increasing Slider’s activity level is great and all, but what we really need is a medicine that will help him choose his activities more wisely.

The Art of the Walk

10609593_10102633746827200_2678913566221894458_nIf the worst thing about having Slider is that he often collects and occasionally destroys our things, the single best thing is taking him for a walk.

Slider usually doesn’t wear his collar in the house, so when we pull it out of the closet, he knows it’s walk time. He goes bananas. He sneezes and snorts and runs in circles, his long tail helicoptering wildly and threatening doom to anything within reach. A headlock is sometimes required to calm him down enough to actually slide the collar over his ears and onto his neck. Because greyhounds have small heads that could easily slip out of regular collars, we use a martingale, which has a nifty loop of fabric that constricts when Slider pulls on his leash.

Out on the street, while Slider isn’t much for heeling, he generally lets us set the pace. He does, however, stop at every bush, shrub, and tree to lift his leg, mark his territory. On our street, that means pausing at just about every yard. “Hey, this is a walk, not a sniff,” I like to remind him. “Let’s go.” If it comes to a tug of war, I usually let him win. He takes great joy in discovering the world outside the house, and I feel guilty impeding his thrill of exploration.

Greyhounds are tall, sleek, regal, like the lovechild of a dog and a deer. They don’t look like other dogs, and therefore, they stand out from the crowd. Without ever making a sound, Slider makes an impression.

I’m not the sort of person who usually strikes up conversations with strangers on the street, but Slider has introduced me to dozens of my neighbors. “Oh, is he a greyhound?” they’ll ask. “Did you rescue him from the track?” When we answer both questions affirmatively, these people, especially the ones who object to dog racing, shower us in praise, lauding our good works as if we were the Good Samaritan and Mother Theresa. Just about everybody seems to know somebody who adopted a greyhound from Rescued Racers, and gee, aren’t those dogs just the greatest? Rather than wreck their hopes with tales of crushed Christmas ornaments and crushed dreams, I usually just say, “Yeah!” After all, we’re walking here, and this is Slider’s time to shine.

A relatively smaller, yet still surprisingly large, group of people are afraid of Slider. He’s unceasingly friendly, and he’s scared of almost everything, including cats, babies, and anything that makes noise. (More on his phobias another time.) But based solely on size, he can be intimidating. “Is he a doberman?” they’ll ask. A young child or an old woman or a strapping young man will see him coming. Their eyes will get big. They’ll take a couple of nervous stutter steps. Then they’ll cross to the other side of the street. I know this is terrible, but as someone who is the exact opposite of physically imposing, I feel a little proud when a particularly tough-looking guy runs scared from me and my dog.

While Slider occasionally spooks a meathead, he attracts children like he’s an  ice-cream truck. They are always remarkably polite. “Can I pet him?” they ask. Then once they are already petting him: “Does he bite?” Kids ask about his racing career or tell stories about their own dogs’ misdeeds, as parents roll their eyes in the background. Children, being children, are not always the most gentle, but Slider handles them like a pro, graciously submitting himself to all manner of rubbing and prodding, though occasionally he’ll try to hide behind us when he’s had enough.

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Walking Slider sounds awesome, right? It is, though every pleasant stroll with our greyhound can be ruined in an instant by the insidious furry scourge known as squirrels. Unlike most other creatures great and small, squirrels do not scare Slider. In fact, he wants to eat them, all of them, to eradicate them from the earth. We’ll be walking along at a leisurely pace, looking this way and that, appreciating nature’s beauty. Then Slider will spot a squirrel out of the corner of his eye and flat-out bolt. For this reason, I usually slide the loop at the end of his leash up around my arm, then grasp the leash farther down with one or both hands. Our dog is strong, and he can go from zero to 40 in just a few steps, which could easily knock a human companion off his feet.

