Wednesday 21 February 2018

'After what seemed like an eternity... I was told I'd only been in for 20 minutes. That's when my heart sank'

'The experience was pretty tough. I went in at 2 p.m. on Saturday. I thought to myself, 'Grand , it's only for a day'. So I picked up one of the tennis balls I had and began bouncing it off the wall and catching it, alternating between throwing with one hand and catching with the other, you know- just to shake it up a bit.

I then became more adventurous by bouncing the ball off the floor before it hit the wall and catching it.

After what seemed like an eternity I asked staff member TJ what time it was. I was told I'd only been in for 20 minutes. That's when my heart sank and I realised how hellish the whole thing was going to be.

Around 3 p.m. a few friends came up to visit/laugh-at me. They stuck around for a while and keep me company. The novelty of bouncing the tennis ball had long since worn off so their sight was a welcome one. My friend Connor only lives 5 minutes down the road from the Sanctuary so he stayed with me until 8 p.m. before he said 'Right, its getting cold. I'm going home for dinner'.

With that he left, leaving me by myself. Cold and alone. I'd not see food until the next morning. I had no phone or watch with me so I'd have no concept of time. It was just me, the tennis ball and the dogs.

The dogs were no craic. They did not want to know me. To them, I was an outsider whom they immediately distrusted. I knew then, I was on my own.

Another staff member, Anne arrived around 9:30 p.m., she was staying in the office overnight incase there would be a problem, such as me trying to escape. Any attempt would have been in vain anyway, I would have needed an accomplice of some sort and the dogs didn't want to know me. I was an outsider. I was not welcome. I was not to be trusted.

When Anne was going to bed I asked her what time it was: 'Surely it must be near half 11p.m.' - 'Eh, its actually 5 to 10'. Dejected, I walked over to my bed in the corner- I circled it three times before crawling into my sleeping bag to try and get to sleep.

I had a sleeping bag, two wool blankets, and inflated camping pillow (which should have be advertised as 'rock') and a half inch foam mat to keep the chill off myself. I've slept in many an uncomfortable bed. I've lay on many a floor and I camped in Poland without a sleeping bag in a fan camp with 2,000 singing football fans- but nothing could compare to how uncomfortable this sleep was for me. Oh the dogs were fine, they were indoors in their blanket and cushioned lined beds, I was in the outside part lying on concrete, exposed to the elements with a rock for a pillow, a freezing wind blowing and two blankets which I think I'm allergic to.

It was impossible for me to get comfortable, tossing and turning was out of the question. The wind was blowing in on my face so I tried putting the blankets over my head but they were so itchy I had to throw them off. It was too dark to start playing with the tennis ball, there was no one to talk to. All I could do was lie there looking at the cage and pray to God that the 15 or so dogs would eventually shut up barking.

I can't say for certain how long, but I think it was two hours later that they stopped.

Again, I'd no concept of time and I know I lost count when I was counting the seconds in my head- but I think it was about 2 a.m. when I eventually passed out from either the cold or lack of energy.

Anne left around 5:15 a.m., the dogs awoke soon after and started barking again. I didn't get back to sleep after that. I was too wrecked and my body had seized up so I couldn't do anything such jog a few laps of the pen, or throw the tennis ball- at this stage I really wanted to throw the tennis ball. All I could do was lie there looking at the cage and pray to God that the, what seemed like, 316 or so dogs would eventually shut up barking. They didn't.

Three hours. For three long, boring, cold, miserable hours I lay there. Listening to the dogs howl in unison. Taunting me, goading me to react. I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't rise to the bait. 'Let them bark' I said. 'Let them have their fun, be the bigger man. Control yourself.' Still they barked. Louder, louder until it felt like the roof was about to be torn off. A tear trickled down my eye, they had broken me. 'Shut up!' I roared, but that only encouraged them. 'The outsider.He speaks! We must bark.' I had snapped. I had risen to the bait. They had broken me. They had won.

Louder they barked and louder they howled. I turned over and cried into the rock I rested my head upon. Silently I wept. 'Forgive them father, they know not what they do.'

TJ and Linda arrived at 8:30 a.m.. The excitement of seeing their cars was something I have never experienced. I shot out of my sleeping bag. I banged the cage. I shouted and called their names. I threw the tennis ball. It was a great moment in my life and one I will saviour forever. And then they started walking over to me! I could see their size increase with each step as they walked over to me! I was to be free! I was being let out! Finally- someone came for me! 'Morning Padraic ... . Only 6 hours to go.'

