Wednesday 23 November 2011

Gotcha Day

It was a chilly November day, and as we drove over to the Crossing Cottage Retired Greyhound Trust kennels in Nottinghamshire, fog hung over the fields and blanketed the dips in the roads. The trees were wet and black and leafless. But we were paying little attention to the wintery landscape outside. We were going to choose a dog – our first dog – and could talk of nothing else.

We arrived, met the kennel manager and had a walk around. I didn’t really notice him the first time. While the other dogs flung themselves against the wire fronts of their kennels, barking and wagging their tails, he stood there quietly, patiently, not making a sound. I think I glanced at him, but then my gaze slid away to his more boisterous kennel-mate.

We started meeting some of the dogs. The first had been returned from another home a few days earlier. He was so bouncy and energetic his owner couldn’t cope with making him the fourth addition to her pack. He hauled me up the path and back again, me clutching the lead in both hands. D and I glanced at each other and subtly shook our heads. He was lovely, but not for us. Our first dog needed to be one that wasn’t going to drag one of us under a bus if he saw a cat on the other side of the road.

The second dog was calmer, but there was no spark, no connection between us. He was aloof, and didn’t respond to my touch or my voice. Despite this, he was clearly a steady, sweet-natured animal, so we marked him down as a maybe, and moved onto the third dog.

She was tiny, and so nervous she had never raced. So nervous she wouldn’t even walk with us. I tugged gently on her lead, trying to get her to move, but she’d put on the brakes. I knew we didn’t have the experience to deal with a dog who was so frightened of everything, so sadly, we handed her back to the kennel manager.

“Wait,” she said as we began to wonder if we’d ever find the right dog. “There’s one more I want you to meet. He’s big – really big – but don’t be put off by his size. He’s a real teddy bear.”

And collar and leash in hand, she went to fetch…

The Hound.

She was right about his size. Somehow, when I’d glanced at him before – probably because he was being so quiet – I hadn’t really noticed it. But he came to mid-thigh on her. He had a great square head – much bigger than the other dogs’ – and a back as broad as a table. I started to worry again. Could we really cope with a dog as large as that?

And then he walked up to me. He wagged his tail. He leaned on me, and he looked into my eyes.

I felt something, somewhere, go click.

“Look at him,” D marvelled. “He’s like a tiger.” And he was. His coat was fawn and red, overlaid with black and charcoal stripes and flecks. His muzzle, paws and chest were splashed with cream, and there was a narrow white stripe, like a chalk line, it on, all the way from his forehead to the end of his nose. And his eyes were gold-brown and ringed with black, the flicks at the edges making him look as if he was wearing eyeliner.

“Here.” The kennel manager handed me the lead. It stayed slack. Only when I moved did he start to walk too, stuck to my side as if by velcro. When I stopped, he stopped, freezing with one paw lifted mid-stride. The only time he broke away from me was to water a tuft of grass at the side of the road, and then he came straight back. The cars thundering past didn’t seem to faze him. Neither did the boxer that threw itself at its garden gate, barking hoarsely at him. By the time we’d returned to the kennels, we knew we’d be coming back the following week to take him home.

The two years since then haven’t always been easy. A few weeks after he came home he developed serious health problems, and the fight to get him well again took almost eleven months. It was terrifying. But somehow, he pulled round.

Our routine has changed drastically, too – I’ve had to adjust to getting up every morning at a time that, previously, I barely knew existed, and both D and I have had to get used to going out for walks in horizontal rain and feet of snow. Our once-lush lawn has turned into a balding sea of mud. Our carpets have a permanent coating of hair.

And you know what? We wouldn’t change a thing.

The Hound, Asleep
A liquorice nose.
Long legs tangled, ears and paws
Flickering with dreams.


  1. Ah, such a lovely tale told so beautifully. You know I can relate to this, having met our hound at the very same kennels. You've really conveyed how wonderful it is to give a rescue dog their forever home, and I love the haiku at the end - beautiful!

  2. I totally understand what you mean about the 'click'. When we got PJ, the first of our poodles, we had to drive down to Livingstone from home, some 20 miles north of Aberdeen. While he was gorgeous and fluffy he, he was also a little reserved and not overly demonstrative, but I had chosen him and he was coming home. We stopped in a lay-by somewhere north of Edinburgh to let the puppy relieve himself. After much snuffling around he duly did his business. "Good boy!" I was strangely proud of him. He looked up at me then, right into my eyes and, for the first time, wagged his tail at me. That was it. We were smitten and totally in love with each other and we still are. He follows me around the house all day and falls asleep in my arms most nights. And, like you, I wouldn't have it any other way.
    Glad you found your perfect match too.

  3. Look, I'm a cat person, so how have you done this to me? I think I'm in love with The Hound... And i love your account of how you found one another. Perfect match!

  4. Abi, I'm really glad you like the haiku! I don't usually write poetry but I thought I'd make an exception for this special occasion. :) And I love that our Hounds both came from the same place!

    Nettie, that's such a wonderful story. You do *know* when they're the dog for you, don't you? Having seen your photos of Archie on Twitter, it's clear why he's so special to you - he's absolutely gorgeous!

    Harriet - ha ha! The Hound is a *bit* cat-like - sleeps all day, very clean, and…er… he catches mice, believe it or not! So perhaps that's why?

  5. What a wonderful blog post. I'm a true dog lover and want to take them all in. We have 4 border collies and adore each one, they all have their own character and are all very cheeky but incredibly wonderful.

    CJ xx

  6. CJ, I am the same - I want to take them all in too. If money was no object I'd have an entire pack of hounds - with their own paddock to run in, a room full of sofas to sleep in, a huge basket of toys each… You get the idea!

  7. He's gorgeous. They really do become a part of the family don't they.

  8. Thank you Rebecca. I can't remember what life was like without him!

  9. Oh what a lovely post Emma. He sounds adorable. I am so close to our hound too - life wouldn't be the same without him.

  10. Thanks, Louise. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. :)

  11. What a beautiful dog -- and a lovely tribute. Brought a smile and a tear! And the poem just capped it off perfectly!

  12. Thank you, Julia! I'm glad you like it.

  13. Aw, what a sweetie, and what a great story. I have a similar one about our first dog - we never expected one like her, but boy was she exactly what we needed. <3