(1997 - 2008)
It is with sadness that I report the passing of our Merlin, SummerWind’s British Flyer, LCM2. He was 11. Merlin was my first English coursing-bred Greyhound, and the last of my original four Greyhounds. He came to live with me as the result of my first trip to England for the 1998 Waterloo Cup with Pam and Glen Davis. Our new Greyhound friend Jane Strunin had a litter of 9-month-olds on the ground, and we three were so taken with the coursing Greyhounds we had seen at Altcar that we decided to take the plunge and take a couple off Jane’s hands. Pam and Glen chose Amy, Merlin’s sister.
Merlin was in residence with a trainer named Terry Richmond, who reared saplings the old fashioned way – by letting them be "at liberty" on his property, left to roam, run and chase during the day, then brought in at night. This makes them hardy and self-sufficient, but doesn’t do much to reign in their hellion natures – that’s left for later. When Merlin and Amy flew across the pond 6 weeks later with some Greyhound friends who were returning from a wedding in England, reality (and an insistent wife) had taken control, and as a result I had arranged for Merlin to live initially with my friend Les Pekarski, who has long experience at raising various breeds of sighthound puppies. I think Merlin tested even Les' experience – he was in full hellion mode and was not at all intimidated by the sudden change of environment. On my first visit to see him at the Perkarski home, Merlin bounded into the living room, leapt onto a sectional sofa--turning it over--and proceeded to wiggle on his back on the downed sofa in celebration. "He's wild," is all Les could say.
Having decided that they had Amy somewhat under control, Pam and Glen bravely offered to take Merlin for “summer boot camp” and, using Pam’s experience teaching obedience, help him make the transition from kennel dog to (somewhat) mannerly household companion. Pam worked her magic and brought us a (somewhat) changed Greyhound youngster at the end of the summer. Merlin could actually walk through a room without turning anything over, and he knew how to sit ! He got along well with our three girls, who didn’t hesitate to put him in his place when his behavior warranted.
As that fall 1998 lure coursing season commenced, Merlin made it clear that he would happily chase white plastic since he had left the brown hares behind in his native land. The hardest part was waiting to run him in competition until he was about 18 months old, as he was one of those big males who matures slowly.
Merlin made his debut at the year-end Winter Challenge trials in 1998, and our patience paid off. He took what he had learned on short practice courses and ran like every course was the finals of the Waterloo Cup. At 85 pounds, he was an amazing exception to the conventional wisdom that, in Greyhounds, the small females make the best lure coursers. For all his bull-in-a-china-shop ways at home, Merlin had wondrous speed, grace and agility on the field. Having watched dozens of Whippets finish courses while waiting to run, he decided that he could just as expertly execute the take-and-slide maneuver at the end, and it became his signature. One does not stand in the path of a sliding 85 pound Greyhound coming in at full bore, and watch out for Merlin!" became the warning cry of huntmasters throughout Region 7.
Merlin ran to a splendid resume on the field. He won the Florida Classic Cup, the Texas Trophy, and won SEGC's first Greyhound Specialty in 1999, a local specialty of 18 Greyhounds. In that year, he was the #3 lure coursing Greyhound in the nation. He earned the LCM2 title, the first of my Greyhounds to do so. He never won Best of Breed at a Regional Invitational, but at age 6 he won Best of Breed at one of the Winter Challenge trials against a field of about 15 Greyhounds which included several Top 10 runners. He was just brilliant that day, and I was never prouder of him.
For all his athletic talent on the field, Merlin was as unique and irrepressible at home. Try as I might to break him of the habit, he was an unrepentant counter surfer all of his life, and had the iron gut to go along with his insatiable appetite for variety. He once ate an entire stick of butter, with no GI consequences. He could be "stealth Merlin," and once soundlessly snagged and ate a sausage biscuit off a plate on the kitchen table while I had my back turned filling up his water bowl – imagine my surprise when I sat down to an empty plate!
Traveling with Merlin was a "trip" in itself. On a journey to the ASFA International Invitational in Colorado, our group stopped overnight in Abilene, Kansas, the racing Greyhound capital of the U.S. Greyhounds are the only dogs allowed in the Greyhound Hall of Fame there, and while we were looking through a gallery of Greyhound art, Merlin deemed himself an art critic, and took a dump! For all I know, he may be the only Greyhound in history to engage in such an indiscretion in that hallowed place. Later that evening, he kept me laughing when he rolled off the motel bed and landed on his back in a space about 10 inches wide between the bed and the wall. Had he panicked and tried to extricate himself, he surely would have broken a leg, but he had the presence of mind to lie still and let me pull him out by his shoulders (while laughing uncontrollably).
Merlin was diagnosed in August 2007 with osteosarcoma. Due to his age, we opted not to go the chemotherapy route, but Dr. Toby told us about a study he had read which showed that cox-2 inhibitor NSAIDs like meloxicam and rimadyl can slow down the spread of bone cancers in some dogs. We tried Merlin on meloxicam, and lo and behold he was one of those dogs. His limp went away, and subsequent x-rays showed no enlargement of the tumor.
About this time, an 8 week old Greyhound puppy named Guinness moved in with us, and Merlin appointed himself Guinness’ mentor. Merlin had always been an alpha male, but he suspended those rules for Guinness, who was allowed on Merlin's bed with him, or could start a "face fight" with him whenever the mood struck. Merlin took great delight running in the dog pasture with Guinness, showing him how to navigate terrain and jump ditches. He taught the pup that those big long-legged critters with the white tails would run when you chased them. If Guinness gave Merlin the right look, he would chase Guinness with gusto, and luckily the pup was always faster than the old man. Despite the knowledge that Merlin was living on borrowed time, I have to say that watching him pass on his wisdom to the young pup ranked right up there with the pleasure of watching him run a course in the prime of his life.
Merlin's limp returned this past summer, and we knew that the borrowed time was drawing to a close. We managed his pain as long as we could, but in the last week it became clear that Merlin was no longer enjoying his life, and we knew it was time to let him go. So now he is "at liberty" once again, perhaps back with sister Amy in a place reminiscent of the green English countryside of their birth. Rest in peace, old friend – there will never be another quite like you.
John and Laura Paker