If I was a dog, I’d like to be one of those big ones, like a Saint Bernard, or a Doberman or something. Those lads are their own bosses. They might pretend to do what they’re told, but when push comes to shove they decide what direction to walk or what tree to piss on. They’re handsome too. The odd one can be afflicted with a bad hip or a bad back. That’s not cheap. You’d damn near have to mortgage the house to pay vet’s bills these days.
Josie Trainer’s Zebedee had a host of problems. He was a water dog, a Springer spaniel if memory serves. A lot of issues there. Brain damage was among them, I’m sure of that. Josie hadn’t a moment’s peace from the day she got him. She wore a track to the vets with the egit. The name Zebedee did him no favours either. What was she thinking? It only amplified his stupidity. The second I clapped eyes on him I told her straight up the creature hadn’t a brain to speak of, just an empty hollow. He wasn’t long filling it with food and fornication. That dog was a sex addict, and true to form, the gombeen wasn’t even normal when it came to that. No bitch in heat would ever turn his head. No. His forte was in pleasing himself.
All dogs lick themselves. That’s what they do. But Zebedee had a particular affinity for the activity. ‘Twas a wonder he didn’t lick his lad clean off. My God, he never stopped. It was his thing, his prime obsession. His modus operandi. He was gold medal standard at it. Not only was he a natural, he consistently honed his skill. He was a true professional, and like any professional Zebedee reached and attainted his remarkable standard through constant practice. He trained daily, damn near on the hour every hour. And, like all professional athletes he selected his training ground with due care and diligence. Mornings, he’d stroll to the primary school and work out while all the kids were being dropped off for the day. Half the mothers of the parish were scandalised, the other half said ’twas a shame their husbands wouldn’t take a leaf from Zebedee’s book. It might keep them quiet.
Evening times he chose the driveway of the convent when the nuns and the boarders were going for their evening walk. The nuns would nearly burst into flames from the shock while the girls would stare and giggle and discuss Zebedee’s remarkable attributes in the dorm that night. At weekends, when the primary school was closed Zebedee paid added attention to secondary school its, boarders and its nuns.
While those spots may have been perfect from the dog’s point of view they were entirely inappropriate from a human perspective. Josie was informed accordingly. She was visited by the Principal of the primary school and a deputation of nuns in as many days. Righteous indignation was taken on board; an apology proffered and promises made. There wasn’t time for tea and biscuits. Besides no one had the appetite for them, mostly because the perpetrator, Zebedee, sat to one side with his lad proudly displayed, as he watched the proceedings. Poor old Josie.
Apart from the embarrassment of it all, it cost her a pretty penny.
She had to get Mikey Collins from down the road to put up a new fence all around the house to keep Zebedee in. Then she had to buy strong new gates for it so she could get her bins out. Mikey was a fast worker, and a good one. He wasn’t cheap but the end result was great. An attractive solution to an inconvenient and antisocial problem, we both agreed. Indeed the back yard looked better than the house after a week of Zebedee. There wasn’t a cushion left that the clown hadn’t shredded or done worse to. Josie bleached and boil-washed to the point where she was rambling in her mind from the strength of the fumes. Finally, for the first time in nearly two weeks she was up for hosting me for a cup of tea. She had been coming to me up to that point as the sight of Zebedee and his lad would put anyone off their digestives. Anyway, I called around and brought the biscuits and we left the dirty article of a dog out in the yard to do whatever he wanted to do with himself. Lord save us, we hardly had the biscuits open when he had absconded. He dug clean under the fence in a matter of minutes and off he went like the clappers down the road.
“The curse of hell on him,” muttered Josie.
“And then some,” says I.
“I’ll rinse the cups while you get his lead,” says I. And I did.
I walked her as far as the end of the road and said my goodbyes as she headed for the primary school. I didn’t offer to join her and she didn’t expect me to. Who wants to be associated with that sort of behaviour? Josie had a fine chat with the school principal that evening.
The following day she called Mikey back. After some consultation under Zebedee’s watchful eye it was decided to dig down a foot or two all around the perimeter and fill the gaps with stone in the hope it would cramp his style. And so it came to pass, but only after ten days solid work. Shrubs had to be cut back, roots removed, topsoil taken, stones carted in and all of the above replaced, to varying extent. Indeed Mikey himself noted that it took the Good Lord less time to create the heavens and the earth.
Josie didn’t appreciate the observation.
For a while it seemed to work. We managed a couple of cups of tea the following week and Zebedee seemed to enjoy exploring his newly renovated surroundings.
“My poor feckin’ hydrangeas,” says Josie.
“They’ll never recover.”
“Ah why wouldn’t they?” says I.
“Sure aren’t they plants? Give them a good feed of fertiliser and they’ll settle themselves in again”.
Her lovely garden was shot to hell and back. I doubted if it would ever recover. But what can you do, it would be cruel to say otherwise.
