The Wolfman of Wicklow [1994]

My good friend Joe rang up early one Sunday morning recently with the unexpected news that there was a wolf on his front doorstep. Arriving home to Avoca from a late Saturday night in Dublin he was disconcerted to find a large white beast with yellow eyes lying watchfully across his threshold, so he prudently entered by the kitchen window, barred the door and considered his options.

The Dragon Lady is widely believed in our circle, rightly or wrongly, to be the repository of all knowledge about canine matters. It is also known, however, that anyone phoning her before she has had her coffee, particularly on a Sunday, renders himself liable to mutilation and death, so he waited locked in his house with his wife and small children and a wolf, literally, at the door, until, at the reasonable hour of 11.30, he considered it safe to phone the expert.

'There's a wolf sitting outside my front door', he complained, and when Claire Anne had stopped laughing she got him to describe the animal in detail, and was able to reassure him that the alleged wolf was in fact a Pyrenean Mountain Dog. She explained that it was a very valuable animal, and that he should inform the police and then hold on to the dog until the certain arrival of its frantic owner. Would it be alright in the house with the children? Of course.

So Joe admitted the Pyrenean, which was, he swears, the size of a small pony, and his infant children had a great afternoon feeding it scraps and teaching it to give the paw and occasionally trying to climb on to its back, until that evening, when its owner turned up, frantic, to claim it.

And of course, as I'm sure you've guessed, the thing actually was a wolf. An Arctic wolf, to be precise, which had escaped from a wolf-breeding establishment thoughtfully set up in the sheep country of Co. Wicklow, and Joe lies awake nights remembering its baleful yellow stare as it sat in his living room being mauled by his kids.

Pyrenean Mountain Dog, as he so trenchantly put it, my arse.

Meanwhile, here in the Dragon's Cave, the eight Tervueren puppies I told you about the last time have so far been reduced to three, thanks in part to my horrible son-in-law Gerry Doyle, a skinny Southsider who carried off my daughter three months before I was due for Aged Parent concessions with Aer Lingus, the swine, but where was I?

Gerry. You may run across him occasionally at dog shows (especially if you're driving a truck, sorry, sorry) but not often, since the unsettling events at the first one he attended, in Cork, seven or eight years ago. Ingrid, my daughter, was at that time showing a Bernese called Blue, and Gerry, new on the scene and trying like mad to impress, volunteered to assist. In a moment of madness I agreed to join the party, and so the four of us set off.

The day went as we dognostics would expect, with dogs and things all over the place, but Gerry, on his best behaviour, revealed nothing of his true feelings, darting helpfully about the place with a crazed grin on his face.

About three weeks into the afternoon, Ingrid became very worried about Blue - she was on her haunches straining, but nothing was coming out. So the Dragon Lady took charge, instructed Ingrid to hold Blue's head and then, as Gerry looked on appalled, rummaged around under the animal's tail for a few moments, and then, with a cry of triumph, ran backwards across the field extracting as she went about seven feet of silky material that suddenly came free with an audible 'spong!' and instantaneously resumed the appearance of an item of feminine clothing consumed by Blue the night before as Ingrid slept.

I don't know if I will ever forget the look on Gerry's face as Ingrid stoutly refuted my suggestion that there was nothing to stop her wearing them again once they had been washed. It was clear that Gerry Doyle and dogshows were not an item. And indeed when Blue finally expired it was not expected that she would ever be replaced.

So it was a terrific surprise to everyone, not least Ingrid, when Gerry fell soppily in love with one of Dizzy's Terve puppies.

He called her Meg, after Meg Ryan, his fantasy object, (as Ingrid remarked icily, "Meg - a better name for a bitch I have yet to hear"), and could be seen in unguarded moments cradling her in his arms cooing "Who's my best girl?" etc. while Ingrid snarled in the corner. Then a few weeks ago Josh, my no. 1 grandson, was cavorting around the floor with Meg, and, in the excitement of play, Meg sank two incisors into Josh's cheek, just below the eye. Gerry came home from work and was furious. In fact, he threw the head.

"I've told you and told you," he bellowed at Josh "not to be banging the dog with your head!".

I promise you this is true.

So we have three left running mad in the garden with three papillon puppies of similar age and getting confused, with them, about the identity of their real mother. Papillon puppies attempting to suckle from a terv bitch cause far fewer problems than the other way around.

I'm going now. I have to make Sir another coffee and grovel a bit, because last night, as my friend Mike ferried me around Wicklow in his light aircraft, a disgusting knacker with running sores all over his face tried to get in, and I was forced to punch him several times hard, to discourage him. When I woke up, my beloved was on the floor beside the bed having been severely beaten about the head and shoulders. Apparently I half realized what was happening half-way through the assault, but was still really asleep, so, in between the blows I would say "I'm sorry, love, I'm asleep", which didn't amuse her either.

I'm going to be making coffee for the next few weeks.