Having grown up in a dog mad family, where pets and greyhounds were part of our everyday existence, it took me quite a while to realise a long held ambition to get my own dog. On my fortieth birthday, I vowed to do two things – 1. to get out of my bank job and 2. to get a dog.
After making several visits to the local rescue shelter at Glenealy in Co. Wicklow, called Sharpeshill, I finally settled on a black mongrel, who just seemed right for me. I christened him Pepper – with me being the ‘salt’, thanks to my hobby of sailing. We shared a rock solid bond between us from the day he first arrived to my home in WicklowTown to his final illness, eight and a half years later.
As a stray of unknown background, he was about a year old when I got him but he settled into his new surroundings immediately. Not only that, but his first visit on board my cruising yacht, ‘Merry Bee’, showed his aptitude for going to sea also. His short legs and long, heavy boned body ideally equipped him for life aboard. He was to become my constant sailing companion and shared many good and not so good times on this and our subsequent boat, ‘Saltee Dog’, so named in his honour.
It didn’t take me long to find out that this new companion had a mind of his own, resulting in several escapes from my constantly upgraded ‘secure’ garden. He would wander the town, checking out other dogs and interesting smells and of course, his youthful libido latched onto the hormonal aromas of bitches in heat. Once a potential ‘girlfriend’ was located, it could be 2 or 3 days before I’d see him again. This errant behaviour led to him being kidnapped by a bunch of wackos, who held him overnight as a protest at the way Sharpeshill allegedly supervised their dog adoption procedures. After this and further meanderings, the time came where I had to take drastic action – a visit to the vet became inevitable and off came his crown jewels. Apart from calming down his wanderlust in search of love, it didn’t change his personality and he carried on being the character with attitude I originally fell for.
Two years after his arrival, I realised my other ambition to leave the Bank, setting up my own sailing school and cast off for the ocean wave with Pepper as my first mate. All our courses on board included him as a core member of the crew, where he dispensed large doses of tender loving care to seasick or cold fellow crew members, as well as helping to dispose of scraps. Over the years, he was on board for three different rescues by the RNLI, one Welsh, one Irish and one Scottish. He was well known in ports and harbours on both sides of the Irish Sea, but one in particular held a special place in his affections. The members of Madoc Yacht Club in Portmadoc, North Wales opened their arms to welcome him into their bosom, where he regularly made himself at home on the high stool at their bar. Many was the sip that passed his lips. Also, the club catering ladies, Pat and Prydd, looked after him as if he were human, treating him to all the best bits from their kitchen.
We had countless adventures together and my only regret – he died the week we were due to head for Brittany on a 3 week cruise, the only Celtic territory he hadn’t set foot on. After painfully suffering a terminal illness over ten days, his legion of fans bade him adieu when we buried him at sea off Wicklow Head. There were five boats in his funeral cortege, followed by a large send off party in Wicklow Sailing Club, where he had been the honorary mascot. I was heartbroken and vowed to write his story. Now eight years later, with about twenty chapters drafted, I am making progress towards realising that promise to commit Pepper’s life to print. His was a very special dog’s life and he left a large void in my life.