This is a story about Cian and his dog Cooper. A story about courage and comfort. A story about great loss and great legacy.
Cian Neary loved life.
From Co Longford, he was 15 when he passed away. Although it is emotional for his parents Enda and Evelyn Neary to speak about their son who died just nine months ago, they want to get across a sense of the young man Cian was.
“He was a great, smiley guy,” explains Enda, “who lived for the moment. He was sporty, a great footballer. When he’d decide to do anything, he’d do it with his heart. He gave everything his best shot.”
It was September 2018 when Enda and Evelyn got the news no parents want to hear: Cian had been diagnosed with Hepatosplenic T-cell lymphoma, a rare form of lymphoma. That sad day, was also the genesis of Cooper.
“It was cancer,” says Enda. “They having to tell him, it’s something that sticks in my memory. His face and they telling him and he going from a child almost to a man in front of our eyes. The consultant said, ‘This would be a good time to ask your mam and dad for something you really want’. That’s how Cooper came about.”
Although now she is a driving force behind Cian’s Kennels, a charity they are currently setting up to bring sick children closer to their pets, initially, Evelyn wasn’t too keen on the idea of getting Cian a puppy. His immune system was weakened and like mothers do, she wanted to keep her child as safe as possible.
But, she also wanted her son to be happy, and so plans were put in place to get a Labrador puppy. Cooper was 14 weeks when they got him.
“We went down to Castlepollard and we bought him out of the back of a car,” recalls Evelyn.
Enda takes up the story. The husband and wife tell their son’s story seamlessly between them, helping each other out.
“We had to meet the guy at the football pitch and he had two Labs in the boot. Cian immediately bonded with this dog. He knew the one he wanted and he just couldn’t wait to get him, but he had to wait until the next weekend, until Cooper got the rest of his vaccines.”
After his diagnosis, Cian never went back to school. He had to get various treatments and some of them could involve a week’s stay in Dublin. This time at home, Evelyn believes, strengthened the bond between Cian and Cooper.
“I think in some respects, because he was removed from sport and school, that circle of friends, it made the bond grow even stronger, because when he was here, Cooper was his life. He’d get up and this was the structure of his day; walk Cooper, train Cooper and feed Cooper.”
It was remarkable how well Cian trained Cooper, says Enda. He knew all the tricks and still remembers them now. To say Cian loved Cooper, is in an understatement.
By June 2019, Cian was on the road to commencing a bone marrow transplant, when he became very ill. He was admitted to ICU in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin. After this, sadly he never left and was primarily based in St John’s Ward.
However, during this time Cian was out and about a lot. He attended sports matches and other events. When allowed out of the hospital for the night he stayed in some of Dublin’s finest hotels, including the InterContinental, formerly known as the Four Seasons.
At this time the family were primarily based in Ronald McDonald House, a charity that houses patients’ families on the grounds of the children’s hospital. Evelyn was with Cian full time. Enda and Shane, Cian’s younger brother, were between Longford and Dublin.
By late July the family realised they were going to be in Crumlin for some time. By no means did they think they wouldn’t get home again, but Cian was commencing new treatments and they would need to be in the hospital.
Cian was really missing Cooper, so plans were put in place to bring him to Dublin. Plans which took a lot of moving and shaking. On the August bank holiday weekend, Aoibheann’s Pink Tie, a charity that supports children who have cancer and their families, arranged to collect Cooper in Longford and bring him to Dublin.
Cooper was housed in a nearby kennels, Hotel for Pets. Aoibheann’s Pink Tie also bought a kennel for Cooper so he could stay at Ronald McDonald House, who agreed Cooper could come there if Cian was ever too unwell to go and see his dog. Cian was well right up to the end of his life and Cooper was only brought to the hospital once. These days in the hospital revolved around visits to see Cooper.
Paddy, Evelyn and Clive Cullen run Hotel For Pets. As you can imagine, the Nearys spent a lot of time in their back garden, drinking tea and chatting as Cian played with Cooper and Shane played with the cats – he is more of a cat person than a dog person.
It was there in the Cullen’s backyard that the idea for Cian’s Kennels first began to form; a permanent boarding kennels close to the children’s hospital, where long-stay patients and their siblings could house their pets. They saw the joy Cooper brought Cian and they wanted other children to experience that.
Also, when Cooper visited the hospital, he was quite a hit, explains Enda. “I remember when we brought him to the hospital, we had him outside the window of St John’s Ward, the amount of nurses and doctors that wanted to see this dog.
“I even saw a little girl, she was connected to a drip and her eyes lit up to see this Labrador outside the window. It just brought light to what was and is a dark place in anybody’s life. It brought a beam of light to those kids.”
Cian visited Cooper the Thursday before he passed way. He died on Monday 23 September 2019.
“I’ll never forget this, I said to a friend of mine at the funeral, ‘We have to do something to get the pets closer to the children’. She’s reminded me since, I said to her, ‘Don’t let me forget how I feel today about this’.
“That was the day of the funeral and that’s what I was thinking that day. I was just afraid life would go on or that we would be so engrossed in our grief, we wouldn’t remember the joy that happened.
“For us, even Cooper coming back down from Dublin a couple of days later, it was hugely emotional. It’s been horrific, the loss of Cian has left a gaping hole in our lives. While Cian’s Kennels was always on our minds, it wasn’t then for a number of months. We were just literally trying to get through the day.”
As Evelyn says, in the months following Cian’s death, obviously setting up a charity wasn’t a priority, but they did mention the idea to some people. Word got around about their idea to fund and run kennels close to the children’s hospital.
People really want to help them achieve this goal. The support they received, and still receive, is phenomenal, they say.
In February this year, Brendan Considine, also from Longford, contacted them. He had lost his brother and sister Donal and Dearbhla, and wanted to do something to commemorate them while helping the charity.
A Malin to Mizen Head cycle was organised for early May, which has been postponed until next year, when it will pass through Longford on 18 April, Cian’s 17th birthday.
A number of other smaller local fundraisers were held also, including a Stars in Your Eyes night and a table quiz.
Naturally, due to COVID-19, a lot of plans have been put on pause, but Evelyn says it has also given them a chance to work through the formalities of setting up a charity, which they are currently in the midst of.
One of the main aims of Cian’s Kennels is to facilitate boarding kennels close to the national children’s hospital for long-stay patients and their families, aligning their services with Ronald McDonald House.
For this, the pets would be checked out by a vet first. They would then be transported in a Cian’s Kennels van and housed in the kennels where the children can visit them. They will be fed, looked after and transported home again. The pets would be fully insured and all relevant costs of their stay in Dublin would be covered by the kennels.
While in the short-term this may be achieved with the support of Hotel for Pets with visiting access to hospital grounds, the long-term vision, which Evelyn describes as the dream, is to build a state of the art boarding kennels beside Ronald McDonald House at the new children’s hospital.
Many volunteers have offered to come on board. For example, as well as checking out the pets before they come to the kennels, there would also have to be a vet on call at all times. A network of willing vets has already been established across the country. Architects and quantity surveyors have already offered to help with the building plans.
Currently with the COVID-19 restrictions in place, Cian’s Kennels is still striving to carry out their aim of “bringing pets closer to sick children and their families” by printing, framing and delivering photos of family pets to sick children.
Although plans are advancing, things are at an early stage and there are lots of particulars to work through. Some things may change, but what is finite is Enda and Evelyn’s desire to create a legacy that matches Cian’s love for life and help other children. As Cooper helped Cian.