Love and hope

As of Friday last week, back home in Melbourne. It’s good to be here. The plan is to take it easy as much as possible, though it’s a busy time of year. It means giving up the little post-Christmas jaunt I hoped for, for fear of getting another infection. I’ve had lunch with my dad and aunt and uncle on Monday. Wednesday night, I catch up with friends for a pre-Christmas dinner. Christmas day itself I will spend with the Cheeses. In between is a visit to the hospital for a check-up and hopefully the chance to sneak in a booster shot.

My health has gone backwards a little since returning from Sydney, and I saw the doctor yesterday to get a new set of antibiotics. I expect they’ll do the trick, though I’m resigned to the fact that proper health is months away.

For most of the time since surgery, I would describe my state of mind as philosophical, if not stoic. It’s a practical mindset that accepts the things I can do nothing about and must accept. My challenge is to make the best of the situation presented to me. I have my moments of exasperation and impatience, but, by and large, I think I’ve achieved that. At times I feel it’s added a hard edge to me.

Surprisingly, there are occasions when I feel very emotional. The trigger event will usually be a news item – the usual, something sad or something uplifting. However, it taps into something deep inside me. I suspect there’s a lot of unexpressed fear inside me and grief and loneliness.

Today, I’ve had more cause for emotion. I can hardly bring myself to write about it.

On my return from Sydney, I noticed a lump on Rigby’s back. I was surprised I hadn’t noticed it before. He’s had various lumps over the years, and most have been fat deposits. This felt different, though it appeared it wasn’t causing him any pain or inconvenience.

I’d planned to take him to the vet, but this hurried it along. We went this morning. The vet confirmed what was probably obvious: it’s a tumour of some description. Given his age – he turned 13 in November – there’s not much that can be done.

I can only hope it’s benign, though I fear the worst. He’s remarkably chipper for his age – still lively and full of energy. Other than the occasional issue with his back legs, he appears just as fit as ever. He’s happy and appears pain-free.

There’s nothing I can do. The time was always going to come when he would begin to fail, but I don’t know how I’ll cope with this. My own pain, my own dire state of health, is easier to deal with than the thought that my best mate may be ailing. I can only continue to love him and hope for the best.

Be more doggy

The Cheeses went away last weekend, and so I ended up dog-sitting Bailey. I did it with trepidation. My place is quite small, and though the dogs know each other and get on well on our weekly walks, there’s been tension before. And, in a way, it’s like being asked to look after someone’s child. You don’t want to fuck it up.

Bailey was a bit discombobulated initially, which was understandable. His folks had abandoned him, and though he knew Rigby and me, he was the interloper.

For the most part, Rigby seemed unfussed, though a couple of times he got a bit possessive and territorial. Always an affectionate dog, he became more so. When Bailey engaged with me at the start, Rigby would push himself forward, and he didn’t want Bailey getting up on the bed – that was his spot.

Over the weekend, Rigby became more relaxed with it. In fact, Rigby appeared to make an effort with Bailey more often, gently engaging with him, as if to say, how you going, mate? Bailey, who is a bit more snarky generally, wasn’t always responsive.

I had to watch out at mealtimes as they’re very different. As a Lab, Rigby will gobble up everything. Bailey is much less focused on food. Rigby always prompts me at mealtimes and gulps down his food in a matter of seconds, whereas Bailey was happy to let his food sit in the bowl until he was ready for it.

That represented a huge temptation for Rigby. He knew, instinctively I think, that it wasn’t his to eat, and so while he’d keep a keen eye on it, wouldn’t attempt to snaffle it. It might have been different if I wasn’t in the room, but it made me fret more than I wanted to. Come on, Bailey, I’d tell, eat up! When he did finally, Rigby would always inspect the empty bowl and give it a few licks, just for good luck.

Then it was our walks. These are two dogs with very different walking styles. Rigby might be getting older, but he’s quite muscular and always striving to get ahead. Bailey, by comparison, is happy to amble along and occasionally behind. Rigby likes to stop and sniff, which he regularly does, whereas Bailey generally was happy to maintain a steady pace. Rigby generally will go to the left but will suddenly swerve and zig-zag. Bailey would go to the right and would often go around the back of me to get there.

All of this meant that leads were frequently tangled, and dogs, and occasionally me. I’d have to pirouette often, or step around or over, or tug the dogs into line, or switch hands. It was a real challenge.

