Dog days — Fionnuala Ward on our four-legged friends

Faithful hounds

Dogs have had their moment in recent times. All down to Covid, of course.

It’s been a reminder to us homo sapiens that the time and patience involved in luring the local wolves to the campfire, all those millennia ago, was well worth the effort.

Family life has been good for them too. So much so, that when I was growing up they even got to have surnames. There was Tipsy Farrell for a start, an enormous black spaniel who lived up the road. I would hide behind my mother’s legs when an encounter between both households took place, an entirely unnecessary precaution in fairness to Tipsy, who took little or no notice of me. And looking back now I realise that the whole size issue was down to me and my age and nothing to do with this perfectly normal spaniel specimen.

My own family had two dogs at different stages. Sooty was a Jack Russell who wandered the neighbourhood, returning home for his dinner. These were the days you simply opened the front door to let the dog out for that day’s adventures. Unthinkable now but the practice at the time.


Sooty was quite the explorer and turned up at school much to my sister’s mortification. He chased after nun and pupil alike and Sheila had to be directed to a phone to get someone – anyone – to retrieve the errant hound.

Things had changed by the time dog number two came around. Whiskey was a Yorkshire Terrier of sorts and decidedly house-bound. But as Whiskey had full run of said house, it was an arrangement that suited him quite well.

My father grew up in a dogless environment and was always a little nervous around this panting, yapping, napping bundle of life. Whenever he would decide to take the dog for a walk, one of us would have the job of holding Whiskey still while attaching the lead, whereupon one large man and one small dog would venture out into the world.

Whiskey became, as dogs do, well-known in the area. Mam was on the rota for readings at daily Mass and when she took to the altar on one occasion, a child, as she was later told, informed her own mother in whispered tones that this was “Whiskey’s Mammy”.

He was a godsend, though when my father died, forcing my mother out and about. It was around this time that he took to occasionally climbing up onto Mam’s shoulder, as she sat watching television, and would squat there like a meerkat, keeping an eye out for predators.

My granny was always happiest with a dog about. Her husband died young and she reared nine children from a small house with a dog almost always underfoot. In later years, she befriended a family of four sisters who lived in the wilds of Co Louth at the end of a long, unsurfaced country road. We would visit on occasion, Dad guiding the car slowly and meticulously from pothole to pothole.

For the longest time, these women didn’t have electricity or running water. But by the time we began to visit, they had acquired these modern conveniences and a seemingly endless supply of home-baked tarts and cakes would be produced from their kitchen. They grew their own vegetables and fruit trees and the most magnificent flowers which I clearly remember towering over my head.

They too loved dogs and whenever Granny was heading away, she would send whoever was in situ at the time out there on their “holidays” – a genuine example of a dog going to a nice home in the country and actually coming back.

Jock was Granny’s dog when I was a child. He was named after Joxer Daly in Juno and the Paycock, O’Casey resonating greatly with Granny’s generation. Jock was definitely a something but it was unclear what that was. He stood – actually stood – in the palm of my hand as a puppy and grew into a just below average family pet. Like most mongrels, he was street-wise and savvy. Granny always claimed that he knew it was a Sunday by her routine on that day, as she pottered around, getting ready for our weekly visit. From early on he would position himself on a chair by the window, waiting for the car to pull up.

I haven’t a dog as I’m out of the house most of the day. My neighbour is in a similar situation, and we’ve talked about dog-sharing down the line. In the meantime, it’s a bit of a treat to visit a house with a dog. I enjoy the excitement that a new person brings – the jumping and the remonstrations and the jumping again. Before the novelty wears off, that is, and the dog wanders off to its favourite spot for a well-earned snooze.