Thursday, February 3, 2022

My Little Greyhound

The ad in the Pennysaver said "Little Greyhound. Free."

"Yay!" I thought. "Someone has a whippet or an Italian greyhound up for adoption and they don't know what it is!" Whippets and Italian greyhounds look exactly like "little greyhounds" and are hard to come by, not to mention expensive. I called the number in the ad and got the address of the house where the dog was located. I was living in the San Fernando Valley at the time and this "little greyhound" was just a few miles away. As I drove, I realized I was heading into a part of the valley where prostitution and drugs were common transactions and several notorious L.A. gangs rivaled over turf. I decided it was worth the risk to get my dream dog, so I drove on. I parked near an apartment complex and walked around until I found the right apartment number. I could hear the rush of traffic on Sepulveda Boulevard, police sirens, and the echo of people yelling in the complex. I knocked lightly.

The door opened almost immediately. A woman was holding a small dog in her arms.

It was not a little greyhound.

It was a chihuahua.

"Hi! Come in!" She said brightly and beckoned me to come inside. I stepped cautiously into the house wondering if this was a set-up. Would I suddenly be grabbed and robbed?

The living room was sparse with a full size couch on one wall and nothing else in the room but carpet. The woman handed the dog to me and said, "She's really sweet." I took her carefully and asked if it was OK to sit down. I wasn't good at holding babies or puppies. I always worried I would drop them. She said it was fine so I placed the dog on the carpet, crouched down and sat cross-legged next to her. This tiny brown dog ran into my lap, stood up on her hind legs, and licked my face with a few teeth included in the kiss. Then she jumped out of my lap and started to bolt around the room. As she did, I heard a door slam and looked up to see a man walking toward me. He had just come from outside and I could see out the sliding glass door behind him. There was a large pit bull staring through the glass at me, fogging it up with each snort.

"Hey," he said flatly. His white t-shirt was dirty and he had on long black Nike shorts. "We have to get rid of her." He pointed at the chihuahua who was now circling back toward me. "We just got Butch and he tried to kill her. Bit her back leg as a matter of fact last week and so you may notice sometimes she doesn't walk right." I nodded and gulped down my shock as she made her way back into my lap, crawled in and sat down. I petted her soft, short fur. Around her neck was a huge brown leather collar with silver spikes meant for a dog three times her size.

This was not my dream dog. Not a little greyhound. I mean she was thin, light brown, could move quickly but for goodness sake how do you mistake a chihuahua for a greyhound of any size? My first thought was to say, "Thanks, but no thanks." But now, I knew her life was in danger. And she was in my lap. 

"Oh wow," I said, stroking her back. "Yeah, she's very small. Doesn't take much for her to get hurt." The man sat on the edge of the couch next to the woman and crossed his large muscular arms.

"Yeah," he said. "Butch was just letting' her know he's boss, but I know it's only a matter of time so..." as his voice trailed off, this little pup got up from my lap, turned around and put her paws on my chest. She looked me in the eyes as if to say: "He's not kidding. Get me out of here!"

I played with her for a little bit and made small talk. This dog was clearly spunky and adorable. She had big chocolate brown eyes, a white stripe down the middle of her face and was the color of a camel. I said I would like to adopt her. The woman stood up from the couch.

"Kids! Come say goodbye to Cinnamon!" She bellowed toward the hallway.

"What?!" I thought. "Her name is Cinnamon?"  That was the name of the rabbit I had as a child. My psycho rabbit. The one that would grunt, claw, and bite and one time kicked me in the face with her sharp claws leaving a one inch scar in the shape of a "y" just below my left eye. Was she being reincarnated to torment me again? 

I looked up to see a child's eyes poke around the hallway corner about half way up the wall.  Then another. And another. And another. I could see only the eyes and hair of what appeared to be about four children of ascending heights and ages. It was like a totem pole of curiosity.  

"Come out here!" The woman yelled. "Cinnamon is being adopted. Come say goodbye."

The kids walked out slowly into the living room and almost in unison said "Goodbye Cinnamon!"" A few knelt down on the carpet and she got up from my lap to walk toward them. They took turns petting her and saying goodbye in high pitched voices as she scampered in and out of their clutches.

I felt awful. They weren't crying but I almost was. I was taking their dog.

But like the man, they seemed resolved to the fact that Cinnamon had to go. So I picked her up after their goodbyes and said "Thank you, I'll give her a good life..."or something like that and walked out the door and toward my car.

I drove Cinnamon home and plopped her in my living room. I removed her giant collar and gave her a small pink collar with a bell. A cat collar.

That was the beginning of the 17 years I would spend with her.  

