Fergus Finlay and Lizzie the dog

This is proof of the majesty of Finlay even if he is a Labour myopic.

Gone but not forgotten – a dog is the best friend a family could have

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

By Fergus Finlay

I CAN still remember the day I met Izzie. Why wouldn’t I — it was my birthday. My 48th birthday to be exact, and Izzie was the first guest to arrive for the celebrations.

She was by far the most energetic guest that day. Although she was very young, she was full of curiosity, running from guest to guest to introduce herself.

At the time she had an unfortunate tendency, which she learned to control over time, of widdling wherever she stood whenever she got excited. Not always what you want in a house guest.

It didn’t matter. Izzie and I became friends instantly, and over the years I think I would have to say that she has been the only friend I ever had in whose eyes I could do no wrong. If I got cross with her, she would instantly accept that it was her fault and nothing to do with the humour I was in. If I wasn’t in the mood for a walk, she’d accept that too, and live in the hope that I might change my mind soon. If I put on my coat to go for a walk, she’d stand to attention as if I were the king.

When Izzie arrived, she was a pup, of course. She was perhaps the most unusual birthday present I’ve ever had — and she was an odd choice of present, it has to be said, for a sedentary middle-aged man. My wife Frieda and daughter Vicky found her in the refuge run by the Wicklow Society for the Protection of Animals, down near Glenealy. They picked her not just because she was an unusually handsome little pup, but also because, as Frieda told me recently, she had small paws — a sign that she wouldn’t grow too big.

They were wrong about that. Izzie quickly grew into a tall, handsome dog. She was a mix, like most dogs you’ll find in the pound. Part collie, part red setter, a little bit of alsatian in her legs. The legs would run for ever, the collie was as bright as a button — so bright you knew that she knew what you were thinking. There was seldom any need for words with Izzie.

But the red setter bit of her was as thick as a plank, and would now and again get her into trouble. The collie knew, for instance, that she wasn’t allowed near kitchen cupboards or the bin in the kitchen. But the red setter couldn’t resist them — or the occasional cushion that needed unstuffing, or even once the fully-decorated Christmas tree that for some reason needed to be dragged into the back garden. Izzie’s red setter always seemed to believe that we humans wouldn’t notice the trail of debris all over the house if she was left alone for an hour.

There was a burglary in our park one year, and one of the gardaí investigating it showed me a list they had recovered from one of the burglars. It was a list of all our houses, prepared by someone who had carefully cased the entire estate. A number of the houses had the letter ” ‘a’ beside them – ‘a’ for alarm, the Guard said — and one or two had ‘d’. Our house had the ‘d’ underlined.

That underlined ‘d’ was Izzie. She would hear any activity at the front door from wherever she was in the house, and take off at full tilt, charging at the door as if it could be broken down. And she had a deep throaty bark she’d deploy to instant and terrifying effect. What the burglars never knew, of course, was that they were in serious danger of being licked to death if they ever succeeded in getting past the terror of the bark. Our postman took years to get used to the heart-stopping moment that would happen if Izzie noticed the post slipping through the letterbox. He told me once he used to believe the Hound of the Baskervilles lived in our house.

But that too was Izzie the collie. The only time our house was actually broken into, with Izzie the red setter standing guard, they came in through the back. That was OK in Izzie’s book.

There was never a moment, from the time Izzie became part of our family, that she hasn’t been central to it. She went everywhere with us — in fact she motivated us to explore hills and walks that we might not have found otherwise. If you picked up a stick, she was on instant alert.

If you went near the sea, she would offer to swim to Wales. It simply wasn’t possible to suggest an activity that didn’t instantly become Izzie’s favourite thing to do in the whole world. Until, of course, the next activity.

And at the end of a long day of chasing and swimming, she had her own special chair in the sitting room. Curled up there, she was the picture of contentment.

She wasn’t best pleased when Doglet arrived in the family. Doglet was an Australian silky, the smallest dog you’d ever seen, but with the smartest brain and biggest personality. I believe it was Doglet, too small to do these things herself, who taught Izzie how to open kitchen cupboards and fetch biscuits and other goodies that they would then share. And Doglet had a way of saying, when we arrived home to find the mess, “It wasn’t me. It was that big eejit over there”. Izzie would, of course, obligingly look guilty.

DOGLET died a few years ago, and we mourn her still. But I think she left a secret last will and testament that allowed Izzie to take over as boss of the house once again.

I haven’t told you nearly enough about Izzie, and I haven’t room to. It would take a book. On my last birthday, a couple of months ago, she reached the grand old age (in human terms) of 108. And for the last month, she could no longer be the dog she wanted to be. The alsatian in her legs finally let her down.

But her personality never changed. She was our friend. As my daughter Emma wrote a few days ago: “She made me smile when it was what I needed most and laugh when things weren’t that funny. She kept me company and always listened. She made me care when it would have been easy not to. She welcomed me home. She brought us together when we needed her to. She created calm in chaos but could be chaos in a storm.”

Last Friday, at tea-time, we were all there who could be there. I lifted Izzie on to her blanket on the kitchen table, and held her as the vet (who had come to Izzie’s house) clipped some of the hair from her front leg and gently injected her with a sedative. Because I was holding her, I could feel the moment her heart stopped and she drifted into her final sleep. She was ready, and at peace. She leaves behind a full lifetime of wonderful memories, and not a few broken hearts. Including mine.

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