He knew me better than I knew myself – now there are four very large paw prints to be filled

If asked to offer a synopsis of what my life is all about in as few words as possible, sport and farming would eternally be central tenets of any such description. Yes, writing and Susie and family would be of the utmost importance too. But it would take somebody or somebody or something exceptional to knock the first two activities listed out of the higher echelons. Except that farming itself needs a subsection titled ‘Animals’.

For it wasn’t just cattle. Truth be told, I would have always loved to get into sheep farming. Or poultry. Naturally, the love of sport and animals intersected via horse racing. Something it was longingly desired to get involved in to a much greater extent. When it became obvious that was a non runner, there was a fitting inevitability that cattle would fill the void. If it’s in the blood at any time it will be thus forever.

And it’s the same with dogs. There have always been dogs in my life too. I don’t really remember Shep, though I know he used to wait out at the gate for my siblings getting off their various school busses. They were different times. Simpler, better times. There were more fields than houses and cars were like busses, you mightn’t see one for ages and then a couple come along. Unfortunately old Shep had a meeting with one and ended up going where the good doggies go, as Elvis tearfully sang.

After Shep came Prince. Now there was a character. In whatever way one wished to utilise the term. As far as can be recalled, Barbara got him from the daughter of a local farmer. He was certainly only a small pup when he arrived. At that stage, his specialty was grabbing the clothes off the line and bringing garments for unsolicited tours of the place. Even in middle age, he was still a pup in the roguish sense of the word. Giving da the slip when out walking up Barry’s Lane and across Millfarm. Yet he always found his way home. Indeed, the older he got, he would actually scratch the back door when he returned from his adventures.

Prince and I having a meeting outside the vegetable plot

Then, for a while, he had canine company around the place. Paul has always had dogs, mostly of the hunting variety. My absolute favourite – and his too I suspect – was Bob, a beautiful Brittany Spaniel with no tail. I’ve mentioned here on numerous occasions over the years that I could always hear a tractor approaching and identify what it was long before it came into view. Believe it or not, Bobby the Brittany could do likewise. His puppy-ish bark piping up whenever Paul was headed this way in a Deutz or Massey Ferguson.

Bob, Prince and I out checking the hay meadow on the night Meath won the National League in 1990

Alas, the last time myself and the parents went for a week’s holiday down the country was when the wandering Colley made his final journey. Such was the upset felt when Prince did set off for the open plains in the sky that it was basically accepted – eventually in my case – that there wouldn’t be another canine addition to the family. And I’ll be honest, over the years, even the thought of getting another dog never entered my head.

However, it evidently cropped up in the minds of others. That my mother returned early from her weekly hair dressing trip on the evening of my 30th birthday wasn’t that much of a shock as it was known all the family planned to gather at the house thereafter. The detective in me, though, should have copped something was afoot when the lady of the house kept sneaking around the front of the house to answer a quick series of calls I obviously wasn’t meant to hear.

As it happened, not if possessed of sleuthing ability of Sherlock Holmes could what transpired once Paul drove his jeep in have been predicted. Even the sight of Ciara, my niece, getting out holding a gorgeous looking golden Labrador pup didn’t immediately light up the switchboard. Until, that is mother placed the youngster into my lap with the gentle reminder “You’ll be Brenny’s Buddy, won’t you?”

The couple of days which followed were a complete blur. something not helped by the fact that on his first day in the place – which happened to be Easter Sunday – yours truly absconded to Fairyhouse for the first day of their biggest festival. The thought often occurred in the years which followed that Buddy’s arrival was to soften the blow of me not being able to get involved in racehorse ownership.

Of course, getting back into the cattle filled that void – and did so much more besides that – but the incalculable impact having a canine companion by your side through life’s journey bowled even me over having not had it for so long. To my mother’s eternal credit, she an absolute blinder during Buddy’s acclimatisation period. Before the new resident had his proper accommodation sorted, his quarters were in a corner of my office. Which meant copious amounts of newspaper needed to be deployed until he developed a routine for his toiletry needs!

The thing is, it was amazing how quickly big, blonde and beautiful found his own groove. In fact, within hours of his arrival, Paul had brought him around the garden and rapidly thereafter he figured out his own way of doing things. Which led to a few habits that always generated plenty of humour and has now left a lifetime worth of memories. The phrase “Creature of habit” was designed for our Bud. Whether that was answering the call of nature in exactly the same spot all the time or taking up security patrol if there was anything – as much a solitary sock – on the clothes line.

My sidekick

Last Sunday morning, he drifted off to sleep. To use the words of the late, great Big Tom McBride, going out the same way he came. Quietly, peacefully, without a fuss. Great for him, devastating for the rest of us. He knew me better than I know myself. Now there is a massive four-legged void to be filled. And it will be. In time.

From his first night with us, ma used to get up first thing, do a ‘tidy up’ and let himself into me. In the beginning, that meant being lifted up onto the bed. It wasn’t long before he learned to hop up himself – firstly with the aid of a chair and then all by himself.

Dogs are amazing creatures. Very quickly, he copped that there was something ‘different’ about my left arm, trotting straight up the bed and licking it ‘better’. Though like good players on any team, he really turned on his top performances when they were needed most. Including but not limited to the occasion he proved that for all he was cuddly and comforting, he took his security duties with the utmost seriousness. As demonstrated on the morning an unwanted visitor tried to help himself to the Volkswagon Golf.

He knew everybody that came in and out, friends, family, my carers, the postman, the butcher and the grocery delivery man. He knew them, and they all knew and loved him. Even though some of them got a much more frosty reception than others.

Barbara and Des always topped the charts. They were his chief walkers. Which was quite the adventure in itself. He wasn’t a major fan of his fellow canines, to put it very mildly. But he made loads of new friends with Susie and my new carers too.

You know, there was something comfortingly fitting that (a) the final part of his life was probably the best. Between all the carers fussing over him and Susie actually getting him to walk properly after many had tried and failed. And (b) that it was one of my carers who found him in his final resting place.

The difference he made to my life would actually be incalculable by there are a couple of things that stand out.

Namely, when da was undergoing Chemotherapy and then after mam suffered her stroke. After the latter, my life as it was got throw into utter turmoil. What was once taken for granted was taken out of the equation. Carers arriving on scene was another bombshell and through it all, the one constant source of strength, comfort and a willing pillow for my tears was big Bud. Indeed, it was during that time he learned the habit of positioning himself exactly as in the photo above.

Giving the impression he was minding me. Which he of course was, but he also used the position to his own benefit too. A “I’m minding him so you can’t put me out” sort of mantra. He was rather obstinate about it too – in that he would flat out refuse to leave…unless he was presented with a slice of ham prior to take off!

For that reason, it should have been signpost enough that, on the night before he crossed the rainbow bridge he didn’t want to stay in at all. At one point, even when mam went out to bring him back in, he was wandering towards the spot where he finally came to rest some hours later. His favourite place in the garden actually, as referred to earlier.

A picture tells a thousand words

Initially, my inclination was to have him laid to rest in the same spot. In a special case of a happy accident, Paul had a grave dug for him before I could put in the suggestion. It certainly worked out for the best though, as he is now forever outside my office window watching over everything. Sleep easy my brown-eyed boy, there will be more paws and they will look after me too, but there will never be another you.

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