Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Deals With Dogs

Unbeknownst (now there’s a word) to most of you humans, the Dog Rock Gods engage in some pretty serious horsetrading before a dog actually agrees to become a part of our pack. Julia Gillard ain’t got nothing on us. These agreements are extremely confidential so we shall only publish the essence of the most interesting ones and you must only read this post once.

Noosh (pictured) insists that she is allowed to pick up a toy and present it to us before she agrees to walk with us. She is prepared to sit in the elevator and jump into the back compartment of the car. At no point has she agreed to stay in that compartment, despite strenuous negotiations.

Ruby Watson has made a deal that Snowy will never walk on her walk because he is a Westie and Westies suck. In return she agrees to walk with us, which is a very big, not to be underestimated, deal for a princess.

Snowy has a deal that he will never walk on Ruby Watson’s walk because he wants to live. In return he lets us throw the ball for him.

Jemima’s agreement states that we must meet at the bottom door of her living space, even if it is closed and the top and middle doors are open. On special occasions she too will present a toy. On presentation we have agreed to fuss and exclaim how unworthy we are. At one point she made what must be assumed to be an ambit claim to be allowed to sit on the driver’s lap whilst the car is in motion.

Josie has taken the toy presentation ritual a little further. Her contract insists we will have a little play, just between the two of us, before joining the others.

Bello agrees to walk with us provided we will crawl under his mum’s bed where he waits for us, give him a tummy rub, and then skilfully negotiate both ourselves and the little white fluffy back into the real world.

Hugo has conceded that he will not laugh as we can't possibly match his nimbleness up the stairs. He also acts as our personal trainer, moving us a little faster up the stairs each time while providing encouraging smiles and nods.

Dixie agrees to be perfect and in return we will be ever cognisant of her need to sniff the ground at her own leisurely pace. Her sister, Sadie has agreed to very little. We are permitted to walk her but cannot expect her to stand up to get her collar on or to stay with the group when a big dog with huge swinging bits between his legs makes an appearance in the park.

Molly consents to walk with us so that we can boast we have our very own supermodel on our books. In exchange she reserves the right to display the sometimes odd behaviour of just such a supermodel.

Olive will happily come to the car unless her mother is there in which case she behaves as though she will be beaten within an inch of her life should she come with us. Our deal with her is that she will always have fun.

Indie’s contract stipulates that we provide a small but bulky roly poly sort of dog for him to play with on each walk. In return he has agreed to try really hard to not to jump up on us at every opportunity. He is not doing very well with this.

Rex agrees to come to the park with the Dog Rock God but insists that he be taken home by Dog Saint Meredith. In return we are the recipients of his rascally grin.

Monty has a special clause in his contract that only allows Buttons to lick the slobber off his chin. The only time Monty ever displays any temper is when this agreement is broken. It can be difficult to get all other dogs to agree with this agreement. Monty’s brother Buttons is delightful at all times in exchange for a commitment from the Dog Rock Gods to much oohing and aahing and “clever boy”ing every time he climbs a tree on a walk which averages out to 2 or 3 times per session.

Spikey agrees that we are in charge of when the walk ends provided that he gets some say in the direction we will take on said walk.

Gypsy insists on a tummy rub before each walk. In return, she has tutored many a dog in the fine art of tree climbing.

Conversely, Toast has lodged an ambit claim suggesting he will decide when the walk ends. This has been rejected but as he has agreed to take on the mantle of top dog, the boundaries of his position are still being explained.

In the ‘be careful what you wish for' category sits Bebe. We have made a deal with Bebe that we will continue to walk her if she ceases taking the head off any dog who has her ball. Please note all balls belong to Bebe. Bebe has steadfastly stuck to the deal. So much so that the other day, in teeming rain, when we were trying to get all dogs back in the car and Daisy was refusing due to the fact she had a ball in her mouth, we requested that Bebe break the deal, just this once, and GET DAISY. Nup. So for 20 minutes we all sheltered in the car while Daisy frolicked with her prize, until, finally bored and saturated she shivered herself over to the car, dropped the ball, and asked to get in. Door opens, in jumps Daisy, out jumps Bebe to get the now free ball, as per agreement.

Of course there are many more such deals, but it would be imprudent to discuss them.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

RIP Ruby Beagle 24/7/97 - 13/8/10

My heart is in pieces.

