Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Call me daft, you wouldn’t be the first, but having spent about the same amount of time teaching high school as I have with dogs, I feel compelled to make the earth shattering revelation: dog friendships are just like those in the playground. Trust me, it’s true in so many ways.

First, there are the new kids to the school – or Critter Club but I think you get the analogy by now. And, incidentally, if you have a problem with anthropomorphism, anthropogoaway because you’re just wrong.

The new club members usually have that exact same look on their faces that the new little kid does. And, as with teenagers, there’s usually one that will be sure to take the newbie under their wing. In the case of Critter Club, the caring role is usually played by Toast, the boxer with the biggest tongue in the world. We’ve had quite a few little new puppies of late, and Toast has made sure each of them feels welcome and has someone to play with. Our smartest dog, Gypsy labradoodle, can also be relied upon to get the new puppies started with a gentle game. It’s beautiful to watch.

Sometimes the addition of a new dog brings out a whole other side in a dog who has been with us for a while. Olive, for example, always hung out with the cool kids, nothing too crazy for her. Then along came Indie, and suddenly Olive runs around with him like a mad thing for the full hour, all elements of cool totally left behind.

Roger and Ruby were inseparable little sausages, until Lex arrived and decided that two could be three and now they all play happily together. This, of course, differs slightly from the playground where noses are more easily put out of joint.

Louis and Boris are our newest arrivals. Boris, a baby Australian Bulldog, thought he’d spend all his time with Toast because he seemed to think they looked alike. Louis, a retriever, initially wanted to hang out with another retriever, George, but eventually decided George was a bit of a boring old fart and he’d rather spend time with someone more his own age, 16 week old Boris. So Boris has defected from Toast to Louis.

This will likely change over time. Most groups evolve. For the longest time, Twiggy, Charlie, and Jemima were an impenetrable threesome. As Charlie and Jemima became more enthralled with each other, Twiggy found others more interested in chasing games than the brawling games her former group insisted upon. Her departure left space for new white fluffy, Josie, to join the threesome. But hey, she seemed like fun, so Twiggy returned – which is good because sometimes Charlie likes to play with the ball dogs, much to Jemima’s horror.

The ball dogs are too cool for school and top of the tree sits Bebe and Jennifer. If you’ve seen Grease, think Pink Ladies. They are the Rizzo (Bebe) and Frenchy (Jennifer) of Critter Club. Em is working her way into Pink Lady status while Spikey, Snowy, and Charlie would qualify as T-birds. Come to think of it, Toast works as Danny Zuko. We don’t have a Sandy.

While the ball dogs lead the pack, always bringing up the rear is, what we like to refer to as the CWA, Country Women’s Association dogs. These are the dogs who like to take their time, smell every blade of grass or, to anthropomorphise them, they may well be members of the CWA on a trip to Sydney, carefully window shopping at the QVB before stopping for a nice Devonshire tea somewhere. Membership of this group is limited to Dixie, Sadie, and Babooti, with a special guest boy dog, Bello. They have a lovely time while the rest of us wait.

But back to school. A further similarity is what we like to refer to as the back of the bus syndrome. Remember how the naughty kids would always sit at the back of the bus/class? And there was always the kid who wanted to be bad but didn’t want to do anything on their own? We’ve got that too! Baci is the naughty kid and Tilly is the one who would never do anything wrong by herself but, should Baci lead the way … she’s in! And Baci can always be relied upon to lead the way. But should Toby Beagle be there, cue Kate Bush, Heathcliff, Cathy. All that. Tilly only has eyes for Toby.

Of course special friendships can go wrong. For the longest time, Buttons only wanted to play with Mitzi. And Mitzi loved it that way. Then one day, Buttons went all prepubescent boy and didn’t want to be seen with a goony girl. Mitzi was heartbroken. But like a good Critter Club girl, she picked herself up after a few sobbing weeks, and found others to play with. Hah!

Finally, there’s the boy who went off the rails and is just starting to come back to the fold after much patient counselling from the staff. Beautiful young Rex, the cheeky long haired Jack Russell, would always play like crazy with the others. He would have been the first kid out at recess, ball in hand, and the last one back to class. So one weekend he goes away to his Dad’s farm and he comes back totally different. He doesn’t play anymore. We call home to find out what’s happened, only to discover that our innocent young hero has succumbed to his natural instincts and killed a chicken. He no longer wants to play silly, childish chasing games, not when he has experienced the real thing.

Thankfully he has come through his awkward teenage period, and Rex is casing around with the best of them. Phew.

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