What happens when dogs are gentlemen?

So recently I lost a close mate of mine, and so what some may say, so sad will say some others… and I guess depending on your thoughts on dogs the response is bound to be different. Dogs aren’t for everyone, nor is giving a hoot about another’s loss… but I thought I would write about it anyway.

I read a few things of late about grief and one article that suggested that the loss of a four legged companion can rival the loss of the two legged variety… and after this recent episode in my life I do tend to agree.

Like everyone, we experience tough times and few moments in life will rival the loss of someone or something we cared for or relied upon heavily for an extended period of time… and for me it was my old mate Archie.

When I was a younger fella I lost both of my grandfathers within a few months of one another and that was a pretty crook time, not just for me but for the whole family. A little while later I lost a mate or two in rural and outback accidents and they shook me up, well & truly. Over the years I’ve been a pretty lucky sort of character and always had friends and family close, plenty of good mates and a wing of dogs and assorted other animals about the place. I had a poddy calf that grew into a mountain of a bullock that had to be sold before his feet went soft, I had a goat that was more in love with my old mum than anyone else and even a couple of pet rams that used to try and put me on my arse from time to time… but there’s always been dogs… and for the last seventeen years there was this little bloke by the name of Archie, but better known as Superman.

I grew up on a place with working dogs and so it would be no surprise that they would soon form part of my life and that I would be half lost without em. The grandfather had a mad old hound called ‘Blackie’ that didn’t get off the chain too much as every time he went anywhere in the back of a ute he used to lean out and bite the tree branches as they went by… and as you can imagine… that didn’t end well. My old man had a black & tan pooch called ‘Edward Casey’, which I believe was a tribute to a favourite historical figure and he served the station well for many years. My uncle who I spent many a day in the paddock with had a red & tan dog he named ‘Baldie’ that almost never left his side and helped with every facet of property management over many years.

These three men and in turn their three trusty companions so endeared the working dog notion to me that as soon as I left school and was knocking about the district and at home on the station I had to have myself an offsider. I took on a couple of, shall we say, hand-me-down dogs and as expected none of them ever really amounted to too much. ‘Cody’ & ‘Soot’ both eventually met with sad demises after many second, second, bloody second chances and were replaced by a young male pup named ‘Rocket’. He was a black barb & black kelpie cross and was the first dog that I would ever have from a pup, and be it for good or bad his moulding would sit entirely with me. An ex-girlfriend / childhood sweet heart (of sorts) had given him to me, free of charge and with just a few gentle words of advice.

‘His father ‘Whitey’ and mother ‘Socks’ are bloody brilliant, so if you can’t make something of him… give him back or get rid of him, but don’t let him be useless’, were those kind words of advice and well-remembered to this day. The young lady who had been so kind as to give young ‘Rocket’ to me was a pretty unique individual herself and had a way with animals that I’d never encountered before. Given enough time & interest she could get just about any animal (and I mean bloody ANY animal) to do just about anything. Knowing this and having seen it with my own two eyes I was sure keen to give Rocket the best chance of being something that I could… but how, that was the question. I wasn’t by all accounts a working dog trainers arsehole or bootlace, depending on your preference, and as there were pretty much no other dogs left on the place for Rocket to follow… it was down to he and I to sort it out.

Sure there were dogs on the places we worked and the family dogs were still floating around, but most were too old to be of much help. In the end Rocket and I just agreed to spend as much time together as possible, no matter what it was that I was doing, and always looked for things to learn and new ways to do stuff. In a way I guess I wanted him to be able to do cool stuff, but for the most part I just wanted him to be able to be of more help than hindrance when there was work to be done. We practiced pretty much every day, jumping in and out of things, riding in things, sitting, backing up, going back, way back, WAY FKN BACK just to mention a few… and then we just worked.