I had Bailey for two nights, and he was well behaved, though a little confused, I think. Outside of our walks, we had a quiet weekend. At the end of it, I felt especially loving towards Rigby.

I’ve long thought that dogs are the best people and Rigby one of the very best of all – devoted and loving, sensitive and gentle, entertaining and fun. Early in the weekend, I had the opportunity to see the difference in behaviour towards another dog. There was a definite rivalry. It seemed to me that to each other, dogs are probably more like what we are – and they save their best behaviour for us.

But then I observed how Rigby mellowed. He was reassured perhaps, realising that Bailey was no threat, and began to see Bailey in more brotherly terms. He would go up to Bailey to check in on him, like a good neighbour – or host. He would lay his head close or, gently snuffling, extend his snout to Bailey, undeterred by rejection. There was kindness in this. It affirmed to me the innate decency of dogs, which he epitomises. He’s a lovely, gentle, affectionate boy, and I couldn’t adore him more. And I was proud of him.

And now he’s barking! Someone at the door? Must go!

For the love of Rigby

It’s lucky today is a public holiday because I didn’t get to bed last night until 4 am, and I’m bloody tired.

It’s not that I did anything fun last night, nor was it anything planned. I expected a regular weeknight and to bed at an unreasonable hour. But then Rigby got crook.

It happened very quickly. He was perfectly fine up until about 7 pm. By the time I noticed something was amiss. It was about 9 pm. By then, he was panting hard as if it was a summers day, and scratching at himself frantically every few moments. It was so insistent that he would stumble mid-stride as if he’d lost control of his back legs as once more he stopped to scratch.

I put some steroid cream on him I’d picked up earlier in the year for a similar problem, but that made no difference. Then I took him for a walk, hoping that some fresh air might do him good – and, if he needed to, there was grass for him to chew on. He was as keen for the walk as he normally is, and seemed improved. He wasn’t interested in grass.

Finally, we went to bed with grave misgivings. I didn’t know what to do. I googled his symptoms, looking to find out. He lay on the bedclothes breathing hard and scratching and nibbling at the skin around his groin, which by this time was raw. He got down from the bed and lay on the cool floorboards. Then he hopped up again.

I turned off the light, and for a while, he seemed to settle down. I caressed him gently as his hard breathing eased. For minutes at a time, he didn’t scratch. But then it all came back again, and I knew I had to do something.

It was well after midnight when I left the house with him. I’d called an all-night vet in Highett and was encouraged to bring him along. I pulled into the car park there at about 1.15, put my mask on, and took him to the door.

Because of Covid restrictions, I wasn’t allowed to go in with him. I was told to wait in the car, and they would call me.

I don’t know what I expected. I just hoped it wasn’t anything serious. And I wanted his discomfort to go away. It’s hard seeing something/someone you love struggling so badly. I sat there looking at my phone as the minutes ticked by.

It was a bright night, but so quiet. Everyone sensible was home in bed. I sat in my car in a lonely car park in Wickham road. Across the road was the Salvos. There were no houses in sight, just factories and outlet style stores closed for the day, hardly any traffic on the road, and certainly no-one around on foot.

It was a strange and uncertain time. He’s inside being treated, but you’re outside without a clue what’s happening.

Once I went for a short walk wearing my mask, to stretch my legs. That’s when I got the first call from the vet. Seems like an allergic reaction, he said in an American accent. Something he came in contact perhaps, and he asked me of anything new, or anything that had changed. I could think of nothing. Until he got sick, it’d been a normal evening. He lay on the couch beside me his head on my lap as I watched TV. It was normal. I told the vet. Okay, he said, we’ll get back to you.

I waited some more. Around me, other cars had pulled in and taken their pets inside. Others had left. I’d been there maybe 90 minutes and wondering what was going on when I got the next call. They wanted to try a steroid injection on him but wanted to check of any other medication he might be on or prevailing illnesses. There were none, I said. Okay, give it 20-30 minutes for the injection to take effect.

In the end, it was about 45 minutes. By now it was after 3 am. The vet reported that Rigby had settled a little bit and wasn’t scratching so much. He was breathing normally. I could take him home soon – did you want us to sedate him, so you can both rest. Don’t bother, I said, and the same when he suggested antibiotics, just in case.

I’d made up my mind by now. If he were still troubled the next day, I’d take him to my local vet for a proper check-up. I hoped that Rigby would be fine by then, and had it in my mind that this was something that would improve with time.

