However, I left out the part about exactly what I promised. I have an excuse. A good one. Valid.
‘Flu. It’s the first bout I’ve been afflicted with since 2001 (or thereabouts – who the hell remembers specifics that far back when in the throes of death?). If I had the energy, I’d go dig a hole in the backyard and bury myself. But the shed’s locked and the door’s sticky and it’s that energy problem again. And it’s cold out there.
Okay, it’s only the second day this season that’s been cold, but hey, I’m sick, and I can use any excuse I like. I can’t see any frost, but my ears feel it, and they scream at me (scream and whine and whinge and warble) until I give up and close the door on the outside world.
Do I climb back into bed (with two doona’s for the person who usually sleeps the whole winter under a summer doona)? Plump up the pillows on the couch to share the down-time with the dog to keep me company. She’s the only one who doesn’t care if I cough and choke and sneeze all over her (hankies the size of towels required, thanks very much – not just man-sized), although she does close her eyes and look away.
Dogs love us regardless of whether we dress to suit, have good jobs (or any job), shower, brush teeth, etc. They love us because we are pack. They will even starve for us, die for us, if required.
Yes, they will.
This is the bit about the promise I made – to tell this story, from a long time ago, and for (he knows):
The dog I’d been lumped with, pregnant to a rottie (or similar), a pedigreed mini poodle who’d never had a hair trim, came complete with a bad attitude and food aggression – this is her story. It is as true as I can allow it to be (but I will protect the names of the innocent).
Blackie, I called her (not her real name). Two weeks after she first came through the front door for socialisation and house-training (yes, I fostered animals, too), we were starting to get to grips with each other. She’d only bitten me once when I took off the last of the matted jungle of black curls – and boy, was it a cute look; punk rockers got nothing on this little dog. I don’t think she appreciated it, but the house had heating and her skin lesions were healing. She bit me when I took her bone away – once. We had a bit of a discussion. I became pack leader and she became the follower (no, there was no physical beating involved – it takes patience and persistence, not brutality).
One week after the issue with the bone, I heard a noise at the front door and opened it.
A tall guy, someone I didn’t know, stood there. In his hand was a – long, bright, curved on one side and toothed on the other – fishing knife. I know fishing knives. My granddad had a fishing boat. I worked as a deckie. This was a fishing knife. A good one. He held it like a street thug, aimed it at my gut.
The screen door screamed a sound of alarm and distress as it was ripped from the frame. it crushed the recently pruned rose bushes. A heavy screen door.
The guy lifted the knife to face height and stepped forward.
Why didn’t I move? Inside the house were four foster kids. Two more were due home shortly. In all probability, this was something to do with one of them. There is no folding or backing down when it comes to protecting the pack. I stepped forward, raised my hand in an attempt at placation.
The knife flew towards my face so fast it became a blur of silver. I couldn’t close my eyes. I thought I’d been hit by a heart-attack or similar. The thump to my shoulder was hard, followed by a growl and thunder of anger; it was as if Thor stood there with us.
The little black dog, rough as a nut and twice as bad in attitude as a street-urchin teenager, leapt through the air between us, grabbed him with beautiful, strong white teeth gripped firmly around his throat, and growled like a lion while she tried to shake him into submission.
The blood that danced in the air – up, back, down, everywhere – was hers. The knife sliced through her skin like it was designed to.
Someone screamed. It wasn’t me; I was growling, trying to pull the hand with the knife out of the dog. It wasn’t the dog. She was busy growling and shaking and trying to protect her pack.
I found out later where the noise came from; it was the neighbour (she didn’t like us much – noisy, she said – but she did share the produce from her garden).
I don’t know who dealt with what. I don’t remember any more of that day, not even being at the vet and staying with the dog the whole night, just so she knew. Just so she knew she was pack, that she belonged.
The bloke tried to take me to court for damages. I got a lot of help and assistance with this issue, and at the end, the judge threw out his complaint and called it ‘reasonable force’ for a dog to respond to the threat of a knife to the throat of the pack leader. And, of course, the idiot had to pay the legal fees, and the vet fees (a lot!).
Sometimes, stories have good endings. That dog stayed with me until she was almost 21 human years old, blind, deaf, too smart for her own good, and loyal to the pack. To the end.
Added in the comments, because I forgot to say “I’m as sick as a hairy black dog,” didn’t I?
And the whole purpose of the story was to tell about the tradition she started: being sick as a hairy black dog, which is what I am now.
We all still say it, and remember her, and the few weeks she spent at the vet hospital.