From the moment we first saw her we knew we would have to take her home. Chained up all day, fed only scraps, she was thin even for a whippet. Farm dogs are seldom pampered but this creature was clearly an outcast. Accused of chasing sheep, she had been banished to a makeshift kennel several sizes too small in the corner of the yard. At the mercy of the elements and worse, she’d had several litters to the top dog, working Border Collie, Pal but her puppies had all been drowned. Her coat bore the ragged scars of high-speed encounters with barbed wire. She had been roughly stitched up with baling twine by a farmer, unwilling to waste money on a vet. Yet when she looked up into your face, you could see beauty. You sensed nobility. More than the injustice, the suffering, the indignity, something spoke to you, a voice too powerful to ignore.
We knew then and there we just had to act. Brigid was a creature from another time, another place. Refined, slender, aristocratic, in profile she resembled the hounds who hunted with the Pharaohs. Her deep brown eyes pleaded with you. Take me home with you, they said. I don’t belong here. Rescue me from all this. Right these wrongs at once!
My partner S, who has gathered up strays since childhood, knew exactly what we had to do. The farmer seemed keen to get rid of her. No matter that we already had two dogs. Brigid had to be found a home. Our home. We inherited a scarred, emaciated honey-coloured creature with Gina Lollobrigida eyes.
Brigid was beautiful, she was regal and she was unbelievably highly-strung. She was especially wary with men. It was to be a good two years of hard work before she showed signs of relaxing into domestication or returning affection. In due course, she adopted us. She became our dog.
A whippet knows only two speeds, flat out and full stop. Brigid quickly taught us that. She could spend all day settled comfortably in the lounge room provided her basket permitted her to see the mistress of the house working in the kitchen. Give her a fire and a comfortable bed in an expensive dog basket and she would happily snooze all day.
Don’t expect a whippet to act as a watch dog. True, they are sight hounds but they are disinclined to look out for any intruder. Be prepared instead for a dog that spends all day lounging about watching its master. Be prepared for a lot of sleeping. Just accept, it will soon let you know, that it is a glorious creature which is born to be doted upon; born to be adored.
Outside it was a different story. A whippet’s pace is legendary. Brigid could run like the wind. But only when it suited her. Get her into the paddock, let her off the leash and provided she was in the mood, off she would dash, crashing through the high grass at top speed in a series of joyous, swooping arcs. Ears back, chest out, legs drumming the turf like a runaway race horse. You could tell she was running for the love of it. The thrill of the chase was there even when there was nothing to chase but the joy of running itself. It was mad, it was manic. It was an ecstatic celebration of being and being free. It made you happy just to look at her.
Then one day Brigid surprised us with a gift. We had not long before bought twenty-five acres with a brown brick seventies house on it. The house was ugly but the acres, the freedom and the privacy were wonderful. At the front corner in a nook by the water tank where we would sit to drink champagne and soak up the winter sun, Brigid presented us with a freshly-killed rabbit. It was an unexpected gift. And it happened only once.
Doubtless, a whippet has an instinct to kill rabbits. You might even say it’s in their DNA. But in this case it seemed like gratitude. It was as if Brigid was thanking us for rescuing her from a life of hardship. Thanking us for setting her free. It made us give thanks, too. And not just for Brigid. Her gift made us stop and reflect on the ways of all creatures to be themselves and how they should be able to enjoy the right to simply be. How no-one ever owns any dog ever but how if you treat them right, they give you the gift of their devotion. And how they know a thing or two about living, about what it means to be alive in the moment and how such moments endure for ever. Forget the kings and queens of fabled antiquity with all their worldly wealth, you will be rich beyond all measure.