Katie loved dogs. Katie wanted a dog of her very own. She pleaded with her Mammy on almost a daily basis to buy a dog but Trish refused. Instead she bought her daughter a goldfish. Katie wasn’t impressed. Fishy – Trish named him as her daughter couldn’t be bothered – only survived five weeks. The pet shop owner said that fish usually died because of overfeeding but Trish suspected it had more to do with her son, Sam, hugging it at every opportunity. Unfortunately Fishy wasn’t always quick enough to avoid the three-year-old’s eager little fingers. Then Trish bought Katie a hamster. The pet shop owner told her that it was a very successful pet for young children - low maintenance but fun and cuddly. Katie was marginally more interest in Hammy the hamster – Trish wasn’t very good on names – but it didn’t last. ‘Hamster’s are boring,’ she announced after a few days. ‘I want a dog.’
‘I’m not going to give in to her,’ Trish assured her friend Viv on the phone. ‘How would I ever cope? Dogs need to be walked, washed and they poo and wee everywhere.’
‘And the big ones cost a fortune to feed. Not like my little Troy.’ Viv smiled down at her beloved Terrier.
‘And you can just bet that Katie would pick the biggest. No, there’s no way it’s going to happen. Muggins, here, would end up looking after it and I have enough on my plate.’ Trish looked across at Sam who was carefully lining up soggy cornflakes along the edge of the table while baby Georgie squirmed on her lap as he tried to make a grab for her mug. ‘I’d better go, Viv. The monsters are getting out of control.’
‘Okay, Babes, I’ll call you in a couple of days. And when the going gets tough just remember, in less than three weeks time you’ll be relaxing in the health spa and your biggest problem will be deciding what to have for dinner.’
‘Oh, bliss!’ Trish said goodbye to her friend and hung up.
She was really looking forward to the overnight break at the health spa in Wicklow. It was something she never thought she’d be able to afford in a million years but her mother had given her five hundred Euro for her thirtieth birthday with the directive that she must spend it all on herself. Trish knew immediately what she wanted to do and Declan had happily volunteered to take the two days off to look after the children.
‘Are you sure you don’t mind?’ she’d asked him.
‘Of course not, honey, you could do with a break from this lot and we should just about manage to get through forty-eight hours without killing each other.’
Trish knew her husband was in for a shock. Looking after the three Ryan children was a full-time job. Still, he’d cope.
She released the wriggling Georgie on to the floor to play and sipped her tea while she daydreamed about the health spa. It would be so nice to have no responsibilities for a change. No nappies to change, no clothes to wash, no floors to clean – she winced as she spied the mushy spread of cornflakes and toast crumbs under Sam’s chair - and the thought of sleeping uninterrupted in a comfy bed and getting breakfast served up to her the next morning made her go weak at the knees.
It was late on Friday afternoon, there were only ten days to go to her little holiday and yes, Trish was counting them. She hummed quietly to herself as she put sausages under the grill. She loved Friday evenings. She always fed the kids early and then when they were in bed she and Declan would open a bottle of wine, order Chinese food and watch a film. Sometimes, they even had a little cuddle on the sofa. Maybe tonight-
‘Mama, doggy,’ Sam called excitedly from his position by the window.
‘Yes, darling,’ Trish said, as she checked to see if the potatoes were soft yet.
‘Doggy, doggy,’ Sam repeated.
‘Bow- wow,’ confirmed Georgie from his bouncy chair.
‘Mammy?’ Katie pulled open the patio door.
‘Yes, Katie?’ Trish looked up and smiled at her daughter’s flushed, excited face.
‘Come and look.’
‘Not now, darling, I’m getting dinner.’
‘Mammy, please, Mammy,’ Katie whined.
Trish crossed the room to see what all the fuss was about. ‘What is it – oh, no.’ Her eyes dropped to the skinny, bedraggled little dog, at Katie’s feet. ‘What on earth are you doing with that scruffy thing? Where did you get him? Who does he belong to?’
‘I don’t know. He just appeared out of nowhere.’ Katie looked down at the dog with adoring eyes.
