I tell the story of how we got Charles, the love of our lives, also called Charlito Marie like this_
When I was in Puerto Rico on short term assignment, there were a lot of stray dogs. I was staying at my in-laws' lovely home and watching their dog, Max. Max is a really cute husky. I would try and take him out for a run around the track in their neighborhood with me and one day a cute, black dog joined us and wanted to play! He seemed like he could be a teenager because he still had a kind big of head and paws but he was taller and longer than the husky! He was very skinny. :(
He was really sweet and I convinced him to come back with me where I kept him in the back with Max and tried to do some natural remedies to help him with his fleas until I could get him to a vet. In the meantime, I was talking with the program manager I was working with - not only was she helping manage the humanitarian response, she was also on the weekends helping stray dogs find homes.
You see, lots of families left for the states and they left their dogs behind. :( So the pet shelters in Puerto Rico were just over capacity and a few people were working really hard to get these dogs on flights and to shelters in the US where they had a better chance of being adopted. She was helping me find a place to keep him safe, and in the mean time, I was on the phone with Boricua about this dog. I'd been talking about wanting a dog for a while, and Boricua, being the sweetheart that he is, eventually decided we could do this thing. The next step was finding a way to have the dog come with me back to London!
Sadly, he ran away one day while I was at work and some of my brother-in-law's employees went to the back to get some materials. I was very very sad. That poor dog was fending for itself. I never saw him again. He was a real sweetie and I already loved him.
When I arrived back home to London, the battle was already won, if you will, and we started researching shelters. Battersea was recommended to me by a friend at church and so I filled out the online application. It is not what I have typically seen at a shelter - they are very careful about to whom they give their animals and it is an application meant to make sure you will be a responsible pet owner. We eventually passed (we had to verify that a pet we adopted wouldn't be alone for too long because we both work full time), and so then the wait began for a dog that they felt would match our needs.
They don't let you go meet dogs because they don't think it's fair to the dogs to get handled all day and bond to people they never will see again. So we didn't get to go look at any dogs, instead we looked at who was available online. Most of the dogs needed lots of walks and attention and they didn't think those would be a good match for us, so two or three weeks later, after constantly checking in, we got a call during church that they think they had a match. There were three dogs, two small ones that seemed like they would bark a lot and one on the bigger end, so we said we would like to meet the bigger one.It was a beautiful ex-racing greyhound, a girl. They said we could come meet her and get her and so we had to leave church early to go see.
Sadly, when we got there, after we waited for quite a while, we met with one of the Battersea people she said that she wasn't sure who matched us with that dog because she was afraid of stairs and we have stairs! We kept looking for every which way we could go home with a dog that day, and eventually she went back and came back with ANOTHER greyhound, Ozzy.
He was so big and cute! We were sitting there in the office and he came bumbling in. He must have been really nervous poor thing because he was stinking up the whole room, walking back and forth inbetween Boricua and I who were eager to give him some love. He did seem quite nervous but we said, we'll take him!!! It was love at first sight. I wasn't in love with the name Ozzy, because it sounds like you're calling him an Australian! The Battersea person informed me that people rename the dogs all the time, they're not so attached to their names, it's more the tone of voice that's important, so Jesús looked at me and was like, Charles? And Charles was perfect. A very British name for a very British dog. As a side note, I was looking at my baby name list that I've had for years, full of names I've heard and liked and written down so as to not forget them, and Charles was on it!
The Battersea people thought greyhounds would be a great match for us because they are known as being the fastest couch potatoes - they sleep around 18 hours a day, and are super mellow, which makes them great apartment dogs. One wouldn't assume that because of their size and speed, but it has turned out to be very true!
So, having signed everything and paid a £130(I think) fee, we were able to take him home. The fee covered microchipping, neutering, etc, but it was honestly a very small amount of money to pay for a pet, especially compared to when you don't get them at shelters. They kindly sent us home with his jacket (greyhounds have very thin coats), a lead, a whole big bag full of his food, and a folder full of his health information as well as deals on pet insurance, vets, and other things. Yay!
These are screenshots from the Battersea website about Charles. The dog they had originally said we could meet was Venus.
Looking at these pictures again now, my heart breaks thinking about what he must have been through.
A few months after we had him, I phoned Battersea and asked where he had come from. They said, a rescue in Wales. I called that shelter and they said he had come from Ireland.
