A Labrador has made a final journey to bid a fond farewell to his friends in his local town, having spent 16 years bring light to the locals around him.
Barney, from Ballyhackamore in East Belfast, lived to the grand old age of aged 18 and half – or 130 in human years.
For over a decade and a half he has been a familiar face in the local community, having originally trained as a police dog but becoming a family pet when a working life was deemed unsuitable for him.
Restaurant owners, shop and cafe workers came out for Barney’s goodbye, while his owner Anne did her best to hold back the tears.
In the end, everyone wept for the big old dog who’d bounded into the life of the area and left to go home on stiff legs, his belly full of treats, the end of his journey within sight.
Anne said: “We’d held on as long as we could to Barney. We maybe should have let him go earlier but we just couldn’t and he didn’t want to go, we knew that.
“But one day he gave us the look and we knew it was time, he was tired, he was ready.
“His hips had become very stiff and sore but worse than that he’d developed a tumour in his nose and mouth.
“So we knew the end was coming but it was hard to contemplate life without him, and it has been heartbreaking to say goodbye not only for us but for all the friends he’d made along the way.
“But as with everything, we did it for him, we did our best for Barney every day and saying goodbye was the kindest but hardest of them all.
“All of his lifetime with us he’d had a daily routine of a walk through Ballyhackamore where he knew the staff in every cafe and shop. In that way he was really the community’s dog.
“He brought a smile to so many faces and his cafe friends told us his visit was the highlight of their day.
“For 16 years we did the rounds with him, his favourite stop off was at Cafe Nero where he always enjoyed a croissant and a cuddle.”
Barney began police training aged nine months where he was trained to be an explosives detection dog.
But while he showed talent for detecting explosives and bombs, Barney had no interest in staying with them until his handler arrived. So he was given up by the police as a lovely but unreliable police officer.
Anne said: “Barney was our constant companion, everyone’s go-to ear for a chat, everyone’s hug, a comfort to us all.
“He was such a big softie, and after two changes of home, he made ours his last and he stayed with us for more than 16 years.
“When it came to the day we knew we had to say goodbye, we knew we needed others to have that chance too.
“So we walked slowly to the coffee shops and everyone had a chat and a cuddle and a cry and everyone got to say their goodbyes to one of their best customers.
“He took his time and we let him. I honestly think he knew what was going on. It was emotional and difficult but also a great comfort to us and to his friends.
“We went home again for a rest and then we went out to Seapark in Holywood where Barney had spent thousands of hours running and this time he just enjoyed the sniffs and a lie down.
“Then we took him to McDonald’s where he enjoyed two cheeseburgers.”
But they knew they wanted Barney to slip away on his favourite spot on the sofa, and said their vet Steph did everything to ensure he could pass with them “right by his side”.
“She gave him a sedative and he just slipped away on his spot on where he slept all of his life, and then Steph gave him the last injection and he was gone.
“We’re so grateful to Steph to have allowed us the luxury of home care for Barney, it was so gentle, there was so much care taken over him. We know he wasn’t distressed but it broke our hearts and they’ve been broken ever since.
“It was the most awful honour to be able to help that last moment pass with dignity. Steph stepped out and let us have a lot of time with Barney afterwards and when we were ready, she wrapped him in a cosy blanket and carried him in her arms to her car.
“We have his ashes home now and we will always keep those.
“Our home feels very empty with Barney, the leather settee he nibbled the covers off it still sitting with his blanket in place, his collar and lead are still hanging on the hook.
“We’ve cried so many tears over this big dog, he was a gift to us and he held us together all of his life. He might have been a failed explosives dog but we knew his talents lay elsewhere, and so did he.
“His talent was to love and be loved and he excelled at it every moment of every day.”