I read recently where a Chinese billionaire had paid more than €1m for an 11-month-old Tibetan mastiff puppy. Imagine, a million quid for a puppy!
I could have saved him a small fortune as he was clearly unaware of the existence of an even more remarkable breed of dog than the one he purchased so expensively. I refer, of course, to lurchers and following the sad passing away of Slipper, my legendary hare-chasing, food-stealing hound, I eventually purchased another which is already showing all the great qualities that have made the breed famous.
This ability to steal food silently and even remove a loaf of bread from its wrapper without anyone noticing shows a talent that few dogs possess. To be able to feign sleep immediately after thieving is even more remarkable and illustrates a deep intelligence that most dogs lack, especially those with lengthy pedigrees who might look pretty but have little between their ears.
I named him Flann after the great Flann O'Brien, who was not only one of Ireland's finest writers, but was also renowned as a judge of whiskey.
O'Brien was a man who could sit for hours in the company of people such as Patrick Kavanagh and Brendan Behan and not utter a single word. Such an appreciation of silence is uncommon and shows how, just like the lurcher, great intellects are happy with their own company. Silence can indeed be golden.
Lurchers, as everyone knows, have a mixed background with bits of greyhound, saluki, wheaten terrier, collie, Bedlington terrier and others often thrown into the mix to produce the perfect hunting machine.
Flann is of aristocratic lineage and his proud breeder educated me on the merits of the greyhound/Bedlington cross, which produces dogs of matchless courage, agility and brains. The trouble, of course, with mixing anything is that you are never sure what the result will be until it arrives.
It's a bit like getting a cocktail shaker and pouring in a measure each of gin, whiskey and brandy and maybe adding some crème de menthe and a drop of Pimms for interest.
The result could be delicious or could possibly blow your head off. This could be why lurchers can vary widely in appearance, but happily Flann is the perfect example of knowledgeable and careful selection and has a whiskered face that would do any Victorian gentleman proud.
His hair has the texture of a Brillo pad, but it is when showing off his paces that he demonstrates why lurchers are so sought after. He can run like the wind and turn on a sixpence and remove food from shelves that one would think were way beyond his reach. When walking with him in public people will often stop and chat and then come out with the inevitable question: "What sort of a dog is that?" I have given up trying to explain to the uninitiated, what exactly a lurcher is and find the simplest thing is to invent a breed that matches his good looks.
I quickly learnt that the best way to defend against snooty remarks about dogs' pedigrees is to create one of my own.
When asked about his breeding, usually by someone with a pedigree mouse hound or other useless miniature pet in tow, I always reply that Flann is a Mongolian yak hound or Tibetan wolf hound or whatever enters my head at the time.
That puts them in their place immediately and while they are pondering on this piece of information, it's important to move swiftly in for the kill and state that these dogs are extremely rare, have an ancient pedigree and go back to the time of Genghis Khan when they were esteemed for their ability to hunt wolves, herd yak, guide people across the Himalayas or whatever and that they are now becoming very popular again amongst discerning dog owners. It is essential that you then walk away quickly making the most of your advantage before too many further questions arise.
Apparently the name lurcher is derived from the Romany word "lur", which means thief and I suppose this tells us a lot about the character of the dogs themselves as they are famed for stealth and cunning.
Collie crosses have always been very popular, given the working instinct of the sheepdog when mated with a sighthound such as a greyhound or Irish wolfhound, and they produce dogs with great intelligence and speed -- abilities prized by all poachers and even the odd farmer.