Not helping matters, squirrels are assholes. The cheeky buggers seem to know that because Slider is on a leash, he can’t catch them. Rather than run up the nearest tree, the squirrel will tease us, standing in the middle of the sidewalk, waiting just long enough to make Slider think the prey is within reach, then darting up a tree just as I’m using every muscle in my body to yank him back. Though I would never let Slider off his leash for obvious safety reasons, in that moment, I cannot tell you how badly I want to let him go, just this once, to wipe the stupid grin off that squirrel’s face. He’s faster than you think, rodent.

Once, a squirrel’s bravado almost got it killed. It was dancing around the sidewalk, egging Slider on, then ran up a tree. Only it picked a short tree—a sapling, not a sequoia. Even at the top of the highest branch, the squirrel wasn’t out of reach. I did my best to wrestle Slider away, but he took one big chomp. The squirrel leaped away just in time, and the dog came away with a branch in his teeth.

Once Slider sees a squirrel, it’s all over. He is now in squirrel mode, with his squirrel radar activated, and there is no putting the squirrel genie back in the bottle. And our neighborhood has more squirrels than it does bushes. His ears, once aerodynamically tucked behind his head, are now erect. His eyes dart from left to right, scanning every nook for a bushy tail.

There is one good thing about Slider in squirrel mode, intently jogging down the street after anything that moves, with me getting an arm workout preventing him from killing woodland creatures: You’ve never seen a meathead cross the street so fast.

How the Greyhound Stole Christmas

IMG_4278OK, so the headline is a bit of an exaggeration. Slider didn’t wreck Christmas. If anything ruined the holiday, it was the nasty virus that took out Rachael. Even so, we spent a lovely few days in Quincy with her family, going to church, telling stories, playing cards, laughing a lot. I came away with the Song of Ice and Fire box set (I won’t need to borrow your books anymore, Shannon), a super hip pair of Beats by Dre headphones, and a totally ridiculous Knicks sweater that I’ll wear to all future Christmas parties. I gave some cool gifts, too. That’s where the dog came in.

Every year, we do a gift exchange with a small group of friends. This year, I drew the name of an expectant mother, who said she wanted stuff for the forthcoming child. As a typically clueless dude, I didn’t know what to buy, but I spent more than an hour in Target, judging the cuteness of outfits, comparing prices, pondering the practicality of various gadgets, and trying to decide which toys would be the most fun for a newborn. It’s not easy, trying to put yourself in a baby’s shoes. In the end, I bought three green, yellow, and gray onesies with a frog theme, three matching hats, and one Sophie the Giraffe, which is basically the coolest infant toy ever.

I brought this haul home and stored it in a high place, far from Slider’s reach. Then one evening, Rachael said she was going to wrap all of the presents, so I handed her my gift. Something came up (i.e. Rachael fell asleep), so she ended up just stashing all of the presents and wrapping supplies behind the tree overnight. The next day, while we were at work, Slider went for my gift. I think the plastic Target bag initially drew his attention, and once he noticed Sophie, it was all over. I came home to find him lying on top of the clothes, the onesies covered in hair. Sophie’s box had been destroyed. With her squeaker, the giraffe fit right in with the dog’s other annoying chew toys. A few ornaments had been knocked off the tree.

Upon discovering his misdeeds, I was devastated. All my thoughtful shopping had been wasted. But Rachael came to the rescue, salvaging the clothes with a lint brush and ordering a new Sophie online.

A few days later, we came home to find that Slider had kidnapped and beheaded the plaster Joseph from our nativity set. In the dog’s defense, the set was an antique that was already badly damaged and in need of replacement. Not in the dog’s defense, he ingested at least a few shards of the savior’s father.

On Christmas Eve, we drove the two hours to Slider’s grandmother’s house. He loves nothing more than riding in the back of our Outback, so the trip was a breeze. And for the first few days of the visit, he was on his best behavior, despite constantly being surrounding by large crowds of people, including small children. On Saturday, the Kecks had their big family Christmas celebration, where the mountain of gifts is always so tall, you can hardly see the tree. A couple of hours into the paper tearing, my brother-in-law and I went outside to bring in one final gift, for Rachael’s parents.

