Akron Irish: Anam Madra
by Lisa O’Rourke
For animal lovers, there are few things sadder in this life than the death of a beloved pet, and they are all beloved in their own way. Maybe once in a lifetime, you have a pet that is just in-sync with you, everything meshes, the planets align, and you have your “one.”
That was the case with my dog, John Joe. He was supposed to be a family dog, but hey, not everything works out. I let my husband name him and so he got an Irish farmer name, and that name may be why he never really liked my husband. A Pomeranian-Poodle mix does not really scream Irish farmer John-Joe.
John-Joe was reticent ball of white and caramel fluff. From the minute that I saw him on a puppy website, I had to have him. He was already about six months old when we went to look at him and he hid behind the couch the entire visit when we went to pick him up.
The over an hour ride home was another delight, since he threw up all over the car during that trip. He was shy and skittish and never lost that, except with me. I was his person.
He hid when I left for work and made himself invisible all day until I came home. At that point, he was a swirling, yelping fluffy mass that I could not disappoint. He followed me around the house giving everyone a backward, self-important glance as he pranced away with his person. He was awkward, idiosyncratic and hopelessly cute.
The hopelessly cute part allowed him to get away with the other two traits. People approached him, purposefully to pet that fluff, only to be met with a growl. He did not embrace the public. While any non- Lisa human could receive a growl, he was a gentleman with other animals. He was never aggressive or unkind.
He was respectful to the cats he shared a home with; he never took from them or interfered with them. He was deferential in his treatment of them. He groomed them and allowed them to do the same for him.
I once saw him try to make friends with a salty neighborhood cat who proceeded to chase poor surprised John Joe down the street. Our daily evening walks are my favorite memories. We used a leash at times but didn’t need it; he would never run away from me. He would let me walk on ahead of him on the last block home, so that he could run like Lassie-with-an-urgent-message to catch up to me. It made me laugh every single time and I think he enjoyed that pleasure.
He died unexpectedly from congestive heart failure. All pets, like children, are above average and exceptional to those who love them. It felt awkward to talk about this personal tragedy. I have lost friends lately and seen friends lose parents and family members and the loss of a dog is not the same, no matter the attachment.
With family in Ireland, it was harder to discuss since my experience with dogs in Ireland was limited. In the country, animals serve a purpose. A dog’s purpose is working, by chasing sheep and other animals and by minding the home. Little bits of fluff are not really a thing.
Once when he was on a visit here, my Irish country vet father-in-law gave us the long sideways glance when he saw our former family dog, a terrier mix named Bobby, given run of the house. That glance met that he thought that we were a sandwich short of a picnic for even keeping such a useless animal, let alone letting him sleep on a bed. However, Bobby was able to earn his respect during that visit, with his efficient dispatch, i.e. murder, of a mouse under a neighbor’s couch one Easter morning; it took about a minute for the deed to be done and no clean-up was required.
France is a country that I felt more sympathetic to my attitudes about dogs than Ireland. The dogs that I saw in Paris were not meant to work, but to accompany a person. Routinely in Paris, bits of doggy fluff are brought into restaurants and hand-fed morsels from the diners’ plate. No one bats a French eye at that behavior.
Could Ireland be so different? I had to do a little digging to see if my observations of the Irish attitudes towards dogs were correct. I am happy to say, they were not. A recent poll conducted showed that most Irish people, close to 100 %, consider their dog “family,” and a third allow their pet to sleep with them.
Over two-thirds admit to greeting their dog or cat before their human counterparts when they return home in the evening. Anyone who has ever owned a pet knows why, they are happy to see you- just you- no judgement, just in the moment happy.
The Anam cara (ahnum cahrah) means soul friend in Irish. It has proved very meaningful over time because the concept of friendship runs so deep in Irish culture that it’s hard to find a proverb or story that friendship is not part of. It is part of the religion of Ireland to the extent that Catholic confession has its roots in the idea of the soul friend with whom you confide.
I think it is time to acknowledge the anam madra (mahdrah), the soul dog. The dog that is your connection. Most of us get one at best, in a lifetime and they have lessons to teach us. One of those lessons is that unflagging loyalty to someone is not a bad thing. Everyone will know where you stand and you have the capacity to make that someone feel cherished. These connections are choices that we make and they are the sweeter for it.
*Lisa O’Rourke is an educator from Akron. She has a BA in English and a Master’s in Reading/Elementary Education. Lisa is a student of everything Irish, primarily Gaeilge. She runs a Gaeilge study group at the AOH/Mark Heffernan Division. She is married to Dónal and has two sons, Danny and Liam. Lisa enjoys art, reading, music, and travel. She enjoys spending time with her new puppy, cats and fish. Lisa can be contacted at [email protected]. Please send any Akron events to my email!