Puppy love?

Shooting Times & Country|July 01, 2020

Puppy love?
They’d steal pies and pilfer underpants, but Richard Negus looks back at his days of puppy walking with unexpected fondness
Richard Negus

When a member of hunt staff drops round with a couple of hound puppies for a walk, you experience something that real ale drinkers are familiar with. Initially you are struck by the beautiful colour and endearing looks. You note a zesty tang and earthy aroma. Admiringly, you stand back to take in this aesthetic of classical Britishness. Warm fuzzy glow envelopes you.

However after a dozen pints, or weeks in the case of hound puppies, you realise your house and everything in it is either destroyed or smeared in reeking matter. Unlikely trophy objects litter the place. When you hand back your puppies, like the felt-mouthed ale drinker the morning after, you vow “never again”. You know, of course, this is a lie. You will happily repeat the whole destructive process until death or eviction ends your beery, puppy love.

The first puppies I took on to walk were called Vanity and Vassal. A pair of tri-coloured beagle bitches from the Oakley Foot. They were, as all beagles are, utterly adorable. The speed with which they learned was spaniel-like. Being hounds they were equally swift to become deaf at the merest sniff of anything gamey. After a morning spent in nefarious activity in far-flung parts of the estate where I lived, they would return to sleep off their endeavours.

Their favourite perch was a brick wall some three-foot-high, where they sprawled like cats in the sun. Appearing comatose, it took the merest whiff of entertainment for them to awake into joyful play. As they grew, so did their education. Sheep, they gleaned, were not to be chased, horses and chickens likewise. Their names became ingrained and so did they, into the hearts of all of us who lived and worked on the estate.

As endearing as they were, their metamorphosis from mischievous puppies started to become as obvious as their unsuitability as ‘pets’. Their free-ranging became wider. My horse’s ears would cock to the cry of hounds, little knowing the welkin rang with the cry of adolescent Vanity and Vassal joyfully exercising the rabbits in the home coverts. Their final day in my care resulted in me having to retrieve them from Melton Mowbray police station. The merry pair had decided to follow a couple of ramblers who sadly turned out to be rabid antis. Rather than returning the adventurous devils from whence they came, they handed them into the authorities in a fit of churlishness.

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July 01, 2020