Belfast Telegraph

My old seadog gets the wind in his sails

By Frances Burscough

Bailey, my oldest, is 11 years old next month — that's 77 in dog years. He's got cataracts on both eyes, so he's almost blind; his hair is thinning and he walks with a slight limp. So you could safely say he's getting on a bit now.

He was the first dog we'd ever had in our family. When we brought him home on the first day and he bounded up and down and up and down the stairs, over and over again with excitement (he'd been born in a bungalow) we just fell in love with him immediately.

We'd chosen that specific breed of dog — bichon frisee — because of his special coat. It's wool rather than dog hair, which is known to be hypoallergenic. I'm allergic to fur, so my choice was limited to just a few breeds of dog that don't cast.

Once he was settled in, the boys and I took him to the pet shop to get him a shiny new dog tag engraved. While there we spotted a book all about bichon frisees — including the history of the breed — so we bought that, too, and it soon became the favourite choice at night for reading in place of bedtime stories.

We learnt that the bichon breed originated in Tenerife in the Canary Isles. In Elizabethan times, explorers and traders had discovered them there while travelling to the west coast of Africa, and brought them back on ships into mainland Europe to sell on as lap-dogs to wealthy families. However, during the long voyages home, it became clear that they were absolutely brilliant at catching rats on board ships and, not only that, they took to life on the ocean wave with absolute relish and made perfect seafaring companions.

As a result, the bichon frisee also became popular with sailors who were traversing the oceans to Australia, the Americas and other far-reaching destinations in the New World.

That explains it! No wonder he loves fish so much. It must be part of his DNA now to yearn for the sea and to live like a sailor.

Once we heard this, the boys and I had so much fun, making up stories of Bailey's adventures on the ocean wave, like the Robinson Crusoe of the dog world.

But in all the 11/77 years of his life, Bailey had never actually set foot/paw on board a boat, other than the ferry to and from England, which didn't count because he wasn't allowed outside on deck.

So this week, to join in with the celebrations of the annual Belfast Maritime Festival, I took old Bailey along to Belfast Quays to get a true taste of the life his ancestors once lived.

Ok, so he couldn't see a lot of what was going on, but he certainly seemed to love the sounds and smells of the old sailing ships as their full sails flapped noisily in the stiff wind.

He sniffed his way around all the ships on the quayside and was greeted with open arms by all the crews, too.

For the first time ever, our beloved old dog was finally in his true element! Then, to finish the day in true style, I took him on board Lagan Boats' favourite passenger vessel, the Mona, as she took a group of tourists out along the harbour and past all the amazing sights of the Titanic shipyard and Belfast Harbour Estate. His very first voyage as a ship's dog and he loved every minute of it!

As the salty sea air caught his fluffy ears and sent them billowing in the breeze, he turned to me and licked my face as if to say “This is the life for me!” And, after the boat returned to the quayside and all the passengers alighted, Bailey and I were allowed to stroll around the deck, checking for rats.

He didn't find any, but he had loads of fun in the process. What a fantastic day, and how happy my wonderful wee pet was to finally be at one with his true destiny — as a salty sea dog at last!

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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