Dougie is dead: The kindest, most lovable, and most intelligent animal any of us have ever known is no more. He died quietly and without fuss last week at his home in Westport, County Mayo – at the ripe old age of sixteen and a half years.Dougie’s story is well worth telling. He wasn’t my dog, but we had a very special relationship. I have owned animals and dogs all my life; and I cared deeply for many of those, but like everybody who came across Dougie, I loved that dog.
Dougie was born at Christmas time, 2003. He was one of a litter of seven puppies, born to a lovely collie dog, after the mother had a one night stand with a corgi. (Hence his notably short legs) The owner knew that my daughter Olga was thinking of getting a dog. Olga and Conor got first pick and choose what they considered the best-looking.
When they returned to collect their new pet, the smallest of the litter ran towards them, looking up, with shining eyes and wagging his tail. Olga said, ‘oh can we have that one instead – he has picked us instead of the other way round’ – and that is how Dougie came to live in ‘Ardygommon’. He was there before any of the three children, but how he loved and indulged each one from the moment they arrived.
The new pet never had to be house trained. He never once ‘peeded’ in the house. It was clear from very early on that he had many unbelievable talents. Conor would hit a sponge ball with his hurley, a hundred metres out in the midst of briars and bramble and the ‘bould’ Dougie would go after it, sniff and persevere until he found it , before bouncing back with the ball in his mouth; eyes shining and tail wagging.
Because of his short legs, sometimes you would just see the long grass dividing as he ran back and forth. Dougie didn’t wait to be asked to play; he came with the ball and dropped it between your feet. If there was no ball, he came with an egg-sized stone. No matter how far, or how difficult you made the throw, Dougie never failed to return with the object.
He loved the beach and he made many friends there. He understood that strangers with children would be wary of him, so he came carrying a stick in his mouth, and dropped it ten feet away. Eventually a child would throw the stick; Dougie retrieved it – and soon every child on the beach would be playing the game– their laughter and squeals of delight music to the dog’s ears.
Same thing at the playground in Westport. Dogs are not allowed, so Dougie lay waiting for Jack, Trudy or Ciara, at the other side of the fence. When a ball crossed the fence that was his cue. He retrieved the ball and pushed it back in under the wire. All the children, and their parents got to know and adore this exceptional animal. Oh, and sometimes the school secretary would phone Olga to say that Dougie had gone to school that day and needed to be collected!
Olga’s family live on a narrow country lane, off the main road and two miles from the town centre. When I stayed there, Dougie and I had great times together. One morning when we were walking in for the paper, Dougie suddenly dived into a drain and came up with a dirty old tennis ball. I was amazed … how could he have seen it, or sensed it was there?
I always put the lead on him before going onto the main road – and by now he had a good run, as I kept throwing the ball ahead. I ‘sold him a dummy’ and when he ran ahead, I put the ball on top of a cement gate pillar to collect on our way back. Coming home, Dougie ran ahead of me, and when I came around a turn, there he was with his front paws up on the pier where I had hidden the ball!
Olga and family had moved house when Dougie was five. He adapted immediately – same as he did when he came to visit Pamela and me; but Dougie would often go back and ‘ceili’ with some of the old neighbours! When a former neighbour, a carpenter, was doing a job down the road, Dougie used go at lunchtime and spend an hour with his old friend!
I often thought what an incredible sniffer dog he would have made at the airport? Or as a search and rescue dog? He was much more than a ball-player and there wasn’t a bad bone in his body.
Dougie was still playing ball up until a fortnight before his death.
Jack (13), Trudy (12) and Ciara (11) are heartbroken. On my visit yesterday, they took me to stand at Dougie’s grave in the garden. There is a large Mayo rock at the head and my grandchildren are going to have a plaque engraved thereon. They are not the only ones who are heartbroken…
I could go on, but I’d like to conclude with the words my beloved daughter, Olga, wrote through her tears:
“Our lives were enriched by having such a four-legged family member. He loved us and we most certainly loved him. We were blessed to have him in our lives for sixteen and a half years. We are so sad to lose Dougie, but we are better people for having him with us for that length of time. RIP, Dougie … “