Mother once said that Irish setters only want to please you if it pleases them. Such was the case with Clancy, a male we acquired when I was a freshman in high school. We got him as a puppy, and Dad named him Shem Shenanigan Clancy Leroy. Shem is Irish for Jim, and Leroy was Grandpa Johnson’s first name. Clancy was next to impossible to train, and Mother finally gave up. Although we loved him dearly, he could be a real pain. He hated the leash, and if you tried to walk him that way, it became a question of who was walking whom. Fortunately, this was in the good old days when leash laws weren’t a strict. If we took him by the creek, we let him dabble in the water. Afterward, he climbed out, stood next to us, and shook himself, giving us a bath we probably didn’t need.
Clancy soon became Dad’s dog, following him everywhere, begging to be taken along when Dad went to work or anywhere else. At the time, Dad owned a business selling and servicing coin-operated machines, and he often took Clancy with him to the shop and on service calls. The dog became a favorite at bars and other establishments where Dad serviced machines, and bar tenders and other employees often gave him treats. He would come when called, but only if he knew you were going to give him something, a kiss on the nose, a scratch or two behind his floppy ears, a bone or other treat, an occasional serving of ice cream or hamburger.
When Clancy started taking an interest in female dogs who were in heat, Mother suggested having him neutered, but Dad was concerned that the procedure would affect his personality so kept putting it off. When Clancy somehow managed to break through a neighbor’s basement door to get to a prospective mate, Dad finally agreed reluctantly to have it done. It didn’t change the dog’s personality at all. He was still the same adorable, mischievous creature we knew and loved. I pointed out to Mother that we could have arranged to have the procedure done while Clancy was at the vet’s kennel during one of our family vacations, and Dad wouldn’t have known the difference.
Clancy lived to the ripe old age of eleven, passing away one hot summer when I was home from college. Soon after I was settled in an apartment in my home town of Sheridan, Wyoming, and working at the nursing home, Dad bought a second Irish setter, this one a female he called Maud Gunne, after William Butler Yeats’ mistress. Maud was about a year old when Dad got her, and her original owner told Dad she was born on the Fourth of July. Ironically, firecrackers and other sudden, loud noises terrified her. Dad had her spayed right away, and she also became popular at establishments where he serviced machines. Although like Clancy, she got into mischief, she seemed more sensitive. She could tell when you were sad or worried, and she would nuzzle you and plant wet kisses on your face or hand or any other body part within reach of her nose. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver illustrates this.
Remembering an Irish Setter Long Gone
Maud hurries from the house to greet me.
Her tail thumps against my leg in welcome.
I bend, scratch behind her floppy ears,
bury my face in her red fur,
drink in her dog scent.
After an especially hard day at work
when I break down, weep,
she washes away my tears.
Maud lived about as long as Clancy, passing away three months after my mother. Grandma, believing the superstition that bad things happen in threes, feared she was the next to go. As it turned out, the next to die was my dad’s pick-up, in the back of which both dogs loved to ride. Dad hasn’t had another dog since.