In October, 1991, Jack went to pick up our new dog from Mrs. Rosen. We'd known for a while that she would be blue (a dark gray; the color everyone expects Greyhounds to be--but the color is actually pretty rare), so we tried to come up with a name that had something to do with "blue." We had no idea what her racing name was (we found out later it was "I's Eye Opener"), so we just settled on something we liked. And since Amber was a jewel-like name, Topaz seemed like it would work well, especially since "topaz" could be referring to her blue coat color or her golden eyes. (Click here if you'd like to see Topaz's pedigree. There's another picture of my beautiful blue girl on that page.)

Topaz was the exact opposite of Amber, who was confident and "bombproof." Topaz was skittish and spooky almost beyond our comprehension. She was totally and completely terrified of men. Unless she was on a leash, she wouldn't come anywhere near Jack, who was mystified by her behavior since he'd never done anything to hurt her (or anything else, for that matter). Topaz was none too sure of Chris, who was ten at the time of her arrival. Chris would sit on the floor for hours and make himself as small and non-threatening as possible. He'd sit dog biscuits around him and he'd talk and talk to her. Soon, she'd come get the treats, and soon after that he'd be able to touch her without her bolting away. In this way, Chris gradually earned Topaz's trust.

Topaz attached herself to me like velcro. She followed me everywhere. Common everyday things scared her to death. The telephone ringing would have her bolting in terror. If I reached up to get something off the top shelf in the kitchen, she'd run to the other end of the house to hide. If I called to Chris, just raising my voice a bit so he could hear me in another room, Topaz would bolt for "safety." She quickly earned the nicknames of "Chicken Little" and "Topaz the Terribly Timid."

Going for walks was especially a challenge. Most exracers are known for walking calmly on leash, and Topaz was no exception, unless a leaf would blow by her, or a car whoosh by her, or some loud noise would occur, or... At these times, she'd try to flee in terror, and I'd be hanging on to her leash like a cowboy with a just-roped mustang at the end of rope. This situation made me a firm believer in the necessity of a good collar made especially for sight hounds--a modified choke collar, sometimes called a premier collar. If properly adjusted, these collars can help prevent dogs with small, narrow heads from backing out of their collars. All sight hounds, with their aerodynamically structured heads, fit in that category. I became expert in anticipating her reactions, hanging on to her, and continuing to walk on like nothing was out of the ordinary... "Hey, Topaz, what're you acting so silly for? There's nothing to worry about! Look at Amber--is she acting as silly as you?" Ever so gradually, things began to be less threatening.

We used Amber's demands for attention to help draw Topaz to Jack. Jack would sit down on the floor and make a major fuss over Amber. He wouldn't even look at Topaz. (Topaz is extremely submissive and in no way challenges the alpha status of the humans in her "pack.") Topaz would watch Amber get belly rubs and treats, and she'd gradually inch closer. Still not looking at her, Jack would begin to nudge a treat in her direction. After a while, Topaz would come get the treat. After a few weeks, she'd actually take it from Jack's hand. Ever so gradually, Jack would begin to touch Topaz. At first she took off, but she'd come back. Amber didn't run away, so maybe this guy wasn't so bad after all. Eventually, Jack could actually pet her without her running off. Another milestone reached!

We came to realize that Topaz is what people call a "spook." Spookiness is often a genetic trait; it does not always indicate that the dog was abused. Sometimes, it's tied to a thyroid deficiency, though that is not so in Topaz's case. We also believed that Topaz had had little or no socialization in her past, and little exposure to anything outside the kennel and track atmosphere, so we set out to change that. We spent hours at GPA booths almost every weekend. At first, Topaz would hide behind me, shaking like a leaf. I'd step behind her, putting her back in front of me. Topaz watched Amber push her way right up to get as much attention as she could. Hmmm. Maybe all these people weren't so bad after all. Topaz's unusual coloring drew people to her. We asked anyone who approached her to do it slowly and quietly, that she was very timid and needed to learn that most people wouldn't hurt her. We never met a single person who wasn't glad to cooperate.

