Every now and then in life, a day happens that you never see coming, but one that will stay with you forever. This day with Lilo was Sunday 19th March 2017 at the Cambridge Raceway.
Lilo’s owner and trainer, Max Mathews of Litchfield Kennels was celebrating his 90th birthday at the Cambridge Raceway, as the Tokoroa Greyhound Racing Club hosted an afternoon of racing. Howard (my partner), and I were invited to join Max and his family, as Lilo was a rather special hound to this family, to say the least.
We had never been to a greyhound race before, so it was all totally new to us. Lilo was going to take us back into her world for the first time.
We met Max, his wife, Janet and daughter Maxine in the car park. It was great to meet Maxine, as we have kept in touch throughout Lilo’s adoption time, something I have very much appreciated. There was much fussing and excitement when they all saw Lilo after some years. Affection and admiration abounded on both sides. Lilo, without doubt, recognised Max immediately, was excited to see him and obviously loved him as much as he did her. A more caring gentleman would be hard to find and this acknowledged with a madly rotating tail on Lilo’s part.
Suddenly more greyhound racing folk seemed to realise that a rather special and well known hound was in their midst and people here and there were coming over in amazement to see Lilo No Illusions – it felt like she had been re-incarnated for them all to enjoy! There was genuine excitement, patting and chatter.
We were taken to meet Lilo’s original trainer, Carolyn, who trained Lilo in Australia before she was brought to New Zealand. That was a truly special moment. Carolyn had not seen Lilo for many years and once again genuine two-way love and affection was obvious, along with a few tears I might add. Carolyn explained to me, that right from the earliest moment Lilo wanted to race and was a joy to train.
Apparently when greyhounds are trained to race, initially they do not know what to do, but Lilo, it appears shot out of the gates on the very first attempt and tore off like a pro, leaving everyone standing around with their mouths open. Go Lilo!
We met lots of hounds all excitedly waiting their turn. Beautifully cared for dogs, healthy and happy looking with their enthusiastic owners waiting to win or lose. Either way, everyone was enjoying a lovely day out.
The highlight came when Race 8 began. It was the Happy Birthday Max Mathews Stakes, a 457 meter race. The race was dedicated to Max, not only to celebrate his birthday I imagine but also acknowledging his tremendous involvement and influence over many years. A most respected man. His wish was to take Lilo out to lead the hounds to the start. What a thrill.
Lilo knew exactly where she was for she had won many races at this track. In fact three of Lilo’s progeny were racing that very day. She was doing excited little pounces, her eyes were bright and she was ‘in the zone’ alright!
Max took Lilo and off she trotted, tail wagging – a pair totally at home with each other.
The commentator wished Max a Happy Birthday and introduced Lilo No Illusions as a much remembered racer, now retired, who had many wins at this track.
I must admit to tears pricking as I watched them, leading the field of hounds to the start, Lilo was out in front and I can say with hand on heart that this dog knew that this was a Day of Days. Striding out with a determined different and beautiful gait, neck outstretched, ears pricked high and an attitude which said, “I’M BACK!!”
When the race was over (in a flash!), Max presented the trophy to the winning hound with the hound that came second. Max then placed Lilo up on the podium with them! At eleven years old - not bad going Lilo !!! Alas she could only watch the race, even though you could see she was thinking, “I could beat that lot, paws down”.
For me the day was full of learning about Lilo’s past life, her wonderful personality and gentle nature which captured many hearts over the years and endeared her to all who were involved with her. I learnt that she used to hang out with a best dog-friend, Breeze.
People remembered too how she fed pups belonging to a bitch who was having difficulties, even though at the time Lilo had pups herself. She did this of her own accord.
The day was also about seeing ‘The Other Side’ and meeting some great people who loved their dogs and cared for them well.
Many times I was told how stunning Lilo looked in terms of health well-being and happiness. Max in particular gave the stamp of approval for the condition of his beloved hound – what more could I ever ask for? From Lilo, myself and Howard - thank you to one and all for such a fantastic day.