Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The rural life: Remembering Rocky

What’s faster than a racehorse and as loving as a Labrador? If you guessed greyhound, a gold star. I was reminded of this wonderful breed when I came across a greyhound rescue organization online. I hadn’t known there was such a group (there actually are several), and discovering it brought two thoughts to mind.

One is how incredibly useful the Internet has become for adopting out rescued animals of all species. In the case of dogs, this means that if there’s a particular breed you’re seeking and you can’t find it at your local shelter, you can almost always find it online, through a rescue group. (This is as opposed to buying it from a breeder, which is a whole ’nother can of worms.) Just search with “[your preferred breed] rescue,” and see what comes up. You can sometimes even find rescued puppies. It’s amazing.

My other thought, a bittersweet one, was of a greyhound that graced my life some 50 years ago. It was in Ruidoso, N.M., in 1961 that my mother surprised her five daughters by bringing home a little white puppy with a patch of brown over one eye and another over his tail. When we girls learned this gangly baby was a greyhound (pups of this breed actually look more like little Great Danes), we immediately wanted to name him Rocket — for the speed we were sure he’d have.

My mother, wanting something more elegant for such an elegant breed, suggested Marquis. In the end, we named our new puppy Rocket Marquis Forsberg, and called him Rocky.

Our first adventure with the puppy involved nearly killing him. Noticing fleas on his tender, pink-skinned hide, we sprinkled on flea powder without noticing the fine print that said, “Do NOT apply to greyhound puppies.” (Particularly thin-skinned, greyhounds are highly sensitive to chemicals and pesticides.)

Little Rocky survived that ordeal to become the darling of our household. He was playful and highly intelligent, yet completely submissive to humans. Like all the pets I recall from childhood, he “belonged” most ardently to my mother, who provided all his meals and was generous with the table scraps.

He lived in the house with us and was clean, quiet and reliably housebroken. Though he soon grew to a height of about 30 inches at the withers, he retained his puppyish wrigglyness, displaying it each morning and whenever we came home from an outing. His two most notable physical characteristics were his long, beautiful face and his deep, deep heartgirth — the signature trait of a dog that can hit a speed of 45 mph in six strides. (Only the cheetah can accelerate faster.)

He loved to run, and we loved to watch him. By the time Rocky was full grown, we had moved back to Roswell, where my father was stationed with the Air Force. There, my dad would load Rocky and my sisters and me into his rattletrap van and drive out to the desert, wending his way along near-deserted roads until we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere. Then we’d set Rocky loose and he’d take off, looking for jackrabbits. A short time later, we’d see him flying along the horizon in pursuit of a speeding hare.

He never caught his prey, but he always came back happy, his tongue lolling from his mouth, his sweet face almost smiling. “Good dog!” we told him. And that’s exactly what he was.

He was also a substitute horse in that time when my younger sisters and I were lacking the real thing. We’d put him on a leash and guide him “in hand” over a series of jumps we’d cobbled together out of lawn furniture and a broom handle or two. He was patient and willing with all this foolishness — and a rather nifty jumper.

I also recall a scheme I hatched to render him even more horselike, at least in his gear. I’d seen the harnesses that some dogs wear instead of collars. Some horses wear harnesses, I reasoned, so our Rocky must have one of these leather contraptions to be buckled into, just like a horse.

I finagled my way to the pet store, where I bought the largest dog harness they had. When we got home, however, I discovered the girth strap was about three times too short to span Rocky’s mighty chest.

“Rocket Marquis, your heartgirth is like Man O War’s,” I told him proudly, tossing the harness aside.

By 1963, our family had moved back to California. (The Air Force requires a lot of to-ing and fro-ing of its families.) We settled in Elk Grove, and by 1965 my dad had retired from the service and we were building the home — on 10 acres in El Dorado — where my sisters and I would finally have our horses.

Problem was, we’d sold our house in Elk Grove and were going to live in an apartment in Placerville while the new house was being built. And Rocky couldn’t come with us.

It was agonizing.

We found him an adoptive home on a farm, hoping he’d appreciate the room to roam. Now that I know more about greyhounds, I realize he probably would’ve chosen to stay with his family in a tiny apartment over being separated to live with others on a farm — no matter how large.

We visited him several times at his new home. His adoptive family clearly loved him, and Rocky seemed content.

That said, I can’t help but think that we probably broke his great big heart — at least until he made the adjustment. There may not have been a workable alternative at the time, but it still hurts to think of it, all these years later.

Rocky was a very special dog.

Jennifer Forsberg Meyer, a biweekly columnist with the Mountain Democrat, has owned more than a dozen dogs over her lifetime. So far. Reach her at

Jennifer Forsberg Meyer

Jennifer Forsberg Meyer is an award-winning journalist and author with three published books to her credit. Currently she is a senior editor with Horse & Rider magazine. Jennifer lives in rural Latrobe with her husband, Hank; their daughter, Sophie Elene; and the family’s assorted animals.

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