22 April 2006

Ever faithful in life and in death...Ulster's own Greyfriars Bobby

Belfast Telegraph

Alsatian Ben pines by owner's graveside

By Fiona McIlwaine Biggins and Eimear O'Hagan
22 April 2006

An Ulster cemetery has had an unusual mourner visiting a grave over recent weeks - Ulster's own version of the famous Greyfriars Bobby.

Ben, a 12-year-old Alsatian dog, has been found on a number of occasions "crying" at the grave of his beloved owner, Lily, in Our Lady's Cemetery in Newtownabbey.

Peter McAtamney explained that his wife Lily and Ben had been inseparable and since she died in February the dog has literally been "wrecked by grief".

He said his wife was devoted to the dog and now Ben was having problems adjusting to life without her.

"We've had him since he was a six weeks. When he was born no one would take him because he was such a big, strong puppy, people thought there was something wrong with him. But we took him and I'm so glad, because he's been the best dog you could ever wish for.

"Once my wife took a fall in the yard behind the house and he bent his head down and she took hold of his collar, and he helped her up and helped her to the back door.

"She loved him - she used to take him to bed with her. When he came into the bedroom, I got thrown out! She'd even get up in the middle of the night to make him wee snacks. I would tell her she was spoiling him and she would tell me to mind my own business!"

Three days after Mrs Mc Atamney was buried, Ben went missing.

The 70-year-old widower revealed: "Ben got out of his pen and we couldn't find him. I thought he might have gone to the graveyard and I asked my home help, Maureen McNinch, to have a look. She found him on the grave, he was whimpering and was tearful.

"I think he knew where Lily was buried because at the funeral he saw people coming and going between the house and the cemetery, and he just put two and two together and worked out that's where she was. He's a very intelligent dog."

With Ben continuing to pine for his late owner, Mr McAtamney is keeping a close eye on him.

"He'd go to the grave every day if he was allowed to but I've locked the gates now to stop him going because it's not safe for him to be running around the roads.

"He's coming round a bit now and he's getting a lot of love and attention from me which I think is what he needs."

Sharon Hatt from The Dog's Trust said: "This truly goes to show that dogs really are man's best friend. There is no substitute for the companionship found when you own a dog and this highlights that the bond really is so deep."

The legendary tale of Greyfriars Bobby recalls how the Skye terrier visited his dead master's grave in Edinburgh every day for 14 years.

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