Topaz has always preferred peace and quiet. If things got too noisy for her, she'd generally go to her favorite spot downstairs in "her" corner of the family room. Needless to say, that's where you'd always find her when Chris was practicing on his drums. It was also her refuge when thunderstorms hit. She was definitely afraid of them; upstairs, she'd pace and whine from the first rumble until the last, and then she'd be fine again. I'm not sure if being downstairs muffled the noise or if it seemed like a more secure shelter to her, but she was definitely more calm there than anywhere else during the storm. None of my other greys have had a problem with thunderstorms, but I have heard of others that are thunder-phobic in varying intensities.

It took a long time (years), but Topaz's improvement was steady. With Jack, Chris and myself, she was extremely affectionate. She'd gladly give you a tongue bath if you'd let her. Her tail wagged so hard that it was often thumping on the floor or the walls. This led to her nickname of "Thumper." When she was really excited, her tail didn't wag, it rotated like a helicopter blade--it looked like it would lift her rump right off the floor. When sleeping, Topaz could often be found laying upside down with all four feet in the air in what is commonly (in greyhound circles) called the "dead cockroach" position. You wouldn't think that dogs with as narrow a back as greyhounds have could manage this position, but they do. It looks pretty funny.

Topaz no longer quaked at the GPA booths, but sought out any available attention just like all the other hounds. People who watched her progress could hardly believe she was the same dog. She was still timid and spooky, but that's just the way she was. Not every greyhound is as confident and outgoing as Amber, Topaz's "security blanket."

We found out that Amber really was Topaz's "security blanket." On occasion, we needed to take Amber somewhere (like to the vet) and it wasn't necessary or practical for Topaz to go along. If no one else was home, Topaz went ballistic--she wailed, she threw herself at the walls, stairs, furniture and doors. A little separation anxiety isn't that uncommon with greyhounds who've spent their entire lives in the company of their own kind. This was something totally and completely different. Topaz had panic attacks when she was left alone. We tried working this situation through as we had so many others, trying to get her accustomed to being alone for minutes at a time, hoping to build her confidence and trust that we would return. We tried crating her, we tried leaving her loose in the family room. We tried leaving the radio on, the TV on, the lights on, the lights off, with toys, nothing made any difference except the presence of another dog or a human. Fearing for her safety, we gave up. We didn't leave her alone. If Amber went to the vet and no one else was home, Topaz went along "for the ride." (No, we couldn't leave her in the car alone, either.)

Topaz's panic attacks were fairly easy to work around because there were very few situations where we'd even consider taking one dog along, but not both. But after Amber's bout with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, we suddenly looked at her and really noticed the white muzzle that used to be brindle. We suddenly realized that Amber was getting old, and especially with old dogs, things can happen very suddenly. If such a thing happened, we'd have a major problem with Topaz. We began to consider adopting another greyhound. This would have to be a dog with a very special temperament, though. We needed a confident dog that would be able to step in when necessary and take over Amber's job as Topaz's "security blanket." We knew we couldn't handle two spooky dogs at the same time. We also needed a non-dominant dog, one that wouldn't be tempted to take exception to Amber's "alpha dog" status, which she still maintained in spite of her age.

The solution to our dilemma turned out to be Jonesy, who arrived in September of 1995. She was adopted directly from her breeder/owner, who felt that she'd be just the dog for our situation. He was right. Since Amber's bout with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, she tired pretty quickly. Because of that, we'd stopped taking her to GPA booths. Topaz did okay at these without her, but you could tell she missed her "security blanket." Jonesy, a friendly and confident 3 year old, stepped right into her role, and Topaz regained her former confidence in her job as Ambassa-Dog, while Amber took it easy at home.

I often wonder about premonitions, because as I feared, we did lose Amber very suddenly. After a bit of a romp in the yard on a beautiful spring day, she came inside and laid down in her bed to nap. Chris called me at work at 4:30, told me he'd had the dogs out, and then he went to do something in his room. While Amber slept, her heart peacefully stopped. I found her when I got home from work (5:15), and Topaz was laying alertly nearby, looking for all the world like she was keeping watch, guarding her buddy. Once I was there, Topaz relinquished her guard duty to me, and she joined Jonesy in the bedroom. I could almost hear her say, "Mom's here, she'll take care of things now."

