Why dogs need family planning
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’