Mad about the dog
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’