Like a cursor
on the blank screen
my little dog
streaks across open paddocks
What mischief will I write today?
This blog is about my writing, but also contains slices of life moments that I just need to recognise. I’ve been needing to write this blog post for over two weeks… but I was just couldn’t find the words amongst the tears…
Pets are pets are animals. They aren’t humans. And yet we love them, and are in turn loved and adored by them. And so they become a huge and happy part of our lives, and leave a gaping, ragged hole when they are gone.
My youngest son had been wanting a ‘Brucie’ (like my parent’s dog) for a number of years, and when the time was right, I poured over RSPCA files, looking for a Jack Russell, hoping to have a pup for the start of the school holidays. The boys could have lots of loving fun before school resumed, and our new addition would be lavished with attention.
The plan came unstuck when there were no Jack Russells to be found… I was concerned, and son was devastated. The week before school broke up, I was in town visiting family, when Mum pointed out a ‘Brucie’ who had been roaming the streets all day, no collar, no tags. Mum wondered if he was abandoned, but asking around, we found that he did have a home. On a highway. With a fence that couldn’t contain him. The family heard that we were interested in him, and decided that life on a farm would be better than the risks he was running on the highway, and so, just three days before school finished for the year, we got our JontyPuppy. He was 8mths old. (He was initially called Johnny, so I squeezed a ‘t’ in there, to give him a touch of class. It proved to be the perfect match for his jaunty personality.)
Jonty was a cross between a Jack Russell and a Dachshund. He had the smilingest happy face and a tail that waggled his nuggety little body. His eyes were warm brown, and his ears were silky smooth like Lindt chocolate. Really, he was a just a little white dog, with black splotches and a touch of tan for effect. But he brought so much joy to us, his family, and to random strangers he met along the street, because he radiated joy. Nothing made him happier than people and the possibility of attention. And with that smile, there was always lots of attention!
It never ceased to amaze me how stolid human faces set like cold porridge, could transform into such smiling warmth, when they encountered a JontyPuppy. From a distance I would watch them coming, and that moment of eye-contact with Jonty, their whole face would alight, and they’d pass us with smiling faces, and very often a comment, ‘That is such a cute dog’, or ‘What a beautiful dog’. Many couldn’t resist that wagging coil of energy and enthusiasm, pausing to fondle his ears or scratch his back, and I’d know their day was brighter because of Jonty.
Being a Jack Russell/Dachshund, Jonty’s ratter instincts were strong. He was dogged in pursuit when on the scent of a rabbit, rat or mouse, often times rewarded with the latter two – but not-so-much the rabbit. This didn’t dent his excitement or enthusiasm when tramping the paddocks and he stumbled across a scent, or a sighting. He was off, nose to the ground, zig-zagging across the paddock. (The scent was everything. He rarely chased by sight.)
Yet he never hurt my guinea pigs. So much so that for the last four years countless guinea pigs have free-ranged alongside Jonty. They were his pets, to nurture and nudge, and he would become most concerned if the bubbas separated from their mother and started to squeak, standing over them, whiffling, then gently nudging them in the direction they should go. Whenever I got a new guinea pig, my first stop was to introduce it to Jonty, telling him, ‘Don’t eat the guinea pig! Don’t chase the guinea pig.’ He would push in close with his wet little nose, sniffing and licking, and I’m sure the guinea pig thought its life was about to end – but after that initial meeting, though Jonty maintained his fascination with each new arrival, I knew the guinea pigs were safe.
Jonty was a nurturer. He loved babies, and during his time with us, nurtured piglets, calves, guinea pigs, puppies, nieces and finally, the kitten he discovered in our shed, on the weekend that he suffered his first illness that was the signal (though we didn’t know it then) of worse to come…
When we first brought a calf home to bottle-rear, I told Jonty to look after the poddy. He promptly curled up with the calf, and refused to leave. At night when I called him for his feed, he stood alert and eager, but feet firmly planted at the calf’s side, casting anxious glances between me… and his calf. I took his feed down to him. And his water. And his blankets. He didn’t leave that calf’s side for 36hrs.
My two worst fears were that Jonty would take out his natural instincts on a snake… or that his love of animals would bring him too close to the many dingoes that passed our house. He was always the first thing we grabbed if we had a snake or dingo, locking him in the bathroom until danger passed. He did eventually have an encounter with a dingo, in the dark of morning late last year, rousing us with his throaty bark, and with bite marks on his haunches to tell the tale of his experience. He was never quite so trusting of other dogs, after that, and his hackles were very quick to rise if dogs came too close.
This paragon of puppies wasn’t a barker by nature. Even when he visited town and neighbourhood dogs chorused through the night, he didn’t deign a response. But if anyone put their hand through the high wooden gate to loosen the latch, or if anyone drove up our country track, they were greeted with a deep and throaty bark to rival an Alsatian, erupting from a nuggety little guard dog. He didn’t bite – but he didn’t back down if people came onto his territory.
We won’t mention his ability to open doors… or his delight in strewing the contents of the rubbish bin across the kitchen floor, if he felt that he was being deprived of attention. Or the nose peeping around the corner of the shed as he gradually appeared with downcast ears and tail – chastened, yet unrepentant. (I know this, because he did it time and again.)
He was scared of thunderstorms, and didn’t like getting his feet wet – but he loved riding high on the front of the kayak, or the back of the ute, and the empty driver’s seat was prized position. He loved going for a walk, or a drive – but would rarely wander far if a person wasn’t with him. We were his delight, as he was ours.
To our great distress and ongoing sadness, after eight years of loving, Jonty died much too soon. In December he was diagnosed with pancreatitis, which in fact masked a far more sinister tumour. We lost our little JontyPuppy on 7th March 2016. We miss him, even in the simplest of unexpected ways. The nights are so quiet, without that clatter of claws on the verandah, the vigorous shake after a dewy tramp, the lapping of water…
He was only a little dog. But we still have a huge hole in our family.