‘Well he can disappear back to nowhere. Come in and wash your hands, it’s nearly dinner time.’ Trish dragged her daughter inside. ‘Shoo,’ she said to the dog who promptly sat down and wagged its tail at her. She closed the door on him and turned away. ‘Go and wash your hands, Katie,’ she repeated. ‘You too, Sam.’
‘Wanna play with doggy.’ Sam told her.
‘Bow-wow,’ Georgie clapped his hands in delight.
‘I don’t need this,’ Trish muttered under her breath, wondering how she could distract the children long enough so she could go and give the mongrel a helping toe out of her garden. ‘Sausages for dinner,’ she said brightly to Sam who loved his food.
‘Wanna play with doggy,’ he said, his mouth settling into a stubborn line.
‘You can’t,’ Trish snapped, ‘he’s a naughty doggy who’d bite you.’
‘He would not!’ Her daughter returned from the bathroom in time to hear this slanderous remark. ‘He’s gentle and loving, he’s the perfect dog.’
‘He’s skinny, he’s ugly and he’s probably got fleas,’ Trish retorted and went to strain the potatoes. ‘Who wants beans?’
‘I’m not hungry,’ Katie said, crouching down by the door and gazing out at the dog.
‘Not hungry,’ echoed Sam, ‘wanna play with doggy.’
Trish mashed the potatoes with a vengeance. ‘We don’t know anything about that doggy, he might be dangerous. Besides,’ she said quickly before Katie could interrupt, ‘his owner will be worried about him.’
‘Hey, where is everybody?’
Trish heaved a sigh of relief as her husband appeared in the doorway and his two eldest children ran to hug him. ‘Good timing dear.’
‘Oh?’ Declan met his wife’s eyes over their heads.
‘We’ve got a doggy!’ Katie exclaimed.
‘Doggy, doggy!’ Sam jumped up and down and then ran to the window to point at his new very best friend.
‘Bow-wow!’ Georgie gave his father a gummy grin.
‘He’s not your doggy,’ Trish said through gritted teeth.
‘But he wants to be,’ Katie protested. ‘He followed me everywhere all afternoon, Daddy. He wants to be with me, just me,’ she added giving Sam a superior look.
‘I’ve explained to Katie that the dog must go back to its owner.’ Trish said with a meaningful look at her husband.
‘Yes, Katie, Mammy’s right.’
‘Now sit up at the table please.’ Trish served up dinner, settled Georgie in his high chair and spooned mashed vegetables into his mouth. ‘Someone is probably out looking for him right now.’
Declan looked from his wife to the little dog who didn’t look as if he’d had a meal or a wash in quite some time. ‘You think?’
Trish glared at him. ‘Eat up, Sam, your dinner is getting cold.’
Her son reluctantly picked up a sausage.
Trish was about to tell him to use his fork but at least he was eating which was more than could be said for his sister. Katie was sitting looking from her plate to the little dog, whose nose was pressed against the glass, tongue hanging out.
‘Come on, Katie, eat something,’ Declan said gently.
‘I can’t eat with him looking at me.’
Trish sighed. ‘Declan would you give the dog some potato and a drink of water, please?’
‘Oh, Mammy, thank you!’
Katie’s eyes lit up and Trish couldn’t help smiling. ‘Well, I suppose a little food won’t hurt but then daddy’s going to put him outside.’
Katie’s face fell. ‘But it will be dark soon and he’ll be frightened.’
‘Nonsense, dogs aren’t afraid of the dark. He’ll be fine. Now eat your dinner please.’
Katie obediently picked up her fork but only nibbled her food.
‘Look, Mammy,’ Sam giggled pointing out the window, ‘Doggy walks funny.’
Trish watched as the dog ran around the garden. He was hopping, not putting his rear left paw to the ground at all. The poor little thing must have been in an accident.
‘I’m going to call him Hopper,’ Katie announced.
‘Probably very apt,’ Declan murmured.
Trish sighed. ‘You’re not calling him anything because he’s not yours. He already has a name.’
Katie made a face. ‘Well, we can’t keep calling him doggy.’
