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.
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.