I then emailed the Irish Greyhound Board with the numbers on the tattoos in his ears. They identified him as Belvedere Ozzy. You can see his stats and racing videos here.
We still don't know how he ended up in a shelter in Wales all the way from Ireland. He was at a race track that wasn't that close to Wales, I don't think! The shelter in Wales told me that they sent him to Battersea and a lot of other greyhounds out to other shelters in the hopes that they would get adopted. Battersea told us that black greyhounds are the ones they have the hardest finding a home for, because of instagram culture...? Crazy. We find him to be extremely photogenic! And we're glad he has somewhere safe to call home, and people to love him. His cute face looks so stressed out and worried in these photos, and I'm glad he has developed into the happy dog he is today.
Anyway, back to the day we got him, I felt worried about trying to take him on public transport (the poor thing was being taken away by two strangers), so Battersea gave us the number of a cab company that was okay with taking dogs. Once the cab driver arrived, he wasn't so sure! We didn't know much about greyhounds at the time, but Charles did something quite greyhound-like by not sitting or laying down even once the whole journey. This was from East London to our flat in West London!
He was also, ahem, tirando pedos, the whole time. Like, a keep the windows rolled down because if not we'll suffocate situation. The poor buddy was so nervous. We were too, just trying to pet him and help him feel okay and hoping that he wouldn't pee or poop in the cab.
Being an ex-racer, he wasn't house-trained. In fact, I know I'm generalizing, but apparently most ex-racers have a steep learning curve when it comes to learning how to be a pet. They really haven't spent much time in people's homes, so things like knowing where it's okay to relieve themselves, or climbing stairs, are all very new!
We finally made it to our mews street and excitedly got out. Charles came along on his lead (that's what they say instead of leash here in the UK I guess) and I was so excited to show him his new home. I led him up the stairs and was taking him from room to room (all three in our house haha - bedroom, living/dining, kitchen), and he seemed really excited! He kept running back and forth and then went around in circles! I thought it was cute until the reason for his circles became apparent - he had to go! He left a big, stinky mess right on our carpet. I grabbed him by the collar and back down the stairs we went as fast as I ever have. I took him to a spot where I thought he might feel natural going, by a tree. He was just confused though, poor boy. After waiting we came back inside and he pooped again! Back outside. I think he eventually got it and went a little bit outside and then back in to clean up the mess. And that was how Charles inaugurated his new life ;)
We had a lot of learning to do, as we've both had dogs before but it was our parents or grandparents who had house trained them, etc. We took him outside constantly and praised him when he did his business outside and not in. It was harder to teach him that the carpet was not a place to pee, and at one point in the first month we had him (okay, more than one point), I was feeling seriously in over my head. He was taking up a lot of time and when we weren't outside with him, we were inside cleaning up after him. Eventually, though, things started clicking.
Another challenge in that month was his fear of our stairs. They are not easy stairs, quite steep, and I think that his level of uncertainty and anxiety must have been very great when we first took him home because he went up with me as if it were nothing, as someone who is scared and just goes along with everything because they feel they have no other option. After that one blessed time, we had to carry him down and up the stairs! For quite awhile, probably 2 weeks, we carried him down and up 4 times a day (at least) to go on walks and to the bathroom. He's not the heaviest dog in the world, because he is so thin, but he is big nonetheless. He weighs about 33 kilos or 70 pounds. Our backs were tired.
So we were grateful when he got more and more confident on the stairs. We just had to be patient so that he didn't see them as negative, which is why we couldn't force him to do them, and then he finally started going on his own. Sometimes he seems to forget that he knows how to do this, and we have to cajole him again.
Other anecdotes from the first weeks and months with Charles_
We wanted him to feel like he was loved and part of our family so we decided he could sleep in our bed. The first night, we just wanted him to feel safe, so we had him hop up on the bed with us. We excitedly petted and loved him, but as the night wore on it became pretty obvious who would be taking up the space - him! It is hard to move that dead weight, too! But we were blinded with love and didn't really notice that this just wasn't going to be feasible until about a week later. We just kept thinking if we all lay this way, etc. etc. By that time we had ordered the biggest kennel Boricua could find on Ebay and made it cozy for him, and put it next to our bed. That's where he sleeps now, unless Boricua's on a work trip and I let Charles take his spot. He's funny, though, I think he really likes routine and certainty because I sometimes have to convince him to come on the more comfortable bed, as he naturally just goes to his.