I dropped my tennis ball, I hung my head, I circled my sleeping sleeping bag three times and crawled into it. Six hours. All I could do was lie there looking at the cage and pray to God that the, at least 2,486 or so dogs would eventually shut up barking. They didn't.

At around 8:45 a.m. I was giving my breakfast. I hadn't eaten since 5 p.m. the evening before, apart from two biscuits I craftily snuck in without telling the staff, or 'screws' as I know called them. It was a large breakfast roll with everything on it; sausages, rashers, egg, black and white pudding, hash browns, mushrooms with butter and ketchup. It was in a brown bread roll because it's healthier than white. It was gone in under 3minutes.

I perked up for a bit once I was fed and watered. I started playing with the tennis ball again. Bouncing the ball with my right hand then swiftly smacking it against the wall behind me with my left hand - spinning on the spot and catching the ball with my right-hand as it flew back through the air. My friend had said to me the day before 'If there is any bit of a Hurler inside you- you'd be able to catch it better with your left hand.' I took up the challenge, I imagined myself playing alongside Henry Shefflin in Croke Park in the colours of Wicklow (Shefflin relocated to Wicklow for job purposes)- but after the tenth time the ball smacked me in the face I gave up, kicked the ball away and sat down. I accepted I'm no hurler, I'm just an unemployed 24 year old sitting in a dog pen. 'Only 5 more hours Padraic.'

There was only thing for it. I had to push myself through the last few hours. I had to develop a new game with the tennis ball. I sat on my chair and placed a mug 4 foot in from the wall. I had to bounce the ball in front of the cup, against the wall and back into the cup. I got it after half an hour. The result was underwhelming. The novelty wore off. 'The outside. He has stopped playing! We must bark.'

All around me the staff and volunteers were taking all the dogs to the runs- all but me. No, I was to be left in my little pen. Alone, with the tennis ball, chair and empty mug. All around me they busied themselves getting ready for the opening day; cleaning chairs, setting up tables- how I dreamed that one day I'd have a menial task with which to occupy myself. Cakes, buns, teas, coffees. All around me they were placed in my eye-line but out of arms reach. All around me I was mocked.

As people arrived for our opening day I watched them. Watched them as they enjoyed their freedom. Their ability to walk freely from one room to another, being able to eat what they want and when they want. I watched on jealously and vowed that when I got of here I would devour everything and anything left unattended on tables and countertops alike. Run in, devour, run out. No one would know it was me. I will be fed. I will be content. I will blame a cat. I will be free.

The last two hours were spent talking to people who came to see me in the pen. I tried to entertain, tried to make them love me- but no matter how good I was at playing catch with the tennis ball, no matter how many times I circled to chair or posed for pictures- not one person opened the cage. That is until Eileen came.

Eileen heard of my plight and vowed to rescue me. At 2:30 p.m. or so she arrived to let me out of my self-imposed confinement. As the crowd gathered I fought with all my strength to contain my excitement. 'Don't scream. Relax. You'll be home soon.'

The door opened- my opportunity had arrived. I made a go for it but the photographer grabbed me 'Whoah boy back in the corner. Picture time.' Of course, formalities. The pictures, the interview, the emotional press conference. What was another five minutes at this stage? 'Right Eileen, do you have the dog lead?'-'Wait! What?!'

What followed was possibly the most embarrassing five minutes of my life and trust me when I say that says a lot. Being lead out on all fours by a lady you just met while having pictures taking is not what I had expected when I started volunteering here at the WSPCA. My parents who were standing right by the cage must have a felt a lot of things. Pride, I'd imagine was far from the top of the list.

'The outsider. He leaves! We must bark.' They barked. I crawled. I was free. I had won.

The whole experience was one of the toughest things I've had to do. Its only when you spend near 24 hours alone that you realise how long a day actually is. I'd like to thank everyone who supported and sponsored me for the event and those who made it a point to come to our opening day. It's all greatly appreciated; we really wouldn't be able to do any of the work here without your continued support. I like to give a special thanks to Eileen Whelan from RTE who returned my freedom to me.

Pictures of the event can be seen on our Facebook page or our websites: - they are certainly worth a laugh, albeit at my expense.

If you would like to donate you can still do so. Donations can still be made by dropping into us at Sharpeshill online.

Thanks once again for showing us your support and I'll leave you with two words;

Never again.

Bray People

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