this (canine) life
We were never allowed to have a dog. There was no discussion or negotiation. That’s just how it was. Apparently, Dad didn’t like dogs because of a bad experience with a german shepherd during the war.
Like many dads, mine mellowed with age and when I moved home for a year in my early 30s and was offered a free puppy, he raised no objections. Something about that cheeky kelpie caught my eye. He looked so cute and vulnerable and I loved his rusty brown colouring. I named him Leo and we stayed with my folks for a year.
When it came time to move back to Darwin, Mum wouldn’t hear of letting Leo go.
“You can’t take a dog to Darwin,” she said. “It will be too hot up there for him, and what if you live in a flat? What will the dog do all day while you go to work? Why don’t you leave the dog here?”
It was settled. Leo would stay with my parents. My dog would become theirs. Leo went up to their farm each week and kept Dad company. He chased kangaroos and wombats and barked at the possums. He started life as an outside dog but eventually Leo was allowed inside the house.
He once killed the neighbour’s cat, after it mistakenly wandered through his territory. “Oh well,” said Mum as she relayed the news on the phone. “I guess the cats won’t be venturing into our yard in the future.”
But as he grew older and more frail, inside the house on his blanket was his favourite place to rest.
Mum rang early one morning, and said: “Your father’s gone.” I stupidly asked where he had gone at such an early hour — it had been a couple of years since my sick and frail Dad could go anywhere unaccompanied. He was dead. I took an early flight next day, expecting to find a distressed Mum and the ailing old dog, but Leo had other ideas. He disappeared the night Dad died, never to be seen again. The gate had been left open and he was gone.
We searched everywhere: neighbours’ yards, surrounding streets, the nearby park, even the funeral parlour where my Dad was. We made several trips to the pound.
Leo wouldn’t have been capable of walking far on that stinking hot summer’s night — he could hardly walk or bark.
The dog had wandered off to die. The pair of them had known death was waiting for them for some time. Both were old, plagued by illness, frail and weak.
That was more than two years ago and they are both still sorely missed. Having kept each other company until the very end, they decided to go together.