A cute and happy anecdote comes from our first walk together, Charles and I. He was naturally great on the lead (must come from his racing training) but pretty scared of things, staying close to me and away from people who wanted to pet him. When we got to the park, and the grass, he just didn't know what to do! It was completely new for him. He just stood by me, fearful, taking it all in. I think he did a swell job of adjusting to all those changes! His world was truly revolutionized. It took a few more trips for him to realize that the park is the coolest place ever, and decide he could pee on grass haha. But I will never forget the overwhelming joy I felt walking with him that first time. That excitement of knowing that you're each other's, and this adorable animal at the other end of the lead is yours to love...
I still get cute attacks when walking him. It is so cute when he prances, ears up and flopped over, on the look out for stray food or squirrels. I saw somewhere on a forum or an article that greyhounds are like "cats in a horse's body" and it is so true. He walks and runs like a cute pony. Actually, though, the running is more like a cheetah, with two moments each stride in which he is airborne!
The final step to truly integrating him into our lives was figuring out the support network we needed to do the things we used to do that are out of the house and make sure that he's doing well. Our first step was to hire a dog walker, and I found a couple on Tailster who offered a great price and take really good care of him. They would come during lunch a couple days a week when Boricua and I both had to be at work. They have been so amazing, sending us videos, letting us know if something seems wrong, just generally all around great people. They're from Italy! Luckily, after about six months of having him, Boricua's work shifted to be remote so he doesn't have to go into the office every day. Now we can be with him more and he can be less lonely. It was/is very hard for me to leave him alone, as chill as Charles is and as much as he sleeps. I would run home and do everything I could to make sure he wasn't alone for more than a few hours.
There was that for the daily times away, and then for trips, I found something called Trusted Housesitters that has been invaluable in finding amazing people who come stay at our flat for free in return for watching Charles. The people that have come while we've been away, have treated the whole thing like Charles is on vacation too, and I'll get photo updates with him on playdates with other dogs, getting treats, happy at the park. It's so great. There's another website, Borrow My Doggy, where people who want pets but can't have one (usu. because of where they are renting), go online to find dogs to hang out with. Charles has been popular on that site and we thought it would be great for him to practice interacting with all kinds of people and not be lonely when we are busy, but sadly we have met a lot of people and not as many have followed through on wanting to hang out with him. Still great though, and we have also met some lovely people there. Besides those two platforms, our friends and neighbors have been so kind and supportive in emergencies - like when I missed my flight home a few weeks ago and since the house sitters were already gone, friends had to step in and make sure Charles was taken care of, or when we've both been not home when we expected and friends from church have taken him on walks and loved him. It truly has been so amazing to feel more like a community just by getting a dog haha! The estate agency we rent our flat from happen to have their offices in the same mews where we live, and the manager has spoiled Charles and brightens his day at least twice a week with a chicken stick, not to mention troubleshooting dog related things with me, as she has cuties of her own and knows what's up. She's the one who gave me the low down about pet insurance - definitely didn't know that was a thing before!
Phew! I could write for ages about Charles. I've been holding off this post for months and months, trying to catch up on other things, but also because Charles is such a huge part of our lives now and it feels like, "where do I begin?!?" It has been incredible watching him "blossom," if you will. At first he didn't wag his tail, and I'll never forget the first time I saw him wag his tail when one of us got home from work. It was about a month after we adopted him! He's learned tricks and gotten belly rubs and played and played. We love him so much.
We also owe a huge debt of gratitude to the patient animal behavioralist we had access to from having adopted Charles at Battersea. This person so kindly answered my worried emails full of questions about whether or not we were doing things right, or how to do one thing or another. We are so happy we persevered through the first month because he brings us so much joy. Part of the reason I was so sold on having a dog in the first place is because of the research about children's immune systems and having dogs, and even the benefits for diversifying our microbiome that come from living with a dog. We don't have kids yet but I wanted us to have a dog already. We have been basically forced to spend more time outside, and take advantage of Kensington Gardens which is just an 8 minute walk from us.
It also forces us to get off our computers and play with him, just be at home without working on something on a to-do list. It has been a cool way to learn a little bit more about each other, Boricua and I, as we have learned about different styles of discipline and love. More than anything, he just makes us happy. You have no idea how much cuteness a skinny, bony greyhound can bring into your life. One of our favorites is the way his mouth looks when it's in default mode. Black lips slightly parted, little teeth showing through. It's to-die for. Enough writing, though. You'll be seeing a lot of Charles in these posts from now on!