Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Hounds of the Moor Were the Pets Next Door

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Hounds of the Moor Were the Pets Next Door

Article excerpt

The term Irish wolfhound may conjure up images of frothing fiends chasing down wolves on the moors - or in the absence of wolves, a hapless human or two. But when I was a kid, a certain neighbor never had fewer than three Irish wolfhounds at a time.

Despite their size (taller, on average, than Great Danes) and somewhat fearsome mien, several generations of these wolfhounds proved notably friendly and fun, especially for tots, who rode on their backs and generally treated them like ponies. One of the most lovable of them grew up to be truly huge. I once saw him enter a paddock to check out a new horse. At first the horse couldn't peg this strange creature. Was he a pony, the horse seemed to wonder. The two had to gingerly touch noses before they realized they came from different worlds.

One of the wolfhounds was an exception to the good-guy nature of his fellows. Periodically he would terrorize the area, raiding nearby homes and driving everyone - animals and people - indoors. Neighbors would alert one another by phone: "He's headed your way!"

Why didn't the family just get rid of him? It was a point of contention between the father of the family and his three daughters, the latter militant animal-lovers who instinctively gave dogs the benefit of the doubt. The daughters dubbed their errant pet Raiffy, as if he were maybe a toy poodle, and staunchly claimed he was the victim of bad press. If the silly neighbors would stop reacting so defensively, they said, everything would be fine. Just because a slathering giant gallops toward you apparently bent on mayhem - is that any reason to recoil (which only upsets him)?

Horace, the father, who was plenty headstrong himself, didn't buy any of this. But he deferred to his daughters' determined Raiffy-coddling and uncharacteristically held his peace.

It all came to a head one night when my father and Horace were playing chess. It was a game Horace loved, and he brooked no disturbances. The two sat silently and deliberatively before a fire, with Raiffy - temporarily quiescent - lying on the stone floor nearby. Just as Horace, after long deliberation, lifted his hand to execute a move he felt sure represented a winning strategy, Raiffy sprang into action for no obvious reason. …

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