Lucy, the Vizsla and Piero di Cosimo’s dogs
Lucy is my/our Hungarian Vizsla dog and she provokes a daily despair in me to think that when people see her circling the park they assume she is a puppy. She is almost eight. I celebrate each day of Lucy’s life.
Our family has always loved Vizslas for their extravagant and rust-beechen colouring; their amber-gem eyes. They have claws and noses to match, and wild, willful and opinionated but sensitive natures. They are living and mortal works of great art. They remind me of, and rival, Piero di Cosmo’s painting of his nameless red dog. Vasari reported that Piero ‘lived more like a beast than a man.’
Our first vet was Hungarian; she, disparagingly, called them ‘A lady’s dog’, although their athletic frames are lithely fleshed with brisk muscle. They were originally carriage dogs, which back in Hungary, were typically purchased in pairs.
Our vet, Judith, who was an exceptionally glamorous woman, lived in Pimlico with several eastern cats, an amazing collection of antique Hungarian jewelry – which she once put on for us when we took her to the theatre – but which stopped happening as soon as we had children which irritated her, and whose premises are now The London Emergency Veterinary Centre.
Judith had her own emergencies. There was her exotic collection of chinchillas that too often fell off their perches at an unexpectedly loud sound, or intrusion and died of heart attacks, which is not uncommon in caged chinchillas. Then, she decided, mistakenly as it turned out, but tragically too late for any help, that she had a self diagnosed cancer. She didn’t tell anybody but gathered her two favourite cats into her arms, sat down at her desk and took a lethal overdose of morphine. All that happened long before Lucy’s time and when I was still young enough to be mortally shocked. Judith always did amaze me.
Our first Vizsla was called Ali and he travelled down from Scotland in a twined shopping basket with a label tied around his neck warning us that all Vizslas love to eat and roll into dead things which, despite their elegance, they do. Ali watched our son Alex arrive and grow up, suspiciously at first, but as soon as he learned that the highchair was also a food depository their devotions were complete. Ali’s much later and almost timely death was also Alex’s first experience of meaningful but unexpected loss, from which he has never entirely recovered. (To be honest, Ali was initially called Alexander as we thought he was going to be the nearest we ever got to having a son, so we had to create an alias after Alex managed to join us.)
When Lucy arrived at six weeks old, she was born into a prizewinning litter of ten who were weaned and separated from their mother at four weeks, we were determined that she would be a proper dog, unlike her predecessors, and sleep in the kitchen rather than inside of our bed. Alex and I both took work breaks and devoted three full time weeks to acclimatize her to kitchen life. To begin with either one of us slept downstairs to be close enough to her pen to reassure her that all would be well. Alex complained he was developing a post-natal depression due to sleeplessness and the high-octane level of her relentless attachment demands.
Our real troubles only began later when we moved on to the next stage of separation and left her alone for the night. Even the current doyenne of militant child regimes, that uncrowned successor to Truby King, Ms Jeanna Ford would have complimented our rigour.
Lucy did not: she didn’t scream for one night, or three. She screamed like a banshee, or an uprooted mandrake, for three weeks. Each morning, I would go down to her pen and find her covered in her own excrement; each morning I would, delirious with both exhaustion and joy, gather her into my arms and bathe her in our bath. One morning, I couldn’t bare it any longer and Lucy has slept deep in our bed ever since. Unlike any of our other dogs, she has never, ever, been left without the company of a human member of her family pack for more than four hours.
Vizslas have an unique habit which, in different contexts, can express their anxiety, joy or crisp reprimand: without warning, they leap up beside you and seize your wrist, which is then clamped by a soft but determined mouth. Heaven. Their other divine attributes are too numerous to list.
I have always held the idea that one joy of having dogs is that they, unlike us human animals, can, if painfully, be replaced. I am not sentimental about dogs and I envy the way they, unlike humans, are not dependent on parliament ratifying new laws that might, eventually, allow its electorate legally to decide when we have suffered enough.
So long as you have insurance – and your vet stays around –a dog will receive more prompt and concerned care than most humans. Vets, unlike most doctors, still know what whole bodies get up to and look like. Vets are, in emergency, even legally expected to step in and treat us humans: who are, after all, animals! Whereas, it has is recent years, become an offence for a non-specialist paediatric surgeon to operate on a child under sixteen!
We have a brilliant vet, Dr. Frank Seddon, who has one practice situated just off the Abbey Road, and thankfully close to home. (Only last week our gentle giant of a boxer sneaked a bar of Valrhona chocolate off the table and within minutes was at the vet having a hefty dose of emetic. Frank was dismissive of the idea that most dogs are allergic to chocolate but once there he wasn’t taking any risks. Nobody, in their right minds, take risks with boxers’ fragile digestions.)
Frank, at various times over the last sixteen or more, I have stopped counting, years, has operated on the guts, eyes, tumours, and mouths of our dogs. He could do the same for a reptile, or a rat. Veterinary, (what a word that is to spell), provision may be expensive but at least most vets still understand how the whole of their patients’ bodies interconnect. Which is in contrast to the super sciences of the biology of a human breast, where you now require one specialist for a nipple and another for a mamma.
Lucy is not a dog. She is my tutelary spirit and inspiration. After spending over forty years of my life in the company of dogs, I cannot ever, ever, imagine replacing her. Lucy is forever.
Lucy in Regents Park , London which is so beautiful it deserves it owns blog