At this point, there was a bit of a miscommunication between me and my wife. I assumed that because I was going outdoors, she would watch the dog. She assumed that when Slider followed me out of the family room and up to the kitchen, he was with me. I returned inside just in time to see him making off with a cupcake from the counter. Before I could get it away from him, he’d downed it, wrapper and all.

As a present from her parents, Rachael received a beautiful nativity set to replace the one Slider had decapitated. Her dad even built us a stable.  I suppose now I should return the favor and give my mother-in-law a replacement cupcake.

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Slider

IMG_0515Last time, we left off with Slider destroying his cage, bringing an end to any hopes we had of crate training. The next day, when we left for work, we shut him in the guest bedroom, but he tried to dig his way out, leaving scratches and gouges in the door frame and floor.

We were beginning to think that Slider didn’t like being confined. Defeated, we gave him freedom of the house. When we had to leave again the following day, we shut the doors to all of the bedrooms and bathrooms—and prayed.

One of us (can’t remember which) came home at lunchtime to find that Slider had been busy. He’d picked up Rachael’s umbrella and carried it to his bed in the living room. He’d done the same thing with a scarf, some mail, a spatula, some kitchen towels, and a half dozen shoes.

He hadn’t chewed anything up. He was just hoarding it. Apparently, this isn’t all that uncommon. Lots of greyhounds are collectors. Maybe cuddling with our stuff while we were gone gave him a sense of comfort.

For a couple of weeks, it seemed like every time we came home, Slider had some surprise waiting for us. The best case scenario was finding only a few shoes and kitchen utensils in his bed.  Given his height, basically every counter or shelf on the first floor was within his reach. We were at his mercy. It was good motivation to keep the house clean and the dishes washed (though even Slider carrying them around and slobbering on them wasn’t enough to convince Rachael to put her shoes away).

When people would ask me how it was going with our new dog, I didn’t know how to answer. While we were home, Slider was a model pet. He was affectionate, happy, easy-going, playful, very sleepy. But when we were gone, it was like he morphed into a four-legged terrorist bent on wreaking havoc upon our home.

For the first few days, Slider didn’t bother the bananas sitting on the counter. Then one night, Rachael gave him half of a banana for dessert, unwittingly teaching the pooch that there’s food inside those yellow tubes. The next day, we came home from work to find the whole bunch in his bed. He’d chewed up one and smushed a couple of others.

Another day, Rachael arrived home to find that Slider had gotten an entire loaf of bread, a box of English muffins, and a pack of buns. He shredded the plastic packaging and then, in true Hansel and Gretel fashion, left a trail of bread all over the house.

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At that point, we learned our lesson and enacted a strict household rule requiring that all food must be either shut in the pantry or stashed atop the fridge. Soon after, with no food to be hand, he knocked the entire knife block off the counter. Somehow, he avoided injury when it came crashing down on top of him. We had to shut the cutlery in a cabinet, too.

The dozens of AAA service guys who have rescued me all the times I’ve locked my keys in my car can testify that I’m an absent-minded person, to put it mildly. This plays right into Slider’s hands. One day, I accidentally left the door open to the laundry room. Slider picked up an industrial-size vat of OxiClean, carried it to the living room, and dumped it out, making an improvised sand box. Eventually, he must have started to feel guilty, so he dragged his bed over to cover up the heap of white powder. When I left the door to the bathroom open, we came home to find toilet paper everywhere. When I left the peanut butter jar out after breakfast, he got it off the high bar and used it as a chew toy. He peeled the label off and bit a hole in the top of the lid, but I got home just in time to stop him from eating any of the gooey goodness inside.

And while much of Slider’s misbehavior can be attributed to me, Rachael is far from blameless. Once, in the middle of baking on a Saturday, she decided to go outside to do some quick yard work. She came back in to discover that in the five minutes she was away, Slider had downed our entire supply of brown sugar. It didn’t upset his stomach as much as you might think.