‘You won’t have to call him anything because it’s nearly bedtime and he won’t be here when you wake up.’
‘But he was,’ Trish wailed to Viv when she called for a chat a few days later. ‘It looked as if he hadn’t moved all night and when I opened the door he almost turned himself inside out with excitement. Declan said we’d have to take him in, at least until we found the owner.’
‘Katie must have been over the moon,’ Viv laughed.
‘Oh, in seventh heaven. Anyway, we put notices up all over the place yesterday but we haven’t had one phone call. Still, I can’t say I’m surprised, the dog looks neglected. The owner probably hasn’t even noticed he’s gone.’
‘Bastard should be put up against a wall and shot,’ Viv railed, bending to kiss the tip of her pet’s nose. ‘Why do people buy dogs if they’re not going to look after them?’
‘I don’t know, Viv. Hopper may be a bit bedraggled but I must admit he’s a very affectionate, funny little thing.’
‘So what are you going to do if you can’t find the owner?’ Viv asked.
‘I don’t suppose you’d like to take him in?’
‘I’d love to, Trish, but my garden is barely big enough for one dog never mind two.’
‘Oh, well, it was just an idea.’
‘Will you keep him?’
‘I really don’t want to, Viv. It would be different if Sam and Georgie were a bit older but right now taking in a dog just adds to my work load.’
‘Oh, don’t worry, Trish, it’s early days. You’ll probably get a call tonight.’
But there were no calls that night or the next and it was time to decide what to do. ‘Couldn’t we just take him to the dog pound?’ Trish suggested, still overwhelmed at the idea of another “baby” to look after.
‘We could but you know what will happen to him there.’
‘You think they’d put him down?’
‘Well, I can’t see people queuing up to adopt a skinny, lame, mutt like him, can you?’
Trish sighed. ‘I suppose he’d better stay so.’
Declan kissed her. ‘You’re wonderful and Katie will be thrilled.’
‘Before we tell her, though, I think we should get him checked out, Declan. He could be carrying all sorts of diseases.’
‘Good idea. He probably needs some routine shots anyway. This will cost us, though. Maybe even fifty or sixty quid,’ Declan hazarded.
‘Still, it will be good for the kids to have a dog around.’
Trish smiled. ‘Yeah, I must admit I like the idea of them spending more time outdoors. Katie usually wants to spend all her time playing on the computer but this week she’s hardly asked at all.’
Declan reached down to scratch behind the dog’s ear. ‘Okay, Hopper, it’s a visit to the vet for you tomorrow. And then you can become an official member of the Ryan Family.’
‘So you’re keeping him?’ Viv couldn’t hide her delight.
Trish cradled the phone against her shoulder as she ironed her best skirt for the visit to the spa next week. ‘Yes, I know, I can’t believe it myself. What on earth am I letting myself in for?’
Viv laughed. ‘You’ll love having him about. Dogs are wonderful company.’
‘I have plenty of company, Viv, I can assure you.’
‘Ah, yes, but dogs don’t answer you back and they eat whatever you put in front of them.’
‘You have a point.’
‘I’ll drop over at the weekend and teach you how to train him. It’s very important that a dog knows who’s boss, especially in a house with small children.’
‘Thanks, Viv, you’re a doll.’
The vet looked at Declan over his glasses, his expression grim. ‘This animal is in a disgraceful condition and probably in a lot of pain.’
Declan gaped back. ‘Well he does look a bit of a mess and of course there’s the limp but he seems happy enough.’
The vet shot him a look of disdain. ‘I don’t think so.’
‘I’m sorry I don’t know much about dogs. Our little girl brought him home last week and though we’ve put up notices we haven’t been able to locate the owner. We thought we might keep him but my wife wanted to get him checked out first. We have very young children and she’s afraid he might be carrying some bugs.’
The vet’s demeanour changed completely. ‘Oh, I see. Well, your wife is a sensible woman. Hopper needs delousing and in would be wise to castrate him too.’
Declan winced. ‘Okay.’
‘But,’ the vet continued, ‘I’m afraid it’s his leg that concerns me most.’