Beautiful Ruby is no longer with us.

The blog entry from February 20 already illuminates what a brilliant, wonderful, fabulous dog she was and how I loved her to bits and pieces and how she was my absolute rock through good and bad. I wrote that when we thought there was something nasty wrong with her but with much relief that turned out to be a false alarm. Then came another lump on her neck. Didn't look so bad compared to the one that caused the scare. Took her off to a vet who gave her antibiotics. Two months later it was still there and another on her thigh. Same vet gave her antibiotics again. I have no issue with the first lot of antibiotics but knowing what I now know, I have major difficulty accepting his decision on the second lot. It was a mast cell tumour. If you look up the images on the internet, this is exactly what Ruby's looked like. How can a senior professional not know this? Second time around he should have taken a biopsy and it could have been taken out and treatment given and we may have had my little angel in our lives for a whole lot longer. But no. So Ruby and I continued just thinking she had a couple of older dog type lumps. Then more lumps and since the original vet was holidaying in Europe, we took her to Sydney Uni Vet Hospital again, thinking we might need a dermatologist. Horror. Tests. Mast Cell tumours. Five of them, maybe six. One on her leg that could not be cut out. Recommendation: surgery then chemo then radiation. Prognosis: this would give her six to eight months. I could not put her through months of (at best) extreme discomfort for no real healthy extension of her life. So we went with palliative treatment and desperately got hold of all the natural supplements we could find. Hell, we'd have a couple of good months 'cause she really wasn't sick right? It was Stage Three and aggressive. We had two weeks. But she didn't stop enjoying her walks and her food until that last day. There was no major distress until the very last day when it quickly became apparent that it had taken its ghastly grip. Her pulse went to 200, her lips had gotten a purplish tinge, and her beautiful clear little eyes had become yellow.

Her vet, Ken Cockwill, was the most wonderful caring man. He outlined her state, told us what they could do but then said in the most gentle, understanding voice, "If she were my dog, I'd be saying goodbye." We got to spend time doing just that and were able to say when it was finally time. We held her while he helped her out of her pain and we were allowed to sit with her for as long as we needed to.

That was a few weeks ago and I still burst into tears on a daily basis and I sob as I write this. I was so blessed to have that little girl in my life.

A few days after Ruby left us, vet Ken sent a very personal card and also included a little printout which I will copy in here because it made me feel a tiny bit content:

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water, and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigour. Those who are hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing, they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross the Rainbow Bridge together ...

So I'll be seeing you, my beautiful Ruby. Enjoy your play, your sniffling and snaffling, your frolicking, because in a few short decades, you'll be stuck with looking after me all over again!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Jemima returns - baby steps.

That most beautiful of little white fuffies, Jemima Puddleduck Morrison, has finally wobbled her way back into our Critter Club lives and we could not be more pleased. Actually we could be more pleased if she was 100% but that little determined fighter is well and truly on her way.

After four slipped discs and a stellar operation which left a scar the length of her baby back and major quarantine time she was initially allowed two personalised walks per week wherein her and the sycophantic Dog Rock God ambled and, dare we say, frolicked happily around various Eastern Suburbs disabled doggy hotspots. It was an odd kind of frolick as the Dog Rock God could do with being the new face of Jenny Craig, and the marvelous munchkin has been left with a paralysed left back leg which her impressive little brain is gradually working out how to make work the way it once did. But what a relief to have her back. We could do this forever.

Alas and alack, the time came when the DRG was simply not enough for the gorgeous girl. The Family Fabulous and the DRG were all well and good - but it was time to see her puppy friends!

Dogs are amazing creatures. We really don't get them as much as they get us. Without exception, every single one of them knew she had been through trauma, was weak, still injured, and approached her cautiously, gently. They sniffed, nuzzled, sat close but nothing even remotely rambunctious. Lovely.

She's still wobbling away on the lead. They still play and often run up to say hello. She occasionally makes an effort to play but is just as likely to ask to be picked up. And everyone is getting back to happy. Baby steps.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Please forgive the recent break in transmission. The Dog Rock God has been inexplicably ill. Fortunately, CSI like meticulous investigation claims to have identified the root evil, and the correct antibiotics should be doing their thing.

