Saturday, December 17, 2011

The joys of owning a dog

During a moment of uncharacteristic weakness in October I relented and agreed that Max could get a puppy. I was caught up in the nostalgia of my own country childhood and growing up with our farm dogs. My first dog was Blackie, a big shaggy black sheep dog who arrived before I was born and was famous for swimming the Murrumbidgee River in full flood to visit a bitch over fifty kilometres away. Blackie’s working mate was my older brother’s dog Rinso a shorthaired black and white collie. I can still remember the feeling of awe that came over me in my Grandmother’s laundry the day I discovered that a washing powder had been named after Tom’s dog.
Another good sheepdog from my childhood was Abba, a black and tan kelpie who arrived as a pup in 1974; the same year a Swedish band won the Eurovision Song Contest. Dad reckoned the pup sounded as though he was trying to sing “Waterloo” when he howled at night.
A good working dog is worth its weight in gold and my all time favourite to this day was a black and tan kelpie bitch I was given in 1991. Spook as I named her, was a beautiful looking kelpie, the Elle Macpherson of the dog world. Unfortunately she was also extremely timid and unable to run having spent the first part of her life locked in a cage and not handled. Several times during the first month of my ownership Dad advised me not to become too attached as “she probably won’t make a sheepdog and you’ll have to shoot her.” Fortunately for Spook we persevered and I took her everywhere with me. She quickly learnt to stick on the back of a motorbike or ute and keep out of the way of horses hooves. A month’s holiday at my parent’s property got her socialising with other dogs and she learnt how to run.
For about the first twelve months Spook was my constant companion but did no work whatsoever. She watched the mustering of sheep with interest from the back of the bike but showed no inclination to actually get off and assist until one day when she was about eighteen months old. I was putting a large mob of merino ewes through a narrow gate and the leaders were getting away. As I started to get agitated and curse Spook looked at me sympathetically. Gesticulating wildly towards the sheep I said to her “Don’t just watch, get off the bloody bike and do something!” …and with that she took off through the fence and around the mob in a perfect cast. She held the leading sheep neatly until the tail of the mob was through the gate and together we got them to their destination. (I still get a warm fuzzy feeling inside when I remember that day) From that day onwards she rarely put a foot wrong and her ability to work out what needed to be done when it came to sheep work was uncanny.
With those fond memories in my mind, on the evening of November 2nd 2011 (it was a Wednesday night around 7 o’clock), Jackie the black and tan kelpie joined our family.
As I lay in bed that night listening to her incessant howling (sorry neighbours), I had two main thoughts: “Thank goodness I’m leaving for Western Australia tomorrow” and “I hope she’s all grown up and through the puppy stage by the time I get back”…ok, well the second thought was optimistic and totally unrealistic I know.

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