This page was updated on December 20, 2007
Author, Robert Scott McKinnon who writes for the column, The Far Turn / In Search of the Big Picture in The Greyhound Review (printed by The National Greyhound Association), interviewed founder John Hern early spring 2002. The following is the result of the informal interview, printed in the July 2002 issue of The Greyhound Review (pictures mentioned and printed in the original article will be added later).
John Hern: 3700, and counting
"Little Elsie," I said, tromping into the house, tired from the long drive over three Idaho and Montana mountain passes, "Im home!" Our Iowa adopted Greyhound trotted in behind me, headed for his water dish.
"How was the drive?" Little Elsie asked, patting the tall blue brindle on the back as he slurped away.
"Long," I said, tossing my coat on the couch. "I finally found out what Coeur d Alene means. Coeur d Alene was named by early French traders who thought the Indians were "hard-hearted" and in their language, sharp as an awl. Coeur d'Alene means "heart of the awl."
Owl? Little Elsie echoed? She gave me a peck on the cheek.
Not owl, I said, pecking back. Awl.
Little Elsie said, When we used to visit the track in Coeur d Alene, I always thought it meant Heart of the woods.
Heart of the awl, I said. Besides, the track was really in Post Falls. I sipped my coffee. Just a point of clarification, nothing argumentative.
Little Elsie went maudlin. We had fun over there at that Post Falls track, you and me, Maddog. How many years has it been closed?
December, 1995, I said, after allegations of Greyhound atrocities were published in The Spokesman Review. After that media broadside, Idaho now has legislation banning Greyhound racing in the state. And, the law also bans the training of dogs for racing. John said you could read all about it on the web, with the following URL: I checked my notes.
Ill have to look that up, Little Elsie said.
By the way, I said, speaking of the web, Amy Hern runs a chat line for Greyhound Pets, with over 200 regular contributors. Greyhound Pets, Inc. is big in Spokane, Seattle, Boise, Tri-Cities, Canada. Its quite an operation, Little Elsie. They get their dogs from Colorado and Arizona tracks.
Ill have to check Amys chat line out, Little Elsie said. So how was your interview? Little Elsie poured me a cup of coffee. Is there a story there, for your Far Turn column In Search of the Big Picture?
Boy is there ever! I said. I sat down to the living room table. My dog put his head in my lap for a scratch behind the ears. Thanks, Little Elsie I said, sipping away. A story? Ill say. This story will be a dandy. My visit to the John and Amy Hern home in Coeur d Alene was something else. I found it interesting, educational and historical. You should see their home, Little Elsie, absolutely beautiful, right on the Spokane River, just downriver from Coeur d Alene Lake. John has a little boat thats powered by steam. It goes four miles an hour! And the Spokane River goes five miles an hour! Which means by simple mathematics, when John goes boating upriver he goes backwards a mile an hour. But more important, Little Elsie, John Hern and his organization Greyhound Pets, Inc, have adopted, since 1985, over 3700 Greyhounds!
Little Elsie thought about it, then said, 3700 Greyhound adoptions? Wow! Is that some kind of record?
I couldnt help myself; the drive had made me giddy; I broke out into song.
Ace the Wonder Dog!
Always in a Good Mood.
Always gets the best Food.
Sleeps in chairs.
Gates and crates.
Smartest dog in the United States
Is Ace the Wonder Dog!
Where on earth did you pick that up? Little Elsie asked, pouring herself a cup, sitting down across from me, all ears, as they say.
For pitys sake, Ive been singing that silly tune for the last six hours, I explained, probably to stay awake while driving. Actually, John Hern himself, an accomplished harmonica player and a student of the five string banjo, composed the lyrics, I dont know about the tune, that just seemed to fit. Ace is the Hern family dog, along with Stanton, the second family dog.
Both Greyhounds? Little Elsie asked.
Of course, both Greyhounds, I said. And that Stanton has to be the second biggest Greyhound I have ever seen. The dog is huge!
It is a snappy little tune, Little Elsie said. I like it. Why is Ace called Ace The Wonder Dog?
