Gracie & Winston help each other
This is an uplifting story how two dogs with special needs help each other. Gracie, the black lab mix, is blind in one eye and Winston, the greyhound, is deaf. The following was told to me by David Grasse.
Tell me about Winston.
Winston is a white male greyhound with black ticking that makes him look somewhat like a very tall, very fast Dalmatian. He weighs in at 75 pounds and is a former track dog. Winston had a very short career as a racer – only 14 races – probably because he contracted an ear infection. The infection was not treated at the track and it ended up costing Winston his hearing. The bright side of the story is he was retired early before anything worse happened to him.
Winston like walks, naps, steak bones, peanut-butter, more naps, petting, and the “whip game” as I call it. I highly recommend it to anyone who is a Greyhound owner. Basically, I tied an old plushy toy to the end of horse/buggy whip and I move it about in big sweeping circles and let Winston chase after it. He does so with great enthusiasm. Winston will play this game until he is quite literally unable to run anymore. The game also serves to keep him in shape and keeps him healthy.
Why did you want to adopt a greyhound?
I had wanted a dog for awhile and was considering various breeds including German Shepherd, Russian Wolfhound, and Greyhound. I took one of those “what kind of dog is right for your personality” tests on some website and the answer came back as “Greyhound.” This and familiarity with the breed from spending time with Lizzie Mead’s hounds convinced me a Greyhound would be the perfect companion. Of course, now I want another.
When did you adopt him? At what age?
I adopted Winston from Arizona Greyhound Rescue two years ago at the age of 3. His birthday is January 6.
When did you realize he was deaf?
It was Lizzie Mead who actually discovered Winston’s hearing loss. He was standing at the back fence at her house looking intently out between the wooden slats when Lizzie came up behind him. She reached out a hand to pet him and at her touch Winston nearly jumped out of his own spotted coat. It was at that moment she realized Winston had not been able to hear her coming up behind him even though she was walking noisily across gravel. Lizzie shared her suspicions with me, and after a few further experiments we determined he was indeed hard of hearing.
Tell me about his separation anxiety.
Winston does not like to be separated from me for long periods of time. He will deal with it if he has other people or dogs to keep him company, but if left alone, he will try desperately to get out and find me (or someone). In his attempts to escape the house, he has destroyed numerous sets of horizontal blinds, taken out wooden fence slats, and once almost ruined a patio door and screen, pulling off the aluminum mesh and then taking them completely off the rail. Winston does not lack resolve – if he wants something he will do all he can to get it.
From Facebook, I know he escaped a few times – can you describe one episode?
One Sunday morning, before Gracie began spending her weekdays with us, I left Winston alone while I popped down to the grocery store to pick up food for the week. When I returned home I found the living room window hanging wide open and Winston disappeared. I immediately went looking for him. Thankfully, he has a predilection for marking every upright object he encounters, so he had only made it about a block from the house. So, I wrangled him into the Jeep and brought him home. I secured the window, latching it shut and then went outside to tug on it to make sure it was locked down tight.
That same afternoon, I was at an event when I received a phone call from one of the neighbors saying she had found Winston wandering aimlessly around the complex and had taken him in. I immediately returned home and retrieved Winston. When I finally got in the apartment I discovered that Winston had figured out how to open the window by pushing up on the latch with his nose and then pushing the window open with his front paws until he had enough space to crawl up and out. While I was impressed with his canine ingenuity, I knew something had to be done or he was going to end up as road-kill. This is when I called Jean.
Tell me under what circumstances Winston and Gracie got together.
Gracie’s adopter, Jean Rettus, had to go in to the hospital for surgery. During this period, a number of people volunteered to care for her dogs while she was convalescing. Lizzie Mead chose to take Gracie in and that is where Winston met Gracie. For some reason, out of all the dogs that were there (Lizzie has three greyhounds) Gracie seemed to imprint on Winston. She would follow him about everywhere.
On one occasion, Gracie was following close behind Winston and she turned to look back over her shoulder for just a moment. Of course, Gracie only has one eye, so her field of vision is limited. Just as she looked back, Winston abruptly stopped. Not realizing this, Gracie continued forward and ran right into Winston’s back legs. Winston almost collapsed on top of her. It was quite the sight. We had a good laugh over it.
How has Gracie helped Winston?
Gracie seems to temper Winston’s separation anxiety. Though they don’t really interact much, Winston seems comforted just knowing she is in the house. I pick Gracie up on Sunday night and return her to Jean on Friday night.
Are you working with a dog trainer to also help Winston?
Winston has been seeing a trainer and is in the process of learning sign language/hand commands. He has mastered come, stay, let go and some others. Thankfully, he is a bright dog, so he picks up the concepts quickly. We did discover in working with Winston that he is not completely deaf and can hear the upper register of sounds and sub and super sonic tones. This has made recall training a little simpler. Overall, it seems to be helping with both his obedience and his anxiety.
David Grasse & Winston
Do you have any words of wisdom for people with special needs dog?
Don’t assume your dog is stupid just because s/he has special needs. Winston may well be deaf but he isn’t dumb (as he has proved numerous times).
Jean Rettus says she is fine with the arrangement and happy that Gracie can help Winston. While Gracie is under David’s care, he has to put ointment in her bad eye. Gracie enjoys her weekend time at home but gets excited when David comes to pick her up.
David Grasse is a third-generation Arizona native and has a Masters Degree from UA. He works as a librarian at the Arizona State Prison Complex on Wilmot and supplements his income writing books about the Old West.