photo credit: Steve Surfman, taken around 1998
The crowd, the field, the world hushed. Everyone focused on the two whippets. 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 zipped away.
It was a long course, 960 yards, with some formidable straight-aways paired with quick sharp turns, and five changes of direction. The two whippets took off in unison, looking like two miniature winged horses pulling the same celestial chariot. They raced down the first long, straight run. After eighty yards, Proper was a half a length in front of his little sister. The lures whipped around a pulley, making a sharp left. Hope was on it like the smile on her woman, not losing any momentum and flying out of the turn. Proper turned better than the lure operator (or anyone else watching) thought a dog his size could. After all he’d been chasing his sister in the yard and the back fields for 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 a ninety-degree turn, and Hope was there with it, overtaking her brother. She was pure athletic poetry. Not a wasted drop of energy. Proper pulled up even with her just as the lure turned, less sharply this time, and once again the two were stride for stride.
The collected dog lovers started to shout. They weren’t even aware of their yelling; they just couldn’t contain all that admiration. This is what they each hoped for every time they started with a new pup. This was beauty. Sheer perfection. What people felt when they watched Man O’War run. What the millions of people felt who watched Secretariat win the Belmont by thirty-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 were watching perfection in action, and they felt the hairs on their arms stand prickly. They grabbed the person standing next to them and they heard themselves crying out, “Look at that! Look!”
The two whippets chasing the lure didn’t know anything but the joy from the running.
The lure made another turn, the next to the last turn, and the two were even; 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 would bring them back to the crowd. Proper’s greater weight and longer stride carried him wider than his sister, who felt her advantage and sailed on home, three lengths ahead of her brother. The entire gathering of hound-loving humans exploded in whoops, cheers, and old-fashioned applause. The two dogs wagged, breathless, feeding on the wonderful happiness emanating from the crowd. Neither of the two could understand why their own Emily and their friend Laura had the leaky eyes that humans get when their souls hurt. But they did their best to lick 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 their breath, 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