Puppy Love. How a Beagle Called Perth Brought Joy to Its Owner in a Way That Will Connect with Dog Lovers Everywhere

By Gilchrist, Roderick | The Mail on Sunday (London, England), September 22, 2002 | Go to article overview

Puppy Love. How a Beagle Called Perth Brought Joy to Its Owner in a Way That Will Connect with Dog Lovers Everywhere


Gilchrist, Roderick, The Mail on Sunday (London, England)


Byline: RODERICK GILCHRIST

A Dog Called Perth: The True Story Of A Beagle by Peter Martin Orion [pound]6.99 [pound]5.94 (0870 165 0870)

A few weeks ago my 88-year-old mother, Mary, was rushed to hospital at 3am and admitted into intensive care with severe abdominal pains. She looked and felt awful when I saw her later that day. The doctor told me she had gallstones, one of which had lodged in a duct in her liver, poisoning her body, and they weren't sure how best to remove the blockage. I was desperately worried.

Two days later, I raced back from London to St Richard's Hospital, Chichester, concerned about what condition I would find her in, only to walk into Lavant Ward and the sight of my mother propped against a pillow in a hospital bed, still jaundiced, her skin a sickly yellow, but with a simply beatific smile on her face. It was not what I expected.

She had in her hands a book. It was called A Dog Called Perth. On the front cover it had a picture of the soft brown head, liquid eyes and Bible-black nose of a beagle looking adoringly upwards, probably at its master. There was intelligence, love and great beauty in that head that any dog lover would instantly connect with.

I asked her how she felt. 'Terrible.' So why do you look so happy? She waved to the book on her bed. 'It's Perth,' she said. 'It's such a lovely book.

It's the true story of a dog and a family and how it changed their lives. I can't eat, I'm in pain but it makes me laugh. You must read it. It's kept me going in here.' So I did read it. Perth was a beagle puppy that an American professor of English literature, Peter Martin, and his wife Cindy owned for the 21 years of Perth's life beginning in the woods and lakes of upstate New York and ending in the picture-postcard countryside of a Sussex Downs village.

It is the charming story of her adventures, of the joy she brought to Peter and Cindy, of the heartache when she went missing and couldn't be found for weeks but, most of all, of the enduring bond that exists between man and dog.

It is a book to set beside other books which deal with the love that a small animal can give to its human owner, such as Ring Of Bright Water, the story of Midge the otter that Gavin Maxwell told to such effect about his idyll in the Scottish Highlands. But few people own otters, while many own dogs and will instantly understand and receive great pleasure from Perth.

Peter knew the moment he first saw Perth that he had to have her.

'I was taken with her beauty, especially the soft, rounded, brownness of her head and her perfect white chest and paws . . . She was an American Blanket Beagle, so called because of her solid black back. As the black spread down over her shoulders and haunches, it turned to a golden brown which two-thirds down her leg became the purest white. Her chest was of the same soft white, her short hair combing itself naturally and delicately in various directions, joining in several places like the crest of a breaking ocean wave . …

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