This is a truly wonderful story which made me cry buckets. It shows quite clearly the magnificent nature of this special breed and their huge capacity for forgiveness. Make sure you have the tissues handy!!
AN ANGEL CALLED SEAMUS
By owner Liz Anderson
Irish Setter Therapy Dog Seamus
On 3 March 2011 we had to have our 3 year old mongrel put down and our world collapsed, two broken-hearted 60 plus people were completely devastated and I became deeply depressed and felt I had no reason to live. James, my husband, desperately wanted to get another dog but I refused to consider the idea.
On 6 May 2011, I made an effort to go to a specialist butcher to buy meat for James’ birthday the following day. Whilst there a lady with whom I had had business dealings came in and started to speak about her dogs. I asked her to stop as the tears flowed. She then said she had a dog for me and to fetch it the following day. In my depressed state that night was a very long one, buying anything let alone a birthday gift was hard work and I thought perhaps a dog would just have to do.
Saturday dawned and James went off to run a marathon, completely unaware of a dog as a possible gift. I arrived at the lady’s home and was taken out to a bare concrete patio – no shelter, basket or blanket anywhere. Before me, standing completely still with heads bowed, were an Irish Terrier and an Irish Setter. The owners told me that the Setter ruined their garden hence the need for him to go. Tears flowed freely as I looked at these poor, sad souls and immediately said I would take the 3 year old Irish Setter. More tears flowed as Seamus was dragged through the house and forced into the car. Both these events were foreign to him. Once home I managed to bribe him with chocolate cake to come inside. He just stood in the kitchen, a strange and alien place for him with a crying woman patting him.
As I had Seamus registration papers I looked up his breeder on the Internet and was shocked that people paid a healthy price for an animal just to give it away after 3 years. I had also noticed large calluses on his “elbows” and panic set it. Had I just loved and lost a pet only to be given another one a home that could possibly be ill or even dying?
James’ delight on seeing Seamus knew no bounds and he determinedly set out to research Setters – grooming, care, temperament, etc. I only knew fear, which I could not share, and Monday could not come soon enough. All the while Seamus could not be tempted further into our home.
Early days of recovery – Seamus with his winter coat
Off to the vet first thing on Monday morning He assured me that Seamus was perfectly healthy. called him “a magnificent specimen”, but told me he had been totally neglected and that it could take up to a year before he would make eye-contact or bark! The vet assured me that the calluses would eventually disappear once he had a proper bed to sleep/rest on.
I now told James about my concerns and the vet’s comments. We decided that Seamus would never again know discomfort or neglect and so started daily trips to the beach. This was an unknown phenomenon to him but he slowly gained in confidence, with time he ventured onto the rocks, into the surf and the river. Seamus is now a regular ‘fisherman’ but has yet to catch his first fish or ruin my garden!
The Red Fisherman
Day after day we coaxed him into our home. He slowly accepted the tiled floors in the passage and telly room but carpets were a definite no-no. He was bribed with biltong to get on the sofa in the telly room and eventually relaxed enough to sit there with James. With loads of love and praise he finally accepted his own bedroom, used mainly in winter as the tiled areas are so much cooler in summer. He loves the water but some event in his early life precludes him from nearing our pool if anyone is in it.
Amongst Seamus’s registration papers was a newspaper cutting with an article on two Irish Setters, named Wellington and MacKenzie, with their owner, a Mrs Barbara Barnard Simpson, who visited the aged in homes as well as others with disabilities and so “Pets as Therapy” started In East London.
The 2010 East London Pets as Therapy team
Left: Barbara Barnard Simpson with Irish Setters Wellington and Mackenzie
After about a year, as Seamus grew in confidence, his true nature started to show him as a very gentle and loving animal so I decided to contact Pets as Therapy. I went to a meeting where I met Barbara who immediately took me under her wing, explained the nature of the Setters and offered to groom Seamus for me, which she continued to do regularly until her return to UK. She also kindly showed local Gonubie groomer, Sonya, how to trim Setters. Unfortunately Seamus developed a prostrate problem that required he be neutered which has affected his coat badly despite all sorts of remedies, shampoos, etc and Sonya has to make do with an imperfect coat.
When I met Barbara , Wellington had gone to heaven and MacKenzie was 3 years old. Before being allowed to be considered as a therapy dog Seamus had to undergo a certain amount of training. Once again Barbara stepped in with MacKenzie in tow. He and Seamus became firm friends through training together. On occasion, however, one of the ‘boys’ would get a bee in his bonnet and go exploring , the other lad firmly in tow, all training forgotten. After a few weeks of training, with Barbara’s help, Seamus was tested and qualified as a therapy dog – what an honour and great privilege.
With Barbara and MacKenzie as mentors, off we went on our first visit to Stirling Lodge retirement home. I was asked by the sister in charge of the assisted living section to visit a resident aged 91 years who refused to mix or eat with other residents, had no visitors and was generally a grumpy old lady. “She will probably tell you to bugger off” I was told. With great trepidation I knocked on Annette’s door and it was love a first sight. Annette could not get enough of Seamus to the extent that Thursday morning visits belonged to her alone with other residents enjoying Wednesday visits.