Poor old Josie.
We had another cup of tea and talked about the tomato plants she had germinating in her sun room. Zebedee wasn’t mentioned, nor was there reason to mention him. Weren’t we all sick to the teeth of his foibles? Anyway, wouldn’t it be like drawing misfortune on yourself if you did? What do they say? Don’t mention the war.
In hindsight, you’d swear he’d planned to lull us into a false sense of security. Two days later Josie got a call from the school.
Zebedee was back.
Not only did he manage to circumnavigate the shaggin’ stones and the fence, he did do so in a careful and timely fashion, arriving at his designated post within school hours to continue sharing his hobby with adult and child alike. His visit coincided with the School Inspector doing his annual rounds, the Doctor, doing his immunisations and Alice Costello, the Public Health Nurse, there to assist. T’was high drama to say the least.
On the advice of the Doctor, fully supported by Principal, School Inspector and Alice, Josie took him to the vet to be neutered. It wasn’t an easy decision for her. She held that no one should mess with the Good Lord’s design, be it human or animal.
“I just feel so bad for the poor creature,” she says.
“But Josie,” says I.
“It might be an ease to him. Forget about the parish being scandalised, Zebedee must have himself driven demented at this stage. That level of enthusiasm is not natural at all not in any creature. I’ve never seen the like and I grew up on a farm”.
“I know, I know,” says Josie.
“I just wish there was another way. But in fairness I’m sick to the teeth of going up and down like a yoyo to that feckin’ school! I’ve seen more of it in the last six months than I did when I went there as a child, I swear!”
I convinced her by saying that it was quite likely the Good Lord might have had a bad day during Zebedee’s creation and he may have dropped the ball, no pun intended. I laboured the idea that it would be an ease to the poor creature, not least his back, as it would give him a break from himself. He’d have time to smell the roses as it were. And pee on them. Josie herself would be able to go to her clothes line again without being blinded by visions best left unsaid. She was convinced. And so Zebedee was hauled off to the vet.
When she went to collect him the following day the vet told her that Zebedee didn’t go quietly. The vet reckoned that the amount of tranquillers he had to put in him would have brought down an elephant and what’s more, the bauld Zebedee hardly stayed asleep long enough for the job to be done. The vet was seriously impressed.
Josie paid the bill and called me over for a cuppa and a post-mortem of the whole event.
“I have antibiotics for him just in case,” says Josie.
“Oh, isn’t he young and healthy Josie. He won’t have need for them,” says I.
“You’re probably right, but it’s no harm to have them anyway. I made sure they gave me the best painkillers going. You don’t want an animal to be in pain,” Josie nodded fervently at me. Zebedee sat at her side, a tad bewildered. No change there.
“Let me tell you now Josie,” says I.
“That is the luckiest dog in the parish, to have an owner like you”. And this time round, every word out of my mouth was God’s honest truth.
Zebedee was quiet for a few days. Surprisingly one of Josie’s Hydrangeas’s seemed to come round as well. The following Tuesday we were out her back yard examining them and discussing the possibility of taking cuttings when I had the misfortune to throw a glance Zebedee’s way. Jesus! I was nearly blinded by the vision. The bauld Zebedee, quite possibly through trial and error, had found out that the absence of his crown jewels had left him with more room to manoeuvre, as it were. The sight wasn’t for the faint hearted, let me tell you. Blinded by the sight myself and Josie fled inside, oblivious to the small quantity of rubble lying slightly to the left of her bedroom window. What we didn’t realise was that not only had Zebedee worked on enhancing his flexibility, he had spent his few spare moments looking for a way to escape. And he succeeded. Mikey Collins fortifications were not enough. By Wednesday morning Zebedee had cleared a new escape hatch under the fence.
Within minutes he was gone to share his old skills and his new found flexibility with the education system.
Words were said, fingers again pointed. This time round there was no more room for apologies. The principal stressed in no uncertain terms that as the school had no intention of relocating, Zebedee had to go. Repeat performances would henceforth not be tolerated, under any circumstances. The dog pound was mentioned.
God help Josie, the only choice she was left with was keep Zebedee inside the house or on a chain outside when she wasn’t walking him. In theory that sounded like an amicable solution. Practice proved otherwise.
