Northern Ireland

Memory of beloved family pet lives on in dog hair jumper

Tony Jenkins with his cardigan created from the hair of his dog Harry. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Tony Jenkins with his cardigan created from the hair of his dog Harry. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

A Co Tyrone man has told how he found a special way to maintain a bond with a beloved family pet.

The week before Christmas, Tony Jenkins took delivery of a new Aran cardigan from a woollen company in Co Donegal.

The chunky white garment was like any other classic Irish knitwear of its type except for two differences – it cost €700 and it was made from the hair of the family’s pet dog Harry.

A native of Liverpool, Tony has spent almost his entire life in Strabane where he married local woman Mary Connolly and they raised their family.

When his daughter Bernie’s boyfriend bought her a pet Samoyed Husky, it fell to Tony to look after the pup.

“It’ll be three years this April since he died. I remember when he arrived, he was just a huge ball of wool but I lifted him and I could feel his heart racing; he was terrified," he said.

Tony Jenkins with some of the hair from Harry which was spun together in Donegal. Picture Margaret McLaughlin  13-1-18.
Tony Jenkins with some of the hair from Harry which was spun together in Donegal. Picture Margaret McLaughlin 13-1-18.

“When Bernie left for work, she left him in the utility room and she lived just below us so I could hear him crying. That first day I went over and picked him up and something clicked; there was a bond from that moment."

Native to Siberia, the Samoyed was bred to hunt and pull sledges.

While similar to the husky, its distinctive feature is its brilliant white coat.

“A man I met one day when I was with Harry said his mother used to breed them. He said they were the Rolls Royce of dogs, the nobility, and he was right,” Tony said.

While Harry remained his daughter’s dog throughout his 11-year life, it was Tony who looked after him and the two became almost inseparable.

He said he only realised the full strength of the bond when the pet developed pneumonia and the vet had no option but to put him to sleep.

“When the vet gave him the injection, Harry collapsed into my arms and died. I’m not overly sentimental but I cried for the first time since I was young,” he said.

Harry Jenkins at home in Strabane. Collect McLaughlin / copyright Jenkins family 13-1-18.
Harry Jenkins at home in Strabane. Collect McLaughlin / copyright Jenkins family 13-1-18.

After brushing Samoyeds, their Siberian owners traditionally retained their hair to make gloves and hats.

Throughout Harry’s life, Tony likewise kept his dog’s hair.

“I had about 3kg of his hair and I thought it would be a good idea to get a jumper made," he said.

"The big thing was to have the hair carded so it could be spun into wool and it took me ages to get someone to do that. Then I called at Studio Donegal in Kilcar one day and spoke to Tristan Donaghy.

“He said he wasn’t interested but I asked him to look at the hair in the car boot and as he was talking, he started twirling the hair and changed his mind.”

An older and smaller carding machine was found and Mr Donaghy’s mother used a traditional spinning wheel to turn Harry’s hair into wool.

The process was drawn out as she had to take some time out to care for her husband who fell ill. However, the garment was finally completed and delivered to Tony last month.

“I still miss Harry and he wasn’t even my dog; I just looked after him," he said.

"But there was a special bond and I can feel close to him this way."