There is a moment in Kate Spicer’s tender, graphic and sometimes raw love song to her beloved third-hand lurcher that cuts painfully close to the bone. Woolfy, our canine hero, is lost, having run away from Kate’s brother’s house in Islington.
She scours north London’s canals, parks and housing estates. Late one night in the lee of Arsenal’s football stadium, she meets a lady who points her to a nearby estate. ‘There’s a man in there got a dog like that,” she says. ‘I saw him with it. He usually only has one dog, but now he has two.'
With brother Will and boyfriend Charlie in tow, Kate knocks on his door. The man is huge and angry. Scary angry. Before he slams the door, she sees a lurcher coiled up in a bed behind him, leaving her to wonder – was it Woolfy?
It’s every dog-owner’s greatest fear. Every parent’s greatest fear. And make no mistake, for those of us who love our pups, love them so greatly we can’t imagine life without them, think about them every hour, treat them like family, like children, this is no casual conflation. These four-legged souls, they are us and we are them.’
Kate has two lives: pre- and post-Woolfy. Before he saves her, she is a regular at a house in Notting Hill where cocaine-dealing Tim hosts an eclectic mix of waifs and strays, from City bankers to rootless trust-funders to Instagram princesses. Kate is one of his late-night customers, a journalist who writes about the lives of the rich and famous, even as she struggles to pay her tax bill.
The dog gives her a life and maybe a love she never had. They bond instantly, and she begins to stay in and avoid Tim’s place. She gets up earlier, feels better and finds her ambulatory strolls are guided by Woolfy’s scavenger desire for food. (Mike’s Café, a greasy spoon on Blenheim Crescent next to the bookshop in the film Notting Hill is a favourite haunt: on a good morning, he gets to wolf two sausages there).
And then, one day, he is gone. Kate reacts as one would, fear and panic bubbling up inside her. But she’s rational, pragmatic, logical. Adept at using social media for her own means, she rolls out a ‘Find Wolfy’ campaign. Her messages are re-posted and re-tweeted by celebrities. There are trollish louts out there, but many more people willing to give up their time to help.
She discovers a different London, one far from the oligarchs and political luvvies. A far older one, dark and seamy, but also light and bright and filled with the fountain of the human soul. Characters jump from the pages: an earthy Essex mind-reader; a lady who gives much of her time to finding lost hounds; and the ‘midnight jogger’, an endurance athlete who comes up with slightly bonkers ideas for finding Wolfy.
This is not a book I’d normally pick up. Kate’s journalism means the book includes reviews of restaurants I’ll never visit and rich-listers I’d never want to meet. She doesn’t seem to like them much either, decrying the ‘shoal of models’ that floats by at a party and, in the wake of an encounter with an odious German art dealer, the ‘monsters and supercreeps’ who infest society.
At its heart, this is a love story, and a damned good one at that. Kate is in love with Woolfy, just as he loves her. It’s a story of loss and of reconciliation, of knowing we can love our dogs with every inch of our being, love their souls as much as, perhaps more than, we do any other.
In a world so complex and challenging, where robots threaten our jobs and climate change our ecological fabric, is it any wonder that we treasure what our furry friends give us: real, unquestioned love, simple and innocent and communicative, allowing us to revisit a prelapsarian time when we were young, and our world was too.