Into the breach left by the DGR wobbly state has stepped the most magnificent Dog Saint Meredith. And she has done a truly extraordinary job of managing the delicate orchestrations that are the Critter Club Cavortings as well as all the other household management thingys she usually does which Dog Rock Gods rarely get their head around. And she has been supportive and sympathetic and all of the ‘S’ words. And the dogs have all loved her.



That would be all except for one flighty little number, and yes you will be named, you naughty little Manchester Terrier Twiggy.

While the Dog Celestials most definitely do not play favourites, highly-strung Twiggy has always held a special place in our hearts. A slight little thing, she is always delighted to see us and plays happily with all other dogs. She has never taken herself off exploring, independent of the group, and has always done exactly as she has been told. She has come to stay on our cloud on a number of occasions where she is treated with extreme courtesy by our own puppies, is fed beautiful food, and is even allowed to sleep under the covers because her tiny stature means she gets cold.

Her one fault is that she can be a little, shall we say, nervous.

Cut to Friday. Dog Rock God at end of tether with sick thing, at home in bed. Dog Saint Meredith doing a brilliant job on a very trying day at the end of a very trying week. Twiggy on final walk, a touch nervous.

The walk goes fine. Twiggy does have this unfortunate habit of only coming to the Dog Rock God to get her lead on at the end of the walk but no-one had noticed this because it was just an assigned job and all assumed it was interchangeable. Until Friday when the way it is became abundantly clear to all. It is the end of a happy walk.

As Dog Celestials we are able to plug directly into dog thinking and report it in extreme cases. This fits the criteria.

DSM: Come on Twiggy. There’s a good girl. Come and get your lead on.
Twiggy: No.
DSM: Come on good girl.
Twiggy: No.

DSM makes an executive decision to walk them all back to the car and open the door so Twiggy will just jump in. All other dogs do this but Twiggy does not recognise the Executive.

Now Twiggy runs back to the main part of the park where a group of highly intelligent children and the genii who spawned them start running at her to say hello. Where the DGR might have gone all Sue Sylvester with bellowing, “back off people”, DSM merely internalises it, risking future health problems. More conversation ensues.

DSM: Come on Twiggy.
Twiggy: No. Scary people.
DSM: Twiggy I’m not scary am I? Who feeds you when you come to stay? Who holds up the doona for you to crawl under? Who sleeps crooked so you can snuggle up to my legs? Who do you see on your walks every time you come out?
Twiggy: The Dog Rock God. The Dog Rock God!

Admirably, Dog Saint Meredith does not kill this goose who will lay no golden eggs. She would have to get her hands on her to do that. Instead, she spends the next hour cajoling, enlisting the help of other lesser dog walkers who may be mistaken for the DGR, offering treats – which the Twig somehow manages to grab without herself being grabbed.

Finally DSM gives in and calls DRG apologetically requesting her to rise from her sick bed.

Cue heroic music.

A frantic drive across town in thinly disguised jimmy jams results in an arrival at the park where a car full of beautifully behaved dogs look quizzically at the strangely attired DRG and wonder, through the thoughtfully opened windows, whatever happened to DSM and the Twig monster.

Calmly the DRG progresses to the main part of the park where she sits on a rock, gives her special call which sadly DSM's mellifluous tones are unable to emulate, and the wayward Twigster comes running up for a cuddle.

Twiggy: So good to see you!

A sentiment echoed in the most tired and emotional way by the entirely spent Dog Saint Meredith.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


For some lucky puppies, the Dog Rock Gods don’t just exist in the park. These puppies actually get to come and stay in our own little puppy heaven. A wonderful time is always had by the visiting puppy but not always by the Dog Rock Gods. These are their stories.

Let’s begin with very big Gordon Setter Monty. Dog Saint Meredith is sitting at her computer doing something very important like Writing The Next Great Australian Novel or Sending Out Invoices. It is hot. Without a cherub to flutter a fan – times are lean for the Dog Rock Gods – Meredith has to cope with an electric fan positioned behind her. She hears Monty lumber in and thinks nothing of it. In quick succession she hears what sounds like a tap, thinks something of it and turns from her masterpiece only to see Monty, leg cocked, weeing on the fan and the resultant, shall we say, golden shower, raining down upon her head as the offending fluid hits the fan, so to speak.

