6th February 2010
The old dog is asleep by the fire.
The day is done and he can relax. He no longer has to be tougher than the working dogs or to disdainfully ignore the pups. He is inside by the fire, on his sheepskin rug with a belly full of ham bone. The others are outside with their biscuits – where they belong.
Maybe his legs aren’t what they used to be. He runs like he is drunk, back legs not following the front, and he falls over often, has trouble getting into the ute and won’t go with the horses as they muster the cattle. The local vet, whom he hates as he has hated every vet that has crossed his path, has prescribed a little pill with his meal every night. His hearing is failing too, or maybe his people just aren’t speaking as loud.
But it wasn’t always this way. He wasn’t always an old dog. Indeed this is a special dog. He has been with them for many years now. Seen them through both the good and the bad.
This was once a one-dog family. He joined them in the west and was beside them for all the adventures. He taught them how to fish on the Dampier Archipelago and to bring crayfish from the depths of Rottnest. They watched as he survived a snake bite, two days drive from the Gibb River Road, and cried when he ran off with the dingos north of Kalumbaru. They rescued him from a mine shaft near Roebourne and dragged the pit bull off him – just as he was winning the fight.
When one worked away from home, as so often they did in the west, he stayed and watched the remaining one. He would share their dinner, snuggle close to them on the couch and listen contently as they spoke of future times, and waited for the phone to ring.
They laughed with him when he chased his quarry, the rabbits and goannas, the goats and goldfish. Then their laughter quivered as he bailed up wild pigs and boxing kangaroos, for in his mind he is six foot tall and bullet-proof.
Then later he was with them in the painful years, when the promised children did not come. While friends and family offered advice and tried to understand, he laid his head against their legs and sighed. A silent third party witness to a two person grief.
“They treat that dog like a child” mocked some. Well, maybe so, maybe not.
Now they have ceased the travelling and the working away from each other and have settled into the farming life. At first he was the chief cattle dog, but the hills became too steep and the musters too long and so the other dogs came. Big, rangy, boofhead dogs, which took a little terrier, like himself, time to train. But train them he did. Bites them on the bum if needs be, pisses near their kennels when they’re locked up and he is strutting about on his morning rounds – in his pyjamas.
Then along came the pups which they say were his doing, but he denies all involvement. The pups, his pups, race around and bark and play and terrorise all things, knock him over on his wobbly legs, and snap at the big dogs with all the spunk inherited from their father.
But it is getting late now and he is tired. Soon it may be time for the last goodbye and already tears well in their eyes. Too much of themselves has been put into this small, black dog. Yet, they are not fools, they will not forget.
They see more than an old dog asleep by the fire.
Brian and I went to Brisbane at the beginning of February.
Pep chose this time to give us the slip.
R.I.P old boy