I woke up at 4 Wednesday morning.
There’s nothing unusual about that. I’d rather sleep in for an hour or two more, but every morning, I wake at 4. Call it a conditioned response.
For years, every morning, I was awakened by barking. Lester was letting me know he was ready to start his day, and if I didn’t get out of bed and attend to his needs, I would be spending the early morning cleaning the carpet.
There were other very early mornings, the single-digit hours, when Lester’s barking would wake me, and I’d climb out of bed and go downstairs to see what he wanted. On a lot of occasions, Lester would be standing at his end of the couch, looking at the bunched-up blankets in his space. He wouldn’t lie on the blankets unless they were smoothed out. Once the blankets were unbunched, he would hop onto the couch, turn around three times and lie down.
The funny thing is that way back when I was adopted by my first greyhound – long story short, he chose me as his human – I read a book about the breed that said they didn’t bark. Lester, I suppose, didn’t read that book. He barked, loud, and had several varieties of barking. There was the barking that indicated he needed his blankets smoothed out. There was the whining bark that meant he wanted to eat. There was the staccato bark that indicated that his brother-from-another-mother, Delmer, was lying on his couch.
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Another story: One night, at about 11, Lester had to go out. I was dozing on the couch when he woke me, and after I let him out, I returned to the couch and fell asleep. I was awakened by barking and my phone ringing. It was my neighbor. “Your dog is barking,” he said. I replied, “Yeah, he can be a real pain in the ass.” For years, Lester must have believed that his first name was “Jesus,” as in “Jesus Lester, lie down already.”
Anyway, Wednesday morning, I woke at 4 to silence.
The day before, Lester made his last trip to the vet.
He had been pretty frail – he was 14½ years old, which, in human years, is about 90 – and had lost some weight and was having a bit of trouble walking. I had to help him up the stairs and, toward the end, carry him so he could go out.
Then, Wednesday morning, he fell down the stairs and couldn’t get up. He had a sore on his hindquarter that broke open and was bleeding.
I put him in the back of my Jeep and drove him to the vet’s office. On the way, it dawned on me that he wasn’t going to be coming home. I just knew it.
The vet techs had to put him on a gurney to take him into the office.
When the vet called me – I was waiting in the parking lot, as per COVID-19 protocols – I knew what she was going to say before she said it. Still, it wasn’t easy. They let me into the office to say goodbye. He didn’t look scared. He looked, well, resigned.
It was not a look I’d seen much with Lester. He was a nervous dog, not high-strung, just kind of neurotic with a deep streak of obsessive-compulsive disorder, traits readers of my columns became familiar with when Lester would take over the column.
More on that later.
He was born in Oklahoma. His parents were Golddust Memory and Angry Again. He was one of a litter of eight. He had been pre-adopted by Keystone Greyhounds, the organization adopting him before his supposed racing career, and was named HWH Keystone, later changed to Keyster.
He trained at a greyhound farm in Blair, a tiny town southwest of Oklahoma City. From there, he was shipped off to Daytona, Florida, to race. He never made it to the track. He washed out, probably because, although he was a big boy, he was a bit uncoordinated and goofy and neurotic. (I called him L.D., short for Lester Dog, and homage to the patron saint of neurotics, Larry David, of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” fame.)
He went back to Oklahoma and then to Pennsylvania and then to my house, where he was renamed Lester – in honor of guitar great Les Paul, or maybe Foggy Mountain Boy Lester Flatt, either one, although he just seemed to be a Lester – and joined Norman, the world’s smartest greyhound who needed someone to boss around. Norman did and Lester was Norm’s sidekick.
After Norman went to the big farm upstate, Lester was alone, briefly. He needed another greyhound, so Delmer came into his life. Delmer amused him. The two would run out into the yard and after briefly trying to chase Delmer, Lester would stop and watch as his brother raced around the yard. (Delmer had about 100 races and, according to racing records, he’d either win or run into another dog and fall down.)
Delmer also set off Lester’s OCD by lying on Lester’s end of the couch and ignoring him as Lester stood there, staring at him. Then, Lester would pace around the room, touching his nose to the ash bucket by the fireplace, or the speaker in front of the TV, or a book lying on the coffee table.
Lester also had a complicated relationship with his cat, Monkey Boy. He learned early on not to mess with Monkey, his first encounter with the cat ending with a swipe to the nose. He and Monkey forged a kind of truce, based on mutual respect and the prospect of Lester getting a smack to his nose.
He was a weird dog.
And now, he’s gone.
Everyone who has lost a dog knows how it feels and how you tell yourself that you don’t want to have to go through that again.
But, the way I look at it, Lester had a good life. Racing greyhounds, early on, aren’t treated exceptionally well, and I can imagine that he thought he was in heaven, having dog snacks, the occasional pizza crust and his own couch with blankets that aren’t bunched up.
I like to think that I gave him a lot.
And he gave me a lot.
RIP, Lester Dog.
Columnist/reporter Mike Argento has been a Daily Record staffer since 1982 and has had greyhounds since 1994. Reach him at 717-771-2046 or at [email protected]
This article originally appeared on York Daily Record: The passing of a weird dog: Lester makes his last trip to the vet