The last week has not been a good one, I had to have my youngest lurcher put down. The hardest thing any dog owner has to do. Over the years I have had many lurchers, quite simply, I love them. Known as a dog favoured by gipsies for poaching, the lurcher is a superb hunting dog. It has speed and intelligence, it is gentle and, unlike some of the highly bred breeds, it benefits from mongrel vigour.
A long time ago when I was on a Prison Service dog handling course the instructor told us, "an incredible amount of communication passes up and down the lead between dog and handler". At the time I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant but I know now. Having spent many a dark and windy evening lamping for rabbits with lurchers it is impossible not to understand what that instructor was saying. Lamping involves working in the dark with a powerful lamp, shining it upon feeding rabbits and sending the dog to catch them. The darkness ensures that the rabbits have moved away from the safety of the hedgerows and are feeding well into the expanses of the fields. Modern lamps are powerful, some claim to be as powerful as the landing lights of a jumbo jet. In any event they are strong and with a narrow beam. The idea being the lamp illuminates the rabbit in a tight beam, which upon release,the lurcher runs down to catch the fleeing bunny. Anyone who has done a bit of lamping will know the thrill,when in the dark, the dog tenses and the lead goes tight. If nothing else, such an experience demonstrates just how inadequate our own senses are compared with those of a dog. Many a time I have shined the light in the direction the dog was indicating only to see nothing. But always, without fail, there was a rabbit crouched in the grass out of sight of the human eye and most definitely well beyond our range of smell and hearing. Another lesson I learned many years ago, in such situations, the dog is always right. The type of lead I use for lamping is little more than a six or eight inch loop. This slips over the wrist allowing the hand access to a small lever which is a quick release mechanism in order to let the dog go as soon as it has "locked on" to its quarry. Such a lead also allows every move the dog makes to be felt by its owner, hence, information being passed, in the dark, up the lead.
So, there you have it, a short example of why I have kept lurchers and continue to do so. The definition of a lurcher is generally accepted as being a working dog crossed with a running dog. In the larger strains the combinations used are usually greyhound, for speed, collie for brain and, often something like a deerhound for coat. In the smaller type lurcher whippets are used. The lurcher I have just lost was a combination of greyhound, deerhound and bearded collie.
But to start at the beginning, just over four years ago Toby, my oldest lurcher, went off his legs and could no longer walk. He was eighteen, a very good age for any dog, he had been a delight, a devoted and able partner in both the home and the field. It is a reality of dog owning that, sooner or later, the owner will be faced with the awful decision of having the dog put to sleep. Make no mistake about it, even with an old dog which has had a long and healthy life, that decision is ghastly. So, having lost Toby I decided to get another lurcher. It didn’t take long to locate a litter of puppies just outside of Romsey in Hampshire. The puppies were just a week old, and such was the demand for them that the owner said if I wanted one I would have to go and choose it and pay a deposit. Normally this process would take place when the puppies are older, have their eyes open and, are at the very least, running about. So it was that I found myself at a very posh farmhouse viewing a large litter of tiny lurcher pups. I wanted a dog puppy and made my choice accordingly, the one I chose had two white tips to his toes on his back feet. I handed over fifty quid and departed thinking I must be mad, having broken pretty much every rule in the puppy buying handbook. Over the next few weeks I returned several times to observe the pups progress, I was particularly keen to have a broken coated dog and, as with a number of other desirables, I had to take a chance on my choice turning out to be as I hoped. Finally the day of collection came and she who must be obeyed and I set off to get Bertie. Mrs. Y. had decided upon the name and, since she had been so decent about me getting ….. "another dog" I willingly agreed.
Sometimes things turn out well and so it was with Bertie, he was broken coated and he was absolutely everything I could have wished for in a dog. As sweet a temperament as you could imagine, clever, crafty and every bit a lurcher. He would thieve for England. He readily took to training and was a very quick learner, in fact, it soon became clear to me that this dog more than supported the breeders claims of fine blood and lurcher breeding. I took him beating and he astonished me by taking off and bringing back, to hand,a wounded pheasant, unharmed by the dog, and all on his first trip out. This was not a one off either, throughout his short life he continued to retrieve wounded birds and willingly surrender them to me. It was just in him, I certainly had not taught him to do these things. Bertie was a dream come true, I loved him to bits.
In July I noticed he was not himself, he spent a lot of time curled up under a bush in the garden. This was not usual, for the most part he spent his time shadowing me, alert and ready for anything. I took him to the vet and then began an agonising period of vetinary visits with no real answers. Steroids were prescribed, ear, nose and throat examinations took place as did Xrays, blood tests and skin scrapes. Several theories were discussed and one by one abandoned. In short the vet’s had no diagnosis. For a while the steroids helped and Bertie had odd days of normality but the overall trend was down hill. The final day he couldn’t come beating with me and he stayed at home, upon my return he was in an awful state. In a few short hours his balance had gone and he was unable to walk properly. The vet came out and, I suppose, confirmed what I already knew. There was no hope. The theory being a brain tumour. Bertie went with the vet God bless him. Bertie was just four years old.
A week on Wednesday I travel to Yorkshire to collect my new lurcher puppy, well actually, two as my grandson is also having one. Of similar breeding the new puppy will also be Bertie and, I have no doubt, will make an old man very happy and fill a terrible gap.