Thursday, April 8, 2021

Whippet life #1


How often do we make choices which for one reason or another turn out to be especially delightful? By definition, it can't be very often—and in my experience, there's precious little relationship to price, importance, or even the level of prior thought.  If you're anything like me, you'll have made as many well-planned and expensive mistakes, as you have snap decisions that turn out to change your life.

The best purchase I ever made was a tumbledown cottage, for which I paid what would now be the price of a hatchback car. It's not for any profit that I'm pleased (I doubt there's any after all the renovation cost), but for the family nexus it's become, the joy we've had, the memories and friendships it holds... And not least, for the chance encounter that led to my most recent and most constant of companions. 

I'd long wanted a whippet. For years I used to draw cartoons of them in my diaries, hiding a caricature version into humorous sketches of the places we'd visited. Finding the dog in the picture became a bit of a trademark, for all that our one at the time was a Jack Russell terrier.  

She left us more than ten years ago.  A farm-bred ratter she'd been fine with the older boys but when Dylan arrived her instincts reverted to type. After the third biting incident we moved her on to a family with teenagers, and to be honest, I was pleased to see her go.  The prospect of another dog had seldom been discussed.

Until last year—when we passed a couple on the coast path with the most beautiful brindled whippet. I couldn't but stop and admire him, and when we learned he'd just sired a litter, Jane quickly asked for their number... for the future, she claimed... we'll have a think, I said...  and be in touch, she added.

Sooner rather than later.

That evening, Jane nagged me to phone, the next day we viewed the pups, and less than 24 hours after that chance encounter, we'd reserved the smallest dog in the litter.  Oscar, born on St David's day, would be with us in five weeks time. Jane was made up; I had reservations. Later that evening, the UK announced its first nationwide lockdown ...

And for five weeks all we did was walk lanes, read books and research whippet facts to help us count the days.

As I look back now I wonder what on earth we thought we were doing?  It can't be sensible to buy a dog that quickly; even knowing the commitment I should surely have insisted we reflected for longer. The money's not the issue; it's the cost to your lifestyle, the responsibility, the getting up every morning... Stories of lockdown puppies are all over the internet—portents for all to read.

But logic isn't always our best pilot. And if you knew how hard I find it to declare that, you'd have some idea of the delight I've found in my little dog. You might have noticed the change from 'our' to 'my' in that last sentence. For almost a year he's barely left my side, growing up and growing closer—and quicker too. Which was why I'd wanted a whippet in the first place; the fastest dogs on the beach, I used to say.  

And now mine is.

Yesterday we were up at dawn with the sand to ourselves.  We walked three miles without much of a sound but for waves and the occasional whistle. Owners often talk of their dog's love and loyalty, as if they had human emotions; they chat to them too, though they can't understand. I do the same.  But really, the bond is one of 'co-presence': an unspoken companionship that's beyond any words—or for that matter, reason.

Oscar doesn't do logic either and in a way that's why we care for our dogs so much.

What he does do is run like the wind, return when I call and wag when I rise every morning.  Three miles on the beach, hundreds more every month; how many steps will we take together? Jane and Dylan love him too; he's the best family dog we've had by far. They both say they knew it would work; that they sussed it (and me) in seconds; that their hearts, not their heads were what told them. 

They're right of course, in that sometimes—just occasionally, mind you—it's fine to take a flier. 


  1. Oh come on - hardly a flier if you have owned dogs before; even a difficult one. You know you are letting yourself in for all the things that you describe. You know that dogs shed hair, and leave slobber marks, and listen to you sort out your thoughts and make you get out and do that exercise you have been promising yourself. And you have had a lifelong love affair with the idea of a whippet - so hardly a flier. Adopting a Great Dane, or investing in a snake on a whim might have been a 'flier'.

    I have two friends who research every decision to the nth degree, to such an extent they regularly do not do or get the right thing for them because they have invested too much head and not enough heart in the final decision. One example I actually discussed with one was buying a sweater - I buy a sweater to keep warm. Find sweater, make sure it fits, colour not offensive, price acceptable, job done. Friend on the other hand decides first that it has to be green, and then has to find every possible available green sweater and agonize over the fibre blend, shade of green, style, price, size, how many other people might be wearing the same; it requires a spreadsheet to keep track of. The second friend does just that - spreadsheets the data used to make (in particular) acquisitional decisions. Seriously? Life's too short.

    Tell us, do all whippets have a strange bump on the top of their skulls, or just the only one I have ever patted?

  2. Ha ha - flier was meant as a subtle pun on his speed! A st Bernard - no way - but we used to have a snake - he was called legless by my eldest son; beautiful thing but it doesn't give a lot back!!!
    As for lumps and bumps on the head - probably common to all whippets I expect - I seldom see a fat one.

  3. Rick was our 'imaginery' dog for many months. I saw a photo of him on a French dog rescue site and I didn't think for a moment that he would still be available six months later when I looked again. I made a casual enquiry and the rest is history! I'm just a sucker for a handsomme face.

  4. It's wonderful that you have access to the beach for Oscar to run to his heart's content! There's nothing like the love of a good dog.

  5. "Logic is not always the best pilot." I love that.

    I found a dog, and I stopped my car. Before it was done, he was IN the car. My husband doesn't like dogs, and he was angry about that dog for all the years I had my Buck. The thing is though, I was looking into that dog's eyes when he made the decision to trust once more. I saw it happen. I couldn't violate it. We belonged to each other. I will never have another dog, and I'm sorry about that.

  6. Can't imagine a fat whippet. Oscar is pretty by the way (for a dog).

  7. I look back over a lifetime of dogs and the pleasure they have brought me - the loyalty, the love - I have valued the friendship of every single one. Now my mobility is limited I cannot replacce my beloved Border terrier who died last year but I still miss her every day.

  8. What a lovely story Mark and a happy conclusion that made me smile. When I was a boy, my family's pet cat was a tortoiseshell - also called Oscar. He turned out to be a she and lived for over twenty years producing numerous litters of kittens. I loved the top picture too with Oscar on that reflective beach.

  9. I bet your whippet reminds you of the North? I enjoyed this post a lot.

  10. Hari Om
    I have known a few whippets - belonging to others - and loved every one of them. My own dog was a Rhodesian Ridgbac x English Staffy - and she was my heart-dog. That connection without verbal language that makes us wonder how we can go so wrong in our human relationships! I still miss her, ten years on. Neither am I in a situation where I could adopt another... but as a result I have become 'aunty' to a lot of pets online (and in real life) and that is very nearly as satisfying... without the having to clean up after!!! YAM xx

  11. Well, yes. Sometimes the rightness of something is so apparent that one doesn't really need to ponder too much. It is like what we call love at first sight. A match made in heaven.