‘It’s not good news, Trish,’ Declan said when he came home. ‘Poor old Hopper is in a bad way.’
‘What is it?’ Trish immediately went to get the dog some water and a couple of the dog biscuits she’d bought that morning. ‘There you go, Hopper,’ she patted his head before turning questioning eyes on her husband.
‘His leg is fractured in several places. The vet suspects he’s been mistreated.’
‘The poor dog. But can’t they fix it?’
‘Yes, but it will cost.’
‘How much?’ Trish asked.
‘How much?’ Viv asked when Trish repeated the figure to her friend.
‘I know. Look, don’t say anything in front of the kids,’ Trish hissed before leading her friend through to the garden.
Katie ran to hug her godmother. ‘Viv! Come and meet Hopper.’
Viv bent to pet the dog. ‘So this is the famous Hopper. Hello, fella.’
‘Isn’t he wonderful?’ Katie’s eyes shone with pride.
‘My doggy,’ Sam announced.
‘Bow-wow!’ Georgie crawled over to Hopper and yanked his tail.
‘No, Georgie, no!’ Declan groaned. ‘Dear God, the dog will bite your hand off if you do that again.’
‘Hello, Georgie boy.’ Viv lifted the baby on to her lap and kissed him. ‘I think he’s safe enough Declan. Hopper seems like a very placid, gentle little dog.’
‘A perfect family pet?’ Trish murmured. ‘Come inside for a cuppa and I’ll fill you in on the latest in our shaggy dog story.’
As they waited for the kettle to boil, Trish told Viv about Hopper’s leg.
‘Apparently it’s fractured in a few places and that’s why the operation is so expensive. The vet said we should take some time to think about it. He gave Declan the number of an animal rescue centre and he says if we don’t want him, they’ll take him in.’
‘Do the children know?’
Trish shook her head. ‘They think we’re still trying to find the owner.’
‘So what are you going to do?’
‘I know Declan would love to keep Hopper and take care of him – he’s almost as nuts about him as the kids are - but he says it’s out of the question. We can’t afford to pay for his treatment.’
‘It’s a pity but he’s probably right, I mean, what else can you do?’
Trish’s eyes met Viv’s over her mug. ‘Cancel the trip to the spa?’
Viv stared at her open-mouthed. ‘Oh, but Babes, you’ve been living for that break!’
Trish shrugged. ‘What the hell? We can do it some other time - maybe on my fortieth?’
‘Do you mind, Viv?’
‘Of course I don’t mind! I’m lost in admiration for you. You’re a great mum and a wonderful human being.’
‘And every time I step in poo in my garden I’ll regret this decision,’ Trish laughed.
‘You won’t,’ Viv assured her.
‘I can’t remember a time before Hopper, can you?’ Viv asked as they sat on the patio two months later, sipping ice-cold lemonade and watching the children play. Georgie, who had just learned to walk, tottered around behind his brother and sister, giggling uncontrollably every time he fell down. Hopper trotted over to him every so often and gave him an encouraging lick.
‘No, he’s definitely one of the family now,’ Trish agreed. ‘What I find amazing is how protective he is of the kids, especially Georgie. And he’s had a wonderful influence on Katie. She’s really taking the whole pet business very seriously and insists on brushing Hopper’s coat at least once a week.’
Viv sighed . ‘He looks like a different dog to the one I met a couple of months ago.’ Hopper’s eyes were bright, his coat was shiny and he was flying around as he played with the children, with no evidence of a limp.
‘Yes, he’s getting quite plump, I may have to put him on a diet!’
‘So,’ Viv smiled at her friend. ‘No regrets?’
Trish shook her head. ‘I admit I occasionally dream of that spa break in Wicklow but, when you think about it, that would have been just two days of pleasure for me whereas Hopper makes us all happy every day. It’s like having a friend, companion and a wonderful babysitter in the house. I think, when it comes down to it, I got a pretty good deal.’
Viv smiled as she watched the three children roll in the grass with their dog, shrieks of laughter ringing through the air. ‘I think you did.’