For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious

Thursday, 18 July 2013

A Lamb At Home, A Lion In The Chase

Fingal, my Irish wolfhound, will turn four years old in a couple of weeks. He was finding this spell of relentlessly hot weather unbearable, able to do little during the day but lie panting in the shade: and so I decided to bestir myself from my laziness about his grooming, and give him a proper trimming. It took Saturday afternoon and several hours on two evenings this week to finish the job, shaving off the long rough winter coat, snipping off ragged tangles, and clipping around his legs, ears and face. There was enough hair lying around afterwards to make a nice shawl, I suspect.

It was immensely satisfying, because his puppy markings, buried beneath the black-tipped iron-grey hair of his overcoat slowly emerged again. I had forgotten how unusual his undercoat was, and I say that not only with the besotted owner's pride. It is a remarkable "brindled" coat, mostly a yellowish white to orange with dark stripes, and can appear almost tigerish looking in the right kind of light. Since his haircut he looks smaller, slimmer and younger, and without the thick shaggy coat one can see his only defect (for Fingal was a runt), a narrowness of the chest that gives him more of a greyhound look than the usual broad chested wolfhound. Arrian's criteria (c. 400 A.D.) are still the accepted ones in judging the breed: “The neck should be long, round, and flexible. Wide chests are better than narrow ones. The legs should be long, straight, and well-knit, the ribs strong, the back wide and firm without being fat, the belly well drawn up, the thighs hollow, the tail narrow, hairy, long and flexible with thicker hairs adorning the tip. The feet should be round and firm.”

I could go on and on about wolfhounds: I'm afraid I do so very often. They seem sometimes, especially on a wide open space, loping through heather or long wiry grass, to have something almost prehistoric about them. There is an echo of something deep in their past as boar and wolf hunters, something (for all their lamblike gentleness in the home) untameable and noble, so that one feels almost tangibly the world that runs warm in their flowing arteries, the world of Fionn, of warrior chieftains and the drinking horn in the high hall, of bloody loyalties, terrible loves and of aristocratic disdain.

In case anyone thinks I am overdoing my praise of the breed, I call in Oliver Goldsmith: “the most wonderful of all [breeds] is the great Irish wolfdog, that may be considered as the first of the canine species... he is extremely beautiful and majestic in appearance, being the greatest of the dog kind to be seen in the world.” And for those who need more visible proofs of the wolfhound's majesty, I append the following photograph in which I am vainly trying to avoid having my ears licked.

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