Then there was Harry, Lotti, and the Rock Star – not to be confused with the far more important (and pleasant) Dog Rock God. At this point The DRGs are living opposite a man who achieved some fame for some song about violently eliminating mechanical gambling devices. Who knew? Certainly not us. In any case, as you might imagine, Dog Rock Gods and Minor League Rock Stars live quite opposite hours. Apparently the Rock Star sings a whole bunch of very left wing songs about tolerance and people who have to work for a living and that sort of thing. Apparently people love him for it. Long story short, Harry and Lotti were staying and our dogs are walked around 6am before we do our professional duties. Yes, yes, our own dogs are always commenting on how unprofessional we are with them but quickly quieten down when we suggest they might put their own paws in their pockets. In any case, on these occasions Harry thought he might serenade the neighbourhood with his excitement at going on the Dog Rock Gods private walks at 6 every morning. These melodious tones could not be silenced by any amount of shushing or cajoling even though said shushing and cajoling was done quite desperately due to the fact that we knew the human Rock Star would be upset at having been woken up because he didn’t get home from his gig – that’s what these hip people call a musical performance – until after 3am. How do we know? Because we heard him making a heck of a ruckus as he stumbled out of the cab. Woke us up. Ooops. Long story short. Rock Star has number of Dog Rock Gods and continues a text campaign for the entire duration of the Harry stay, which is how long Harry continued his serenading. Lotti’s only real contribution for the stay was grabbing the one litre container of honey from the bench and spreading it throughout the house.

Don’t get us wrong. Lots of lovely stuff happens on home stays. Baci turns into a good dog, Twiggy becomes cuddle central, Rex cracks us up by literally staring quizzically at the Picasso on the wall, head tilting back and forth, hey that’s not how a person looks. But it is. But it’s not. You’re thinking it’s a real Picasso? We’re dogwalkers, get a grip.

Our bunch usually loves a visitor, no chance to get bored with each other. Socksy the cat rules the roost. Many a dog has developed an unhealthy interest in Socks, often laying there staring at him for hours. Socksy likes it that way. Only Toast has been banned for not getting that Socks is the boss. Gizmo is usually the welcoming committee for the visitors, teaching them the rules of play in our house, while Ruby plays mother figure should they need one and should she like them. Bubble, as the house terrier cross unfortunately has her cross terrier moments, usually with another terrier. Sadly Bubble could not threaten her way out of a paper bag – though why she’d find herself in one is a little beyond us – and usually ends up sulking under the bed after a few choice swear words from the visiting crosser terrier.

Bubble has reason to get her knickers in a knot though. Early on in our dog walking lives when we were mere Dog Angels, Otto Jack Russel came to stay with us for nine months. Bubble adored him and thought he was family. He even moved house with us – the ‘wow that was a mistake from which we are still trying to extricate ourselves’ move. Then Otto went home and Bubble was left heartbroken. She still refuses to speak to him.

Currently we have two long-term visitors. Bo, whose Mum has gone into aged care, and thus will always be with us. We take him to visit her a couple of times each week. And Judy. Judy. Judy whose Mum went overseas for two weeks over three and a half years ago now only to find that the Government wouldn’t let her back in. Hard to understand why. She is a lovely woman. And Judy. Well Judy raids the other dog’s bowls, eats poo at every opportunity, and snores like a very big fat man. Judy’s lovely Mum assures us she will send for her as soon as she finds a place to settle.

Aaaah the lives of the Dog Rock Gods. Truly.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Get well soon Jemima

Sometimes the world can be a little difficult to figure, even for Dog Rock Gods like us. We got a call on the weekend from one of the world’s truly wonderful people, Libby, to let us know that the beautiful, cheeky, happy, gorgeous, marvellous little munckin Jemima had been through a most dreadful trauma. During the previous evening Jemima had started out a little on the quiet side then progressed to full on shaking and finally couldn’t move her back legs. All in very quick time.

Jemima and the Family Fabulous (and they truly are) all rush off to Sydney Uni vet hospital from where they are steered to the one at North Ryde where all sorts of specialists hover with scalpels and anaesthesia and surgeon outfits. These very important people find that this little tiny ball of love has four or five slipped discs and set about meticulously securing them back to her spine from which they never should have strayed.

