Thursday 14 December 2017

In Mike Shine's house, the bitches always come first

Mike Shine with My Girl Lollipop in Listowel yesterday.
Mike Shine with My Girl Lollipop in Listowel yesterday.
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Mom slept at the foot of Mike Shine's bed every night, and when she died his toes were cold in the winter. But what Mike missed most of all was the best friendship.

The gentle heave and ho of her saggy tummy was a certain assurance all was well with the world, and when Mom woke in the morning, the heartbeat of hope never left her fond breast.

Mike used to say to those of us habitués who met up with him in Browne's betting shop, "there will be never be another Mom".

But Mike was wrong, and never has man been so delighted to be proved so wrong.

Mike was good to Mom, and Mom was good to Mike. She had 69 offspring with seven different fathers, and Mike cared for every one.

Part of Mike died the day Mom passed away. The nights were long, and sometimes Mike reached out for Mom like an amputee searching for a lost leg only to find she was gone. His tears would grow turf in the desert.

Mike Shine has been twice blessed. He found another Mom. Her name is My Girl Lollipop and she has given birth to a champion. Paddy Purtill, from a famous greyhound training family, gave over Lollipop to Mike, to help ease his pain at the loss of his beloved Mom.

Mike's three greyhound brood bitches take up the couch in his terraced house at Upper Charles Street here in Listowel.

There's Lollipop, Marie and Mary. Fair City is their favourite programme, and Mike buys his greyhounds ice cream every night.

Theirs is a happy home. Those of you who care for dogs should call to see Mike's brood bitches - by appointment only.

Mike never married. He had his chances but the dogs always came first. Mike was a fine footballer. His coach, All-Ireland winner Paudie O'Donoghue, said to Mike in Listowel Vocational School that if Mike was five or six inches taller, he would have played in goal for Kerry.

Women like Mike. He is a gentle, caring soul and it broke his big heart when he left his heiress girl in New York, but Mike just had to fulfil his dream of becoming a top greyhound man here at home.

He was too proud to take up the passive life of the kept man - and dogs made the heiress sneeze. But he misses the long trips they took together after the Sunday dinner in the yacht owned by the heiress.

The New Yorker was a very wealthy woman. And good looking too, even though much of her looks were store-bought beauty from the clinic of her plastic surgeon. Her fortune was conservatively estimated at $317m.

Mike often thinks of her. He asks: "Do they get the Independent in Hollywood? I think she's there now, to be nearer her plastic surgeon. Tell her I was asking for her. Tell her I'll call a bitch after her."

Mom's pacy broods won 137 races, and then came less successful times. But the wilderness years were just a preparation for the glory days.

Mike Shine is back on top again. His pups are fetching big money.

Lollipop has 12 of her pups ready to run in the spring and her offspring have been sold to places as far away as Monaghan.

Mike is choosy, though. He sells only to good homes.

Lollipop's son, Search for a Hero, is owned by Gerdie Dowling, who was a fine footballer. Hero won the prestigious Irish Cambridgeshire in Limerick just a few weeks ago.

Shine As You Go won five races in the last 14 weeks. Mike kept this one for himself and his boss Berkie. The late Mom, her grandmother, would have been very proud.

Shiner also made the headlines. He is one clever and fast dog. Shiner's mother is Mike's Nana.

The Oliver Healy-trained flyer posted the fastest time in five years in Tralee for 570. I'm told the clock went around faster than a politician on expenses.

I ask Mike the secret of his success.

"I love my dogs and I give them the best of food and veterinary care. I'm a bitch whisperer," he says.

"Before Lollipop, Mary and Marie go to the stud dog, I talk to them. I tell them everything will be alright, not to be nervous and I try to put them in the mood for romance. My poem is, 'If the bitches are in the mood, good will be their brood'."

Muhammad Ali was Mike's favourite poet.

Mike is sticking up the racing form in Berkie Browne's betting shop here in Listowel as we speak. He works part-time in Browne's.

His next-door neighbour Violet drops in treats for the dogs when he is the betting shop.

The ice cream is the only summer sugar they take; in the winter he gives the bitches hot chocolate with toasted marshmallows and roasted honey- crisp sprinklies.

Violet's chewy treat is the healthy option and improves the dogs' oral hygiene. Mike boasts that his bitches' teeth are as white as those of the late Marilyn Monroe.

Mike is 63 now and he says: "The women don't come knocking at the door as much anymore but there's no shortage of enquiries about our pups.

Channel-hopper

"And anyway there's nowhere for the girls to sit what with my bitches talking up the couch. One woman even told me she would bring her own armchair but she's a channel-hopper and might upset the bitches, who like what they like."

Mike empties a black bag full of beaten dockets into the big green wheelie bin. What was once money is devalued to litter faster than the currencies of countries ruled by dictators and Brexiteers.

The Brownes are ethical bookmakers and are never found wanting when it comes to donating to local charities.

"You have to be dedicated," Mike says. "Most men brush their teeth when they wake up and before they go to bed.

"I lift up my bitches' tails first thing in the morning, and last thing at night. I check to see if they are in season. Then I start planning.

"I tell Lollipop, Marie and Mary all about the stud dog and show them photographs of him."

Mike sweeps up the floor, and opens the door. I tell him he can keep an eye on his bitches over the phone.

"No, no I wouldn't do a stroke of work here. We all need our space. I'm a luck man. There's many's the man living alone who would love such good company."

Mom is surely happy for Mike. Lollipop has taken to sleeping at the foot of his bed.

This winter his toes will be warm again and he can take his socks off. Marie and Mary are in no way jealous. Their bed is the snug couch in front of the television, and sometimes Mike's occasional snoring disturbs their sleep patterns.

And I got to thinking that if dogs dream, Mike's house would be their perfect place. For in the kennel- home of nice Mike Shine, the bitches always come first.

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