I was glad she asked, because I knew the answer. Because, the dog is so smart, I said, smiling smugly. John told me a story about his dog Ace opening a gate. Cruisin Ace, John calls Ace.
Ace the Wonder dog kept getting out of the yard, you see, and John could not figure it out. Over and over and over again, the dog was getting out, and John thought it was impossible. So one day John went out to get the mail. John paused at the mail box, waited, and waited, and waited, and finally he watched the gate latch move. Ace the Wonder Dog pulled the door open, pulled mind you, not pushed, stuck his head out, saw John standing there, sheepishly closed the gate, never went out again. The gate was on a timer; Little Elsie, built to fool people who might try to open it. Ace had to time it just right to get it open. And that is why Ace The Wonder Dog is called Ace the Wonder Dog. Little Elsie, you have to admit, Ace the Wonder Dog has to be something of a genius to open a gate like that.
Does make you wonder, she said.
Would you like to know how smart the dog really is, Little Elsie? I said.
It gets better? Little Elsie asked.
It gets better, I said. It goes like this."
I have an idea Id better fill up, Little Elsie said, and she poured for me and for herself. Satisfied, she gave me the go ahead, and I started in.
Well, I said, this story takes place even before John caught Ace opening his gate. Ace, you see, needed bone money, and so he opened the gate, took off at his leisure to check out downtown Coeur D Alene. Strolling along the sidewalk, Ace saw a HELP WANTED sign in the window of a store.
Must Be Computer Literate
Must Type Forty Words a Minute
Must Be Bilingual
Equal Opportunity Employer!!!
So Ace the Wonder Dog, I said to Little Elsie, who you will recall needs bone money, grabs the sign in his mouth and goes on in to the store and finds the manager. The manager said, youre a dog, we dont hire dogs. Ace pointed to the sign, where it said Equal Opportunity Employer!!!
So, the manager said, OK, lets see you type.
The manager gave Ace a manuscript, from which to sight-read, and several blank pieces of paper.
I bet Ace aced it, Little Elsie said.
Precisely, I said. Ace aced it. Ace sat down to the word processor and banged it out in five minutes, perfect punctuation, perfect spelling, correct grammar.
Well fine, the manager said, still not impressed, but are you computer literate?
So Ace fires up the computer, checks out all the menus on Windows, defrags the hard drive, tunes up the modem, plays a quick game of free cell. The manager, looking over Aces shoulder, whispers in Aces ear, thats pretty good, but youre not bi-lingual.
Ace turned around, looked that manager in the eye, said, Meow.
Little Elsie laughed. Thats a good one, she said.
I laughed too, even though I knew it to be a true story and not a joke. Our dog, who also made acquaintance with Ace and Stanton, hopped up on the couch, sighed, put his head between his paws, rolled his eyes back as only members of the hound family do, waited for my next comment. Our dog, I said to Little Elsie, spent his visit time examining Stantons toy box, pulled out every stuffed toy, one by one, and persisted in throwing them around the family room.
You did that? Little Elsie said to our dog.
There go the eyes again, rolling off to the side this time, as if they were looking at something.
I pulled a package of pictures out of my camera bag.
Little Elsie said, Developed already?
One hour, when I stopped in Missoula to gas up and snack, I said. I also walked our dog on a long potty break. I selected one of my favorites, a picture of an Egyptian dog, and a key to the dogs name. I pushed it over for Little Elsie to take a look. Thats Anubis, I said. It's a painting on papyrus, and John got it from a stall in Seattle's Pike Place Market selling Egyptian .. Stuff.
Little Elsie nodded. The god of the dead. He was in charge of embalming people.
No. Anubis, Little Elsie said. Anubis is associated with the jackal. Usually the picture is of a man with a jackals head. Here we have Anubis as all jackal, perched on what appears to be a throne.
John said Anubis was a Greyhound, I said.
Greyhound? Little Elsie echoed. She studied the picture. I suppose. Why not. From the jackal came the Egyptian plains dog, and from that, the Greyhound. Why not?