The washup is that one of the absolute delights of our days is in hospital on happy drugs for the rest of the week and then will need at least eight weeks of restricted movement in a little cot. Not that we’re counting, but when you add the weekend before it happened and the week in hospital, that will be 68 days or, even worse, one thousand six hundred and thirty two hours without seeing Jemima and all of her wonderful entourage. We are very sad. As are many of our Critter Clubbers who have asked us to translate and convey their messages here:

Josie: Dear Jemima, I hope you get well soon. I miss sharing the front seat with you and I promise I will work hard to keep all the other ones from your spot.

Twiggy: Ouch. That’s bad. Miss you. Get back soon. Please. We need you in our group. Charlie is sad.

Buttons: White fluffies together!

Sadie: If you don’t hurry back who will I snuggle up to on the front seat? Think about it Jemima. It’s not always all about you.

Toast: Come on kid. Chin up. I’m just down the road if ya need anything.

Bebe: I know I always complained when you took my ball and I know this is where I should say I actually kinda liked it but I didn’t but I do really like you and I hope you feel very better soon.

Bello: Dear Jemima, you are one of the really nice ones. Please get well soon.

Spikey: Who’s going to beat me to the ball if you don’t? I like to chase it but I like it when you pick it up because I think it tastes a bit yukky.

Charlie: Dear Jemima. I should have said this a long time ago but I was scared. I know what I feel for you is unnatural. I know that. Boys are supposed to like boys like my dads and girls are supposed to like girls like the Dog Rock God and Dog Saint Meredith but I love YOU Jemima. I love you. And I miss you. And I would do anything to make you well. Love Charlie.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The One Car Tango

Critter Club usually has two vehicles zooming around the city, battling the less privileged traffic, poor buggers with regular jobs and regular lives, as we pickup the world’s greatest dogs.

Usually. But not on this day.

Unfortunately, Mr Volkswagen felt the need to include a radiator with a very low life expectancy in the main dog bus, the Caddy. So after just three years it went off to get a replacement, and if this were a motoring blog we could tell you a whole lot more that might help you with your brand choice for your next car but onward, this is about dogs.

So now we have a large number of dogs to fit in a Toyota Corolla hatch. Again, if this were a motoring blog we could tell you more about advertised fuel efficiency versus actual non-fuel efficiency but this is about the dogs and we will not digress.

Large number of dogs, small car, so first a couple of adjustments need to be made. Daisy must go. Sweet, happy, getting rather large six month old Labrador who thinks any place is a play place and play involves running rings around other dogs and jumping on their heads. In the Corolla? Sorry Daisy. Next, the dogs who have a lovely, understanding person at home who can give them a little outing themselves which, while it will not be as much fun as their usual Critter Club extravaganza, will help provide some much needed space in our transport. But still it will be tight.

The Corolla is normally driven by Dog Saint Meredith but the Dog Rock God is a very bad passenger and so takes the wheel. This of course leads to much of the following:

DSM: Oh, do you go this way?
DRG: Yes.
DSM: Interesting.

DRG: Can you not lean forward? I can’t see the mirror.
DSM: I’ve got five dogs on my lap. What do you want me to do?
DRG: Sit still.

DSM: Red light!
DRG: You think I don’t know what a red light looks like?
DSM: Sorry. Of course you know what a red light looks like.

DRG: Can you go up and get Dixie and Sadie?
DSM: Sure. What do you want me to do with the five dogs on my lap?
DRG: Fine. I’ll go.

But again, this is about the dogs. In short:

Walk One begins with Buttons happy on the DSM lap while into the back of the car goes Monty, a very large Gordon Setter. On a normal day there would be room for one other large dog. Today we add Jennifer, a labradoodle, Bebe, a groodle, schnauzers Chester and Lulu, Spikey cairn terrier, massive Australian bulldog puppy Boris, and finally, very big puppy golden retriever, Louis. Louis can be a bit iffy in the car (iffy means car sick but we won’t say it out loud) but all is fine and we get to the park safely for our hour of joy.

Into the tin again, and the sardines are off home. One hundred metres from Louis’ gates, you guessed it, up comes his breakfast. Every packed in piece of flesh gags collectively. Windows down. Get to the gate. Stop the car. Wait for Louis to obligingly eat it up again. Oh, you wouldn’t do this? Think again. These are extraordinary times.

