Letter to our newly deceased dog.
My “little man”.
Oh, my little man, you were 100% testosterone. We were your third owners, 13 years ago, given you when the previous people were not allowed to have you in their new accommodation. I said we would take you. My son, husband and neighbours said I was mad, everyone knew what a barker you were then. But you had captured me with your small, alert face and your irrepressible, indignant personality. My husband is really grieving for you now.
I still have a mind picture of you in the big front window of a house that I passed in my street most days. You’d be barking like it was the approaching apocalypse, standing with your back legs on their couch, and front legs on their window sill, many days, policing your road. I’d come into your view, both hands laden with shopping bags , sometimes child in tow, sometimes I was alone. I was on the home stretch, tired, and you, in your small hyperactive frenzy, were a delight of pricked caramel brown ears, pink tongue, dark, expressive eyes, and splotched white body, quivering with rage, tail in the air, but it was not a white flag, no, never!
How dare I be on your footpath!!! So what if it was public access, it should not be! I would stand for a moment , and say hello, eyes meeting, defying your rage. But I had duties, and would move on, you thinking you’d made a victory.
I found out from the owners, you enjoyed going to work with the man, who had a business in construction, you liked to be among the working men, unfazed by the loud machines, guarding your man, his car with the mud spattered wheels, his big tubs of chemical gunk, his machines. When his other, bigger, hunting dog was left behind in its pen, you went to the job sites, bounding into the cab of the vehicle at his whistle like a white blur.
(The same blur that you would make running around the back of our house here, from one side gate to the other, to make sure the interlopers on the footpath were really gone with a barrage of furious warning. You’d wear a narrow path in the grass. When younger dog came along, you’d teach him to do it by example. Today he is quiet, no heart for running. ) You would go out duck hunting with the previous owner, overnight, and years later when we purchased a brown pet duck it didn’t last 24 hours. Covered with blood, I had to wash you down, scolding you, “we don’t eat family members!” The same as I said every time a new addition to the menagerie was introduced. The white ducks have survived, but until you got sick, you were tied up when the poultry free-ranged.
The previous lady said you preferred to eat their cat’s food if you could get it. You interacted with her by licking your lips, like a bogan man, who presumptuously expected his cold beer brought to him from the fridge, “now, woman”. Later, you were to do it whenever you saw me. I could train any dog, but would you sit on command? No, you were too stubborn. You did understand that I was pack leader though, and slowly grew into us, as we assimilated you into the family.
From the beginning you were too assertive for me to call “my boy”, hence the “little man” endearment. Most of the time in the beginning, I couldn’t even call you “good boy”. You, and the quiet suburbs were not a good mix at that time, in that place. Later we found a country place where nearly every household had dogs that barked sometimes, so they didn’t complain about you. Not so , when we first got you, in the big city. To cut the barking, we got you desexed, it didn’t help much so I took you on long walks on school drop offs and pickups. You were gentle with the school kids for awhile, until one day you took against some bigger , teen size ones while we were waiting for daughter after school inside the gate. You didn’t hurt them, only threatened to, but thereafter, we were sentenced by the Deputy Principal to stay outside the grounds if you were there.
What you loved was to come with us on our walk to the central business district of the municipality. We’d walk to the railway station up and through it to cross the rail lines. One time you caught a claw in an escalator there, and had to have surgery with an overnight stay. The vet nurses loved you, they always did. Manic at the front fence at home, you were quiet and well behaved mostly sitting in the town square with us, getting a few crackers when we had afternoon tea, watching the multicultural people coming and going from the multi million dollar new library, and the newly extended shopping centre (shopping mall). They’d often be wearing saris, or Pakistani tunics, Sikh turbans, colourful African shirts, sweat pants with gang scarves trailing from one pocket, or business suits . Christmas there would be a huge decorated and lit tree in that square, with a security guard 24 hours a day.
At home you were a loud, annoying activist. Activist against young male bike riders, we thought one must have kicked you once. Activist against other dogs. Activist against being left behind. Activist against anyone on your footpath, your road, posting in your letterbox, standing on the neighbour’s side of your fence, and to you, them bringing in their rubbish bins was a notifiable offence.
Activist against the police coming up my path, answering my call, I had to tell you, “it’s all right, they’re the good guys”. I think they kind of stood taller at that, jingling with all their black gear. But they took ages to come, and you stood guard over me in the meantime, barking maniacally at anyone trying to climb our locked gate.
We had to buy food for you without any artificial colours and flavours as we decided you were ADHD. That meant we could get a bit more sleep.
You were my best watchdog ever. You had that job and in its dignity, held your tail up high. You guarded our small daughter, so we said you were her dog, nominally, but we all looked after you. In return, whenever we got home, you gave us “turnarounds” as we counted them, turning around quickly, nose to tail, three times meant you were especially delighted we were back. When we would pick you up, you “talked” softly in the back of your throat, with your mouth closed.
One day I was walking my daughter to school, with you on the lead. She was very young. We had had some serious trouble with criminal neighbours. Half way to the school, we were about to cross a side street, I noticed a car parked about 5 meters down the street. I looked at the windscreen and know the driver saw us. After we started to cross the street, he suddenly revved the car and tried to hit us. You, on your lead, pulled us quickly out of the way, we were only grazed. I had a sore hand for a week. I rang the police, they sent a traffic helicopter to chase him. Later we heard of a similar situation on the news, 10 minutes away, that time the person was caught, I like to think it was the same person. Certainly if it wasn’t for you being there and pulling on the lead, my daughter could be dead.
There were the nightmare months of the alcoholic, ADHD , drug addict neighbour who , often with his friends, stayed up all night in the yard, inciting you to bark, by banging on the fence, threatening to get under our small daughter’s room and set fire to the house. A government minister had bought votes by clearing all the alcoholics off the streets, inflicting them on their families and neighbours. You and I sat there , on the front step on the porch, in the dark all night after night, because the landlord wouldn’t let you in. The children were asleep. Every ten minutes I would go back , get down on my hands and knees, and look under the house to check he wasn’t lighting the threatened fire. You were my protection, as I kept a hand on you to stop the barking, but you had a special low growl for this man. For hours we listened to abuse, he would get locked up overnight by the police , especially for death and gang rape threats against me, then be back again. Finally after many months the court granted the restraining order and you and I could sleep again. It was a relief to move to the country, only to find more alcoholics in our street to keep you awake.
You were frenzied when we walked and you saw another dog, of any size, you wanted to take them on. One time in the park, the lead broke, you attacked and a German shepherd nipped your nose. No, it didn’t teach you a lesson. I understand it’s called little big dog syndrome.
Yesterday your heart gave out. Goodbye, little man. Good dog, your work is completed. In death your body is frozen typically, all four legs bent as if to dash to the gate , ears up to hear the slightest sound, brown eyes open, mouth smiling. We patted your fur and your soft ears before you went down to your long rest. Daughter was given her privacy, talking to you in her black padded Parka coat, with a slightly broken, transparent umbrella, rimmed in black, plastic protection against the intermittent faint drizzle, but not the tears; her father digging. One by one the four foots were brought to say goodbye, then younger dog was taken for a walk as you were interred. The place will have pavers, and a grave marker.
Thankyou, you never took a vacation from guarding us, you were an inspiration, you were not a “fur baby”, you were my friend.