DOG DAYS

ANNABELLE HICK­SON COMES TO TERMS WITH HER BELOVED DOG MOV­ING OUT.

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“IT WOULD BE eas­ier to live with a horse,” said my hus­band, slump­ing his tired shoul­ders. “Things have to change.” And so, af­ter seven years liv­ing the dog ver­sion of the life of Riley — drink­ing out of un­lid­ded toi­let bowls, sleep­ing un­der the air­con vents, feast­ing on food the chil­dren seem to in­ten­tion­ally scat­ter on the flfloor — our enor­mous, gen­tle New­found­land dog, Pommes Frites, has been ban­ished out­side. She is doomed to peer in long­ingly through the win­dows with her hope­ful yet non-judge­men­tal eyes, al­though it’s hard to be sure what her eyes are say­ing be­cause you can’t ac­tu­ally see them through her flfluffffy black fur. Pommes Frites has al­ways been an in­door dog, much to my hus­band’s hor­ror. He, like many coun­try boys I know, is well and truly from the ‘a-dog’s-place-is-out­side’ school of thought. I have a the­ory that the fur­ther west you grew up, the less tol­er­ant you are of house pets and the peo­ple who dote on them. It’s based on a very small sam­ple size, but there’s some­thing in it, don’t you think? Any­way the sheep farmer’s son who I share my life with has never un­der­stood his city wife’s in­side-dog policy. But in a bid to save his en­ergy for big­ger bat­tles, he has turned a blind eye… un­til now. To give you some back­ground on my dog-keep­ing be­liefs, I grew up in a sub­ur­ban Syd­ney house where our golden re­triever was one of the fam­ily. They (we had two over the years) slept on a lovely bed with an em­broi­dered pil­low near the kitchen. They were never fed cooked bones for fear the bone would splin­ter and get caught in their throat, and they un­der­went ex­ten­sive — and ex­pen­sive — med­i­cal treat­ment at the vet. My fa­ther was over­seas when old Molly was on her deathbed. He in­sisted the vet put him on loud­speaker so he could say his teary farewells. This is a man who does not of­ten cry, let alone over a crackly phone speaker with the vet and vet nurse twid­dling their thumbs nearby. But I mar­ried into a western NSW sheep-farm­ing fam­ily with a very difff­fer­ent at­ti­tude to dogs in the house. To have a dog in­side is, in their un­spo­ken (at least to me) view, dis­gust­ing. Th­ese are kind, com­pas­sion­ate peo­ple who have great re­spect for their work­ing dogs and the an­i­mals they farm. They just have no time for slob­ber, muddy foot­prints and ca­nine pan­der­ing in the liv­ing room. I was very new to this coun­try life when I bought Pommes Frites at great ex­pense from a breeder in Ade­laide. I had read about a New­found­land called Pluto, the pet of a Croa­t­ian opera singer. He’d dine at the ta­ble with the singer and was trained to eat a cooked chicken with­out drip­ping any­thing on the table­cloth. It was then that I knew this was the dog for me. Pommes Frites ar­rived in our small town by plane (imag­ine the amount of eye rolling at that — the name and the plane) and moved in (in­side) with the fam­ily, tak­ing up more room than all of us com­bined. When I’d do my jobs around town, the kids would be strapped in the back of the car and PF would sit up the front. When my sis­ter-in-law fi­first caught sight of this ar­range­ment, she nearly drove offff the road in sur­prise. I think I’ve been es­pe­cially soft on PF out of guilt. Bred for haul­ing fi­fish­ing nets through the icy wa­ters offff the Cana­dian coast, her ge­net­ics don’t lend them­selves to life on a hot, dusty pe­can farm. She copes by be­com­ing en­tirely noc­tur­nal. By day she sleeps, shift­ing be­tween her favourite cool spots: the bath­room flfloor, the shady east­ern ve­ran­dah or the dark cor­ner of the pantry, leav­ing dirty wa­ter­marks around her. And be­cause I am the moron who brought her to live in this cli­mat­i­cally hos­tile area, out of guilt and pity, I let her. At night she wakes and nudges open the door to ven­ture out­side to eat and drop her enor­mous poos un­der the clothesline. Then she sleeps some more, of­ten at the base of our bed, snor­ing con­tent­edly. I fifind it com­fort­ing — she sounds happy! Ed lies silently next to me won­der­ing how his life got to this, but he can hold his si­lence no more. And be­cause I am tired of clean­ing and I don’t want my hus­band to leave me, I’m afraid I’m with him on this, Pommes Frites, but not with­out ded­i­cat­ing an en­tire col­umn to you fi­first.

Annabelle Hick­son lives with her fam­ily on a pe­can farm in the Du­maresq Val­ley in NSW. Fol­low her on In­sta­gram @annabelle­hick­son

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