And so the responsibility for being Topaz's "security blanket" has fully shifted to Jonesy now, as the picture to the right shows.

Both Topaz and Jonesy were extremely subdued for about two weeks after Amber's death, but then things started to get back to normal. It was too quiet, though. We hadn't realized what a livewire Amber was until she was gone. So, along came Comet.

Things have a way of catching you off guard when you least expect it. Topaz had always been so healthy, we just assumed she'd continue that way, and that she'd be with us for a long, long time. It was not to be. On the morning of March 25, 2000, I awoke hearing Topaz screaming in pain. She was trying to stand up and couldn't do it. I helped her stand, and she wouldn't put any weight on her right front leg. I gently probed her leg, but didn't get any reaction. Any time she tried to move, she cried out horribly.

I called the vet, asking for an emergency appointment, saying I was afraid my dog had bone cancer. The vet checked Topaz's leg, and found she was extremely tender in her right shoulder. We knew of no injury that should have caused such profound pain, and we feared the worst. The X-rays just about confirmed our fear--osteosarcoma--bone cancer. We were given the option to do a biopsy, but decided against it when warned that the biopsy itself could fracture the fragile bone.

It was hard to think straight in our heartbroken condition. The vet explained our options and gave us his candid opinions. He warned us that no matter what we chose to do, that osteosarcoma is a very agressive and painful cancer, and none of the options would cure Topaz--and would only delay the inevitable outcome. The choices:

1) We could have her shoulder and leg amputated. This would remove the primary tumor and probably her pain. The downside--research seems to show that the removal of the primary tumor could cause any metastisized tumors to grow very quickly. Also, Topaz at age 10 was already somewhat shakey in the back end, and making her a tripod could very well worsen that shakiness.

2) We could do chemo, with or without the amputation. The biggest problem here was the expense. We just didn't have the money.

3) We could do palliative radiation, which would hopefully relieve her pain for an unknown amount of time. This is a non-invasive procedure, with success rates that vary from animal to animal. While not inexpensive, this option would cost considerably less than either 1) and/or 2).

4) We could keep Topaz comfortable for as long as possible, and then put her to sleep when we could no longer control her pain.

The vet gave us Rimadyl for Topaz, and sent us home to discuss the situation. He also provided us with the name of a veterinary oncologist who could give us more details about the options, if we wanted to talk with her. After a few doses of Rimadyl, Topaz's pain was clearly lessened, but we knew that would only be a temporary solution.

How do you think through all your tears? We agonized over what to do, all the while wishing our financial state was better so we could do more for Topaz. We were not ready to give up on her yet, for she clearly was not ready to give up. On Monday we called the oncologist for an appointment, and she had us bring Topaz in on the 29th. She told us she knew exactly how we felt, as she'd lost her Golden Retriever to osteosarcoma not that long ago. With her guidance, we decided to try palliative radiation, and Topaz received her first treatment that day.

(Topaz's Osteosarcoma Diary outlines what happened to her from the diagnosis of her osteosarcoma to the time we could no longer control her pain and had to let her go. If you'd like to read it and/or learn more about palliative radiation, click here.)

After four months or so, the effects of the palliative radiation seemed to be wearing off, so we opted to try a second course of treatments. I am not sure if it just wasn't as effective the second time, or if the cancer had spread outside of the radiated area. Whatever the cause, Topaz needed more and more pain medication. We added a second pain-killer, and when the time came that she just could not be comfortable, we knew it was time. Topaz lost her brave battle with osteosarcoma on September 10, 2000. She was 11 years old.

The palliative radiation therapy gave Topaz five more good months. I recommend that anyone at least check into it if amputation is not an option.

Go Home! Beginnings Amber Jonesy Comet

Greyhound Glossary Pannus Osteosarcoma

Flights of Fancy Greyt Links

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