Walk Two is all about the DSM lap. Jemima, Josie, Gypsy, Rex, Bello, Sadie and Hugo are all front seat dogs. Determined front seat dogs. They have earned their place. But what’s going on here? The DSM who usually drives this car is sitting on their seat? And the DRG is driving? All is not right with the world. We must fight for our rights! And scramble they do.

Gypsy on one leg. Jemima on the other. DSM: ouch. Sadie in. Clings across the two legs. Gypsy backs into DSM torso. Ouch. Hugo in. Gypsy as the smartest dog we walk can do the maths and jumps into the back. Josie in. Pushes Sadie to floor where Dixie was happily alone between DSM legs. Dixie growls Sadie into a corner. DSM leg now crammed against middle compartment. Ouch. Rex in. Gives DSM a quick kiss then goes back to hang out in the cool lounge with Gypsy. Bello in. Demands his rightful position. Three white fluffies (Jemima, Josie, Bello) all go heavy bum and can’t be moved. Hugo concedes and goes to the lounge. DSM considers joining him. Ouch.

Phew. Dropped off the last dog and point the Corolla toward the very busy Volkswagen service centre. The phone rings. It’s Mr Volkswagen. Terribly sorry, parts not in, nothing we can do, terribly sorry, it will be late tomorrow, terribly sorry.

No real desire to print the other side of this conversation. Onward and upward.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Letters of Concern

Dear xxxx,
We are a little concerned over the recent conduct of your formerly sweet puppy, xxx. Lately she seems to have become somewhat ashamed of her white colour and each day, does all in her power to become brown. This involves laying in mud and refusing to come out until her colour has completely changed. We feel that her self-esteem issues need to be addressed as a matter of urgency before she refuses to come to the park altogether. Please arrange an appointment with the Dog Rock Gods at your earliest convenience.
Concerned regards,

Dear xxx,
We are a little concerned over the recent conduct of your formerly sweet puppy, xxxx. Recently she has come to regard her transport to the park as a playground in itself. Despite numerous warnings from the Dog Rock Gods, she continues to cavort about, encouraging all of the formerly good puppies to play with her in the back of the bus. Now we do not know what sort of behaviour is acceptable in your own home, but this most certainly does not meet the high standards of Critter Club. Please arrange an appointment with the Dog Rock Gods at your earliest convenience to discuss the teaching of discipline and social responsibility in your family environment.
Concerned regards,

Dear xxxxx,
We are a little concerned over the recent conduct of your formerly sweet puppy, xxxxxx. While we understand he is a much-loved only child who can indeed have as many toys as he desires, he needs to understand that things are a little different in the park. If another dog is playing with a ball, it might be best if he asks that dog nicely if he can share. Currently, he growls at his former friend causing the poor fretful dog to drop the ball in astonishment so that he can swoop in and steal - and we do not use that word lightly - the ball. Similarly, he needs to understand that when a human child is holding a toy in her hand, he is not to swoop on the child and take the toy as this will cause the child to scream and the Dog Rock Gods to be abused. Please arrange an appointment with the Dog Rock Gods at your earliest convenience to discuss your obvious parenting issues.
Concerned regards,

Monday, March 15, 2010

People. People who need ...

While the walking of dogs is a constant joy, except the really, really hot days and the 6th and 7th really, really rainy days, sometimes the lack of human company is a little apparent.

Dogs are great for a play, great for a cuddle. Some even have a vocabulary that includes sit, stay, and stop scratching. But there are times when a little human interaction would be greatly appreciated. Times such as when you tell your companions in the car how the real estate agent is clueless when it comes to selling your house, or how it wouldn’t hurt your internet provider to occasionally provide a full day of internet, or ponder what you might do about an inbred psychotic neighbour who seems to have chosen you as the perfect target. On these occasions, the look of utter devotion to the Dog Rock God (DRG) falls a little short.

Fortunately, for these few occasions, we have the companion humans of the dogs we walk. Not all are at home when we pick up their dogs, some we’ve met only when we arranged to walk their dog, but some of those who are around provide a much-needed oasis in a desert of woof. Libby, Paul, Deb, David, Kate, Karen, Tanya, Stella, Aston are all great for a chat. Ooops just realised we’ve entered a very dangerous “why didn’t she mention me” path and so we quickly turn around and retreat from whence we came.


