Why dogs need fam­ily plan­ning

Country Life Every Week - - MY WEEK - Next week Jonathan Self

I’M all for ar­ranged mar­riage, es­pe­cially be­tween dogs. Left to their own de­vices, they’re li­able to get car­ried away and then all con­sid­er­a­tions of fam­ily con­nec­tions, good looks and fu­ture earn­ing ca­pac­ity fly out of the win­dow and you’re left with the sort of pup­pies you have to shift early, in a dark pub. It’s like Ly­dia run­ning off with Mr Wick­ham.

Bri­die was born on a Dart­moor farm. Most of her sib­lings are Dart­moor farm boys’ dogs, but she can claim a sis­ter who lives in Re­gent’s Park, which is pure 101 Dal­ma­tians. Bri­die is a lurcher bitch, brindled and af­fec­tion­ate, as long dogs are.

When she was last on heat, we ex­tended an in­vi­ta­tion to the friend of a friend whose lurcher was re­put­edly part Ital­ian grey­hound. It must have been a very small part be­cause, when he ar­rived, he was not the tiny, high-step­ping aris­to­crat I’d imag­ined, but a cheer­ful navvy with a bar­rel chest and short back legs. He spent a pleas­ant enough af­ter­noon in the gar­den, but no dice.

The an­swer to our maiden’s prayer was, as is so of­ten the case, a dog in the val­ley who be­longs to a good friend. Crosby is a tall, hand­some lurcher, bred—so Crosby’s owner likes to tell me—by Jackie Drake­ford, which is as close to a pedi­gree as any lurcher ever can get— or ought to. He has ac­tual pa­pers, which re­veal the quar­ter­ings on his es­cutcheon: deer­hound and col­lie on the distaff side and a dash of Bedling­ton, which is proper, on the sire. There is a stu­dio por­trait of him as a pup, look­ing like a wet-eyed mati­nee idol. He is golden in colour, af­fa­ble and never barks.

A proper lurcher is a cross be­tween any run­ning dog— grey­hound, whip­pet, or deer­hound—and a sheep­dog. Your keen-eyed gaze­hound may be quick on his feet, but he can be tem­per­a­men­tal and quite thick; I know a grey­hound that killed it­self by run­ning into a tree. The sheep­dog brings in­tel­li­gence and a dash of ter­rier per­se­ver­ance, tra­di­tion­ally through a Bedling­ton, im­proves the mix. The no­tional ideal is a fast, silent hunter, sharp enough to be trained to a whis­per when sneak­ing through the woods: a dog to ac­com­pany that ro­man­tic cove, the poacher.

We had the whole thing metic­u­lously planned and, of course, it all went nearly wrong from the start. We counted the days. We fi­nally sent Bri­die off to Crosby’s for a week­end of pas­sion and, in­stead, they be­haved like the drea­ri­est of old friends. As­sum­ing that we had missed the vi­tal mo­ment, I fetched her home, a vir­gin.

A cou­ple of hours later, she van­ished. No one quite knew how long she’d been out, but she was dis­cov­ered, be­hind a hedge, ca­vort­ing with one of the vil­lage col­lies (ca­vort­ing is a tech­ni­cal term). I put her straight in the car and raced around to Crosby’s place, in per­fect time for a drink in the gar­den.

Crosby be­haved with im­me­di­ate gal­lantry and the bland chum­mery of the morn­ing was con­verted, in a blaz­ing in­stant, into the per­fumed tents of The Sheik of Araby. She, I’m afraid, howled in shock.

Last week, nine weeks on to the day, Bri­die started to nest. She be­gan with an in­ac­ces­si­ble pile of mouldy card­board boxes un­der a ta­ble in the barn, which were in­ex­pli­ca­bly strewn with tiny poly­styrene balls. We cre­ated a new nest in the back laun­dry, free of plas­tic, but, in the event, Kate was so soft-hearted that the first puppy ar­rived on the sofa.

That was a bruiser, with big shoul­ders, and set the tone for the re­main­ing lit­ter. By the time the sixth came, long af­ter dawn, the pups were work­ing like lit­tle suc­tion pumps and their mother was barely able to stag­ger into the gar­den, so the births were com­ing fur­ther and fur­ther apart.

The last were de­liv­ered by cae­sarean and the sur­viv­ing seven are fat and thriv­ing. We’ve got a round one, a thin one, a yel­low one, a black one and three that are fawn, or the colour of an old sponge, with mark­ings like blad­der­wrack left by the re­ced­ing tide.

They mew like ba­bies and sleep in a prof­li­gate heap and, if Bri­die de­cides to curl up at the end of our bed for an hour, we’re all too tired to ob­ject. That’s the down­side of ar­ranged mar­riages: it’s no­body’s fault but your own.

Ja­son Good­win is the au­thor of the ‘Yashim’ de­tec­tive se­ries, which now has its own cook­book, Yashim Cooks Is­tanbul (Arg­onaut). He lives in Dorset

‘Kate was so soft­hearted that the first puppy ar­rived on the sofa’

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