June 2014

Dear Irish Terrier Friends,

Liberty Belle has at last recovered her high spirits. It has taken longer than I would have imagined and the scars on her head are still visible. She’s embarrassed by the many kind friends who hold her under the chin and say with anxious faces, “You can still see the scars.” She winks her eyes and puts on her ‘holy martyr’ face which is a winning strategy for sympathy, but tends to make me laugh. I’m sure she understands what they’re saying and believe she’ll play this one until the last wicket falls. But we have been very dismayed and thank you so much for your commiserations.

I have no patience whatever with scrapping dogs – never have. But this was an attack, not a fight, and poor Libby didn’t have a chance. The Labrador had, in fact, to be sent home three days later after biting another dog. There are absolutely no excuses and I think a slap on the backside and a muzzle are called for now.

We’ve been up to London for a week and I think that the excitement of seeing old friends and barging in and out of all her favourite houses in Springfield Road was the real turning point for Libbs. She spent an afternoon with Adrienne Corri (a distinguished actress in her time) and great friend of Libbs. When I collected her Adrienne said, “She’s a very lovely person and can come any time she likes.” I think Libbs must have been turning up the charm.

I do admit that we all rave about the beauty and brilliance of our dogs (well it is less tedious than most other ravings!), but what I especially love about our Micks is the delight and interest they have in the whole family and all our friends. No-one is ever forgotten and all the children are especially worshipped. It is such a boost of confidence for any child and a great lesson, in spite of the rioting, in consideration and good manners…quite apart from the laughing.

I’m having a rather pensive day writing this letter and watching the Normandy Landings. Libbs is being very attentive and sitting up close to my knee. She is beginning to keep a more careful eye out for me…just about, but I’ve noticed it today especially. My husband Ian was a surgeon attached to the Paras and dropped into Normandy. He spent months serving at the hospital in Arromanches. I know how much it meant to him and it’s not easy for me to watch…thank heavens for Libby. It’s very sweet to watch the wonderful ‘Irish’ character emerging as they mature. I think that Libbs is probably gentler and certainly less defiant than some I’ve known. We’ve never had the slightest sign of remorse for theft or destruction from anyone else, whereas Libbs manages a brief period of contrition…nothing long lasting of course. Perhaps as an only child brought up by her grandma means she’s less provoked than the others who all had riotous companions.

We spent a very interesting day with Jean Soeters who came all the way from Dover to talk about his plans for his Irish Terriers. My son James was here and we were intrigued with the explanation of his approach to the breeding and training of Irish Terriers. It has to be said that there has been a fair amount of controversy in the dog world – mainly regarding the price he charges for puppies – and an optional training programme which some find costly, inexplicable and unnecessary. Jean is from Holland and his approach to life is far more direct, less elaborate and not interwoven with the nuances and inscrutable etiquette that beset our every social contact. ‘Maybe’ is a word he neither he uses or understands. He knows exactly what he thinks and has huge focus and determination to succeed. But he does have an infectious enthusiasm and exemplary commitment to breeding the most beautiful puppies. He takes a total and unquestioning responsibility for them, never giving up the contact with the new owners. He often pays ‘follow up’ visits providing total support and advice for any problems that may happen along. Like all the old breeders he’s prepared to take back any puppy if for any reason at all things don’t work out…and repay the original cost when the puppy is re-homed. Now that is what I would call a devoted service. We need to appreciate that Irish Terriers have always been celebrated as the ultimate all-rounders. They adapt wonderfully well to almost any family pattern provided they are within the parameters of the terrier character.

You have to be ‘one of us’ to understand them but there is a wide spectrum. Now I have to confess that Jean and I are at opposite ends of this spectrum. I have no inclination to train anything (teaching is something different) let along my dogs. Our dogs have lived always only a heartbeat away from me and work things out for themselves. They know the limits, never cease to challenge them, but have all been the most perfect, hilariously funny, totally irrepressible, adorable companions. I absolutely understand that many owners today have neither the time nor a life-long experience of dogs to allow such liberty. It is a far more crowded unforgiving world out there and dogs need to conform in a way which the ‘raggle taggles’ of my childhood would have found positively Martian in its strangeness. Perhaps Jean provides a new sort of service for presenting puppies which are house trained, lead trained, never jump up, come when they’re called and are perfectly able to deal with the world as they find it. Now this could be a godsend to some owners and provided you can afford the fees for this very considerable service (and it seems that plenty can) it opens up another ‘market’ for our best beloveds to flourish.

Jean brought with him the most divine 12 week old puppy called Lucy – no, she knew her name and answered to it so he didn’t bestow it on the way here. I doubt whether I have ever met a more playful, confident, inquisitive pup. She was completely undaunted by Libby towering over her looking rather like the Trojan horse. Libbs was in fact very gentle with her letting her carry off all the soft toys, quite literally from under her nose. Lucy fell asleep on my lap – oh the joy of a sleeping pup. And Jamie, Libby and I were sad when Jean drove her away.

I am writing a piece for the website about Jean’s work which will be up on the Features Page when Jane is back from her holiday. Jean is a clever, driven, determined man, very experienced in the ways of world. He has travelled widely in many different countries and cultures. He has experience in business, accountancy and marketing. Combined with his enthusiasm and love of the Breed he could be a great asset to Irish Terriers. He has not yet ‘cracked’ the show ring but that is a different world with its own rules and he’s learning fast. We can but wish him well.

Incidentally he has given me a stunning picture of one of his dogs running on a beach. He’s just turning on a sixpence, leaning out like a motorbike and seems so full of the joy of life.

We’ve already had a house full of summer visitors and Libby is always crestfallen when anyone leaves. She sees the suitcases being put into the car and her head and tail droop as they drive away. We had Raphi and his Chocolate Labrador, Poppy, to stay. Libby is besotted with Raphi. He’s ten now and a quiet gentle child which is unusual in an age when children can sometimes seem rather pushy and competitive. It is touching to watch him lying beside her on the floor singing her to sleep. “She’s like a big teddy bear and one day I’m going to have one.”

Poppy is fiendish dustbin raider – nothing will stop her scattering the rubbish and Libby caught the idea very quickly – two naughty girls and three times in one afternoon tried even my usual equanimity.

I’ve been reading Sir Arthur Bryant’s book ‘Jimmy – The dog in my life.’ It is exquisitely written and I have seldom read anything which captures the spirit of the terrier so accurately. Jimmy, an English Fox Terrier, which is now, I believe, an extinct breed, was the proverbial handful. The Bryants adored him and the book ends with this touching tribute (in paraphrase).

“There remains only the recollection of an unquenchable vitality and capacity for life. True always to his nature as a dog, proud, independent and predatory he displayed towards his human companions a tenderness and devotion that nothing could alter and which, as much as any experience of life, has convinced me that in some mysterious way, beyond our understanding, love is eternal.”

Please forgive me if I’ve made everyone cry. It has been an emotional day. But Sir Arthur, in my book, is absolutely right.

With many greetings, and my love to the dogs,


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