Sunday, June 14, 2009

What I did on my summer vacation (or, how I adopted a mostly blind, selectively deaf, lymph-node impaired, 67 pound, redtick coonhound named Ray

This is the story of how we got Ray. After I write this, I'll post updates about Ray's progress. And maybe Gregg will weigh in on how he feels about having a dog.

I would like to preface this posting by saying that my sister Kathy has always been a troublemaker. My mom says that when we were kids, there would be five of us sitting in a room playing quietly together and Kathy would walk in one door, and by the time she walked out the other, all five of us would be crying. So, of course, this story starts out with Kathy.
We were pulling away from my mom's house in South Carolina when we noticed that a newspaper was lying in the driveway. 
"Better get that," said Kath, "So people don't know no one is home." 
I quickly pulled the car over, hopped out, scooped up the paper, hurled it at her in the back seat, and off we went.
We were traveling to Charleston, SC for a three-day, all chick celebration of my mom's 86th birthday. The celebrants consisted of me (from Virginia), my oldest sister, Mary (from Illinois), my next oldest sister, Kathy (from Colorado), and my mom who lives in a small town about two hours from Charleston. We had made the trip the year before for mom's 85th birthday and had had such a great time that we were doing it again.
Anyway, Kath, settled in the back seat with Mary, started reading the paper. 
"Hey Jean," she said, "There's a blind dog up for adoption, a Redtick Coonhound. I think you should get it and name it Stevie."
"Oooh, good idea," I replied, "But I think I should name it Melon for Blind Melon, or maybe Jose. No, no, no, I got it! I'll call him Ray for Ray Charles. A blind man singing the blues and a blind coonhound just go together."
My mom and sister Mary were laughing in disbelief as Kath and I went back and forth about the dog (Ok, so I admit, I like to stir up a little trouble now and again too. It was the looks on my mom's and sister's faces that kept me going. It's just that Kath is the master troublemaker, I am but a poor amateur). All that day and the next we discussed details, drew up a list of questions to ask the rescue society, and wondered if the dog had ever been around cats (I have two). On the evening of the second day, Kathy called the rescue society and left a message that we were interested. A wonderfully nice woman returned her call the next day and filled us in on some of the dog's details.
"Cagney" (Ray) was abandoned with his sister Lacey. He had been at the rescue society for almost a year. Although he had been foster-homed for awhile, he was currently being housed at a kennel and had been there for a couple of months. The dog had detached retinas and was totally blind in one eye, although they thought he had some sight in the other. Ray also lacked lymph nodes in his back, right leg, so fluid pools, and his leg swells and gets red if he doesn't get exercised regularly. He used to follow Lacey around but she didn't like him and was mean to him. He loved to play with other dogs and needed a fenced-in yard. He was housebroken but had never been around cats so the woman didn't know if he was good with them. Just like every dog, what Ray needed most was lots of love and attention.
That night I called my husband, Gregg, the saint, and told him what was going on (ok, so by this point, the joke was getting a bit out of hand). He sounded just a little perturbed. 
"I don't have enough facts to pass judgement but I trust you to make the right decision" he said. (I'm guessing he'll never make that mistake again.) 
I went upstairs to tell my mom and sisters. Kathy whooped. She had asked her husband and gotten an instantaneous and emphatic "NO." Mary and mom just shook their heads in disbelief and said that I had to have the best husband in the world. I told them I was well aware of the fact.
My sister Mary was leaving the next morning out of Charleston. We dropped her at the airport on the way out of town. The dog was in Columbia. 
"Mom, do you want us to drop you at home, or do you want to go see the dog?" I asked. 
"I want to go," said mom. 
I knew that this story was going to give her something to talk about for months and there was no way she was going to miss the end, even if it meant having a dog throw up in the back seat of her car. So we all headed to Columbia (thank God for GPS).
The kennel people were so nice. We arrived shortly before they closed for three hours in the afternoon for lunch and dog exercise. One of the young women took us out back of the facility to meet Ray. He greeted me first, taking my wrist in his mouth then standing on his hind legs and putting his paws on my chest so he could snuffle my face. (I found that he greets everyone the same way. I guess he needs to find out how everyone tastes and smells since he can't see them). Then he greeted Kath and tried to jump on mom but was firmly persuaded not to do this. 
We were told that everyone at the kennel loved Ray, that he was a lazy dog but loved to play with the other dogs, and that it was hard to tell that Ray was mostly blind because he functioned so well. I asked about Ray and cats. They didn't know, but they had a kennel cat so we could test him out.
The young woman put Ray on a leash and, trailed by the three of us, led Ray through the row of kennel cages. Ray ambled along bonking into doors and chain-link cages as we went. 
When we got to the reception area they brought out the kennel cat and put him in front of Ray. There was no reaction. Apparently Ray couldn't distinguish Cat because of all the other kennel smells. 
One of the women picked up Cat and bounced her along the dog's back, then put Cat back in front of Ray. This time the hound was excited and tried to put his mouth around Cat (I figured that it was just his way of greeting). Not really approving of this greeting, Cat disappeared under the nearest piece of furniture. Ray got down on his haunches and tried to lick the cat who batted at Ray's head (without using his claws) but didn't really seem particularly ruffled about the series of events.
Cat then scooted across the floor to duck into a cat tent. Ray, not seeing the escape, stayed where he was, trying to flush out Cat with his paws. The helpful kennel attendant, dragged Ray over to the cat tent where Cat swatted at him. Ray, not getting it, went back to the other piece of furniture to look for the other thing that he'd been playing with. 
We all decided that Ray eating cats was not going to be an issue.
Up until this point, Ray had been a fuzzy kind of nebulous thing in my mind. But now I wanted him. BAD. So I called my husband again. This time, now that it might become a reality that I would be bringing home a BIG dog, Gregg sounded a bit more frazzled. He had talked to his office-mates and had some questions. Where would the dog sleep, did he howl, and did he like men.
I told him we could block off the kitchen until the cats got used to the dog and Ray could sleep there. The women at the kennel said that he howled with the other dogs. But no one knew if Ray liked men; he had never been around men. There were no men at the kennel to test him on, but no one believed that it could possibly be a problem. Ray was the sweetest dog ever and he liked everyone and everything.
So Gregg and I talked it over. He agreed that if Ray passed the "man test" we could try him out for 30 days. I told Gregg that I would take Ray to my brother's to test out the dog before bringing him home. My brother, John, lives a few blocks from my parents and I was going to stay there overnight before driving back to Virginia. If Ray didn't try to eat John, I would bring the hound home with me. 
I called the nice rescue woman who said if Ray didn't work out overnight, someone would come get him at my brother's. If he didn't work out after 30 days, Ray's foster mother would meet me half-way and I could leave him with her. 
I filled out the paperwork, bought a leash from the kennel, and walked out with a mostly-blind, selectively-deaf, lymph-node impaired, 67 pound Redtick Coonhoud (re)named Ray.


  1. ummmm....i have NEVER been to a rescue place that would willingly put a cat in front of one of their dogs. God Bless the south is all i have to say. Great story! I will bring over a DVD and some dog training case you want to train ray to attack door to door salesmen.
    p.s. that is a good looking dog. i want to see more pictures!

  2. I am so happpy Ray (aka Cagney) adopted you! We have a 3 legged dog and a totally born deaf dog and I had told my husband that as soon as I returned from grandbaby birth duty, if no one had adopted him, we were going to get that precious fellow and give him a home. How delighted I was to see his great news in The State. Bless you, your husband and Ray in the years ahead. A pet lover in Columbia, SC

  3. I have Ray's (cagney's) sister Lacy we adoped her in May. She has been a great dog.