Marty Higgins shares his incredible story and his life now with the Irish wolfhound, Taryn Sherlock of Pinehurst.
"I will give thee dog which I got in Ireland.
He is huge of limb and, for a follower, equal to any able man.
Moreover, he hath man's wit, and will bark at thy enemies but never thy friends.
And he will see by each man's face whether he be ill or well disposed towards thee."
– The Icelandic Saga of Nial
I find it impossible to walk my Irish wolfhound, Sherlock, without drawing a crowd.
Yes, Sherlock is indeed quite large at 185 pounds and 35 inches tall at his shoulder and, yes, his big brown eyes speak of intelligence and a gentle disposition. But most impressively, his very presence in public brings out a childlike sense of wonder in young and old alike.
On our adventures about town, we are barraged with questions and requests to pet him, compliment him, or take a photo with him.
Years ago, I was a standup comedian, so I have a variety of wisecrack responses to break the ice with strangers while answering expected questions about mister big-dog.
Some recognize his breed, but many say, "I've never seen a dog that big before!"
"You never saw one like this before because he's a Chihuahua on steroids! Actually, he's a reverse werewolf at night he becomes a Romanian proctologist."
"How much does he eat?"
"He eats everything! But he really likes small dogs… if they are properly prepared."
"Who's walking who?"
"I don't take him for a walk...he takes me out for a drag."
"He looks like a pony! Does he have me a saddle?"
"Yes, but unfortunately I can't locate a 3-foot tall jockey."
"How much does he poop?"
"Well, in his kennel, I have a dumpster and a snow shovel."
Wolfhound's daily habits
Laughter and smiles all around. I know it's a bit of carny mixed with Blarney, but no one walks away until they get all their questions answered. The ice is broken with laughter, my serious wolfhound spiel begins:
"His name is Sherlock. He's four-and-a-half years old and he's gentle as a puppy. He loves people, especially kids, who pet him. Sherlock is nearly 200-pounds and, standing on his hind legs, over seven-feet-tall.
He sleeps in his own bed – a baby crib mattress on the floor next to my bed – but his head and behind hang off its sides. For breakfast, I hand-feed him five hotdogs two plain donuts, and two apples all cut into chunks. Then he gets three scrambled eggs and a cup of milk in his food bowl.
During the day he free feeds around one and a half pounds of dry kibble but, when you pet him you'll find he's solid muscle and not fat at all.
He can run nearly forty-miles an hour.
If you tell him 'Give me a high five!' he'll shake your hand with his big right paw."
The images I describe seem to cast a spell of wide-eyed wonder that fills a person's heart with grace and delight. Sherlock stirs the imagination and brings out the humanity in all those he meets.
"If you live in wide-eyed wonder and belief, your body fills up with light."
Taryn Sherlock of Pinehurst comes from good stock; a long line of United States Champion and Grand Champion Irish Wolfhounds.
Just this year, Taryn Hamilton of Pinehurst was the 2020 Westminster Best of Breed (OS). The 2012 Best of Breed was Grand Champion Pinehurst Garrett, and the legendary United States Champion Pinehurst Haxton is Sherlock's great-granddoggy.
His ancestry is documented back to the early 1900s.
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Recently we drove to Massabesic Lake Park here in New Hampshire to take our daily walk. There, we met over two-hundred 200 bikers known as the Addiction Awareness Motorcycle Club who were assembling before a long-distance ride.
These dedicated people are committed to helping addicts get clean and remain sober. When they saw Sherlock, he became the center of attention. They welcomed both of us and, after a lot of petting and hugging (him, not me!), the club leader asked us to be at the front of their group photo.
Wolfhounds tend to be natural mascots.
Wolfhounds and Irish history
The history of Ireland includes many stories about wolfhounds. These large sighthounds are mentioned in a description of the Celt's attack on Delphi some 600 years before the birth of Christ. Subsequently, they became the preferred dog among kings and royalty. Many were kept for personal protection and occasionally bred into huge packs for warfare.
The greyhounds of Ireland – sometimes referred to as wolf dogs, big dogs, or the great hounds of Ireland - became so popular around the world that, by the 1600s, they had been exported into near extinction. Ireland then restricted their export, but by then they were so rare the breed was nearly lost.
Capt. George Graham revived the bloodline in the late 19th century by collecting a few dozen remaining dogs and conscientiously breeding over 300 pedigrees.
Wolfhound history in the US
The wolfhound's legacy as a fierce war dog is commemorated by the New York City's "fighting" 69th Infantry Regiment. This elite military unit was founded in 1849 by Irish immigrants preparing for a return to Ireland to liberate it from British occupation. Now, they are the most decorated regiment in the United States and have been active since the Civil War, and were recently deployed to Afghanistan.
The regimental motto is "gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked." And each March 17, the 69th Regiment leads the St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York City. Their rank and file is led by two fine-looking hounds.
The 69th has provided security at West Point and protected vital New York transportation hubs. In 2004, they were selected to deploy to Iraq in 2004 as the core unit of "Task Force Wolfhound," so named to honor the Regiment's hound mascots.
Nineteen soldiers of the 69th were killed in action during their Iraq deployment.
in 1928 the Irish sixpence was struck with the image of Finnbarr, the international Wolfhound Champion, and the coin remained unchanged until the mid-1960s.
Wolfhounds are so beloved in Eire, they are also represented on postage stamps bottles of spirits, and pottery.
"What good could we do in our life to deserve the unconditional love and loyalty we receive in exchange for food, water, a place to sleep, and the occasional pet?" – MJH
Sherlock's addition to our family
I'm sure my big guy is aware of his animal magnetism, and he walks and poses like the show dog he might have been. But I chose him for a much more important role in my life.
