“Vesper, come on! I need to leave!” He’s been outside, in the snow, for about 45 minutes. And I’ve got to get him inside so I can open the shop. With a treat pouch full of PolkaDog snacks, I lure him towards the door. The girls will often follow me with a show of treats and a quick “With me!,” but Vespie doesn’t do commands. He, basically, does what he wants. Which at the moment, is to stay outside. As soon as we get to the door, he grabs the treat and runs back towards Mount Whippet.
How can a Kuwaiti born Saluki love the snow this much? Perhaps the better question is, how can a cranky, reactive PTSD dog be this silly and fun? What changed?!
Vesper had a very rough start to life. (I spoke about this a bit in an episode of Sit. Stay. Share!, the Houndstooth podcast.) When he was found, his collar was embedded into his neck, requiring surgical removal, and a chain trailing behind him. A rescue group had tried to catch him, but it wasn’t until he was hit by a car that they were able to do so. Eventually, that group connected with a U.S. based Sighthound rescue group and he was transported to the States for a chance at a better life.
A year and a half went by, and he still hadn’t found his forever home. Until I, distraught over the loss of Dingo (our third greyhound, and second with osteosarcoma) just a few weeks earlier, stumbled upon Vesper’s profile and insisted that we inquire.
Vesper came to us understandably confused, surprisingly dirty, and for added measure, with a double ear infection. As he started to “settle in,” we learned that he was highly reactive—and after working with several trainers, that he most likely had PTSD. He didn’t like it when anyone got too close to him. He didn’t like it when anyone — or anything — went past him. He didn’t like…a lot of things. For whatever reason (maybe because they were both Salukis rescued from the streets of Kuwait?), Heidi was the only one he never snapped at. Never. Not even if she accidentally touched him.
He could be sweet. He could be playful, though his signals were decidedly wrong. (Hackles up, teeth bared, growl low and deep.) Most of the time, though, he just stood there, thus earning the moniker "Just Stand There Vesper.” But his personality could turn on a dime. You really needed to stay on guard around him.
Years went by, and we saw improvements. They were small, but any win is a win when you’re working with a reactive dog. He was still predictably unpredictable and quite cranky, but we started seeing his playful side, mostly in the snow — or anytime Heidi acknowledged him. He started coming to us for affection, within very specific limits, of course. I took pride — and still do! — in the knowledge that I’m the only person he doesn’t bark at when walking up to the house. That’s not to say he trusts me me completely; I know he doesn’t. (If it means I’m his Favorite Hooman, though, I’m 100% okay with that!)
And then… Heidi died. Hemangiosarcoma. It was January of 2021 and we had no idea what was coming. She had never been sick and had only 1 health scare in the nearly 10 years we had her. She had passed her physical —which, yes of course, included blood work — just a few months before we lost her. (That’s how quickly this cancer develops. “F*ck cancer,” they say and I completely agree.) It was a shock to all of us, and Vespie was clearly off. Not even Mount Whippet covered in fluffy snow could cheer him up. Dylan died 6 months later, and Vesper’s world just shattered. Yes, pets mourn. If either of us had any doubt, we no longer did. (And yes, we still had Sierra. But she refuses to play with Vesper—or engage with him in any real way. I can’t say I blame her; his play signals flat-out scare her. The snapping whenever she gets too close only reinforces her decision to stay away.)
At this point, Vesper was theoretically 12 and acting even older. Our main objective was to not lose 3 dogs in 1 year. We needed to get him out of his funk. So we adopted Luna Mae, another Saluki — a young one, around a year old. (Yes, we adopted a pet for our pet. Isn’t that what most reasonable people do?) And Vesper…is happy. Happier than I’ve seen him in years. She’s no Heidi; he does snap at her. But, like Heidi, she doesn’t care that his play signals mirror most dogs’ “warning” cues. She pounces and chases and even nips at him. The Saluki Dance is a sight to behold, and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of it.
These days, we see the “Mr SillyBoots" side of Vesper more often than “Mr CrankyPants.” (Don’t worry, “Just Stand There Vesper” is still his primary state of being.) He pounces and plays and teases like a dog half his age...who doesn’t have PTSD.
Is Luna Mae the key to Vesper’s new-found happiness? I’m not sure. Maybe. Quite possibly. But I also can’t get out of my head something our vet said when Katie Greyhound entered her “tween” years.
The Divine Miss K was not everybody’s “cup of tea.” I always knew this and accepted this. It didn’t bother me, and — in fact — it made me appreciate a bit more those who appreciated her. As she aged, though, she became…oddly sweet. “Dogs will typically go in 1 of 2 directions as they age,” my vet told me. “Extremely sweet or extremely curmudgeonly.” (My grandmother was the same way. But that’s another story for another blog. Ahem.)
Vesper’s theoretical birthday is the same day that Katie died. I realize someone randomly chose that date, but I always saw it as a sign. Vesper’s story is dramatically different from Katie’s. She was a retired racer who quickly moved up the ranks — and was clearly treated well — but had her career cut short due to a broken foot. They’re both strong spirits, though, and I’d like to think she is guiding him as he ages.
What do you think?
You had me at the photo of the beautiful dog enjoying the snow. And then the story about how Mr. Cranky Pants allows Mr. Silly Boots to emerge now and then. Oh, Vesper.