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But all of that was nothing compared to what happened when Slider got his grubby paws on our Christmas presents and decorations. More on that next time.

Rattling the Cage

IMG_2837Confession: I’ve obviously fallen a bit behind on my dog blogging. We’ve now had Slider for more than two months, but this is a story from our first week with him.

When we met Slider at his foster family’s house, they shared that he was having some trouble with house-breaking. The couple would routinely wake up in the morning to not-so-special surprises. But a couple of weeks later, they emailed to say the problem was solved: They’d started keeping Slider in his crate at night, as well as when they were away during the day, and voila.

We had already been planning to crate train our dog. All of Rachael’s greyhound rearing books recommended crate training as a way to set boundaries and to acclimate a dog to a new home. So having him sleep in the cage didn’t seem like a huge deal.

Wrong.

Slider’s first night with us was a Friday, which was good, because we got so little sleep, work the next day would have been killer. At first, Slider seemed fine with the crate. We set it up in the kitchen, and shut him in there for a few minutes at a time while we watched TV. He walked in without objection and seemed comfortable inside, lounging on the bed we’d bought online. But when we shut him in there for the night, as soon as we went upstairs, he began to cry.

This was no little whine. This was a full-on, high-pitched wail. It was the sort of noise a person might make if they got an unexpected call in the middle of the day that their mother had been hit by a bus. Or maybe the sort of noise you would make after nine hours of torture in a Syrian prison.

He cried and cried. Pretty soon, Rachael looked on the verge of tears, too. Logic seemed to indicate that if we gave in and went down to get him, we’d simply be rewarding him for crying and reinforcing the behavior. On the other hand, it was such a terrible noise, and any sense of human decency seemed to require taking mercy on the poor pup.

Indecisive, we let him cry for about 45 minutes, which felt like 45 years, before running to his rescue. Rachael took him outside to pee, and the minute he came back in the house, he bolted up the stairs. Defeated and exhausted, we carried the crate up and put it in the hallway outside our bedroom. With much coaxing, we lured Slider back inside, but he kept whining on and off. When he wasn’t crying, he was rattling around, uncomfortable. He didn’t sleep much, and we didn’t sleep at all.

On the second night, we started with the crate out in the hallway, but the histrionics resumed, and we again moved the cage, this time into the bedroom. Finally, Slider seemed comfortable, and all three of us got some much-needed sleep.

The adventure was far from over. Rachael worked from home on Monday, but on Tuesday, it was time to leave Slider home alone in the crate. Over the weekend, we made half-hearted attempts to help him build up to being by himself, but the best we managed was to put him in the crate, leave the room, shut the door, and wait about five minutes, until he again began to whine. Even that required a good deal of effort and a great many treats.

Tuesday morning, we latched the door on the crate and tried to sneak out of the house quietly. Before we had even reached the back door, he was whining. Over the next few days, Rachael would go in late and leave work early, and I came home at lunch, but it was clear Slider was miserable being left alone in his cage. At night, he happily slept in the cage with us in the bed nearby, but any time we left, he freaked. Neighbors on both sides made comments about all the noise.

And we started to suspect that Slider was planning an escape.

The horizontal bars below the door showed signs of abuse, twisted with tooth marks. One day they were bent some, the next they were bent more. At night, I’d push them back into place, but Slider would push them right back, and then some. Soon, both of those bars had been snapped off on one end. They didn’t seem essential, so we just left them hanging there. The door would still close—barely—though the whole thing looked warped. We worried that Slider might hurt himself doing battle with the crate, but he didn’t seem any worse for wear. Rachael inspected his gums and teeth, but neither seemed sore.

Then one day, about a week after Slider moved in with us, Rachael came home to a surprise. Our greyhound greeted her at the back door. He’d ripped the whole front end of the crate apart, then somehow squeezed his way out through an unbelievably narrow opening.

At that point, we figured Slider had won his freedom. The busted crate went into the dumpster.

Slider, God help us all, was about to have free rein.