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16 October 2014
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Colette O'Hare
Colette O'Hare

Colette O'Hare is originally from the Oldpark, and has recently returned home to live in Belfast after more than 40 years in London. She has had a variety of careers - including teaching in adult education - and working as a feature writer on a number of women's magazines - the names of which she claims to have forgotten.

Butch the Dog by Colette O'Hare

My father bought a dog licence every year.
That always struck most of us as odd..Considering.
It cost half a crown. Printed on crinkly white paper like an old fiver.. The description of the dog was entered as ‘black and white fox terrier’.
“But Da, Butch isn’t a real fox terrier.”
He was nearly.

Butch was a smooth haired fox terrier, or would have been if his mother hadn’t ‘got out’ and ‘got caught’ for which she would have probably been ‘destroyed’, not only for breaking her owner’s heart but it was a well know fact that she would never again produce pedigree pups. She could never go back.
There was a lesson there for us all..

Before Butch the dog there was Prince. Prince the dog was named after a character in a movie I’d seen. A few weeks later there was a man with a performing dog on at the Park Picture House. The dog was called Viscount. I wanted to change Prince’s name to Viscount, but my father said no, it would confuse him, and anyway a Prince was higher than a Viscount. Only my Da would have known that

Prince was a very handsome, slim, nervous, black collie, We got him from the dog’s home in Montgomery Street.

But collies weren’t favourites, too timid, too scared, didn’t have the aggression to last long on the streets. Calling somebody a collie was a term of abuse.
But we took him because he looked so handsome.
And – indeed - he didn’t last long.
He was run over by a car – a pretty unique event back then.

The driver got out - probably just to check any damage to his vehicle. It was a mistake. He was immediately surrounded by a loud and mischievous crowd. That’s the O’Hare’s dog’ someone said ‘ – away and get Big John.’
My father glanced at the dog .
‘His back’s broke”.
‘Well then there’s nothing we can do is there?’ the car owner blustered,
looking for support among the crowd. No chance.
“Whereabouts are you from mister, not from round here” somebody said.
The man’s face drained, his hands were shaking, but he continued to try to assert his authority, the authority of a car owner.
My father, still in his vest, asserting the authority of the big man, got into the back of the car, with the dog across his knees.
“We’ll take him to the vets " he said,. "Put him out of his misery."
"Have you got a dog licence?" the man squawked in alarm, stunned by the audacity, the invasion of his vehicle, the assault on his upholstery. The crowd gasped at the pig headedness of the man, he seemed simply not programmed to think or act defensively.
"Yes", said my father " you want to see it?"
Oh say no mister, please say no.
Finally he got into the car, to the whistles and jeers. And that was the end of Prince.

Butch the dog was a Christmas present.
My father was sent out at 10.00 clock on the morning of Christmas Eve to buy a pup from Cecil Creighton’s Pet Shop in Gresham Street.
He came back in the early hours of Christmas morning.
I was still waiting up, even though it was so cold out of bed .

My father slumped down on the sofa into that voluminous Donegal tweed great coat of his, the colour and smell of tobacco.
I waited.
Slowly, with those fumbling, over elaborate movement of a man who’s had a skinful, from an inside pocket he dragged out a black and white pup. It squirmed and whimpered and tried to get back home. The attachment was to be life long.

Years later, Butch would sit on the bedside chair, at my Ma’s back, as she kept watch all those long days and nights. One time, while she was downstairs making a cup of tea there was a terrible cry, a wild animal in pain, howling its loss to the skies.
The neighbours heard it too.
Streets away.
‘That’s the O’Hare’s dog. Must be Big John. Ah well, God rest him. A happy release.’

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