It’s a dog’s life

Country Life Every Week - - Spectator -

MY fa­ther ad­vised that my pet should al­ways be a gun­dog. As the owner of an in­de­ter­mi­nate num­ber of dachshunds—four, five?—a pair of dal­ma­tians and their seven pup­pies, a Kerry blue ter­rier (who bit the vicar af­ter he’d mis­taken him for a rug) and a yel­low lab, he spoke from ex­pe­ri­ence.

Thus, when we got mar­ried, we made a spe­cial visit to the North­ern Game Fair in the grounds of Raby Cas­tle, Co Durham, where there was a dis­play of dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of gun­dog. We fate­fully picked the weimaraner, which— then ex­tremely rare and now un­com­mon—is the most beau­ti­ful dog in ex­is­tence. It has a short coat the colour of gleam­ing sil­ver and the shape of a su­per­model and its eyes are yel­low. When one looks at you, you know what it’s try­ing to tell you.

Our search for a puppy wasn’t easy and even­tu­ally led to a breeder in Devon, nearly the length of Eng­land from home in North York­shire.

The breeder, Lind­ley Milne, fore­warned us about our choice. At the time, I wrote that he told us ‘we had taken a step that would ir­re­vo­ca­bly change our lives’ and that he knew all this from ex­pe­ri­ence as he had five dogs ‘all of whom slept ev­ery night on his bed’. I added: ‘Not sur­pris­ingly, he wasn’t mar­ried.’

The same ar­ti­cle came with a pic­ture of our new pup on my knee as we drove him 300 miles north ‘look­ing as though but­ter wouldn’t melt in his mouth’.

We called him Nik in homage to Sir Niko­laus Pevs­ner, a great hero of ours, as well as, per­haps, be­cause his pedi­gree read like some­thing out of the Al­manach de Gotha. Be­ing from a Ger­man breed, Nik’s fore­bears in­cluded Bodo von Reinin­gen, Vita van der Harp­ska and Cid von Bolkewehr.

Mr Milne’s pre­dic­tion that Nik would prove life-chang­ing was im­me­di­ately borne out by his re­fus­ing to lie on the floor, pre­fer­ring our Eames chair and, of course, in­sist­ing on sleep­ing in our bed. In­deed, we have a photo of Hew asleep in a sin­gle bed en­tan­gled with three grown weimaran­ers, each roughly the size of an eight-year-old boy. At the height of our folly, we had four, two dogs and two bitches.

There was Nik, now a proud dad with mum Chloé (named af­ter the French fash­ion de­signer) and the one of their three pups that we kept. We called her Kate—i can’t re­mem­ber why. The other two, both dogs, we sold to other ea­ger own­ers-to-be who stayed in touch with us over the years. Then, the youngest was Otto (af­ter con­duc­tor von Klem­perer), which we bought from a nearby breeder.

At that point, we lived in Hal­i­fax in an old house with a large gar­den (it had been a pub with a boat­ing lake) and wild land run­ning up hills along­side it. If the pack felt like it, they could race up the hills in a gun­dog-like man­ner.

We still have a weimaraner, our sixth, de­spite all the trauma that the breed en­cour­ages. Our cur­rent one is a bitch named Syrie, af­ter Som­er­set Maugham’s wife, who was a fa­mous in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tor. Her style was white rooms with lots of mir­ror glass.

Syrie is a lovely dog with not an ounce of ag­gres­sion, but she does suf­fer from the well-known trait of ‘sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety’, which means she squeals and howls when Hew leaves her.

She does this ev­ery morn­ing with­out fail when he goes to buy the pa­pers. Although he’s only gone for 10 min­utes at most, she hasn’t learnt it. Or she re­alises that the howl­ing is the only thing that brings him back.

She’s won. We don’t leave her un­less we can hire one of her two favourite dog-sit­ters, just like Nik al­ways sat in the Eames chair and Chloé re­duced the house to chaos when we went out to lunch.

My fa­ther might have been right that the only kind of dog to own is a gun­dog, but I don’t think he meant quite like this.

‘The howl­ing is the only thing that brings him back

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