Slowly I was healing with Seamus help and found our visits most rewarding. Annette, after a few months, started to have her lunch in the dining room, eventually taking all her meals and teas with the other residents. Her whole outlook changed and we became firm friends. On two occasions when Annette was ill, Seamus walked around her bed and put his paws on her body and his head on her chest. He understood her need and loved her as she loved him. When we came back from holidays Annette would tell Seamus how much she had missed him and give him details of what had taken place in his absence.
On our final visit to Annette she was obviously very ill so after Seamus had given her a hug and a love, I decided to leave. She looked at me, asked me to give her a kiss on her cheek and said we had been her angels. Annette passed away aged 95 years. I have the privilege of knowing that Annette lived her last few years being loved and able to love in return.
Shortly after Barbara returned to the UK, Pets as Therapy in East London closed, but a group of about ten ladies now forms Visiting Pets. We regularly visit retirement and frail care centres, autistic and hearing impaired children and the mentally impaired adult centre. We run on the same lines as Pets as Therapy. All the dogs are tested for temperament and trained, free of charge, in obedience skills whilst the owners are also checked to see if they are suitable as visitors. We meet on a monthly basis to discuss our various visits and our successes (we do NOT have failures).
It is interesting that of all the various breeds of dog in our group only the Setters (Mackenzie, whilst Barbara was here, and Seamus) are able to cope with the mentally impaired adults who bark, pull ears and tails, inspect tummies, etc. As we are only allowed to visit once a month it is a time of great excitement at the centre and visits are limited to 30 minutes.
Every Wednesday Seamus and I visit Stirling Lodge where Seamus heads down the passage to Room 5 to visit Joane who, along with other residents’ contributions, has collected meat and chicken from their meals. Recently I have been given untouched boneless chicken breasts to take home for him. When I queried this I was told, quite curtly, “They must have been dry”! After his meal, water and a short nap, it’s off to the lounge where residents sit waiting for him and feed him the treats I take for this purpose. Although it is recommended that visits be kept to a maximum of 40 minutes, we often spend 90 minutes or more with Seamus’ tail wagging constantly.
Liz and Seamus arrive at Sterling Lodge for a special Christmas visit
Seamus “on duty” with Joane and Colleen
Before our visits to Stirling Lodge I take Seamus for a run in James Pearce Park and have, on several occasions, met local trainer Bessie, working with owners and their pets. Bessie has sometimes asked to use Seamus to help other dogs to socialise. About two years ago she asked for his help with two Scotties and after ten or fifteen minutes all three dogs were friends. End of story for me except that about four months ago, in the local Spar, a lady came rushing up saying “Aren’t you Seamus mum?” She thanked me for Seamus’ help with her two Scotties who are now completely settled and she experienced no further problems since their meeting with Seamus!
Visiting Pets were recently asked to visit Kennersley Park Retirement Home. The hall was filled with 45 – 50 people who were expecting a talk on dogs. Instead our Chairlady, Joan, spoke of the reason for our visit. I went along with Seamus and Angela went along with Pixie. Tables had been set for four and as Angela let Pixie off lead, I did the same with Seamus. It was amazing to see how each pet went off to a different table, eventually covering the whole room. The delight on the faces of the residents was amazing as each VIP eventually went to every table to be loved and fussed. Stories were told of pets loved and lost, how people missed their pets and the gratitude they felt for our visit. The most interesting thing is that this home has LARGE signs saying “No Dogs” yet we have been asked to make regular visits. Angela and I have both agreed to do this.
5 Star home bedroom suite
Seamus now lives “ the life of Riley”. He has a basket in the kitchen, a double bed in his own room (not shared by guests) and a sofa in front of the telly. Our annual overseas trips are a thing of the past as we now holiday in South Africa, anywhere where he is welcome. Seamus is a regular visitor to restaurants where, more often than not, the staff feed him titbits. Two of his more notable visits have been to a restaurant on the Victoria and Albert Waterfront in Cape Town and another at the top of Constantia Neck.
Dining out on holiday
I recall a visit to Sutherland where he was known as “die rooi hond” (the red dog) and a certain gentleman rode around the town on his scooter until he found Seamus.
Stargazing with James in Sutherland
On a visit to Uniondale we went to the local hotel for lunch. As it was extremely hot we sat on the veranda and were served our meal through the windows as the staff were so afraid of him. After our meal we went to the rear of the building and soon all the staff were making a fuss of him.
Our security company had a wonderful giant of a man named Forward Pita in charge of their guards. As I run our local Sector Police Patrol, Forward was a regular visitor to our home. Seamus became quite possessive of Forward and would sit at his feet to be patted. If Forward lifted his hand off him, Seamus would pat Forward on his knee as if to say “Hey, I’m here”. Sadly Forward is no longer with us but I often see this huge, loving man with his hand on Seamus who truly loved him, in my mind’s eye.
There are so many stories I could share about the fun, love and laughter we have enjoyed during our almost six years with Seamus. Although we obviously do not have small children in our home, he loves children and will run to them on the beach or in the park. He has brought healing to not only me and James but to many others in different ways – he is not an animal or a dog, he is our own angel with fur!
Published as Supplement to Setter News (South Africa) June 2017