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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s corner

29 September 2017

Malcolm Guite wonders what lessons his new dogs will teach him

I WROTE a fortnight ago that autumn was a season of change and renewal. Well, change and renewal arrived last Saturday in the form of two svelte and lithe-limbed newcomers taking up residence with us in the Rectory at Linton.

George and Zara have come to us from the Retired Greyhounds Trust. Perhaps they have been sent to give us a foretaste of what retire­ment might be like, though they are in no way retiring, but, on the contrary, affectionate, eager to please, and, even when stretched across the couch in a post-walk stupor, impossibly elegant.

Though they have retired from racing, it would be fairer to say that, like some other retired wearers of a dog collar, they have taken up “house for duty”. But, unlike many clergy, their duty is genuinely light: all they need do — and they do it daily and delightfully — is lead me out and lift my spirits.

This autumnal transition has been a long time coming. This time last year, as I pushed myself to walk the paths and cross the little bridges, the fords and fields and woodlands around Linton, I was holding grief on an in­­visible lead, walking a golden absence, my foot­­steps dogged only by a memory; for we had lost Paddy, our golden Labrador.

Wherever I turned on the old paths, and especially when I met the other dog-walkers, I would half glimpse what was not there. But, after a long winter and the renewals of spring and summer, Maggie and I sensed that it was time to open our doors again; and, having made the acquaintance of these two hounds in need of a home, we knew we had the home to offer.

They really are remarkable creatures. There is something archaic, almost heraldic, about a greyhound. They look as if they’ve just stepped out of a medieval illumination; they would blend into the Bayeux tapestry. Those loose limbs, slender waists, long necks, and keen noses seem unchanged since the hieroglyphs of Egypt; and yet here is a brace of them with their heads in my lap, as I sit musing in my cluttered study.

We have still to make each other’s acquaint­ance properly and deeply, but already I am wondering what they will teach me. To sense a little more and linger a little longer on my walks, certainly, and to relax a little more deeply when I come home and close the door.

A Dominican friend of mine, striking in his white habit and black cloak, explained to me once that the heraldic greyhound holding a torch in its mouth on the cover of the New Blackfriars journal was really a pun: the Dominicani, Dominicans, were also the Domini Cani, the dogs of God, happy to walk for him in the world, and keen to scent the truth.

As it happens, George, in white with black markings, and Zara, glossy black with a white diamond, put me in mind of that habit. I feel sure that they will indeed be Domini Cani to all of us at the rectory.

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