Ian married his wife Valerie fifty two years ago, and for the entire duration of their married life, they have owned West Highland White Terriers (so-called “Westies”). They had their first Westie way back in the 1960’s, and they have enjoyed owning every one of the individuals that they’ve had as pets. It’s hard to know what appeals most: their small but solid bodies, their intelligent personalities, their good nature and perhaps not least, the fact that they don’t shed much fur in the house. They do need to be professionally clipped regularly as a result, but in general, they are clean, easy-to-keep animals compared to some breeds.
The Keegans enjoy caravanning and travelling around Ireland, and Westies have been the perfect dogs as travel companions: they are small enough to easily fit into a car, and they are sociable. And they don’t need too much exercise, compared to some bigger, more lively breeds of dog.
There are down sides to every breed, of course, and for Westies, the biggest issue is that the breed is prone to certain inherited diseases. The three most common are allergic skin disease, a complex form of lung disease in old age, and a type of joint disease that affects the hips. However, although these are more common in Westies than in other breeds, this does not mean that every animal is affected. Over the years, Ian has only had one Westie that had serious problems with inherited disease. And he has made a point of having his pets insured, so that if they do fall ill, the insurance company will cover the costs of the best possible veterinary care.
two dogs were better than one
The Keegans made a choice early in their married life that “two dogs were better than one”. They have always owned two dogs at any given time, and they have seen for themselves how much joy the dogs get from companionship of their own species. Most recently, they had an older dog called Ben, along with young Meg. The two dogs got along well, enjoyed each other’s company. However, when Ben reached the age of fourteen, he began to slow down. His sight was gradually fading, and he was getting weak on his back legs: these were problems directly linked to his advancing age. Meg still enjoyed being with him, spending time curled up sleeping beside him, and encouraging him to run around outside. Her energetic youth was a useful stimulus to keep him active when he might otherwise have spent much of his time sleeping, and his later years were far more lively thanks to her company.
Then, a few months ago, Ben went rapidly and seriously downhill. His personality changed over just a few days, becoming dull and sleepy, and he started to stagger around, pressing his head into corners. It was hard to know exactly what was going on, but the two most likely causes were either a brain tumour, or rapid onset dementia. A detailed investigation, including an MRI scan, would be the only way to find out. Since both conditions were likely to be untreatable anyway, the Keegans chose euthanasia as the kindest and easiest way out for him.
The Keegans were very upset to lose Ben, and poor Meg was bereft. She went very quiet, spending her time in bed, and refusing to run around the garden in her usual enthusiastic way. She wasn’t herself at all. Ian decided that the best answer was to find her a new companion as soon as possible.
His first step was to contact the Irish Kennel Club, obtaining the details of the Breed Club Secretary for Westies. This can be the best way to find pedigree puppies: there’s often a Breed Club member who has just produced puppies, and they are often the best informed breeders, producing puppies for the love of the breed rather than for any financial motive.
As it turned out, there were no litters of pups immediately available, so Ian had to do his own searching online to find one. It didn’t take long: he found a family less than an hour’s drive away whose Westie bitch had just had a litter of pups. The Keegans went to visit just to see the pups, without intending to bring one home. But on meeting the pups, the mother and the breeder, they decided that Archie was exactly the puppy that they were looking for, so they brought him home.
Meg was quite wary of Archie at first. It’s always strange when there is a new dog in the house, and Archie didn’t help by confusing Meg with his mother. He kept trying to suckle her nipples, and she didn’t like this at all. However he soon learned that she wasn’t carrying any milk, and he stopped doing this, and meanwhile she discovered that he was fun to be with.
There was a temporary set back to their relationship when Archie ate something in the garden that upset his stomach. He was seriously ill, needing to stay at the vet for a few days, on an intravenous drip. Luckily, he responded well to treatment, and soon he was home again, wanting to play with Meg.
She responded enthusiastically to his advances, and the pup has successfully distracted Meg from her grief.
She has gone back to chasing enthusiastically around the garden, with Archie trying to catch up with her. The two dogs are already firm friends, and it looks as if they are now going to share long and enjoyable lives together.