It was past 3.30 am when I collected Rigby. As always, he leapt to see me. I drove away nearly $250 lighter and with Rigby in the back seat restless and whimpering.

It was nearly 4 am when I got back to my bed. Rigby lay beside me. For a while he was unsettled, and I became worried again and wished I’d agreed to the sedative. I crooned to him, and slowly he settled, and we both slept.

I dreamt of it all, and in the dreams, there was a fearful element wary of what I might wake to. I woke at the normal time, foggy with sleep and vaguely aware of Rigby. I thought he was scratching again, but then both of us drifted in and out of sleep for the next couple of hours.

When I opened my eyes properly, it was after nine. Rigby seemed well-rested, and though he had the occasional scratch was much better than the night before. He’s got better still more since. I am greatly relieved.

Last night, as I sat in my car, I posted something to Facebook about the situation. I woke this morning to find a dozen or so had reached out to me in the time since. There’s something about pets that touches at the vulnerable place inside of us. Our pets are guiltless and innocent and know only how to show affection. We owe them a debt that comes calling when their safety is threatened.

I was heartened and moved by the reaction. Not that I needed to be reminded, but the blessings of love resonate at times like these when it’s under threat. He is well, for now, and so to am I.

A tribute to Rigby

Everyone thinks they have the bestest good boy in the whole wide world. Dogs are so friendly and loveable and affectionate and generous that it’s very easy to think your hound is extra special. The truth is that all dogs are extra special – it’s just that some are more special than others.

I know, I’m as bias as any dog owner, but I reckon my very own Rigby is the greatest dog in the history of great dogs. I think think this more than you might expect, but I was reminded of it over the weekend.

A friend of mine in Perth has been umming and ahhing over getting a dog. I’ve been urging him to make the commitment and get one, and it didn’t take much. He’s been looking at dogs over the last few weeks and sending options and asking for feedback, and so on. Over the weekend he sent me a pic of a very happy looking Kelpie cross that’d caught his eye. He wanted my opinion, starting with, she’s no Rigby, but…

Rigby is the standard. He’s crazy, but he’s smart too. He’s always been handsome, but with a lively, winning personality, which is what I love most about him. He really has a distinct character which is by turns quirky, affectionate, inquisitive, excited, insistent and entertaining. I swear he has a sense of humour, and he’s very human sometimes – which is how he sees himself, I’m sure.

We are in fact a bit like an old married couple, we know each other so well, our rituals and routines and funny little eccentricities. One of the plusses out of this lockdown is that I’ve been able to spend more quality time with him. You feel some responsibility as a dog owner to provide your mutt with the best possible life. I’m sorry occasionally that I haven’t given him a family to play with, but he seems content and happy.

Typically, he’ll be curled up on the mat behind me as I work. Every half hour or so he’ll get up and come to me, the clatter of his wagging tail under the desk as he nuzzles at my hand for attention, or rests his head on my knee. As always, he’ll follow me from room to room whenever I get up. And, like all dogs, he knows when it’s time to be fed or for his afternoon walk, and he’ll remind me gently, but insistently.

The truth is, like many dogs, he is much loved, and it makes a big difference. He knows no different but to be spoilt and fawned over. My mate from Perth has long thought Rigby is the greatest dog, and even Cheeseboy over the weekend commented on what a great companion he’s been.

It’s funny how familiar we are with each other. We only have to glance at each other occasionally to understand what’s next. Like a lot of dogs, he’s a creature of habit. As I lie in bed, he’ll curl up in the lee of my body as I read, or else lay against my body with his head resting on my hip. In the morning he’ll cross from ‘his’ side of the bed to mine, as if on the clock, and I’ll make room for him. And as I finish my morning coffee, he’ll leap from the bed to lick out the cup – he loves a latte.

I guess I want to pay tribute to him. I often wish he could speak. If he were a human being, I’d pretty well think he’s the greatest.

For me, throughout, he’s been a great comfort and occasional solace. I would never have survived without him. There were times I felt as if he was all I had in the world, but that was a wonderful thing.

He’s getting on now, but still very strong and healthy and full of personality. He tugs on me like a sleigh dog when we go for our walk. I’m hoping come the new year that I might move into a larger home with a garden he can roam in. I’m also thinking about getting another dog, a puppy for me, but also Rigby. I expect he might get a bit jealous of the attention a new puppy would get, but I also think he’ll share his love and protective nature. I think it might be a good thing for all.

