We are often asked where the company name ‘Ziggy’s Wish’ comes from. Ravi Thornton explains.
Those lessons were important to me for so many reasons, but for now let me introduce you to the dog who changed my life.
Formerly known as Twiggy’s Wish, Ziggy was born in Ireland, as are many racing greyhounds. You could tell because he was tattooed in both ears. He lived his entire racing life, however, at Belle Vue racing stadium in Manchester. Here’s a video I found of him, at three years old:
Fortunately for Ziggy, after his winning days were over, he was one of the lucky ex-racers who made it into the care of a rehoming charity – Greyhounds In Need, or GIN. Happy endings, however, are rarely as simple as that.
Ziggy was a big dog, even by greyhound standards, and very powerful. He won a lot of races, so was raced till he was almost five years old. That’s a long career for a greyhound, and means the only, institutionalised life that he had known cut deep from puppyhood into his adult dog lifespan. Not surprising he struggled to adjust once that life was over.
GIN did find people who wanted to help Ziggy. He was both regally handsome and startlingly beautiful, and easily caught the eye. So it wasn’t long before an offer of adoption was forthcoming. It was a trial adoption, however, and during that trial Ziggy bit. The family felt unable to keep him, the bite went on his permanent record, there were no further adoption offers, and Ziggy was put into kennels.
As there are so many ex-racing greyhounds needing homes, many greyhound rescue charities also have networks of foster carers. Tireless in their efforts, GIN managed to find Ziggy a foster home, and for a short while he was relieved of the severe separation anxiety (common in ex-racers) that he suffered from at that time. It was a temporary solution though and, with still no further adoption offers on the table, Ziggy was once again put into kennels.
The months rolled on, each bringing more greyhounds to GIN, each greyhound needing a home. With space at a premium Ziggy was moved yet again, to different kennels – and that was where I found him.
I didn’t rush into greyhound adoption. We’ve always had dogs in my family, always medium-large and always rescue dogs. So I was under no illusions about the commitment involved. Initially I had a lurcher in mind, as dogs homes are full of them. Having never had a lurcher I began to research them. That led me to greyhounds which in turn led me to ex-racers. Something must have clicked because I found I just couldn’t stop reading about them. I must have devoured a hundred websites as I made my decision: likely to be more challenging, likely to be more rewarding. A few calls and emails and some long winding lanes later I arrived at the kennels calm and resolute.
I can’t remember the actual names (human or animal) so am using generic tags, but the conversation that day went something like this:
Me: Hello? Um, hello?
Woman: Can I help you?
Me: I’m here to see Man, to look at the greyhounds with a view to adopting.
Woman: Man’s not here yet. You can wait if you like.
[Some barking later]
Woman: Still here? [makes a phone call] Man will be another hour. I can show you the dogs briefly in the meantime, though they’re not my lot so I don’t know them that well.
Me: Um, thanks.
Woman: This one’s Dog 1 [reading the actual name from a card on the kennel door]. He’s a great lad. This one’s Dog 2. He’s a bit loud but a great lad. This one’s Dog 3. She’s a bit timid but a great girl. This one’s Dog 4. He’s a great lad. Dog 5’s taken. Someone came last week and wants him. This one’s Dog 6. He’s lively but a great lad… [and so on until] … This one’s Ziggy. He bites. Any of them take your fancy?
Me: Um, well. They all seem… great. Maybe I could try walking these ones? [indicating any but the biting Ziggy]
Woman: Man needs to be here for that. You can wait if you like.
[Some more barking later]
Man: Sorry I’m late. My wife’s leaving me.
Me: Oh. Um…
Man: Did you want to try walking some of the greyhounds?
Me: Yes, please, if that’s okay. Just to get a feel for them.
Man: It’s the best way. Was it a dog or a bitch you wanted?
Me: A dog, I think. There was a nice black one in the kennels….
[Three well-walked black greyhounds later]
Man: What do you think? Any of them suit you?
Me: It’s hard to say. They’re all lovely. I’d be happy taking any one of them. How about I tell you more about me and my situation, and perhaps you can recommend a good match? I’m a writer, I work from home, I’m generally calm and…
Man: Would you like to try walking Ziggy?
Man: Ziggy. He’s a great lad.
Me: You mean the one that bites?
Man: Well, yes. We’re obliged to tell you that because it’s on his record – but he’s a really loving lad, a special lad. He deserves a good home, and it sounds like you’d be just what he needs.
Me: Um… [hesitant, doubtful, not really wanting an aggressive dog foisted upon me but feeling a bit sorry for Man on account of his marital demise] … alright then. I’ll walk him.
The rest, as they say, is history. The connection I felt with Ziggy that day as we walked was so strong that it erased all doubt. I paid the adoption deposit on the spot and returned home to await the home-check that GIN always carry out before releasing their wards to new owners. I planned to go back to collect Ziggy straight after.
Perhaps, though, I wasn’t the only one who felt the connection that day, because when GIN came for the home-check they brought Ziggy with them. Either that or they were just so relieved that somebody wanted him.
I had time, in the following weeks, to study this big, powerful dog properly. Having been passed from pillar to post, albeit with the best intentions, he was nervous to be in yet another new environment. He wouldn’t look at my face, he didn’t wag his tail. He was bald on his stomach and chest. He had staple-gun staples down the back of one leg (a quick fix to an injury long since healed and never removed). And he bit – a lot.
Never aggressively, though. The bites were hard and vicious as dog bites tend to be, but they were momentary. The biting was reactive – to triggers I had yet to work out. After each one Ziggy looked even more confused and mortified by his actions than I was. It was also evident in his sleep aggression, which is quite a common disorder in ex-racing greyhounds, but in Ziggy’s case was pronounced, with some fairly horrific displays of body-raising, lip-curled snarling, all done in his sleep.
It took two years of patience and willing, on both sides, to get to the point where I could properly manhandle Ziggy. His bite triggers were to do with certain noises and gestures coming too close to certain parts of his body, and you had to be very careful of that – but what drove me to keep on trying to overcome these difficulties was that, biting aside, I had genuinely never known a dog as loving as Ziggy. He yearned for affectionate so badly – you could see it in his every fibre. And I wanted him to have that. To have the strokes, the cuddles and rubs; the leaping and jumping and rolling around on the ground; the carefree and wonderful silliness of play.
In the last three years of Ziggy’s life, bites were rare and the sleep aggression nothing more than the odd rumble. There were masses of cuddles and plenty of play. Watching and sharing with him as Ziggy learned to trust my touch, my noises, my gestures, and those of family and friends as well, was immensely gratifying. And the quivering joy that affection brought to him every time he allowed himself to receive it, never failed to move and inspire me.
I don’t know if Man ever resolved things with his wife, but I do know he was right about Ziggy. He was a special lad, and I feel extremely privileged to have had this beautiful dog in my life. When Ziggy died, his name and his narrative seemed to carry everything that I wanted my work to stand for – hope, drive, beauty, belief and the determination to make something worthwhile out of whatever difficulties had gone before. The company was just a fledgling idea back then, but when the time came to formalise and incorporate, there was only one name it could possibly have…