THIS ( HAPPY) LIFE

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Viewpoints - FRANCES WAY­MAN

HAPPY was not what you would call an aes­thet­i­cally ap­peal­ing dog. Po­lite peo­ple men­tioned his vaguely ter­ri­er­like ap­pear­ance, but the more frank would sim­ply re­fer to him as ‘‘ that orange dog’’.

Happy’s hair was coarse and wiry, a sort of sandy- cop­pery colour. He had stumpy lit­tle legs that stuck out at funny an­gles when he ran, an ab­nor­mally long body and a plumy tail.

He was an out­side dog on a coun­try prop­erty and, as a con­se­quence, the hair on his un­der­car­riage was of­ten mat­ted with dirt and very smelly, which is no doubt ex­actly the way he liked it. Liv­ing in the coun­try gave him end­less op­por­tu­ni­ties to run through stinky, muddy pud­dles and roll in cow pats and, at times ( I’m ashamed to say), the re­mains of dead things.

Any at­tempt to en­force ablu­tions on him proved al­most im­me­di­ately fu­tile; as soon as he was re­leased af­ter a bath, Happy would race off to find some­thing in­de­scrib­able to roll in and re­store his dig­nity.

Happy took plea­sure in the sim­plest ca­nine ac­tiv­i­ties. I can still see him, emerg­ing from his ken­nel on a crisp spring morn­ing, squint­ing in the sun­shine and sniff­ing the air, as though just en­joy­ing the sen­sa­tion of be­ing alive. I re­mem­ber him am­bling around the patch of rasp­berry canes on hot Jan­uary af­ter­noons, paus­ing to suck the melt­ingly soft, over- ripe crim­son ber­ries from the lower branches, eyes closed in de­light.

I have no idea what flight of fancy led my then 10- year- old sis­ter to choose the name Happy when he came to us as a puppy, but time proved the name apt. He had a lovely na­ture with­out a hint of mal­ice, the per­fect coun­ter­point to the nar­cis­sism of man. He was loyal, un­selfish, al­ways good- na­tured and al­ways en­thu­si­as­tic.

He didn’t mind what we ( the fam­ily) did, as long as he could be in­volved.

Even the most mind- numb­ing of doggy tasks, such as sit­ting on the grass watch­ing some­one weed a gar­den bed, or ly­ing un­der the ap­ple tree while one of us read a book in the ham­mock, was per­fectly ac­cept­able to Happy be­cause it meant be­ing near a mem­ber of his beloved pack.

Happy had a strong sense of his place in the fam­ily and took great pride in it. Even as an old dog, stone- deaf and al­most crip­pled by arthri­tis in the Tas­ma­nian win­ter, he could not be coaxed inside to sleep at night next to the warm com­bus­tion stove. An out­side dog he had al­ways been and he was de­ter­mined to con­tinue to pro­tect us in his way, re­gard­less of the suf­fer­ing it en­tailed.

Happy asked for noth­ing more than com­pan­ion­ship from the fam­ily and re­ceiv­ing it left him com­pletely and ut­terly con­tent. In­deed, in the end he couldn’t live with­out us. Af­ter my mum’s funeral, we re­turned to the house to find him cold in his ken­nel, hav­ing gone to sleep that day and sim­ply not wo­ken up.

Dear, faith­ful dog.

this­life@ theaus­tralian. com. au

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