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Up, pup and away, it's classy Darcy by leaps and bounds

MY DAUGHTER says the whippet is exactly the wrong dog and exactly the right dog for me. Exactly right because he gets me out of the house walking and running when, normally, I never run.

I run with the whippet because he takes off and I have to catch him. He's exactly wrong because it's like living with an overly exuberant Olympic athlete. The whippet leaps like Carl Lewis. He leaves earth, feet and paws extended, travelling lightly through the air. Recently, he leapt to meet me with both paws extended, hitting me in what is referred to, crudely, as the Niagara Falls or the Jatz Crackers, or, more politely, as the groin. For the next week the middle third of my body felt like a piece of cracked marble. Knowing observers still detect a faint limp.


Last week, we received a dawn phone call from my daughter, well advanced in her third pregnancy, to say she thought her waters had broken and I was required to babysit. ''Bring Darce,'' she said. That's the whippet, grandly named Darcy, now known as Darce. Darce is a likeable lad, well-meaning, not a vicious bone in his body. Everyone says he's big for a whippet and his build - clumps of muscle on a sinewy frame - is utterly athletic. He runs like a cheetah, the key to his speed being the distance he covers with each bound.

He's a lot of trouble - eating books, a visitor's medication, private correspondence, getting me into tangles at the park with other dogs and, once, a possum, and excavating moon craters in the backyard to bury my shoes. When that happens, I go to my wife and complain. She always says the same thing: ''But he's beautiful.''

My granddaughters are nearly four and two. Arriving at their place with Darce is like driving into town with Ashton's Circus. Darce is a star in their world. Like a trapeze artist. The two-year-old has only a few words, but one of them is ''Dar!'' (his name), which incites him to fresh bouts of nuzzling her with a nose like a soft, wet pneumatic drill. There is nowhere he would rather be. They're children - in whippet terms, he's a child. Game on!

He is tremblingly polite with the children, but the state of excessive energy they excite in him means he has to be closely watched, or as closely watched as a dog can be when it is faster than your every move and has little or no interest in you when there's a dog or someone his own age to play with.

On the day that I was asked to babysit because my daughter was in hospital, we watched a bit of television and then went into the backyard to play on a circular trampoline surrounded by a gauze net. Once the kids were up and bouncing and the net was safely zipped up, I let Darce out of the house. What Darce beheld at a glance was children bouncing and laughing.

That is the world as he wishes it to be. With four or five mighty bounds, he was within range of the trampoline, whereupon he leapt, sailing through the air like Bob Beamon in the rarefied air of the 1968 Mexico Olympics. The net, whose existence was unknown to him, caught him, absorbed him and, having discovered its elasticity, flung him back the way he'd come. His face on his return flight bore a look that made me laugh out loud, a look of fright accompanied by a frown, like a scientist finding the universe is not as he had previously understood it. Dogs are so human. Martin Flanagan is a senior writer. Reproduced special permission from Martin Flanagan courtesy of The Age



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