Dogs and us

Raised by Wolves | by Tim Flannery | The New York Review …
One day around 26,000 years ago, an eight-to-ten-year-old child and a canine walked together into the rear of Chauvet Cave, in what is now France. Judging from their …

I love this article. I can’t think of a single thing I love more than dogs, and my experience of them is that they feel as we do, and nothing is truer or nobler than a good dog.

My weekends with the dog

Rigby in dad’s bed

This is pretty typical for me on a weekend.

I want to sleep in but from about 7am onwards Rigby will let me know he’s waiting for breakfast. Sometimes he’ll just be restless and if I’m determined (or sleepy) enough I’ll ignore and outlast him till he settles down with a sigh. Other times he’ll stand by the bed looking at me. He can do that for 10 minutes without blinking an eye.

Eventually, I’ll sit up and he’ll be fully aroused at this point and excited, often leaping up at me to express a pleasure he just can’t contain. I’ll pull on a pair of track pants and a t-shirt and pad out to the laundry, flicking on the espresso machine on the way through.

I’ll measure out a heaped cup of dry food for him while he looks on intently. While he gobbles that up I’ll open the back door so he can venture out afterwards and do whatever business he needs to do.

I’m reasonably awake by now and so I set about making my morning latte. The machine hums and whirrs, the concentrated juice from the ground coffee pools in the mug like a rich syrup before I set about frothing the milk. With the coffee made it’s time to collect the newspaper.

Rigby follows me to the door with his ears notched hoping for he believes it that I’m about to let him out. I open the door and he’s off! He gallops down the concrete driveway to the front pavement. He’ll look either way before visiting the tree conveniently located there. I’ve caught up by now and allow him his sniffing and digressive investigations while I collect the plastic wrapped sections of the paper. He’ll notice me then and bound to me and using his initiative will take one of the papers from my hand. He’ll trot back towards the house proudly, tail wagging, leading me to the front door.

For the next hour or two, I’ll lay in bed and read the paper from cover to cover and will sip my coffee. Rigby is snuggled up close. Sometimes he’ll contour his body perfectly to the curve of my body – he’s expert at that. He’ll rest his head on my leg or hip and watch me as I read or will outside or will abruptly sit up to give some urgent attention to whatever part of his body needs a prolonged lick or studious nibble. Then he’ll settle back contentedly, just happy to be close to me.

Eventually, I’ll decide it’s time to get up. By now I’ll have listened to the news and learned what’s been going on overnight. Generally, it’s about 9am, or a little after. The cue for this is reaching to my bedside table for my glasses. As soon as Rigby sees that he knows it’s up time. He’ll stand and watch and then jump down from the bed as I swing from it. Sometimes he’ll get fascinated by my feet and will seek to give them a lick as they come from under the covers.

Out of bed he’ll precede me into the lounge room and then the kitchen. He knows the routine very well. His tail is wagging and he’s watching me very closely with eager anticipation of what comes next. I put my empty – or near empty – coffee mug upright in the dog bed he never sleeps in (but which he’ll often adjourn to to eat something) and he’ll stick his snout in it to lick the last dregs of coffee. He loves his coffee.

That pretty well ends our weekend morning rituals. I’ll check my email from there, or go have a shower, and so on, before taking him out for a walk around the block.

Walkin’ the dog

Had a simple, but very nice evening last night. It was one of those nights that affirms what a privilege it is to be alive.

Weather in Melbourne over the last 2 weeks has just about been perfect. Sunny every day, the temperature has ranged between 26 degrees and 34. Yesterday it was 32.

I had arranged with Cheeseboy earlier in the week to take the dogs for a walk together. He sent me a message as I was on my way home from work to check if last night was good. I told him yes.

He came by last night with his crazy dog Bailey at about 8. The four of us walked to nearby Hampton beach and up towards Sandringham. It was a majestic evening, still warm, and very pretty. The shot I took of Sandringham yacht club sums up the beauty of the evening – it’s a photo taken with no filter applied, just as it was.

We’d been walking for about half an hour I guess when ol’ Cheeseboy said how about a drink? Well, I was up for that except, as I told him, I’d left all my money home. That’s okay he said, my shout.

We cut up from the beach and towards Hampton street. Brown Cow, and old haunt of hours, was heaving with people given the balmy weather. We tied the dogs up then sat outdoors under the clear night sky, within sight of the dogs, and started on our first pint.

We had 3 pints each in the end of Little Creatures. The conversation ranged far and wide while the dogs played together or gazed at us, or were set upon by fond bystanders unable to resist the allure of two cute dogs.

