It began with Toby.
He was a Maltese/Shiatsu terrier, left to us in a friend’s will. In fact, we were his third owners — he was rescued twice, once from people who didn’t want him and separated secondly by the death of his previous owner. He was a character; highly intelligent, grumpy, and just loved Russell above all things and all people. He tolerated me but he trusted me, and he knew better than to upset me because I was the one who walked him most. Toby took ill while we were overseas; some good friends kept him going but he was suddenly full of cysts and we held him while our vet sent him to the Big Kennel in the sky. We had to stop the car because we cried so much, the house was empty, the various daily routines now non-existent. We swore we’d never have another dog, so difficult was the grieving process for us both. As a couple, he’d become our child, and we decided no more animals.
At the time I was waiting for a back operation, not at all well, but the vacuum left in our home was too much for me to bear. So, I decided to pay a visit to GAWS — Geelong Animal Welfare Society; I decided it wouldn’t do any harm, I’d just have a look at what was available, then tell Russell in case we changed our mind about future dog ownership. I thought a smaller dog would be sensible with my then physical affliction, but there was virtually nothing available. I walked over to the pens which accommodated the larger dogs, and suddenly in the second pen I felt a pair of eyes boring into me. When we were farmers, we bred Kelpies, and this was a keen, intelligent Kelpie head, except he was jet black. His rear portion was something else — Labrador! He turned away from me and began pounding on the door at the rear of his cage, and after a cursory inspection and payment he was ours.
Jenkins chose me! He’d been wandering the streets of Geelong — he’d clearly been dumped there; we think he’d been owned by a senior couple who were too unwell to care for him. He was three years old.
GAWS apologized in advance; he’d never been trained to do anything, and was just a wild creature, not sure of humans. I got him home after he’d done several internal laps of the old Mazda, and tied him up at the kennel, high up in the back yard. He objected to that; slipped the collar and presented himself at the back door. So, Russell, now fully aware he shared the ownership of another dog, suggested we move the kennel down to the barbeque area and forget about the chain.
Problem solved, but he’d clearly never been trained in anything and a lead to him meant capture and animals who are head of the wolf pack don’t need a lead, do they!
I trained all our Kelpies to walk at heel with a choker chain; and when I showed him what I proposed, he wasn’t happy. Ten days later he was walking at heel, calmly and intelligently, knowing his worries were over, he didn’t have to lead the pack, he was now a follower. He’d look at me to ask me what I wanted him to do next!
Jenkins showed me he liked an old tennis ball in the yard, so I threw it to him, and he was addicted instantly! He is a champion chaser these days, very fast, part of his life. Routine is important to most animals, particularly dogs, and to Jenkins, the gathering of owners and their dogs at 5.00pm every night on the sports ground across the road is the highlight of his day. Everyone loves Jenkins, the other dogs, and the humans also; sometimes I think Jenkins should have been a person, he’s so affable and friendly and has a gentle personality all his own.
The point is that animals are in one’s life for only a short time, so we have a limited period to return the affection they so generously give to us. Yes, it hurts when they pass on, but we even have the power to help them leave us in comfort.
Should we replace them?? Perhaps replace is the wrong terminology; it’s more like asking permission to share another animal’s life, if they’re willing to do so.
Story: John Terry Moore. Photo: Julie Powell