It was a pretty busy few years and between my persistence, his natural ability and I suspect a bit of good luck coming from an ever increasing bond from all that time spent together… he developed into something pretty bloody special. He was no show or trial dog, although he did run second out of about twenty at the dog jump in the local show one year… but the back story to that was that he could fight a bit and I think he had most of the other hounds in fear of their hides and that was putting their minds off the job. All except one little bittsa mongrel that could have climbed a ladder or jumped over the moon that day… brilliant little thing was a treat to watch and impossible to beat, so old Rock and I had to settle for the silver medal.

The years passed and on more than one occasion I was invited to send or gift my old mate back to where he’d once come from, as ‘Whitey’ and ‘Socks’ grew old and their owner was keen for a worthy replacement. In that I saw respect and also a compliment for the almost all black offsider that I’d spent so much time on and with. Of course I never gave him up and it would be many years before his days were up and our partnership would come to a close. I tell you of him, for he was my first gentlemen dog, a rough & tough, bold and brave black hound that kept on learning till the day he died… but also because he would be the dog that made the dog I would soon know as Archie, but as I say, often referred to as Superman…

Rocket was one hell of a dog, but I always felt that he could have been better had he been lucky enough to have an owner that new more and had more skills to offer. I had also often wondered what would have become of him had he had another dog to follow, someone to lead him and show how to do stuff… someone other than me. And while it pained me for what may have been with one dog it gave me great hope for what it may have meant for another. I took delivery of Archie in early 2000 and like Rocket before him he was gifted to me with similar advice and from similar blood lines. He came from a place where good dogs were treasured and bad dogs were not long for this world. His mother was a greying old dear in her late teens and his father was a bought dog with ‘actual’ paper work.

We laughed about it at the time because in our part of the world dogs with paper work were trial dogs, trained for shows… and not for station work. Sure they’re talented as hell, but there were three types of dogs in our minds and you had to get one that was bred to be what you were after. There were show dogs that were trained to operate in front of crowds and obey every single command – poor bastards had no personality… Then there were working dogs, fully fledged and half mad hounds that were bred and trained to go hard all day every day and for the most part looked a little high strung… and then there were station dogs… our dogs… my dogs… these were the fellas that could lay around under a tree for half a year, but still be right to go mustering or yarding up for shearing or crutching at a moment’s notice. They could settle on the end of the chain without barking their guts out half the night and were happy enough to just poke around and be a part of the bigger show. You didn’t have to worry about your chooks getting cleaned up if ya left em out over night or your poddies getting chased when they came back to the house for a feed.

Station dogs had to be able to work when you needed em to… but also be a pleasure to have around the place for the rest of the year. I took mine with me to many a job, but for large sections of the year they could be left to idle around the place at home. They had to be calm and considerate; they had to be bold, brave and have some brains… they had to be smart but not be smart arses! Dogs had to be more help than hindrance and be able to turn their hands to more than just the one task.

To get dogs to do this and master the mixture or requirements and the steady flavour of life on the land was difficult, and while some struggled and often met their sad and often sudden demise, I was blessed to have had dogs that managed it. Rocket for one was brilliant at it, he set a steady but deliberate pace to whatever he was tasked to do or assist with and could be relied upon in almost any set of circumstance. Old Rock and in time young Archie both mastered the half dozen vitals for a working dog… ‘Get up & hop down’, ‘Speak up & sit down’ and ‘Go back & come here’. No matter where they were or what we were doing they could always be relied upon to do those six commands… and boy was it handy to know.

Sure they could do other stuff and I’m not one to skite, but those two made my life a whole lot easier by being there… but with those six simple commands and the knowledge that they would be adhered to, there was confidence and a safety in the way I (we) went about the work. It didn’t matter if it was sheep or cattle, goats or pigs… hot or cold, going mad or going to plan, those dogs would stay on task and do whatever was asked of em… every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

As Rock grew old and Archie grew up there certainly was some need for planning as to who you used for what; but as they were both gentlemen dogs with not only a father son type relationship but an enduring mateship and comradery where they complimented more than competed with one another. Both were lead dogs that’s for sure, but as one dog’s legs grew tired and the others confidence grew they somehow managed to share the role. When Rocket did finally move on to the big paddock in the sky or the shady tree on the hill, it was Archie’s turn to steady the mob, lead the others and support me in all that I did.

