Susie, Alabaster Flyer LCM
(1994 – 2005)
By John Parker
Susie, the racing Greyhound who helped me learn a lot about racing, died July 27 following surgery to remove an intestinal tumor. Our vet, Dr. Wayne Morris, reported that she had come through the surgery well, and that all her vital signs were good as she was coming out of the anesthesia. He was by her side as she took two deep breaths, and then died. In all likelihood, she had a blood clot that broke loose from the operative site and went to her heart. It is a known risk of surgery, though it occurs more frequently in humans than in dogs.
Susie and I first met in March 1995, when she was four months old and growing up on a Greyhound farm near Ocala, Florida. I was new to Greyhounds and wanted to learn everything I could about them. On a business trip to Florida, I made contact with a Greyhound breeder who had a farm and training center, and had Greyhounds of all ages and at all stages of development and training. He was kind enough to invite me out to see his operation and meet all his Greyhounds. I had no intention of buying a puppy or making a foray into racing.
However, a pudgy little all-white female puppy had other ideas. She caught my eye immediately – I had never seen an all-white Greyhound ! She was even more unique because of the large black spot under one eye that reminded me (and I’m dating myself here) of the old "I'd rather fight than switch!" cigarette ads. She had a very appealing personality, too.
Needless to say, when I went home, I couldn’t get that cute little puppy off my mind. I called the breeder, and after several conversations about the ups and downs of owning a racing Greyhound, I bought her and named her Susie. It was of the few impulse purchases I've ever made, and the only one I haven’t regretted. Luckily for me, the breeder was a "one-stop shop" of sorts in that he had a training facility and a kennel booking at the Tampa and Derby Lane (St. Petersburg) tracks, so Susie could grow up with her littermates, be trained right there, and then race in the Tampa Bay area, where I went frequently on business and could see her race.
Over the next months, I became a familiar sight at that farm, visiting Susie and watching her grow up, which she did – like a weed. I even imagined that she remembered me, although I’m sure the treats in my pocket helped that along. Her training proceeded well, and the breeder advised me that she was showing “nice early speed.” Soon, it was time for her to leave her birthplace and head for the big city and the Tampa Greyhound Track. We chose her registered name – Alabaster Flyer – to be both descriptive of her color and a prediction of her speed. I went down for her first schooling race, and was as nervous as a parent at a child's first athletic competition. She schooled in well and was declared eligible to race.
The breeder’s prediction of "nice early speed" came true – Susie was often the first to the turn. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a great deal of "bottom," and tended to fade in the home stretch, which were quite long at those two tracks. Although Susie won a couple of races and finished in the purse money in a few more, it became clear that her talents didn’t mesh with those two tracks. Besides, we wanted her to be closer to us so that we could go watch her race more often.
I had met trainer Jim Watson of the Carroll Blair Kennel in Birmingham through our adoption work, and had been impressed with his care of the Greyhounds in his charge. I called Jim, and he agreed to take Susie on. So, I made a weekend road trip to Tampa to pick Susie up and take her to Birmingham – it was our first period of extended “quality time” together! Jim studied her racing lines, took a good look at her, and opined that she lacked "bottom" because she was a bit light. He added five pounds to her set weight (she was happy to cooperate and eat more), and schooled her in. Her running times showed promise.
We had plenty of advance notice of her debut race, so we recruited the Alleys and the Birchfields to drive over to Birmingham and make an evening of it with us. We opened our programs, and Susie was the odds-on favorite in her race – we could hardly contain ourselves. Soon, it was time for her race – we shouted encouragement as she went into the starting box, even though she couldn’t hear us. (Susie’s breeder had always suggested that it was best to cheer for your dog by number, as he had once cheered for one of his by call name as he went by, and the dog had turned his head to see who was calling him, and lost the race.)
What happened next is still one of the highlights of my 11 years in Greyhounds. When "Smitty" came around the home stretch turn and the boxes opened, Susie came out like a shot, and led the entire race, winning "box to wire." We went crazy! We hurried down from the clubhouse to see Susie at the post-race cool-down area, then followed Jim back to the kennel to celebrate properly with her. By the time we got there, Susie was ensconced in her crate, enjoying the "victory bone" that it was Jim’s custom to give his Greyhounds right after they won a race. We were a little disappointed that she seemed more intent on her bone than on accepting a congratulatory pat on the head and scratch behind the ears!
Susie continued to do well at Birmingham, rising rapidly to Grade A and winning a very respectable percentage of her races. We drove over to see her often, sometime to see her race, and sometime just to play with her in the sprint field. We occasionally came back with one of the Blair Kennel’s former stars that had graded off and was ready to be adopted.
After a little over a year, Susie seemed to be getting bored with her racing job, and started dropping in grade. Before she graded off, we decided that it was time to bring her home to start her new careers – companion and lure courser. She made a seamless transition into home life, as if she had always lived in a home, and got along well our first two Greyhounds, Brandy, and Golden Girl. We called them "the girls" and gave that title to a portrait of them that we had painted by a local dog artist. That painting now hangs over our fireplace, and is one of my most cherished possessions.
Susie likewise made a seamless transition to lure coursing, learning the new game quickly and excelling. She won Best of Breed at the 1999 Region 7 Invitational, and went on to finish 1999 ranked as the #5 lure coursing Greyhound in the country. She earned her Lure Courser of Merit title in a year and a half, and was just 14 points shy of her LCM 2 title when I retired her from the sport in May 2001. She loved to chase the lure, but recurring toe problems kept her out of more field trials than they let her in. In her lure coursing career, Susie ran in 52 trials, winning 1st place seventeen times, 2nd place ten times, and Best of Breed four times. There was little she loved more than going to field trials, and she would be up and standing at the door when the first piece of lure coursing equipment came out of the closet.
In contrast to Golden Girl, the Clown Princess, Susie was the Serene Queen of the Household. She was the self-appointed hall monitor, and barked whenever one of the other Greyhounds was misbehaving. If we heard her barking in the kitchen, it was a sure bet that Merlin had taken something off the counter. She had the opposite of separation anxiety – we called it hubbub anxiety. If we were in one room and there was more noise or dog activity than she liked, Susie would get up quietly, and walk to the bedroom, where she could lie down and relax by herself. In the last year, she had decided on her own that she preferred to spend more of her time in our kennel than in the house. When the other Greyhounds were being brought in from turnouts, Susie would run to the kennel door to be let in there. I think she liked the 24 hour outdoor access there, as well as having her own “suite.” We obliged her preference, though we missed having her in the house as much. She shared a kennel yard with our two year old “puppies” and I think she enjoyed putting them in their place when they got too rambunctious in her presence.
When SEGA was founded in 1998 with the goal of establishing an adoption kennel, it gave us the greatest satisfaction to donate her winnings on the track as "seed money" for the kennel fund, as it had always been our ideal that Susie was running for her fellow Greyhounds. The picture of Susie with Debbie that hangs on the wall of the adoption kennel will, I hope, always be there as a reminder of the role Susie played in helping to fund the kennel.
When you have Greyhounds close in age, you know the day may come when they leave you, one after another, and possibly in short order. Knowing it makes it no easier when it happens. I will miss Susie as much as I still miss Golden Girl, but I like to think that “the girls” are somewhere together again, maybe chasing something or lying in the shade of a tree, taking it easy after a long run.
Susie may have become mine through an impulse purchase, but she was one of the best investments I ever made, if you count love, companionship, fun, and good sport as part of the return. In those, she returned her purchase price tenfold.
Rest in peace, Susie.