Zebedee repaid her by filling the few spare moments he had left in his life with incessant barking, and he had a bark that could crack concrete. The neighbours formed another deputation. There was a new baby two doors down and the mother, already with two others under three, appeared at the door screaming like a banshee about her nerves. The lad on the other side worked night shifts and he quietly informed Josie that if the banshee didn’t end Zebedee, he would. Josie was suitably horrified, but that didn’t matter to Zebedee. Deprived of his outings and his captive audiences barking was all he had left, the neighbours could go to hell. He would only quiet when Josie walked him and when it came to walking, quite surprisingly and despite his ministrations; Zebedee had a lot of latent energy. Not only could he go for miles, it was a power-walk every step of the way. There was no hope of slowing the pace because anything other than a slow jog gave the fecker time and opportunity to set to with his willy. You’d have to admire his dedication, and Josie’s. She must have lost two stone on her patrols. That was all well and good but the poor woman couldn’t afford to lose a
pound. She was as thin as a lat to begin with. By July she had the physique of a Ugandan marathon runner. Her legs were nearly worn to stumps too with the distances involved. You’d see her pelting past the window, ramrod straight, tilted slightly off the perpendicular as she tried to counter Zebedee’s forward projection and speed. I could never see himself, my wall being too high, just Josie and a bit of the lead. But as she sped by she looked for the entire world like one of those carved figures rising from the prow of a ship as it sliced its way through high seas. I told her she had the cut of your one in the Titanic movie about her. All she needed was the dress and a young lad swinging at her rear. In fact, she could set up a business for herself as she walked. We could hang a few sheets off her and they’d be dry by the time she came back from her gallop. We had a laugh about that.
Hard as it was, the walking worked. After a few weeks without drama it finally seemed that the tide was turning in Josie’s favour. She was in great form too. Fit as a fiddle, with a pair of legs on her Michael Flatley would have been proud of. I told her I was jealous of the fine legs she had acquired. Then didn’t she offer me Zebedee for a walk.
“Feck that, a girleen,” says I.
“I’m not walking that lunatic. I’d never keep up. Either tie him to a sled or buy me a pair of skates. Otherwise, I’ll stick with my saggy arse, thank you very much!”
We all began to relax, except for Zebedee.
He did it again.
The fecker lulled us all into a false sense of security and then made yet another dash for freedom, to express himself, as it were.
Well, that great escape proved to be his final one.
It was a fine Sunday morning in August. Due credit to him, it was a grand hurrah indeed, worthy of a dog who had the town persecuted with his perversion. He went out with a bang.
It was his own fault really, because for the first time in his life, Zebedee varied his routine. That in itself was the result of a series of unfortunate events.
Zebedee had escaped on Sundays before, and on every other day of the week for that matter. But he quickly learned that escaping Sundays had its limitations. For one, the primary school is always closed. His audience was dispersed. Now any thespian will tell you that you can’t have a performance without an audience. Where’s the challenge in that? Why would you even bother to rehearse? Zebedee was of the same mind, but he was a smart dog. After a little research the empty school proved a minor inconvenience. In fact, it hardly fazed him. As soon as he saw the school was empty, onward he would bound with renewed vigour. He had the nuns and boarders on standby and the nuns were mighty walkers at the weekends. Indeed, Zebedee or no Zebedee, the nuns had little choice in the matter. Who in their right mind would confine fifty young girls with rampant hormones in a confined space for two days straight? Those girleens had to be walked, and well walked; otherwise all hell could break loose in the dorm at night. Zebedee’s audience was assured, until that fateful day.
Not only was it Sunday, it was August. August is smack in the middle of school holidays. This, of course, meant no boarders and as there were only a handful of nuns, his audience was critically compromised. Not only that, with no boarders to fracture their nerves, the nuns were completely unreliable when it came leaving the convent at all. He could be there for the day waiting for them to pop out, with no success.
Other options had to be considered and consider them he did.
So on that particular Sunday, Zedebee, the auld clown decided to test a new venue.
He chose it well.
It had light, space, room for movement and, most importantly, a captive audience. Though the setting could be described as sectarian in nature, Zebedee compensated for this shortfall by ensuring that all genders and age groups were catered
for. Music was even provided.
His appearance was close to miraculous because, to get where he got to without being spotted or caught required strategy worthy of Churchill. He had to pass a dozen young lads clustered by the door, and another shower of latchicos hanging at the back wall who spent every waking moment minding everybody’s business but their own. Then there were the kids, scattered all over the place like confetti, bored, twitchy, not known for sitting still or looking straight. Not even the choir, perched under the roof in the optimum position to survey the landscape was aware of Zebedee’s entrance. These facts I know. I know because they were outlined, discussed and analysed in considerable detail after the incident. That dog had skills of ninja-like proportions. Among a crowd of a hundred and fifty souls not one person saw that dog until he performed his grand swansong.
Zebedee’s last stand was beside the communion rail in St Joseph’s during Sunday mass; in full view of the entire congregation, including Josie and myself.
There wasn’t a prayer said in church that day, we were all too busy laughing into our missals. I felt particularly sorry for the altar boys, they nearly had to have their surplus and soutan surgically removed from their gullets after mass, so far down their throat they’d shoved them in an effort to stifle their laughter. Fr McCarthy was scandalised in the extreme.
Come Monday, Zebedee had been dispatched to doggie heaven. No one saw sign or light of Josie either for at least a month. She went to mass in the next parish.