Jane Sweeney – Finding Mario

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Oscar

Sometimes we just saunter through life; days are filled with happiness and laughter and routines keep us wrapped up in a sense of normality and contentment. Then a massive curveball is thrown your way. For me, that was losing my best friend Oscar, my rather old bearded collie cross. He had been my constant companion, my timekeeper, my motivator and my confidant. He passed so suddenly the shock was incredibly hard to bear. Overnight I became a lost soul – a person without a dog.

I always swore blind that Oscar would be my last dog. He was irreplaceable, funny, bright and loveable, whilst being the biggest vagabond you could ever meet. He came to me when he was nine months old, having done some serious time in Cardonald. I was his third owner and he carried a behaviour tag because of his determined and stubborn nature. All Oscar ever needed was someone to believe in him, love him and allow him to be himself. He turned out to be a mighty fine dog. I used to say he was Glesga Gallus as he stopped everyone he met to just say “Hows it gauin’?”

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The great debate

Matt and I lasted three days before deciding that we couldn’t live without a dog. The house was dead. I had no reason to go out and the whole street was heartbroken. Folk were so kind coming up to me and just hugging me. To be honest, not one soul spoke to me of rainbow bridges, everyone was destroyed by Oscar passing so suddenly

There was a new boy to be found. I hadn’t dealt with a pup since my terrier Trixie some thirty years previously. All my dogs had been rescued , Trixie herself was a pup rescued from a sack beside the Clyde so it seemed almost an automatic process to check out the rescue homes. But we didn’t. We sat down and talked through getting a pup; the practicalities, the time commitment and, of course, the pitfalls, ie chewed furniture, toilet training.

Then we actually thought about how we went about getting a pup. There are an awful lot of puppy farmers out there and I was adamant that I would not be buying online. How on earth do you find one? Then we had to decide what kind of pup would suit us. That was probably the easiest decision ever, we wanted a bearded collie. A dog who would be full of what is technically known as the “beardie bounce” with a larger than life personality and who loves fresh air and walks in all weathers. The thought of this new life, full of curiosity and sheer devilment made us smile again.

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Finding a breeder

Decision made, now to find a bearded collie pup. I thought this would be difficult, but I had a starting point. I had met a guy with a bearded collie puppy a few months previously and had asked him where he got him from he told me Kilmarnock so I started my search. Bearded Collies are not one of the easiest breeds to find so I checked out the Bearded Collie Club website but there were no puppies due, so on a whim I typed in “bearded collies Kilmarnock” and up popped Reaosh Bearded Collies. I nearly fell off my chair when I saw they had puppies due the end of July! I phoned the number and to cut a long story short I was about to meet one of the nicest people you can imagine, a man who really loves his dogs and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the breed, David. We blethered for ages, he told me all about his dogs and the mum Fergie and how she was eating for Scotland. I told him all about Oscar and he really understood the loss. He said he would phone when the pups were born. I really hadn’t expected to have a pup so soon. I thought I was going to have to wait but fortune was on my side.

The pups were born on the 26th July. Seven in total, three boys and four girls all healthy and absolutely gorgeous! Mum was great! One of the boys was coming to live with us and become part of the Sweeney clan.

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Preparation

Getting the house ready for a wee pup was fun! All the plug sockets were hidden, everything that seemed to be innocuous became a danger and everything was risk assessed. Checklists of toys, food, puppy jags, bedding, safety gates were endless. Lists of names appeared and we knew realistically he wouldn’t be named until we met him so he had the working name of Toots and before we knew it, he was five weeks old and we were going to meet him for the very first time.

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Meeting Toots

The big day had arrived. It was time to meet the pups and David. For some strange reason, David gave me first pick of the litter. We arrived to be welcomed by the most beautiful, friendly dogs. Mum, Gran, Great Gran and Aunt were there to greet us and in the living room were seven tiny bundles. I have no idea how I knew the one that was meant for me, but I did. He just cuddled into me and my heart melted .

David placed the biggest boy in my arms. He was gorgeous! He then placed the most beautiful pup I have ever seen with Matt. David held my boy. He was tiny and obviously the youngest, a total ne’er do well rapscallion, and I just knew he was the most mischievous, drama queen who suited me. I just knew he was for me.. so asked to hold him. End of story, Full stop. It was love.

We spent a really enjoyable time with the wee ones but sadly it was time to go. We left still without a name for this gorgeous boy, none of the lists were helpful because he didn’t seem to suit any of them. In the car on the way home, out of nowhere the name Mario sprang to mind. Wee Toots had been quite vocal and so calling him after Mario Lanza seemed pretty fitting, bearded collies are pretty tuneful!

