Django's 2nd Gotcha Anniversary

This is yet another non-running post, but I can't let today pass without noting that it's the second anniversary of the day we adopted Django.
The second time we met him, at a Petco. His tail is tucked and I can tell from his eyes how scared he was there.
I had dogs growing up, love dogs, and could not wait until the day I got my own dog as an adult. Anyone that knows me can attest that I've always longed for the day when I could get a dog.  I thought that day came when Dave and I bought our house 11 years ago, complete with a (small) fenced back area and dog door. But then cats took over my life. For the past decade, I've fostered and cared for countless homeless cats and kittens from both my neighborhood and for the Animal Rescue League, while caring for my own colony of feral cats plus my own in-house cats, four of which have had feline leukemia and been special needs.
An early picture when we first got Django. He's probably wondering what the camera is.

Between being a crazy cat lady, having a full-time job, and buying into all the well-meaning friends and relatives who told me, "You don't want a dog! You don't want kids, and it's nearly the same thing! You'll miss your freedom! You're a cat person! You both work all day! You travel too much!" I gave up on adopting a dog.
Crashed out after a day at the dog pool.

He's a master at down stays because of all the obedience training we did.
Fast forward to January 2012, when I met greyhounds at Petco. It took a little less than an hour for me to fall in love and see why a greyhound would be a perfect fit for our lives. They are (most of them are) good with cats, and they have very low energy and exercise needs and spend most of the day sleeping--perfect for working owners. Still, I researched greyhounds thoroughly for several months before convincing my husband and putting in our application.
He now loves going on hikes with us.

Django (racing name Iruska Promiser) was disqualified from racing a few months before his second birthday and went from Wheeling Downs to a kennel in Wexford via Three Rivers Greyhounds before they brought him to our home to live two years ago today. All the many times I read Retired Racing Greyhounds for Dummies and anything else I could get my hands on didn't prepare me for what happened next. You read that they have never known anything except for life at the track and that everything will be new and potentially scary to them, but you don't really know what that means until you experience it. You think, "Oh, I'll just have to teach him how to walk up stairs, and he'll be all settled in a week." It was the first time Django had ever been in a house, and when the adoption group left, he had absolutely no idea what to do. I had a bed and toys all ready for him, but he simply stood there panting for about an hour.
In the first few hours after he came home...he had no idea to lie in his bed or play with toys (he still doesn't really play with toys). After standing for an hour, he just laid down on the bare wood floor.

It would be too long to list out everything that scared, startled, or puzzled him, but consider this: Almost everything is new to recently retired greyhounds. He would not go into the kitchen, where I had his food and water station set up, for weeks because he was afraid of the slippery laminate flooring. He was so overwhelmed by all the many sights and sounds of living right in the city that he refused to go on walks--he would "statue" and simply refuse to move. Now that I know greyhounds, I know that these are pretty common. But at the time, Dave and I were both completely puzzled. Who heard of a dog that wouldn't go on walks?
Some of Django's greyhound friends at his 3rd birthday party last year.
Lest this post scare off potential greyhound adopters, I should note that the majority of greyhounds settle into retirement pretty easily and adjust quickly. Django was a special case because he had a ton of problems! In addition to the small things that he needed to get used to, he had some pretty significant issues like space aggression and some fear-based aggression. In addition to that, he was still a puppy, so he was nothing like the calm, docile greyhounds I'd met in Petco. I couldn't even sit on the floor because he would get excited and nip me. We consulted with our adoption group a lot and hired a positive reinforcement trainer to work with him in our home. Then, he broke his toe while running at a dog park and had to have a splint on for six weeks. We had to put a bag on it every time he went outside to keep it from getting wet. Because he was still having some growling episodes, Dave and I were both afraid to handle his injured foot and would muzzle him when we had to put his bag on. We were overwhelmed. At this point, our adoption group discussed our situation and called us to tell us that Django was too difficult a dog for us as first-timer adopters and that they made a mistake giving him to us. They wanted us to return him and adopt an easier dog. We considered it, but we had had Django for three months, and we'd put a lot of time and effort into working with him on his issues. We loved him by then. I knew there was something special about him and, despite his issues, felt lucky to have him. So the adoption group came to our house to consult with us, and Dave and I told them we wanted to keep Django to keep working with him and hope that his issues eventually resolved.
On a hike last fall

It took about six months, but he eventually got over his issues. In addition to the work with the trainer in our home, we took him to several obedience classes to build his confidence and his relationship with Dave (Django passed his Canine Good Citizen test last year). But I think he just needed time and our love and patience to really settle in and get over his fears of everything.
Hiking and water--two of his favorite things

Today he is a different dog. He is calm and confident and not at all anxious and fearful. He is very well behaved, but at home with us he is often silly and goofy. He decides for himself who he likes. With most people, he is polite. With others, he acts like he absolutely has to meet them. And there are those he wants absolutely nothing to do with and will stand at the end of his leash looking away from them. I have no idea what his criteria are!
Posing for a holiday card
I'm so proud of how far Django has come and grateful that I was able to help him on his journey to loving to explore his world instead of being afraid of it. My heart sinks when I think how we were considering returning him. He's a very special dog, and I feel lucky and grateful to have him as a companion. Happy 2nd Gotcha Day, Django!
Hogging the baby pool at the Greyhounds in Gettysburg event last year