Of course, you’ll be surprised to know, not everyone is delightful. But we do tend to eschew those who treat us like “the help”. The oddest thing is when “the help” treat you like “the help” – you know, housekeepers, gardeners, the man of the house (kidding … seriously). Concierges can be a bit of a treat. Usually they start by looking down at you from a great height. Perhaps it’s the shiny uniform vs the special dogwalking attire, but gradually they turn into real human beings. One concierge on his first (and I believe last) day found the whole thing a little overwhelming and took it out on the DRG screaming, “You think you’re better than me, don’t you?”
After a long silence the DRG looked him directly in the eye and quietly said, “I’m the dog walker.”

But all in all we’ve had lots of people we’ve loved and become close to over time. We’ve been saddened by the human stuff that has happened to some of our humans: death, divorce, moving into aged care.

More than once we’ve been called out in the middle of the night, once to collect the dogs because our owner had decided to kick the new boyfriend out, and another time to pick up a dog because who knew when anyone would be home while the birth of their first child was happening. Then there are the oddities. To pick two:

1. Lovely woman, quite eccentric, used to love it when she was home for a chat. Seemed to have a bunch of money but no actual job. It happens. She gets engaged to a bloke we don’t like at all but, of course, say nothing. Why don’t we like him? You guessed it – he treats us like “the help”. So one fine day, the unsuspecting DRG opens the door to get (name of dog pixellated to protect identity) and lo and behold our lovely woman is there. Sobbing. Oh. Gosh. Um. Are you OK? “He left me,” begins the monologue and, to summarise, “he said I wasn’t allowed to work anymore but he didn’t give me any money and how am I supposed to live and I only did a couple of nights because I don’t have to do that many because I earn $1800 per night and…” $1800 per night? What could she…? Oh. Gosh. Um.

2. While on the subject of money … cue evil music. There was this couple. I can’t tell you how much I want to name them. They had a (type of dog pixellated so we don’t get sued). Actually they had one of those types of dogs before – lovely dog but used to get sick all the time and often came to stay with us and we’d have to give him pills 3 times a day, but lovely dog. Went out of our way. Didn’t charge extra. Because we’re NICE. Sadly that beautiful dog dies and they replace it with same brand but totally different nightmare dog. As you might imagine, the Dog Rock Gods show an enormous amount of patience trying to coax obedience from this dreadful dog. We even take it for training in our own time. What are we? Nuts? It’s behaviour gets worse. We try to talk to the owners but they’re busy playing golf or the stockmarket or some poor bastard. We finally get their attention and explain that their dog is biting at other dogs and the only way we can take him out is if he has a muzzle. Meredith, the nicer DRG, goes out of her way to source the most comfortable muzzle available. It’s called a husher and is available in 13 sizes and must be ordered especially. Saint Meredith measures said dog’s muzzle and orders it in through a local vet. We pay $35 direct to the vet having been told to put it on the bill. Meanwhile they sell their massive home in (suburb pixellated so we don’t get sued) for a suburb record – over $6 million. Next the bloke of the shining couple decides he can’t bear to see his dog with a muzzle on (after three outings where we were making progress) and forbids “the help” to use it. The DRGs can no longer be of assistance here and must let the dog go. We send the final invoice, including the cost of the husher. A week later we get an apologetic call from the local vet saying the used husher had been mailed back to them with a request that they refund the cost of the husher to us but, of course, they can’t because it’s used. The next day payment arrives from the dreadful owners of the dreadful dogs, minus the $35 for the husher. Say it again, $6 million plus.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Harmony of Dogs

One of the first questions the uninitiated ask us Dog Rock Gods (DRGs) is, “Don’t they fight?”

Strangely no-one ever asked me that as a schoolteacher and yet the answer in my former profession was “always”, while the current answer is ….. “No”.

Dogs are pack animals and quickly find the place in the pack where they are happiest. My, recently gushed over, Ruby, for example, is firmly a bottom dog. An eight-week-old pup crosses her path and she’s quickly on her back begging, “Can I be bottom? Can I please? Let me follow you!”

Just as obviously, there is usually a clear top dog. Currently in Critter Club, that dog is Toast. He didn’t have to fight his way to get there, he just assumed the mantle as previous dogs got a little older, and made less frequent appearances.