I asked John that very question, I said, "and he said he thought probably most lawyers evolved from the jackal. He went on to say that the Anubis picture was of a Greyhound if he ever saw one, and in that he and his organization, Greyhound Pets, Inc., have adopted out over 3700 Greyhounds, you have to think the man knows what hes talking about. I asked John why he had that picture hanging on the wall, and he said that the dog in the picture is the great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great .
What? Little Elsie interrupted, when I had to stop to take my second breath.
Great, great great, ancestor of all Greyhounds I said. And it took John Hern an hour to finally get to his two dogs, Ace and Stanton, so you didnt get the total treatment, and I knew the readers of The Greyhound Review would want to see a picture of the ancestor of all Greyhounds, the readers all being students of Greyhound genetics, and...
Youre kidding, Little Elsie said, cutting me off. You sat in John Herns house along the Spokane River listening to John Hern repeat the word great, for an hour? There are mathematical terms to be used for such occasions, you know. What was Amy Hern doing all this time while John was going great, great, great?
I thought about it. I couldnt remember. I think maybe she went shopping or something. Yes, but Little Elsie, I said, once John told me who Anubis was, I had to wonder why it didnt take two hours. I mean, thats a long time ago, thousands of years of dogs. Why, the pedigree must be fifty yards by a mile and a half. By the way, John and Amy also explained the cartouche, in case youre interested.
Its the dogs name, Little Elsie said. Even I know that much. That beetle in the middle is a scarab, a sacred beetle, a symbol of New Life. Anubis, you know, has been seen riding along on the back of that sacred beetle.
He has? Our dog, on the couch, looked up, perked his ears, waited for a response.
Maybe so, I said, but John says it also carries a very important message. John says he has been given to understand the key on the picture, the cartouche, says Give your dog a bone today, or you will be eaten by a crocodile. John said thats what Stanton said. John gave Stanton a bone, and, John was not eaten, so, you see, Little Elsie, Stanton must have been correct. John said that not being an Egyptologist, the explanation was the best he could do.
Hes pulling your leg, Little Elsie said.
Better be careful, Little Elsie, I said. "John said Anubis is a god, not just the ancestor of all Greyhounds. You better ask forgiveness before some dire calamity befalls you. All you have to do, Little Elsie, is quite simple, as John says, just give our dog there a raw beef bone, and say In Honor Of Anubis, Ancient Guardian God and Protector of Mankind, I give you this bone, oh Dog, descendent of Anubis. Then give him the bone. John says its easy, and it works every time. John hasnt had any buildings burn down or bridges collapse since he started paying his respects on a regular basis.
Our dog cleared his throat, waited for a response. Did somebody say the word bone?
I do give our dog bones, Little Elsie said.
And has anything bad happened to you since youve been doing that?
Fine, Little Elsie said, on the rise and headed for the kitchen. She returned with a milk bone, tossed it at the dog.
Thats not a beef bone, I said.
Its the best I can do, Little Elsie said.
Chew with your mouth closed, I said to the dog, I have more to relate here.
The dog chewed, Little Elsie and I sipped. I swallowed, then said, John and Amy interpreted the cartouche for me, Little Elsie. It goes like this: In the Beginning, there was Anubis, and He created Greyhounds. Then, he looked around, and said, "Now who will feed My Greyhounds?" And so he created Man to feed the Greyhounds. And then He created Bunnies for the Greyhound to chase, and to feed Man, and Grass for the Bunnies to eat. And he created Carpet for the Greyhounds to urp on, when they ate grass instead of Bunnies.
Do you know why Anubis is black? Little Elsie asked.
No, I said. We didnt get around to that. Why?
The black color represents human corpses after they have undergone embalming.
Quaint, I said. No kidding? I didnt know that.
Anubis is a jackal-headed god
Greyhound-headed, I interrupted.
Little Elsie started over again. Anubis is a Greyhound-headed dog in Egyptian mythology who leads the dead to judgment. That cartouche stands for rebirth.
John did say that he himself had been reincarnated, I said. I thought maybe he was kidding. Maybe not.
Whats this picture? Little Elsie asked, changing the subject.