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The Homecoming

Mario came home to the Sweeney house three weeks later and it was quite apparent he was his own independent soul. His new bed was quite quickly emptied of blankets and he selected his new abode behind the bedroom curtains where he camps out with his lion pillow and cuddly toys. Even though he was quite small he managed to find a way to get up on the couch for chill times. He was a much wanted pup and to be honest, the whole street had been waiting on him coming. Everyone has gone mad for Mario, including my postman! He was kept in for the first couple of weeks until he had his jags but he has now been unleashed upon his public and enjoying life so far!

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Puppy Training

The most worrying thing about getting a new puppy is the sheer fear of doing something that will somehow dent their character or frighten them. Getting them socialised is really important, meeting other dogs and their owners can be great fun, especially in some of the lovely parks we have here in the city. The weather has not been too bad and Mario and I have enjoyed some lovely times in various parks. The first day I let him off lead was pretty momentous, we had been practicing recall in the hall and he seemed pretty good. So I took the big step and found a relatively quiet spot in Victoria Park. I sat him down, unclipped his lead and said “Go Play!” To my utter amazement the training had paid off and he came back as soon as I called him, although the rascal had decided to become bigger than the dogs he was playing with by climbing onto the picnic table!

One morning a week he goes to a play centre just off South Street, where he has become quite a part of the pack. I went to pick him up the first day to be told he had been playing with Sonny and Sergio, alongside Mario it seems as if there is a new puppy mafia in the West End of Glasgow. He comes home shattered and sleeps all afternoon.

Mario has also joined a puppy training class at his Vet’s surgery which is really good fun! It fairly highlights how much training is needed for the owners (me mainly) and Mario is actually really good at following commands whereas I am struggling to keep up with the sit, down, stay, come, in heel and sit routine. Mario and I seem to be performing a mad version of the hokey cokey whilst the others look like Crufts’ professionals. Mario is a permanently hungry pup so he is doing very well. He would do anything for a biscuit, including opening the biscuit drawer and sneaking one.
I must admit, training is hard work and requires a lot of effort, constant reinforcement and reward, but it so much beats me using my now favourite phrase “No way!”

Energy Bursts

Puppies are above everything else, really good fun! Mario is no exception and it has been an absolute delight to watch his sense of humour grow. Like all pups, he has a mad half hour, where he zooms and zips round the house like a whirling dervish. He has a circuit that includes the corner sofa up and down the hall and now he is big enough, a leap onto the bed. In the process he plays tsunami where he knocks all the couch cushions down and slides off the couch using the seat backs like a surf board. It was on one such energy trip he took a flying leap into the stratosphere bursting his nail and the artery underneath requiring a small operation. I am actually getting the time to write this as he is recovering with a bandaged paw and feeling a bit sorry for himself. I had to take the bucket collar off him before he caused any more damage to himself by battering it off the wall to get rid of it!

I spend most of my days laughing at his antics, whether he is barking at the cactus, which he despises for some reason, or getting his head stuck in a welly boot, stealing the celery out of the birdcage, digging up the tree on the veranda – the list is endless. But to be perfectly honest, the biggest surprise to me was the amount of time he sleeps. Mario is ever growing and he really needs his naps. It must be hard work on his wee bones becoming longer and stronger. He has also had a really sore time with teething and is currently beginning to lose his baby teeth which seem to be replaced pretty quickly, which is good for me as he likes to chew my fingers and I am pretty sure he has cut quite a few chewing my wedding ring. My puppy is being replaced by a fine and strikingly handsome adolescent dog. His puppy fur is changing from black to slate and I can see the dog he will become.

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Mario’s first Christmas

Santa will be busy in our house this year. Mario loves his toys, from his glow in the dark ball to his hissy snake, he has a sizeable toy box. Usually the place I find my wellies or gloves or my husband finds his trainers. Not every dog is as lucky as him, finding themselves in shelters for various reasons, in fact it really breaks my heart that some people will not be treated as well as he will this Christmas. I hope you have enjoyed reading about my first four months with Mario. It has been such a joyful time getting to know the wee soul and falling head over heels for him. I genuinely hope if you are thinking of welcoming a pup or older dog into your home I have touched upon something you may find useful. Being a person with a dog has brought so much pleasure and companionship into my life, but that has meant changing my life to ensure his needs are met and not being too houseproud ! I know at Christmas a lot of people think about getting a wee pal for life, maybe visiting a shelter in the New Year and I hope my experiences with welcoming Mario home will give you an insight into the pleasure having a wee dug can bring.

Wishing you all a Peaceful and Happy Christmas and all the best for the coming year, from the home of Mario and the two less important Sweeneys. PS Mario is now 14 kilos and constantly on the hunt for the biscuits…

Jane Sweeney, December, 2017

Some Wintertime Poems by Finola Scott
I Deserve This – a poem for Christmas by Calum Maclean

This section: Jane Sweeney: Blogging about Glasgow and its hidden gems., Writing for the Festive Season

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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