The Dog I've Always Wanted

Canine Behavior, Training and Photography

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Walking Ollie or Winning the Love of a Difficult Dog by Stephen Foster

April 17th, 2009 · · Book Reviews

This is a lovely memoir. The author, Stephen Foster, a sports writer, is greatly challenged by Ollie. (The dog formerly known as Ernie.) The puppy in question is a rescued lurcher. A lurcher is a dog that is half greyhound and half something else. In Ollie’s case his non-greyhound half is saluki, also a sight hound. The lurcher breed was developed in Britain due to the fact that only the nobility were permitted to own greyhounds. Lurchers were and probably still are the poacher’s breed of choice. Ollie is adopted from the animal-welfare home at Snetterton in Norfolk.

Ollie proves to be a nervous pup who seemed to spend a great deal of time running around and looking worried. (This description reminds me of my basenji, Cleo.) Walking him proves to be a major challenge as he wants only (naturally enough) to play with other dogs, to chase and be chased. And as is typical of his breed and sight hounds in general he does not come when he is called, very poor recall. The author calculates the time he spends walking Ollie, chasing Ollie, at about five hours a day. He had imagined that dog walking would be a contemplative activity that would allow him to think about his writing. Instead he must endure the scorn of other dog walkers (mostly Lab owners) who proclaim Ollie “out of control”.

The harrowing walks with Ollie are only half the problem; the dog is terrified of him. He cringes and runs from the room at the sight of his owner. He will not accept affection from him but he will take food bribes. A scene is described in which Ollie is finally apprehended after one of his “walks” because the other has laid a trail of cheese cubes. Out of control barely covers it. There is a heart stopping chase down a motorway at night which both dog and owner miraculously survive. But there is a break through that follows Ollie running amok in the midst of a fishing competition (you can imagine) that marks a turning point for both of them. Ollie actually begins to listen to his owner. “Patience is the only technique I can pass on, if you can call patience a technique-so far as rescue animal husbandry is concerned, I feel pretty certain that you can. Patience is an aspect of love. We started to love each other.”

Of course the road was not smooth nor the course straight. There were more struggles ahead but I won’t spoil the book by telling all. It is, as I said at the outset, a lovely memoir. Humorous, touching, and very frank this book is a testament of the dedication that one individual can have to one dog.


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