He and Rocket alike had more talent in one foot than I had in total, but it was their and certainly his strength of heart that made the difference. Just as I had carried Rocket out of the back of the vehicle after a huge day or week on the job, so too had Archie given all that he could. He was small of stature, fine featured and particular in the way he carried himself. He was well mannered if that makes sense and an absolute gentleman, so much so that I still find it hard to believe that to some people he was just a dog.

Dogs are trained to do as they’re told, but when push comes to shove and the situation gets real! it comes down to the individual as to what they are going to do… and this little bloke was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen. On more than one occasion and especially in the close confines of a forcing pen in stock yards AND when everything and everyone else was over the fence and looking for cover… Archie would come to the rescue. No matter how big or how pissed off the bull was or big a rack of horns the mad cow was sporting… in he’d go. And even pinned down or ground up in the corner and when most others dogs and folks alike would be looking for a way out… he’d be giving as good as he was getting and more often than not he’d prevail.

He’d run all day on the lead of a mob and if you were working the tail then he’d look after the wing, and if you were a bit steady or parked up in the shade for too long then he’d give you a couple of looks from that lead corner and then come back and push the tail along as well. He wasn’t a fighter or even that much of a biter, he didn’t swim none too much but preferred instead to paddle, and wouldn’t take food out of your hand… but only off his dish.

He suffered more than just the odd injury over the years and one stage smashed up his back right leg and hip. The pain was pretty solid when he slept and for a time there I had him in a bed on the floor beside my bed side so I could sleep with my hand on his side hip… his pain in a way was my pain and by touching him it seemed to be a load shared. In those younger years I never put as much work into Archie as I had Rocket and in a way I didn’t need to, because of Rocket. As the years rolled by many other dogs, people and places came and went… and yet his loyalty and almost his canine professionalism never waived, not once.

He fathered two sons to two sisters did Archie and both were of reasonable mention. Eldest was and remains is Chumba, son of Archie & Tiny (youngest daughter of Rocket & Betsie) while the other son was Panda, son of Archie & Leftie (eldest daughter of Rocket & Betsie). Panda died of a brain related injury and much suffering long after a bad fight with a strange dog, while Chumba lives on at home. These two boys were and are their father and grandfather’s disciples in both nature, ability and spirit, all though I doubt neither had the opportunity nor the challenges of the two that had come before them.

As Archie’s final years, months, weeks and days counted down to when he was gone I still recalled the effort he made, the days he saved us and the company he provided. It may sound strange to some to remember a dog as honest, well mannered, genuine and a gentleman… but these are the words that describe the feelings I have and the images that fill my mind when I think of him. He was heroic and freakishly strong, brave and in a crazy way almost too brave for his own good. This little black and white fellow was and is to me the thing of legends, of amazement and honourable kinship. So blessed I have been in this life that mine was to have shared the passage of time that also was the life of not one but two animals, two beings, two heroes such as Rocket & Archie. One was the old black shadow that helped me become a man with purpose, while the other was a four legged superman dressed in a tuxedo… who filled the gap between my aspirations and my abilities… 

I have tears now for these two old mates of mine and suspect I will for some time, for they were certainly an extension of me, but also a better part of me. Be it dogs or other animals or mates or even children for that matter; be it husbands or wives, brothers or sisters… these bonds, these times and most definitely these memories are the instances that make life so very real. To be able to treasure a fond moment or a special memory where we’re involved with or witness greatness is something to truly value.

These dogs, these spirits, these two rare individuals that carried me through so many years are gifts that I’ll never truly understand. My father and others often said you needed to have ten dogs before you got a good one… and perhaps they’re right, perhaps I got my good ones first… or maybe I was just lucky. Either way these two gentlemen hounds changed my life… or perhaps they helped make it.

Thanks men…

Thanks for reading, this one was special… This is most certainly Black Rat’s Back Chat and you’re welcome. JM xo

#GoodANuff #DogsRmytypeofppl #Mansbestfriend #Dogsknowbest




Categories James Blog | Tags: | Posted on April 28, 2017

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