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Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Elegy for Ellie.



Ellie the greyhound had a sudden seizure last week and died at the age of 12. Over the past few years I have spent quite a bit of time with her one way or the other. It all started after I discovered that a fellow Finnish student lived only 10 minutes away from me. Despite living in the same locality we took different train stations to our University classes and thus were unaware that we were virtual neighbours. Once we realised our close proximity to one another’s homes we started meeting up at one another’s flats, or else at an Italian deli cum café mid-way between our respective houses for coffee and cakes and the occasional light meal.  The café is surprisingly stylish and the food highly tempting. Apparently they supply bread to one of London’s top restaurants. Not that their own prices are prohibitive and it is an exceedingly pleasant place to while away the odd hour or two.

It was at Rachel’s flat that I first met Ellie. She was a rescued greyhound who, like many such dogs, was set to be made homeless or put to sleep when her racing career came to a close. In the Middle Ages greyhounds were the hunting dogs of kings and thus are often depicted in the tapestries of the period. According to the heraldic tradition greyhounds represent courage, vigilance and loyalty . They have an innate elegance and if Ellie was anything to go by possess a gentle nature too. Whenever I took Ellie out for a walk I would reassure anyone who was afraid of her that the worst she could do would be to lick them to death.

Out of the blue Rachel asked me if I could look after Ellie when her usual dog-walker had to return suddenly to Poland on family matters. I was not sure whether I would be able to control her but Rachel assured me that she was docile and very well behaved when taken out for a walk as indeed she proved to be.

Ellie was always something of a minor celebrity whenever I took her out for a walk in my own neighbourhood or later in the Hertfordshire countryside.

On the whole Ellie was a very well behaved dog and would usually respond to my commands. I often used to wonder whether it was her early training as a racing dog that made her stand stock-still if I just gently touched her collar, her leash being off but trouble, usually in the form of a far smaller dog, looming nearby.

I spent one New Year looking after her in the country. I had to conceal cut up medication in her food and it became a battle of wits as I endeavoured to make her woof the meat and biscuits down before she realised there was a broken up tablet craftily concealed within. We also fought over the sofa. I had but to leave the living room for a few minutes to return to find her lying fully stretched out where I had been sitting moments before. She was wont to try that ruse even when she had a sofa of her own to recline upon. Eventually we came to an accommodation and we shared the sofa although I made sure she realised that I was still Top Dog.

She missed her owners whenever they were away but after a while she was keen to follow me around the house, although she would never venture up the narrow stairs to the floor above. Instead, if I went out to the kitchen or dining room she would be sure to quickly pad out after me and flop down in her basket, where I would hold a distinctly one-sided conversation with her which she tolerated rather than be ignored.

She had her own mysterious little routines which she adhered to as if some time-honoured sacred ritual. Thus she would sway her head from side to side and stretch out her limbs if she knew we were about to go out for a walk. I would often watch in fascination as she spent ages using her limbs and her snout to fashion her bed, a quilt, until it was just so. I filmed her one day carrying out this strange little dance and made it and the ensuing video the subject of an earlier post.(dog day afternoons)

Like other dogs I have walked in the past, she was overcome with excitement at the prospect of a walk and would practically drag me out of the house as she tugged at her leash. On the way back home I would be virtually dragging her along as she was exhausted from  running to and fro to examine yet another scent in the ground that had caught her attention,. I could therefore stroll along at a gentle pace in front of her and then wait until she raced to my side. She was by my side when I taking photographs of the eponymous Brimstone Butterfly for my blog. Not that Ellie was much help with my nature studies. I would carefully and delicately approach a bright yellow butterfly feasting on  knapweed when Ellie would bound over causing the butterfly to immediately flutter away. Near the field of countless Brimstone Butterflies I took Ellie to the ponds so she could cool herself off. It took her a while to determine how to navigate the water but once in she raced to the centre, stood completely still for a moment or two before dashing out again and making her way to the river bank. Fortunately there was no-one in the immediate vicinity to drown under the deluge of water she shook from her fur.

I shall miss Ellie and will always remember her with the deepest affection.

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