Right from the get-go she was feisty, but in a playful, funny way--like the cousin who loves to pull pranks at family dinners, putting balloons on your seat before you sit down.  She and my cat, Lucky, hit it off right away. Lucky was a black cat who thought he was a dog. So he got right to it and began playing with Cinnamon like his long lost pal had come home. They would chase each other around the backyard and on more than one occasion end up rolling around together as a swirled black and brown high speed fur ball. They never hurt each other and it was the beginning of a long inter-species friendship.

Cinnamon's ultimate display of feistiness came late one night when I let her out to go to the bathroom. As she trotted into the kitchen toward the doggy door to the backyard she found a raccoon eating her dog food. She chased it out the doogy door barking furiously. Before I could stop her I heard what could only be described as a scream, and then her yelping. I ran outside and found a raccoon on top of her. Now, this may sound made up, but mothers will understand. Without hesitating, I reached down and grabbed the raccoon by its fur. I managed to get a good grip on it's back and throw it overhand into the backyard away from Cinnamon. (I always wondered why I through it overhand, but I hadn't ever thrown "like a girl" and I wasn't going to start then.) The raccoon disappeared into the darkness. Cinnamon was injured. She had a huge gash on her belly and was bleeding. She would not stop moaning and whimpering. I felt dizzy and thought I was going to be sick. I covered the wound and wrapped her up. She got twelve stitches, antibiotics and a rabies shot as soon as the vet's office opened. Later that day, I noticed I had a deep scratch on my arm. With all the adrenaline, I hadn't noticed it earlier. Cinnamon recovered well and got her feistiness back. In fact, I discovered she had a full personality that included charming, silly, funny, playful, loving, bossy, stubborn, and everything in between. She was never a snappy, mean, loud-mouthed, possessive chihuahua like some can be. Just like her original owners, I don't think she knew she was a chihuahua. She was more pleasant and well behaved than any dog I had ever had. Her personality inspired a lot of cute nicknames:

Cinna-snap, Cinny, Cinna-bun, Silly-Billy, Cin-Cins, even Special Kitty (Don't ask.)...She earned them all.

Weighing only nine pounds, Cinnamon slept in a round cat-bed for most of her life. She loved to be wrapped in blankets. She loved her red "hoodie" sweatshirt. She loved sitting in the sun even though it would make her sneeze. Even in her sweatshirt and in the sun she would shiver to manipulate you into picking her up or holding her. She never played with toys or balls; she acted as though she was above all that and she preferred humans anyway. At the dog park, she would ignore all the other dogs, step right over tennis balls and go up one by one to every human to say hi while other dogs sniffed and jostled her. She would hop into the laps of perfect strangers. She could run like the wind and was fearless. She once fan so fast in a grassy park that she lost her balance and barrel rolled for what seemed like a quarter mile only to pop up and keep running, grass flying off her back. I discovered she knew how to parkour her way on to my kitchen counter tops when a macaroon cookie went missing and later she delivered a coconut laced gift in my backyard. Oh, Cinnamon. I often joked saying: "I jumped her out of a Van Nuys gang, but she jumped herself back in on a daily basis." 

She went on plenty of walks--putting her paws in the sand, the mud, the rain, and the snow all over California. Sometimes, she would appear to skip, holding up her back right leg while she hopped for a few steps on her left. She definitely had a "hitch in her gait" and it always reminded me of how she had come to be mine. But she never let it slow her down. When I bought the house I am in now, the first day I moved in, she found a way out the front door and a neighbor brought her back. She seemed almost disappointed to be back. I think she wanted to scout out the neighborhood for raccoons and black cats. She didn't realize she was now 16 years old, nearly deaf, barely able to see through milky eyes and a bit disoriented. I watched her slow down over the next few years, go blind, grow weak and thin, but still have moments of her trademark feistiness. She tried to keep up with my other dogs, giving them a hard time when she could, reminding them who was in charge. But I worried about her getting hurt because she'd never known her limits, or maybe she did and just chose to race right through them. Once she jumped off the couch and landed with a cartoon like "splat" on my hardwood floors. Her legs didn't support her and she hit the ground so hard I thought for sure she'd be paralyzed. But she popped up and shook it off like she always did, without a whimper.

But a few days ago, she stopped eating and just wanted to sleep all day, curled up in a ball in her cat bed, which I had put inside a crate so my other dogs wouldn't accidentally hurt her. I knew it was getting close.

And this morning, after 18 years of adventures, she let out a final feisty yelp and then closed her eyes and died peacefully, wearing her hoodie, wrapped in blankets and love.

I'll miss you my little greyhound. 



Feb. 2004 - Feb. 2022

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