That picture was on the wall too, at John and Amys, I said. Its a very interesting, educational, and historical picture. Those are three famous pilots, Baron Manfred von Richtoffen, Freiherr Johann Muckenhirn, and Herman Goering. The plane is an Albatross with a Mercedes engine. John Herns grandfathers flying coat can be seen hanging from the lower wing.
I pointed to the coat hanging on the wing.
I continued on, said, The occasion is Richtoffen's 63rd aerial victory, and Johns grandfathers 7th. Richtoffen was killed in action. Johns grandfather became a farmer. Goering stayed in the military.
What about Muckenhirn? Little Elsie wanted to know.
I dont know, I said. John didnt say. John did say his grandfather had dogs, in Minnesota, on the farm. They were used to keep down rabbits and other vermin, and the local farmers raced them on weekends, just between themselves. Johns grandfather had one that lost a leg and tail in a farm accident, but Johns grandfather stopped racing him because with less weight to carry, he won all the races handily and Johns grandfather couldn't win any money betting on him. Johns grandfather had a black dog (his name was Blackie) that hunted only at night and was famous for night vision. During the Depression, Johns grandfather saved fuel for his tractor by having the dogs plow the field for him. He buried bones around the field, and then turned the dogs loose to dig them up. They did a good job of plowing up the land, but it required a lot of bones, and when the neighbors got wise to the plan, the supply of bones dried up.
Blackie had yellow eyes, not brown like most Greyhounds. John thought it was all the carrots the dog ate. Anyhow, that was all you could see at night, those two big yellow eyes. Johns grandfather thought it might alert the game he was stalking, and fitted him with dark glasses, but that didn't work because then the dog couldn't see so good, although on a moonless night he was nearly invisible. Finally, Johns grandfather taught the dog to squint while stalking, and that solved the problem. Only trouble is, he'd squint during the day too, and you couldn't tell if he was asleep or not. You'd be eating dinner, not paying any attention to Blackie because you thought he was asleep, and if you left the table for a minute, he'd clean your plate.
When youre on a roll, dont quit now.
Johns grandfather had another dog called Tiger, a brindle, a real good dog out hunting in the corn fields. He was hard to see in the corn, because instead of black and brown stripes, he had brown and black stripes. Tiger would stand just inside the corn, looking like another row of stalks, with only his nose showing. He'd wait until the rabbits came near and too far to reach their holes, then he'd bolt out and grab 'em.
You and John Hern are as full of it as a young duck, Little Elsie said, then she changed the subject again. 3700 adoptions? Thats amazing. Can you imagine the dedication that takes?
Johns been at it since 1985, I said. He really got involved when the Post Falls track closed. And, Little Elsie, over the years, John has written a book, an Owners Manual which every Greyhound Pets owner gets when adopting a Greyhound. It addresses material not covered in present Greyhound-how-to books. I think I will send it off to my agent in New York, see if we cant get it published.
In case youre interested, John told me a couple of other stories, I said. I took notes.
Little Elsie sighed, looked across the table at me, glanced over at the dog on the couch, sound asleep. Wed better fill up, she said, pouring for the both of us.
Glancing over my notes, I selected a topic. I said, John said that regarding racing and reunions, the track, which is still open for simulcast, let Greyhound Pets, Inc. have a reunion, at the track. The group typically has fun races at reunions, fifty yard sprints or less, and advertise it on reunion notices. Little Elsie, guess what? Some dummy called the Idaho racing commission and said the track was going to have unauthorized dog races, and boy did Greyhound Pets, Inc. get in trouble. So they canceled the races.
Stupid, Little Elsie said.
I glanced at my notes. Heres a good one, Little Elsie. John relates the story when the track sponsored a wiener dog race. People brought their dachshunds from all over and raced them for about 200 feet for prizes. Well, John got a call from a dachshund official, saying what a terrible thing these wiener dog races were, because wiener dog owners would now start breeding dachshunds for speed and ruin the breed standard.
Unbelievable, Little Elsie said. So tell me, Maddog, whats the difference between GPI and GPA, for example?
