‘Children need two things: a dog, and parents that’ll get them a dog’

The children want to adopt a pup and Fabien gives in – but who will be left to walk it?

Fabien McQuillan

Fabien McQuillan

Fabien McQuillan writes a weekly diary about getting to grips with his new life in rural Tyrone

Close up of a Border Collie being held and looking direct into the camera. A loving expression on the dogs face.
We found the perfect pup (Photos by R A Kearton/Getty Images)

We got our dog (Eric) because Imogen, our eldest, cried and cried about how she would forgo every Christmas and birthday present for the next 20 years – apart from the ones Santy brought – if we got a puppy.

I like dogs, and always have. I remember an oul uncle of mine saying: “Children need two things: a dog, and parents that’ll get them a dog.”

Fionnuala wasn’t so sure, and indeed actively lobbied against the notion. However, the tears of her children eventually washed away her resistance and she finally lay down and rolled over; though I didn’t get to scratch her tummy.

“I will not be walking the dog, washing the dog or feeding the dog. And I will definitely not be picking up its poo,” she warned.

But we had already started the heady business of ringing round dog shelters and searching on Facebook.

We had a few clear rules. A shelter dog or unwanted dog was what we were after. It had to be medium-sized and short-coated and it had to be pretty. I argued about that last bit, but was getting nowhere.

Border Collie Running in Woodland
It had to be a dog that didn't need a lead (Alexandra Robins/Getty Images)

“It has to be a girl,” Fiadh said. “So, we can get her a pink coat and collar.”

“It is going to be called Eyelash like Billy Eilish and it has to fit in my handbag,” Imogen cooed.

“Doggie! Doggie! Doggie!” Dermot banged on the table.

I wanted a male dog that was tough, smart and handsome. Easily trained and one that would follow me on walks without a lead. A dog like the ones from my youth: streetwise, quiet, Belfast dogs. Dogs that look like they could drive a bus whilst smoking a fag.

And after all the hunting and disappointments – too big, too small, too bitey – we got a phone call from a shelter in Ballymena: there was a pup that might suit.

Imogen found the photos online and was besotted. A cute black and white mutt, with sketchy parentage and a dopey face. Imogen and Fiadh started sorting out a bed in the living room and getting bits of ham from the fridge, with Dermot in the middle of all this wrecking with a blankie.

It arrived about a week later and was hawked around neighbours and visitors like a baby. It also wet the floor constantly, it’s puppy stardust fading with every little accident.

And so, many moons later, I found myself on a walk with Eric: by now ignored but still adored; with stumpy legs and an oversized head; inconvenient and shouted at; but a full-blown, passport-wielding member of the family with Olympian reserves of stamina for walkies. And, crucially, didn’t require a lead.

Dogs can have Olympian reserves of stamina for walking (Image Source/Getty Images)

Then, as we passed a house on a country lane, a huge dog came smashing round the gate and squared up to Eric, before launching teeth first into his neck. The beast was attempting to kill my helpless little dog. I went into a frenzy, kicking desperately at the attacker and oddly recognising the breed as a Dogue de Bordeaux, as though a page of an encyclopaedia had floated by.

A slow flash: a montage of flashing teeth, a man I recognised calmly stepping in, the dog at the gate on a lead, and Eric bleeding. Me shouting about his crazy dog, him walking off. Me carrying Eric away.

The beast was attempting to kill my helpless little dog. I went into frenzied overdrive, kicking desperately at the attacker

“That’s Rip McCool’s dog.”

It was Genghis, examining Eric. Rip was the local hard man, even more terrifying than Genghis.

“French Mastiff. I think your mutt will survive them couple of wee nicks, Fionnuala.”

“I don’t care whose dog it is. I’m gonna phone the warden and get it put down.”

“Rip says you didn’t have your dog under control. No lead.”

“What? He let that psycho loose around a house with no fence.”

“Well, you can tell him to his face in about half an hour.” Genghis was gently cleaning Eric’s cuts.

“He said he’s coming round to see you.”