|A baby photo of Cleo|
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Twelve years ago, I got a dog. Last week, I had that dog put to sleep, and it will be a long time before I stop missing her. But I thought I’d share the story of how I got her.
I’d wanted a puppy for a long time. Except my mum said I couldn’t get one while I was still living out the back of her place. So I bought my own house. I’m sure people buy houses for dumber, more juvenile reasons, but I’ve yet to hear one. But it’s okay, I like my house.
Anyway. I wanted a yellow Labrador. The yellow Lab we’d had when I was growing up had been the sweetest, most loving, most patient dog in the world. Also, I wanted a breed I could pretty much trust. And Labs are total sooks.
One day, I saw puppies advertised in the paper. I phoned the lady up. Yes, they had one female yellow Lab left, and yes, they could keep her for me for a few hours.
In hindsight, I could have waited for a dog to become available somewhere around the city. But I didn’t, and ten minutes later I was knocking on Mum’s door asking if I could borrow her car because it was more roadworthy than mine, and also if she could come with me on a drive to Euramo, 200 kilometres north along the highway. And I really, really needed her to come, because someone had to hold my puppy on the way home…
You know, that woman spent my entire childhood telling me I couldn’t have any more puppies, kittens, mice or, that one time, a monkey. And guess what? Suddenly she was looking at her allegedly adult daughter, and what could she say? So she only shook her head, gave me the car keys and climbed into the passenger seat.
Euramo is a tiny little town which it turns out is famous for one thing: it is the UFO capital of North Queensland. I did not know this at the time, but I do feel it explains a lot.
When we got there, I met Cleo for the first time. So, so cute. A round little yellow lab who, when she lay down, had a protruding layer of puppy fat that made it appear as though she was squashing a smaller, less fortunate puppy underneath her. Of course it was love. And of course I was going to take her, but not until I did some due diligence and met her mother.
Her mother was lovely, sedate, and I suspect secretly relieved I was taking one of the pups. Beautiful temperament, I told my mum, and my mum begrudgingly agreed.
I paid the money. I got my puppy. And then, on the way out, I passed a large cage with a very hyperactive Lab in it. I have never in my life seen a Lab that could jump that high, and from a standing start. He was like Tigger. On crack. And he barked every time he hit his high point.
“Henry!” the lady said. “Henry! Henry! Henry!”
Bounce. Bark. Bounce. Bark. Bounce. Bark bark bark.
“He’s excitable,” my mother said.
“Oh yes,” said the lady, and then patted Cleo on the head. “He’s the father.”
My mother looked horrified.
“It’s too late now,” I whispered. “I’ve already paid.”
Luckily Cleo took after her mother: short and round. She might have been as silly as a wheel, like Henry, but she never had the reach to bounce as high as he did. She could, however, knock dishes of cat food off the kitchen counter right up until the end, despite her arthritis. I think I knew things were getting serious when she didn’t even try anymore. Luckily Grub, the cat, could be relied upon to knock it down onto the floor for her. Teamwork.
On the drive back from Euramo, Mum held Cleo in her lap and made me promise to take her to dog training. I did, for weeks, until I was too embarrassed to continue. After all that time she was still the only dog there who confused “Sit!” for “Fling yourself onto the ground, show everyone your belly, wriggle like you've got ants in your pants, and get tangled in your lead.”
In the end, she only ever responded to two commands. And only occasionally. One was, “You sit, you drop, I rub your belly.” Which isn’t a command, I guess, as much as a negotiation. The other was “Swap!” which was shorthand for “Please don’t eat whatever you’ve just stolen. Look! Here are some cat biscuits to bribe you with!”
But she was very good at living with a shift worker. “Cleo," I could tell her at any time of day. “It's bed time.” And she’d wander into my room with me and go to sleep.
We never did figure out that owner/dog hierarchy.
Once, we were sitting on the couch watching TV and – bang!—a car backfired in the street. We both jumped, and stared at each other wide-eyed.
“You go and check it out,” I whispered at last. “You’re the dog.”
But I don’t think she believed me.