Joey 1 hated houseflies; in fact he showed towards flies an aggression usually reserved for much more formidable foes. In due time he came to dislike toddlers, roller skaters, skate boarders, and almost every other dog he encountered! But I am ahead of myself, so let me revert to the beginning.
It was 1984 and I was stationed at the United States Military Academy at West Point as an Army lawyer. My wife and I decided that we needed to add a pet to our lives, and as I had an issue with pet dander, we looked for a dog breed that would minimize my discomfort. I remembered the Kerry Blue as just such a breed; indeed, my parents had years earlier brought a Kerry back with them from their time in Dublin and had extolled his virtues to me. We dutifully inquired of one of the Kerry organizations extant at that time in the U.S., and they supplied us the name and contact information of a breeder in one of the Dutch towns farther up the Hudson in New York State.
We saw Joey, fell in love at first sight, and Joey came home to our apartment on the fifth floor of an old building at the Academy. Needless to day, housebreaking a puppy from the fifth floor of a building without elevators (this is the Army, of course) brought with it certain problems. As my wife said, however, it sure kept us both in good condition! Joey grew and thrived with an occasional setback here and there. As an Army officer I had a large supply of black nylon socks to go with my regular uniform. One day Joey got one of these socks and, in ways known only to him, managed to swallow the whole sock. We called the vet in a panic but he calmed us down and said simply put a teaspoon of salt on Joey's tongue and make sure he swallows it. Then stand back. Sure enough, Joey regurgitated my sock as well as a few other items.
At age two Joey moved to a house in northern Virginia, in what was then a barely developed suburb of D.C. I can remember his happiness when we fenced in the back yard. We let him out back for the first time off the leash, and he gave us a characteristic look of endearment, then proceeded to chase a squirrel the length of the fence until the squirrel disappeared into the woody area behind our dwelling. Joey continued to mature, and in fact he was so handsome that when we walked him people would drive by, slow down and remark on what a beautiful dog he was. He had the perfect Kerry coat, coloring, and shape. With his physical beauty, however, his true Kerry temperament started to show.
At age 6 Joey moved to Binghamton, NY, and he resided in a sixth floor apartment overlooking the confluence of the Chenango and Susquehanna rivers. My wife and I liked to take Joey on long after dinner walks through Binghamton's west side. Immediately he made the acquaintance of a German Shepherd who lived two blocks away in a duplex. Neither dog liked the other, and when we walked Joey all we had to say was “find the Shepherd,” and he would arch his back and adopt the stiffed legged walk of a Kerry on the hunt. Once we learned where the Shepherd lived, Joey demanded to walk by the house every day. The Shepherd's house had a staircase leading to the front door, which door had a floor to ceiling window next to it. Joey would walk stiffed legged up the stairs and bark for the Shepherd, and the Shepherd, not being willing to back off, would come to the floor/ceiling window and bark back. Thankfully the Shepard's owner enjoyed this as much as we did!
Joey also demonstrated an intense dislike of kids on skateboards and roller skates, and we think he may have developed this at West Point where, as we kept our windows open much of the year, he likely heard the kids who lived below us engaging in these activities. Anyway, whenever we walked Joey and came across a skate boarder, roller skater, toddler,or all of the above, we had to maneuver Joey behind some object (parked cars worked well) that would disrupt his sight and sense of the offending person. He would smell those people, of course, but if he could not harmonize sights and smells, he was less anxious to kill those wheeled kids. Other dogs? Well, we lived in an apartment building, as I said, and one day while waiting for the elevator to take Joey to the ground floor for his walk, the elevator door opened on our level, and in the car was a magnificent white male standard poodle and his poor owner. Joey was taken aback for one split second, and then he unleashed a torrent of invective against this interloper on his territory. To be fair, the poodle, Miles, turned out to be a lovely, well behaved dog, but as much as we tried to explain this to Joey, it did not change Joey's opinion that Miles was a lowlife upstart. Needless to say we had to avoid all meetings with Miles after that.
And the flies! All we could figure was that Joey, who liked to snap at all insects, had a fly activate inside his mouth and decided henceforth to wreak havoc on that insect species Anyway, all we had to do was to grab a fly swatter and tell Joey “let's get the flies,” and he went into instant attack mode. It got so bad that all my wife had to do was draw a facsimile of a fly on a post-it note, paste the note on the wall, show it to Joey,and go “Bzzz,” and Joey was on the hunt.
It was at Binghamton that we first noticed the problem. Joey's poops were coming out not whole, but as if they had been shaved or sliced in half. Our local vet referred us to a nearby vet school for a consult, and we were fortunate that this school turned out to be the Cornell Vet School, one of the finest in the world. The vets diagnosed Joey with a severe lymphatic cancer, operated on his bowels, and gave him medication and six months to live. Well – Joey lived 5 years from that diagnosis and during those five years continued to evolve into the Ur Kerry described above. In fact when we took Joey to our vet we had to sneak in the side door to a special room to avoid all other dogs!
His condition naturally worsened and ultimately he lost control of his kidneys and bowels to the point that we lined each room in our apartment with plastic sheets so as to catch and clean his emissions. One night he came to us as we were outside on our balcony looking at the rivers, lay down beside us and gave us a look that said “it is time.” We took him to our vet, said good bye to him, and in a second he was gone. My wife and I cried bitter tears of sadness and loss, and I remembered some lines from Kipling:
When the body that lived at your single will
When the whimper of welcome is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone – wherever it goes – for good,
You still discover how much you care
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.
Joey taught to me to bear sufferings with equanimity, to live each day to the fullest, and to attack your flies, even if they are illusory!
Frater, ave atque vale!**
(Author's note: Each of our three male Kerries has been named Joey in deference to my wife's father. By numbering them and by letting them be their own Kerries, we have been easily able to keep them separate).
**Editor's note: Latin for “Brother, hail and farewell!”