Well, Little Elsie, John explained that. It goes like this, in Johns words. There are differences between Greyhound Pets, as a rescue organization, and "adoption" groups that I have seen over the years. When the track was open in Coeur d'Alene, as many as three or four groups were taking dogs for adoption. Many times the available dogs would be "picked over" for young, pretty females, leaving older dogs and brindles or blacks, or injured dogs, waiting for homes. Greyhound Pets always took dogs on a first-come first-serve basis. Our statistics during the final years of the track were 60% older males, while some of the other groups were taking 80% young females. Did this make it harder for us to find homes? Of course! But, you know what? A few years later, after the other groups without our dedication to the dogs had ceased operation, we were finding homes for those same pretty young females, though of course, they were now older. Greyhound Pets does not care where a Greyhound came from, we are here to help every one we can, young and pretty - or old and blind. We are even re-placing dogs from another now defunct group on the coast. During their time of operation, they were very vocal critics of our operations. Greyhound Pets has been one of the most successful Greyhound organizations because we do not "pick" the dogs we help. We help every one we can. We do not get involved in political issues, but concentrate on the dogs. We avoid personality matters and remind our volunteers that we are here for the dogs, and no other reason.
Over the years, I've seen many Greyhound adoption groups come and go. One common issue seems to be that their focus is not on the dogs themselves, but on other peripheral issues such as anti-racing, save-a-dog, personal ego gratification, and so on. The people who mire themselves in negative issues end up getting so depressed from their work they drop out; those who try to adopt for the wrong reasons find the adoptions don't stick; those who are involved for personal reasons eventually lose support when their motives are recognized; organizations and people who only do "easy" adoptions don't have the dedication when tough matters come up. Greyhound Pets, Inc. has tried to keep focused on the dogs only. The dogs don't know if they are young and pretty or old, sick and unattractive, they only know if they are cold and hungry or warm and well fed. They don't think of themselves as poor abused race dogs and seek pity; in fact, they think the only thing more fun than racing is running after real bunnies on the desert. Our Greyhounds look to humans for all their needs, they know nothing else. When we try to look at things from the dog's viewpoint, we are more effective. Being more effective means we are more satisfied with our work, and since we are a 100% volunteer organization, we need our volunteers, that's all of us, to realize we are getting good results and doing the best we can for our dogs.
Did Johns two adopted dogs run Coeur d Alene? Little Elsie asked.
I said, Stanton ran, or as the case might be, did not run, Tucson. Ace ran, or rather, did not run Coeur d Alene. Ace was a kennel adoption to a person who didn't understand how to take care of Greyhounds. Ace was just handed off, with no instruction, no guidance, no nothing. The person then got a Great Dane puppy and kept Ace crated all the time. Ace broke his teeth, trying to get out when he had to go potty. The Dane grew up and tore Ace's throat up in a fight. John found out about it and took him in until he could heal up and could find him a home. John called all around to likely adopters, but the longer John kept him, the fewer calls John made, until John finally adopted Ace.
I thumbed quickly through my notes. Thats about the extent of my visit, I said.
Thats quite an interview, Little Elsie said. Thanks for sharing. Im heading for bed.
Me too, I said. Now that Im full of coffee. You coming? I said to the dog on the couch.
The dog didnt move. Fine, I said. See you tomorrow.
It took me a long while to get to sleep. The lyrics to Ace The Wonder Dog kept going over and over and over. I thought maybe going over the Anubis pedigree, generation by generation, might help, kind of like counting sheep. I started with our adopted dog and worked backwards.
Great great great great great great great great great great great great great .
I got lost when I remembered Johns story about an incident at the Coeur d Alene track. John had told me the story of a kennel helper who was called on the carpet for being negligent in picking up the do-do out in the turnout pen. One day the kennel helper approached the problem with a snow blower. Shortly thereafter he was asked to seek employment elsewhere. For some reason, I really liked that one.
I tried to pick up where I had left off: great great great great great great great great great
I was well into the Dark Ages when the dog jumped up on the foot of the bed and I dozed off.
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