"I have sometimes met a person getting on in years who cannot remember a time in their life when they did not have a dog as a pet. I have also met many dog lovers, whom upon reaching a certain age, would think it cruel to have another dog, even though they would love to have one; fearing perhaps that the new dog taken into their lives would most certainly outlive theirs. These thoughts came into my mind a few days ago when I saw this wonderful photograph on the Facebook page of my Irish friend Danielle O'Shea from County Carlow. It seemed to mentally challenge me to read the hidden thoughts of both man and dog in the image. Here is the short story I composed one hour ago and which I give first sight to any who care to read:
'Only once have I ever come across a dog lover who dared to defy the accepted wisdom of never acquiring a new dog in one's old age. He was an old man called Archie. Archie was almost 82 years old. He had been brought up with dogs, loved dogs immensely and had always had a dog. Whatever dog Archie chose, it would never be a pedigree. He believed that mongrels were the most affectionate and loyal of pets.
Archie had been married 51 years when his wife died. The couple had never been able to have children, so presumably they had dogs instead to lavish their excess love on. Having been the only child to a farmer, after his parents' death, Archie inherited the farmhouse, which became his marital abode. Though not rich, they had sufficient money never to be short and always have £10,000 in the bank for a rainy day.
After Archie's wife died, he missed her daily presence so much, that had he not had his dog to look after, he doesn't know how he would have got through the first two years of his bereavement. Exercising and looking after his dog kept him sane and kept him going, where under different circumstances he may have been tempted to give up the ghost! In short, Archie found the company of his beloved pet indispensible, especially at the end of the day when he sat in the lounge looking across at his dear wife's favourite chair. Archie would see the empty rocking chair he had bought his wife during their first year of married life. She loved that chair. Archie now saw it stood perfectly still in its state of disuse and this sad sight led him to think of happier days of youthful courtship and the romantic excitement of their early years of marriage.
It came to pass in Archie's 81st year of life that his dog, Paddy, died of old age. Archie felt the loss of Paddy more than the passing of any previous dog he had ever owned and his immediate instinct was to get another pet as soon as possible to fill the emotional void in his life. Before he could put this plan into action however, he was diagnosed with an incurable illness and told that he had less than a year left to live.
Initially, Archie thought what most pet lovers would have thought in his circumstances; namely that it would be cruel to get another dog now, and after both parties getting attached to each other, die and leave it to fend for itself. Archie knew that as he had no living family member or friend to adopt it, the poor creature would be taken to the dog pound and possibly put down within weeks of his departure. For the next month, Archie wrestled with his conscience until he finally came up with a solution to resolve his dilemma.
One month later, Archie visited an animal shelter where he looked over the dogs accommodated there, dogs in need of new owners. The manager of the shelter and Archie started to walk the line of dogs wanting a home. As Archie walked the corridor in the shelter, he passed numerous dogs who barked and wagged their tails at him, as if they knew that doing so gave them instant appeal. There were pedigrees, mongrels, big dogs, small dogs, aggressive looking dogs, cute dogs; dogs of all manner of breed and description, all begging to become someone's loving pet. Archie looked at each one lovingly, but walked on by.
When Archie arrived at the very last dog cage, at first, he thought it empty. He had to look twice before his old eyes saw its occupant, curled up in a back corner. The dog had no name and was a cross between a labrador and some other breed. It looked to be less than one year old, and like Archie, it appeared all alone as it lay there in its isolated state. Archie looked at the sorry creature and thought such a sight to be one of sin, a poor wee dog lying there all alone with its tail tucked in.
With tears starting to well in his eyes, Archie asked, 'Why is it here in this big cage all alone, when space is obviously at a premium?'
The shelter manager replied, 'Because of its condition. It is in great pain. It has an incurable and inoperable illness you see and is due to be put down at the end of today.'
Archie made up his mind on the spot and said,'I'll take her!'
Totally flabbergasted, the shelter manager reluctantly agreed, but only after Archie explained his full circumstances.
Archie took his new pet dog home and gave it the name of Fini. Over the next two years, both man and dog were each to defy the medics by staying alive. While both owner and dog continued to live with their terminal conditions, Fini miraculously started to show more of the signs of being an alert and alive dog from the beginning of her association and bond with her new owner, and Archie too welcomed their constant companionship and daily walks. Both Archie and Fini soon became inseparable and were never seen outside the company of each other. Wherever Archie was in the farmhouse, Fini would be at his heel and when both were outside in the yard, she would always position herself on the top of a grass mound where she could always see her master.
While Archie had made prior arrangements for Fini's upkeep to the rest of her natural days from his £10,000 savings and the sale of his home after he died, the money was never required for this purpose and instead was willed to the dog shelter from which Fini first came.
It is perhaps fitting that the relationship between man and dog ended as it had begun. On the day Archie died, he knew in advance his time had eventually arrived. It was 4.30pm. His stomach was now wracked with an intensity of pain Archie sensed would never pass. He blessed himself from the holy water font in his front room, donned his old walking coat and filled his last pipe of tobacco to smoke. Just before he went out the door, he prodded his wife's favourite chair into rocking motion, looked around the old place and sighed.
Archie had never before gone for a walk without Fini by his side since the couple's first day together. Fini was the most obedient of dogs and as Archie set off on his final walk, he patted her gently and said, 'Bye lass. Now you stay there!' with tears streaming down his cheeks. It was as though Fini sensed the finality of her owners words and as she sat still on the small mound of grass outside the farmhouse, she whined the saddest of notes.
Archie heard her sadness, but didn't look back. He dare not. He knew that had he done so, he would have been unable to go on and he would have broken both his and Fini's heart in two. Archie walked on to the village square where he sat on a bench where he and his wife had often sat together, and lit up his pipe. Looking around, he saw the lamp post where his dear wife, Doonie, had first kissed him and raised his hopes for a future life together. Archie said a quiet farewell to dear Portlaw, the place of both his birth and death. As the Tannery work's clock struck five, Archie passed away.
Back home at the farmhouse, Fini had also heard the Tannery clock in the distance and recognised its significance in the life of village workers. All of the villagers of Portlaw who worked at the Tannery would set their daily lives by the striking of the Tannery Clock. The Tannery clock would call them to start their working day at 8am and to end it at 5pm. When she heard the clock, Fini knew that the end of her day had also arrived. She laid down on the grass mound, crossed her paws, curled up her tail and breathed her last.
In accordance with Archie's last will and testament, a rider stated that when Fini died, she was to be buried on her favourite mound outside the farm house where a headstone made from the very best Connemara marble was to be erected in her memory. The headstone read:
'Upon this sacred spot are deposited the remains of one who possessed beauty without vanity, strength without insolence and courage without ferocity. Any obedience she gave was given out of unconditional love, not servility. Herein lies Fini, a creature with all the virtues of Man without any of his vices. God rest her soul.'"
William Forde: Copyright: April 29th, 2016.