I am sitting furtively in my sister-in-law Lucinda’s car drinking chicken soup from a Thermos and eating sushi, a strange combination that seems to be in keeping with other oddities of the day. We are trying to observe without being observed. At least, that’s our latest strategy in this exacting project.

The main parts in this short but intense drama are played by Toffee, the five-year-old cocker spaniel belonging to my sister-in-law, and Logan, the four-year-old cocker belonging to my brother-in-law (on the other side of the family). There are walk-on parts for Bond, another cocker, who lives nearby, and Bonnie, who is the mother of Logan and Bond from two different litters. There is also a non-speaking role for Fletcher, my irascible dachshund, who has no spaniel blood and is therefore on the sidelines.

Toffee is on heat and was first brought to meet Logan last week. She’s the third in a fine line bred by Lucinda. Logan’s owner is away, but my brother and Zam were there to help things along, or just to witness. These boundaries became less distinct as the week went on. Zam returned home after the first failure. He described a certain amount of interest from Logan, but said that Toffee’s most energetic move was reserved for Fletcher, who got a good nip on the nose when the car door, behind which he was locked, was briefly opened.

Two days later, Lucinda made the 2½ hour journey back and, this time, I was the support team. We felt pretty confident that things would get going on this second date. I thought I might take Fletcher along for the outing, too. ‘Please don’t,’ she said. ‘I won’t let him near Toffee,’ I promised. ‘I don’t want to take the risk,’ she replied, in a tone that I found almost hurtful.

We met at the kennel. Logan was looking keen, but Toffee sat down whenever he came near her. We let them play. We put them back. We decided we were a distraction and hid behind a tree. We decided we were a comfort and stood nearby. I felt squeamish about coercing Toffee into something she really wasn’t in the mood for. ‘Do you think it’s a bit off-putting to have your mother next door?’ I asked-Bonnie was staring at the young spaniels from her kennel. The dogs gave up long before we did and everybody went home.

A weekend passed and Lucinda decided to come back for another go. This time, Toffee was a differ-
ent dog: coquettish, patient and not sitting down. She used all her feminine charm, but to no effect. Logan seemed at a loss, although he occasionally raised our hopes with short-lived att-empts. After one of these, Lucinda said, ‘I think I’ll have to go in and hold them together’. ‘Really?’ I countered. ‘He needs help.’ ‘What sort of help?’ Logan looked depressed.

We retreated to the car to give them a bit of privacy. There, we hatched a backup plan and rang the owners of Bond. He appeared, as eager for the challenge as one could hope for, but after a flurry of phone calls we discovered, just in the nick of time, that he and Toffee had the same father. So Bond was sent packing.

We were looking at Logan with despair when John, the gamekeeper, appeared. He was unsurprised by the way things were going-or, rather, not going. ‘Well, he hasn’t seen many ladies,’ he explained. I told him I’d never done this before, adding, ‘I wonder if it’s a bit… cold?’ Lucinda put Toffee back in the car with a sigh. She rang on the way home: ‘I feel like a pimp now,’ she said. ‘I’ve been leaving messages for people I’ve never met to ask if they know anyone suitable for Toffee tomorrow.’

Halfway home, she found one potential sire in Scotland, plus another who my brother has since dismissed as ‘too long-legged’. But an hour later, she was jubi-lant. Her friend Bob had found a pedigree dog that ‘really knows what it’s doing’ and is only 20 miles from home. They’ve got a date at 10am tomorrow. Lucky Toffee, I think.

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