It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Donal Rogers on Christmas Day.
As many of you know, Donal rose to prominence as a result of his battle to save the life of his much beloved pet Jack Russell, Kim.
The story of Donal’s dedication to fight for Kim touched hearts all over Ireland, and there was also huge interest internationally.
Last June, I first heard of the story of an elderly man whose dog had been ordered to be put down after biting a passer by.
While dogs biting people is no trivial matter, the thought of an 85 year old gentleman who lived alone losing his canine companion saddened me deeply, so I decided to get in touch and learn what exactly had happened.
On our way back from a video shoot in county Clare, my colleague and I took a detour to Roscommon to visit Donal and Kim to try and find out more about their situation.
Donal welcomed us warmly and little Kim put her paws up on my knees to say hello and have a bit of a sniff of my colleague and I while gently wagging her tail.
It struck me how affectionate and friendly she was to a pair of strangers who had landed in her garden with a bunch of funny looking camera equipment. She didn’t even bark.
Despite his rather jovial way of speaking,I couldn’t help but notice how downhearted Donal was. He seemed like a man besieged.
From the interactions I had with him, I got the impression that he was a rather stoic man: of the kind typical of the older generation of Irish men.
As a former Garda, I’m sure he must have seen and experienced some very difficult situations during his career. It seemed like he had a way of keeping his emotions in check.
Despite this I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was deeply distressed at the prospect of losing Kim.
By the time I found him I suppose you could say it was more of a foregone conclusion than a prospect; the order for Kim’s destruction had already been granted and upheld on appeal.
I had three dogs when I was little: Jerry – a beagle cross; Judy – a shaggy haired sandy coloured mutt; , and Meg – a jack russell: pretty similar to Kim really.
When they passed away (what a bitter sadness that was – it still makes me cry all these years later) we eventually got new canine friends; Sparky – a Wicklow collie, and Holly – a Black and Tan Russell were the last.
Anyone who’s ever owned and loved a dog knows how special our bond with them is.
The soggy nose in your face is your alarm clock in the morning, the ceaseless cajoling at the table for delicious scraps, the unbridled excitement when you come home – our Holly used to sometimes pee with joy on these occasions – dogs are just a gift to those who share our lives with them.
A biting incident, as I said previously, is not trivial but neither is ending the life of someone’s best friend.
When filming the first video about the story, I couldn’t help but notice how Kim went quiet when Donal was relating details of the court order. It may sound silly, but I got the impression that she knew something was wrong – they do say dogs have a sixth sense after all.
After Gript published Donal’s story the public response was nothing short of overwhelming. The greater part of 200,000 people signed a petition to save Kim, and people as far afield as Australia and Tennessee offered her refuge.
For an 85 year old man to face the courts – initially with no legal representation – in efforts to plead for the life of his dog is something that was undoubtedly very stressful.
Anyone who has been through the courts will know how intimidating they can be; let alone when you have no representation from someone who knows what to do and say in that arena.
The huge financial burden of taking on a legal team is something that I have seen hinder people in their pursuit of justice time and time again in this country.
Luckily for Donal, Dublin based barrister, Ben Clarke, having seen the story on Gript immediately offered his services completely free of charge. Solicitor Kieran Friel also offered his services in like manner.
I remember the change that came over Donal when he knew he was getting help and that people cared – I think this change in him also put a little spring in Kim’s step too.
Trojan efforts were made by people who hitherto didn’t know Donal at all. The outpouring of concern – which included the writing of poetry and the making of works of art – the media calls, visits, and other attention that came with it must have been a little peculiar for a man that was content to spend his days walking around his field and enjoying the winter of his life with the four legged friend.
After all the energy and effort dedicated by so many- and of course by the man himself – Kim did get her second chance!
Last November, man and dog finally got the green light, the go ahead to get back to the enjoyment of their simple life together without the dark spectre of Kim being put down looming over them.
Indeed, people cared so much that groups were set up to do everything possible to make the situation better for Donal and Kim, and crucially to make it agreeable for a judge to stay the order for Kim’s destruction and allow her a second chance at life.
Alas, they were to have little over a month of this precious time of relief together. As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, Donal has left this world. On Christmas Day he was found dead lying in the field he used to walk around with Kim.
What a bitter tragedy. What a cruel end to a story that is one of the great testaments to the age-old bond between people and dogs.
Despite the stress, despite his old age and medical condition (he had a pacemaker), despite having to prepare for court cases and the logistics of getting to and from places as far flung as the four courts in Dublin, Donal never once gave up on that little dog.
Gript understands that Kim is now in the care of Donal’s family. Having been with him since she was only a pup, it’s difficult to comprehend the sadness and confusion a dog must experiences when an owner passes away. Long before my time my great grand mother’s dog, Tusker, lay under her coffin refusing to move when she was laid out in the local church.
They say that dogs are our best friends, but Donal really showed that we can also be theirs.
May he Rest in Peace, and may they meet again.