At the end of summer 2014, my wife, Laura, was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer. We knew her treatments were going to be a rough battle and, although we had faced other critical medical procedures together, we prepared ourselves for the debilitating chemotherapy endurance challenge that lay ahead. Our previous Irish wolfhound, Preston McGinty, had been acting strangely for a couple of months; seeming overly concerned with Laura and needing much more affection than usual.
After speaking to other dog owners, we came to understand that occasionally dogs can sense a difference in a person's scent and it raises their anxiety level. We believed this was the case with the onset of Laura's condition.
Laura said, "Preston knew something was wrong and was trying to tell me."
I didn't know what to say. There was so much uncertainty and morale maintenance that lay ahead, I thought it better to let her words fade into a troubled silence.
She added, "Preston is seven years old. I fear I will see him die, then I will die."
Wolfies have an average lifespan of 8 to 9 years. My breath caught in my throat for a moment until I could find words that made some sort of sense.
"You are not going to die. We will beat this... and Preston just needs a pup to pick up his spirits. We are all going to be okay. Okay? We will get a pup. and it'll all be okay!"
I didn't know if we all were going to be okay, but what else could I say to make the sad words stop and our alive-but-worried life resume.
Our daughters were in shock about the diagnosis. I looked to Preston as I would to a son for some sort of bravado support. I couldn't let him worry about his life away. I told him he was getting a little brother. It made so little sense then.
It makes perfect sense now.
We contacted Karen Catov–Goodell, at Pinehurst Kennel, in Monument Colorado, where Preston was born, and explained the situation. Karen said she had a litter due soon, but it was owned co-jointly with Taryn kennels in Texas.
She cautioned, "It may be a problem to get on the waiting list for a pup on such short notice… and, if it is possible, it will probably be expensive."
I understood. I also understood that cancer is a medical term that also means expensive.
Sherlock was born on February 18, 2015, at Taryn kennels in Collinsville, Texas, and the owners – Brenda and Gary Fairbanks – graciously delivered him to our home in Parker Colorado. The following Summer and Winter he truly was Preston's baby brother and became Laura's heartfelt sunshine each day.
Once again there was a ray of joy and life in our house. Laura smiled again.
Decades ago, when I served in Vietnam, I was the Army's liaison to Mau Than orphanage in Bien Hoa, Vietnam. Many of the children and babies there were handicapped or mixed-race waifs. Some were parentless while others were abandoned offspring of Vietnamese women and military men. The mixed-race children were shunned by the society who referred to them as mau xau (bad blood) and simply abandoned.
I committed myself to support the orphanage's priests and nuns as they made a better life for the kids. Working with them, helping them, feeding them, I watched a miracle every day. The children would tune out the war and play soccer, dress dolls, help in the kitchen, and take care of each other as if nothing posed a threat to them. They knew there was death and violence around them, but their "kid energy" was irrepressible. They were fully alive despite their jeopardy.
Living one's life regardless of the prognosis is just that important. My story about Christmas 1969 at the orphanage can be read here.
I was hoping that puppy Sherlock would ignite Laura's kid energy; have her embrace her life while she suffered in pain, lost her hair, had bouts of nausea, and grew weaker before my eyes. And, thank you Big Dog, you did it. Sherlock and Preston gave Laura the love that filled her heart with joy the way our first wolfhound, rock 'n' roll, did so long ago when each of our days was a carefree dream come true.
That was Sherlock's wolfhound miracle; a royal bequest.
Laura died on March 18, 2016, 13 months to the day after her new puppy entered the world. After she was gone, Preston, the poor old boy, would walk to the front door to look for Laura's car, then climb the stairs to our bedroom, hoping to see her there. He did that for several days. Then he laid on the floor next to Laura's side of the bed and did not move or respond to his name.
I woke the next morning to find him lifeless. I'm sure he died brokenhearted and defeated.
Sherlock and I have been together since then, missing the love that Laura showered on us. We are joined by Dave the dog, my twenty-four pound Tabby who is, in every way, a canine except for his raspy "meow."
My sad backstory was not the point of this piece. Sherlock is still sunshine" in many people's lives even if only for a brief meeting. Some want to get a photo of him to show their friends who have never seen a wolfhound in the flesh.
Children often say he is Falkor the Flying Luckdragon of the Never-ending Story... or Clifford the Big Red Dog who grew so large because of all the love his girl showered on him. Charming women, spellbound by my "wingman hound," make me wish I was younger and looking for love.
On our walks, I've had people say, "He is so amazing!" and "I'm so glad to meet you, Sherlock!" as they walk away. smiling, imagining how they might fit a big dog into their life.
I'll admit a bit of Sherlock's royalty rubs off on me. I am not a King, but I walk alongside my Queen's dog. I will never forget that.
This morning a young guy stopped his pickup truck when he saw the Big Goy. He hopped out and we talked for several minutes. He said his wife wanted an Irish Wolfhound and he never realized how big they are, how gentle they can be, or how they grab everyone's attention. He took a lot of pictures and I shared with him everything I know about these noble beasts. He said he would tell his wife, "Yes! They are great dogs! Let's get a wolfhound!"
I thought of Laura's sunshine and how Sherlock carries a bit of her brave spirit in his swagger. I felt my throat tighten and my breath begin to stoke, so I said "Have a good morning, Sir." And turned to walk on with my boy.
Damn it. Four years and I'm still having spur-of-the-moment downpours.
The guy climbs back into his pickup truck and, as he drove past me, honked the horn and yelled, "you two have made my day!"
I felt tears forming.
"And you, mine, Sir! And you, mine."
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