photo credit: Steve Surfman, taken around 1998
The crowd, the field, the world hushed. Everyone focused on the twowhippets. Even the hounds in their vans were unusually silent.
They waved from the middle of the field.
“Lure Operator, ready?”
“Handlers, are you ready?”
The Huntmaster motioned to the Lure Operator, and the bunnies zippedaway.
It was a long course, 960 yards, with some formidable straight-awayspaired with quick sharp turns, and five changes of direction. The two whippetstook off in unison, looking like two miniature winged horses pulling the samecelestial chariot. They raced down the first long, straight run. After eightyyards, Proper was a half a length in front of his little sister. The lureswhipped around a pulley, making a sharp left. Hope was on it like the smile onher woman, not losing any momentum and flying out of the turn. Proper turnedbetter than the lure operator (or anyone else watching) thought a dog his sizecould. After all he’d been chasing his sister in the yard and the back fieldsfor his whole life; he had plenty of practice. But she had gained a length on him, which he made up on the straight,edging past her again. The lure whipped to the right, making nearly aninety-degree turn, and Hope was there with it, overtaking her brother. She waspure athletic poetry. Not a wasted drop of energy. Proper pulled up even withher just as the lure turned, less sharply this time, and once again the twowere stride for stride.
The collected dog lovers started to shout. They weren’t even aware oftheir yelling; they just couldn’t contain all that admiration. This is whatthey each hoped for every time they started with a new pup. This was beauty. Sheerperfection. What people felt when they watched Man O’War run. Whatthe millions of people felt who watched Secretariat win the Belmont bythirty-one lengths. It didn't matter that this wasn't millions of people. It didn't matter that there were no television cameras or foreign press. They werewatching perfection in action, and they felt the hairs on their arms standprickly. They grabbed the person standing next to them and they heardthemselves crying out, “Look at that! Look!”
The two whippets chasing the lure didn’t know anything but the joy fromthe running.
The lure made another turn, the next to the last turn, and the two wereeven; nose for nose, pulling and digging, stretching for more in each stride,flying. Their muscles straining. Lungs on fire. The humans screamed.
The last turn was a stinker. A hairpin turn to the right, which wouldbring them back to the crowd. Proper’s greater weight and longer stride carriedhim wider than his sister, who felt her advantage and sailed on home, threelengths ahead of her brother. The entire gathering of hound-loving humansexploded in whoops, cheers, and old-fashioned applause. The two dogs wagged,breathless, feeding on the wonderful happiness emanating from the crowd. Neitherof the two could understand why their own Emily and their friend Laura had theleaky eyes that humans get when their souls hurt. But they did their best tolick up the tears with their smiling tongues.
“Woo-hoo! That was fun!” they said together.
Emily walked Hope and Proper to cool them down and let them catch theirbreath, letting them drink sips of water every so often.
“I am so very proud of you two,” she said. “I don’t know when I’ve felt this happy. Never. That’s when.”
hug your hounds
hug your hounds