I was down at the park yesterday and standing in a group with other dog walkers. There were my two, Lucy and Archie, there was a mad caramel coloured poodle called Saba, whose mission in life seems to be to exhaust herself by running in enormous circles around her owner and occasionally pick up a ball that has been thrown. There was Rufus, whose owner died suddenly just over a month ago and whose widow now brings him to the park and there were the two lovely red setters, called Finnegan and Fergus.
I love the red setters and although they are from the same breeder, they are not alike at all. This may be a function of age – Fergus now has a generous scattering of white fur amongst the rust and although he was left intact (for breeding and show purposes) for most of his adult life, he was recently relieved of his tackle following a series of nasty infections. The change in him was immediately apparent and he went from an aloof, fussy eater with permanent upset stomach and allergies, to a friendly happy dog who now has a good appetite and is no longer plagued by skin problems. Hormones have a lot to answer for.
When I was around fourteen, I remember the excitement over the arrival at our next door neighbour’s house of a red setter puppy. It was a present for the sixteen year old daughter, who swore undying love to her new charge. As they already had one dog in the house, a staffy called Tigger, they named the new arrrival Aslan after the lion in the Narnia books.
Unfortunately the excitement of a puppy did not last long into adulthood and soon Aslan was left to his own devices. Although they had a huge garden, there was a very busy road and no way of completely securing the perimeter, so Aslan ended up secured by a long chain and left in the garden all day.
At the time, we had a house full of cats, but I could not stand to see the dog left on his own all day, so ended up offering to walk him. I can not remember how long I did this for, but I would take him by the lead and wander up and down the small roads near our house. It was long enough for the mum to start pressing a five pound note into my hand every week, which I tried to refuse at first but gave up after she insisted.
Then one day Aslan was gone. They had decided that the situation could not continue – it was not fair for the dog and had found a new home for him.
I was thinking about Aslan when Karen, the owner of Finnegan and Fergus indicated she had some news.
‘I have not told anyone yet,’ she said, but…’ at this point she nodded towards Finnegan.
‘You are going to breed him?’ I asked. She shook her head, ‘I am getting another one.’
Her reasoning was that Fergus probably does not have too much longer – although he still looks pretty fit to me – plus the breeder needed someone to take a male puppy off her hands and look after him. She had reached the top limit her husband would put up with and needed someone she trusted to look after him, but to give her access when his nether regions were required for business. She had been up that day to meet him and agreed.
‘Have you got a name?’ I asked.
‘Right,’ I said, pulling out my phone. ‘Let’s have a look, because the only Irish name beginning with F I can think of. Is Finton and that sounds a little too close to Fenton.
We eventually came up with two: Finbar and (because she said it did not have to be an ‘F’) Malachi.
‘Anyway,’ she said, ‘I have not told anyone else yet, so keep it to yourself, won’t you?’
‘Of course!’ I said, ‘You do know I write a blog, though, don’t you?’
‘Ah that does not count,’ she said, ‘it is just the internet.’
So it is, but just in case, I have changed her name to disguise her identity.
Problem is, the names of the dogs are real.