Sunday, November 27, 2005

Meng the Whippet (1992-2005)

Thank you, Steve, for taking the time to share Kipling's poem. Exactly right; but of course you (and he and probably everyone else here) know why in Heaven we keep dogs, despite the high cost.

Meng gave us everything he had for thirteen years. He chased (and caught!) and flushed game for me and several of my hawks. He was good company on trips away from home; a champion bed-warmer; patient (mostly) with my kids, and devoted to my wife and myself. To everyone else he was a friend...and like whippets generally, a fast friend!

Meng, in his prime, understood and delighted in his own speed. He gave larger dogs the Devil by teasing them and then running just out of range, grinning. He did the same to me from the time he knew he could until about six months of age: That was a trying summer. But thereafter he was a model dog, did a number of neat tricks and came when called, even in mid-pursuit. He flushed like a spaniel and obeyed hand signals like a Lab until his eyes went bad. At that point, he retired to our couch and to Shelly's lap.

Because I was away on a hunting trip last week, Shelly had to take him to the vet's without me. I feel terrible about that and won't forgive myself for it, though I know Meng would. He was nearly gone when they arrived and died quietly with Shelly holding his head, kissing him.

With your permission I'll add a little bit from my journal of two years ago. It was December 7th, the day that would be Meng's last hunt:

"...By ten o’clock the frost was gone and the day warming toward a high of sixty-five degrees. I had until two o’clock to hunt. I'd rather leave for the field at that hour, but after a week in the pen Charlie [my Harris' hawk] seemed eager to go anytime.

On a whim (rare in my hawking), I decided to bring my dog, Meng. He knew this maybe before I did. At nearly twelve, the whippet’s famous eyes are clouded with cataracts, but he must see me well enough. I looked down at him, considering, and he began to shake.

If you add Meng's total days in the field, they would probably fall short of half a season. His career as a hunting dog has been halting and eclectic: one week chasing jackrabbits in Kansas; one summer slipping from the car at evening squirrels; occasional assistant to Eric's red-tails and my catch dog on backyard varmint safaris. Meng nosed up sparrows for three of my kestrels and for Charlie, too, but not on more than half a dozen hunts in as many years.

Most days Meng spends curled like a cat on the couch or running laps in the living room. Mostly he belongs to Shelly.

How a whippet hunts sparrows would be familiar to any fox. Meng leaps on them with ears forward, front feet and nose downward. He works close, sometimes clipping my heels in high cover but usually bounding ahead like a porpoise in a bow wake.

His nose, when he chooses to use it, seems not to work very well. But he sees the flush, a tiny brown bird in a field of brown grass, and gives chase. Probably there are better dogs for this but none happier to do it.

Charlie caught two sparrows in long flights and two more in the space between Meng and me. The air felt warm by noon. The dog's tongue hung loose, and Charlie's crop shifted beneath his chin, full of little birds. We three rode home in strange comfort, wrapped in nostalgia for a time that never really was."

Meng the Whippet


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