I kept an eye on this thinking on the lost opportunity this represented. Most of the people happily cooing were women, and some very handy types too. Rigby is a Labrador, which is a beautiful dog, and a chocolate, which makes him even more beautiful, but even for a chocolate Lab Rigby is particularly handsome. He’s like the Brad Pitt of dogs, he just doesn’t know it. He draws a crowd.

I’m half hoping that Rigby is getting phone numbers for me, but know he isn’t, And then I happen across the notion of next time pinning a piece of paper on him with some tear off strips saying If you want to meet the owner of this beautiful dog call…

I don’t know how Rigby would feel about that. He wants me for himself. He is a wonderfully devoted, affectionate boy, and I guess I reciprocate. So after a few beers and a few laughs on a lovely balmy night I untied him from his post and headed home, parting from Cheeseboy halfway down Hampton Street, till next time…

Leash off

Cheeseboy and I caught up last night to go for a long walk along Hampton beach with our dogs. It was a pleasant evening with a beautiful sunset. We walked towards Sandringham with the dogs on leashes until we came to the leash-off beach.

All along the way Cheeseboy’s dog Bailey had been nipping at Rigby and generally driving him crazy. Rigby has a lovely temperament, but was getting annoyed by it. Once we let them off their leashes Rigby ploughed into the water. Bailey, a cavoodle, came after him, but being the smaller dog quickly turned back as the water became deeper.

We drifted down the beach, the dogs racing here and back while we chuckled at their antics or called them away from trouble, in between having a gentle and aimless conversation. It was very pleasant. Over yonder yachts at anchor sat in neat little rows, and beyond them a fiery ball of sun slowly sinking over the horizon in a blue sky. The air was briny, the folks wandering down the beach affable, and all in all it was a scene of tranquil beauty.

We returned back walking along the cliff edge overlooking the bay. In the hazy distance city towers loomed. Dark came slowly as we both wistfully discussed how lucky we were to live in such a place. It’s very pretty, and the people nice, and living close to a beach is always a grand thing.

There’s something about the gentle act of walking that’s soothing. I do it a lot with Rigby obviously, but it’s always more pleasurable to share it with a friend. The conversation is easy because it’s the end of the day and the sun is setting while dogs frolic about you. Whatever angst you felt during the day is behind you. Looking out over the water friendship seems simple and elemental – you know everything about the person walking by your side, the conversation is familiar, the gestures and tics you know all the way to the bone, and the very act of being there seems a Socratic form. It’s easy to become whimsical.

After an hour the loop was complete. We parted in the street and Rigby and I went indoors. Rigby had the tang of sea about him, and was freckled with sand. I love him going for a swim, but I regret the after effects.  We’ll do it again soon though.

Death of a pet

I was sitting at my desk on Friday when I heard a murmured conversation about how someone’s pet dog had just died. I was curious, but at the same time I didn’t want to know too much. The mere thought of a beloved pet dying made my heart sink. Some things you are better off not knowing

About an hour later it was confirmed to me. I’m close to about 3 people in the office. One has a beautiful Samoyard he is devoted too. There’s always pictures of him posted on Facebook with my mate his family. He’s doted upon, a happy looking bundle of white fur. But now that’s all past tense. He’s the dog that died.

I found out and I didn’t want to know more. I was sorry I knew so much. I felt an ache. I certainly didn’t want to know how the dog died, though it’s inevitable I’ll learn. It was just a young dog, and seemingly healthy.

I sat at my desk feeling for my friend. I knew how devastated he must feel. Naturally it made me think of Rigby. I’ve suffered a lot of trials and tribulations the last few years, and survived, but I’d find it hard to recover if anything happened to him. As strong as I’ve been I know losing Rigby would bring me utterly undone. I couldn’t get out bed. I’d weep. I’d question the meaning of everything.

This morning I took Rigby for his Sunday morning jaunt on the beach. He was particularly excitable today. He loves the beach. Approaching beach road he slipped his collar. Before I could stop him he had taken off across the road.

Beach road is a busy, four lane road. Thankfully we’d been stopped waiting for the traffic to clear when he took off, and everything happened so quickly I didn’t have time to be afraid.

He made it to the far side, dodging a few cyclists, but not vehicles. I made it straight after. “Don’t do that to me,” I told him. Rigby was oblivious.

It can happen so easily. I’m lucky. Rigby remains. My mate is not so lucky and I have no words for him.