Mad about the dog

Country Life Every Week - - My Week - Jonathan Self is the au­thor of Good Money: Be­come an Eth­i­cal En­tre­pre­neur (Head of Zeus) and a raw dog-food maker (https:// hon­eysre­al­dog­ who lives in Cork, Ire­land

My love, I re­alised early in sum­mer, knows no hounds. That is to say, hav­ing al­ways been a gun­dog man—specif­i­cally, a pointer man—i sud­denly found my­self yearn­ing for a sighthound, specif­i­cally a whip­pet.

The crav­ing came over me in May, in Fon­tainebleau, where I hap­pened to see Oudry’s de­light­ful paint­ing of Louis XV’S two whip­pets, Misse and Turlu. After that, I could think of noth­ing ex­cept how much more ful­fill­ing life would be with a blue whip­pet puppy by my side. Then, in June, an op­por­tu­nity un­ex­pect­edly came up to ac­quire such a dog from a rep­utable am­a­teur breeder in Wales.

I showed a pho­to­graph of the puppy to the twins. We agreed that, when their mother had said mildly—well, fairly firmly, all right, defini­tively—that we should not in­tro­duce any more dogs into the home un­til such time as the seem­ingly end­less ren­o­va­tions to Hovel Self were com­pleted, she couldn’t have fore­seen such a beau­ti­ful puppy be­com­ing avail­able.

We re­minded our­selves that she had greatly ad­mired our Floren­tine neigh­bour’s Ital­ian grey­hound, which is more or less a whip­pet, only with a for­eign ac­cent. The puppy would, we de­cided, be a wel­come gift. The best gifts are, of course, sur­prises, so we bought the dog and swore a vow of si­lence un­til it could be de­liv­ered in early Au­gust. If any of us were think­ing that some­times it’s eas­ier to beg for­give­ness than to ask per­mis­sion, we kept it to our­selves.

You have prob­a­bly heard the ex­pres­sion ‘There’s many a slip be­tween pup and whip­pet’. It turns out to be true. The last oc­ca­sion on which I im­ported a dog to Ire­land was in 1996, a hal­cyon age in which of­fi­cials took a wide view of rules and reg­u­la­tions. No pa­per­work, no prob­lem.

How things have changed! On the day our whip­pet was sup­posed to travel, I dis­cov­ered that she needed a ra­bies shot, for which she would have to wait a month, and that there would then be a fur­ther month be­fore her pass­port could be is­sued.

The Ber­muda Tri­an­gle and the iden­tity of Jack the Rip­per are noth­ing com­pared to the great mys­tery of how we man­aged to pre­vent word of our pur­chase get­ting out in all that time.

Any­way, this week the wait was over and we had the in­de­scrib­able plea­sure of wel­com­ing Elsa, for we have called her Elsa, to the fam­ily. Ev­ery­one is de­lighted, with the ex­cep­tion of Dar­ling, our 13-year-old English pointer, who has al­ways pro­fessed the deep­est loy­alty to me (al­though, frankly, we both know she would aban­don me in a pitch-black al­ley­way for a halfeaten ham­burger bun) and can’t be­lieve that I have re­paid her de­vo­tion by adding yet an­other puppy to the strength.

To cheer her up, I took her into the gar­den to play, but when I threw a stick for her to fetch, she gave me a look of with­er­ing dis­dain and dis­ap­peared back in­doors. Elsa, on the other paw, was happy enough to re­trieve the stick, al­though her ex­pres­sion seemed to say: ‘If it means so much to you, per­haps you should look after it bet­ter.’

There were sighthounds— dogs that hunt by sight and speed rather than by scent and en­durance—in an­cient times. De­pend­ing on ex­actly how you trans­late it, there’s a ref­er­ence to whip­pets in the Bible: ‘There are three things that are stately in their stride… a whip­pet, the he goat also, and a king, against whom there is no ris­ing up’ (Proverbs 30:31).

It was ac­tu­ally a king, Wil­liam the Con­queror, who in­ad­ver­tently caused the mod­ern whip­pet to be bred when he passed the for­est laws, which had the ef­fect of mak­ing hunt­ing dogs, such as the larger grey­hound, il­le­gal. The word whip­pet, in­ci­den­tally, was also used to mean ‘a lively young woman’, which is ex­actly what we’ve got: al­though there must be an­i­mals ca­pa­ble of at­tain­ing greater speed (Oliver sug­gests a pig dropped from a he­li­copter), it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine any.

Whip­pets are known as the poor man’s race­horse. All I will say is that when you add up the cost of pay­ing her breeder, send­ing her to the vet for shots, ship­ping her, ac­ces­soris­ing her (not only bas­kets and blan­kets, but slip­pers and snoods), feed­ing her and re­plac­ing all the things she has de­stroyed in the four days since she ar­rived, you can see why whip­pet own­ers are so hard up.

' Whip­pets are known as the poor man’s race­horse’

Jonathan Self

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