Soda. A Well Bred Dog.

“When you are old and grey and full of sleep, And nodding by the fire. . .”

One Sunday a while back a familiar figure clambered out of the boot of the car, wagged her tail and limped into the house. Soda was back.

In 1998 our black labrador Sam had six pups. The first born was a lovely golden bitch called Peig. She was born in the bed, her terrified mother obviously decided that the safest place to nest was between Angela and myself.

Waking up in dog’s afterbirth is a curious experience. Sam proceeded to have the remaining five pups in various locations downstairs. I’m not sure the bed could have taken the strain. Even curiouser it was the start of a pattern of peripatetic birthing in the family home which continued for a number of years. More about that another day.

In total Sam had four yellow and two black pups and for a while our house was the place to visit after the pub. Revellers would return late at night to play with some puppies as it were. Once one got lost causing panic in the living room, before a drunken student realised she was sitting on it.

We decided to keep Péig the first born. She was a wonderful dog, a bit idiosyncratic but affectionate and was great with the children when they appeared. She could also retrieve a hurling ball no matter how hard I could hit it into the sea. She was also like the conscience of the house and would slink off ears down and tail curled when any voices were raised.

It was a close run thing between Péig and another one of the golden pups as to which we would keep at the time. The other candidate was a yellow one nicknamed Clever by our lodger Jeremy. She was the first to clamber out of the stockade and the first to try anything. Reluctantly we gave her away but she didn’t go too far. Up to Derry to Angela’s brother Kevin.

Of the others, one went to Bushmills were he significantly upped the IQ level in that wonderful town; another to Omagh where he was later shot whilst worrying sheep; another black dog called Buster stayed in Portstewart; so did his yellow brother Oscar, who was killed on the railway line a couple of years back. Peig lived here with us for ten happy years. And then there was Soda. . .

At the time Kevin lived in a small terrace house which wasn’t conducive to Labrador life. So the dog relocated to Stella Maris for Angela’s mother Patsy to look after her during the day. The dog formerly called Clever became known as Soda, the name coming from one of Patsy’s granddaughters Katie. Katie christened her Soda because she said she was well bred. It stuck.

In time, in fact in a very short space of time, Soda became Patsy’s dog. They became inseparable companions when Patsy was out and about. She walked her in Amelia Earhart Park in Derry; she would take her swimming to Donegal. And, when she visited relatives Soda came too. In fact, sometimes Patsy would forget that Soda came too when, after settling down to a cup of tea or a glass of wine she would suddenly startle and say “God, Soda’s in the boot’ and laugh in that throaty smoky Patsy way of hers.

And, someone having been despatched to retrieve her from the boot, Soda would pad into the house, looking at Patsy a little bewildered as she would say apologetically “Ah my Soda”. In time I think the dog got used to it and probably in the end up half expected it. A day away with Patsy wasn’t the same without a while waiting in the boot.

A visit to Patsy’s and the dog would lie at her feet in front of the fire. Religiously she would walk her giving both of them a bit of exercise although neither needed it really. Patsy would regularly head out visiting, whilst Soda held the fort at Stella Maris.

Then she would head off herself and be spotted in various locations around Derry. Look, Patsy Casey’s dog. There’s Soda.

Once when she was young she went missing, everyone was frantic. Eventually, after contacting the Dog Shelter Angela and Patsy went to collect her. It was only after they got the dog home, when it exhibited some untypical behaviour and the real Soda turned up, did it become apparent that they had lifted the wrong dog from the Pound.

The real Soda was fiercely loyal. When Patsy would appear home in the car Soda would be in waiting and would round ferociously and protectively on the nearest passerby scaring the shite out of them.

One famous night Patsy was contacted by the local police – they had found the dog and having read the nametag were keen to return her to her owner. Patsy would have had no intention of getting up to go out to retrieve the dog when she was in bed, so she calmly instructed the listening policeman to tell Soda to go home. This appeared to have worked as when Patsy got up the next morning, Soda was there. It was a tale Patsy enjoyed telling.

When I told my daughter that her grandmother had passed away last month, her first question to me amidst the tears was ‘What about Soda’. It was a question on many people’s minds.

Happily, she came back here with us, to where she started out thirteen and a half years ago. She seems happy and content. She comes in here to the office during the day and keeps me company which is more than our resident bloody dog Hub does. Anytime she returned here with Patsy I got the impression she was on familiar ground and knew her way about.

When people call and see her they give her a big affectionate hello, as much because of who she belonged to as because of who she is. On the beach today she ran as quickly as her arthritic joints would let her, chasing birds and trying to catch the surf blowing off the sea. She used to chase the birds down on the beach in Shroove and maybe she remembers doing it in happier days.

You never know, we may even lock her in the boot from time to time. For old times sake you understand. She would expect no less.

3 thoughts on “Soda. A Well Bred Dog.

  1. If Roddy Doyle ever wrote a book about dogs, he could do worse than choose that litter for his character research.

    Very like Oscar she is too 🙂

  2. Joe – great
    I remember Patsy telling me when the PSNI called at 2am and instructed her to collect Soda who was in Racecourse Rd… She told them ‘ have a titter of wit- I’m 82 years of age- just tell Soda to go home!!

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