The interesting thing, and hugely annoying while we’re at it, is that almost any undesexed male dog (UMD) in the park, will come and size himself up against Toast.

This is why we refuse to walk undesexed dogs. While all of them don’t automatically want to dominate, many do. And those who don’t can often attract the type of attention Toast gets while being positively unable to handle it.

With poor Toast it usually goes like this:

Toast is busy playing with his pack when UMD comes charging from nowhere, chest out, hackles raised, licking lips furiously.

“Hey. I’m better than you. I got balls, see? Let me beat you up and have your pack.”

Toast, to his credit, holds himself steady, doesn’t back down, but does not fight.

Meanwhile, and this happened this week, DRGs start screaming at the (usually male) owner (no comment) to “Get your dog away.”

Owner: “He’s not a problem. Let them sort it out for themselves.”

DRGs: “We are responsible for these dogs, this is not a playground where the bully wins, we will not take a dog of ours home covered in blood. Now please take your dog away!”

Remarkably the owner usually scurries off with his tail between his legs.


No fights at Critter Club.

As for the unsnipped … drives us nuts.

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.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

My Beautiful Ruby

Ruby Beagle is the canine love of my life. It’s true, even Dog Rock Gods have a weakness, and Ruby Beagle is mine. Which is not to say that I don’t absolutely adore our other puppies, Bubble and Gizmo, I do. And I’ve loved other dogs in my visit to this earth, Misty, Cooper, Ziggy, even Sparky who hated me because he previously held the position of my mother’s baby. And of course I love (most of) the dogs we walk. But Ruby is it for me.

After 10 years of a previous relationship, I finally talked my way into a dog – clearly a career as a salesperson would have been a mistake. Much better Dog Rock God.

OK. So having received permission, what sort of dog? Beagles have always looked cute. Get the Trading Post. There’s one just near where I work. Pop out and get her at lunchtime. Two to choose from. I pick the shy one and instantly know that her name is Ruby. Because, of course, no-one has ever named their dog, Ruby.

I show her off to everyone, cuddle her to bits and pieces, get her home and discover the poor little bugger has fleas and ear mites and I hadn’t even noticed the bent over tail which snooty beagle breeders later frowned on as a gay tail. Any being who is frowned on for anything gay immediately rockets in my estimation.

But back to the early days, She was as cute as cute could be. I’d take her on her walks and, after a short time she’d just flop down on the pavement, apparently exhausted. After a minute or so, she’d build up a big batch of energy and take off like a crazy thing, pulling and pulling on the lead until she tired again and did her puppy flop. During one such a pause, a well meaning women with a genuinely sympathetic tone enquired, “Is that your first beagle?”

Soon her meaning became apparent, but as we’re here to hail Ruby, I will just tell you that in her early years she ate a whole couch and caused the entire Balmain first grade rugby league team to mock me as I did laps of Rozelle hospital grounds, trying to cojole her to come back to me. Every time I passed them, they echoed me in a girly voice calling “Ruby, Ruby”. Schmucks.

We survived these early adventures and our bond grew to titanium strength when the ex walked out on us. Us! One day, said ex came to have a pretend civil discussion and proceeded to coo over now one year old Ruby who quickly turned on her paws, jumped on my lap, and stared down the infidel, not a smile in sight. That’s my girl!

Surviving that little episode, us single girls met the new, and improved, love of our life and a meeting was proposed between my Ruby and Meredith’s Great Danes, Ziggy and Cooper. Never one to be intimidated, the gorgeous Ruby raced straight into the house of this woman I was desperate to impress, and I mean raced, and pooed on Cooper’s bed. And I mean pooed.

Somehow Meredith’s eyes were still full of love goo and she overlooked our little indiscretion. The early days were a little rocky between my dog love and my human love. At one point I clearly remember one of them saying, no, make that shouting, “It’s either you or me Ruby”. From another room I do recall thinking that might not be a threat I can accommodate. I think the said threatener may have realised too, because things calmed down markedly after that. From then on she became our Ruby.

Fast forward to now. Ruby is 12 and a half – born July 24, 1997, possibly in a puppy brothel, certainly in Taree. She has been having a few neck problems, bit of a creaky back, and a lovely vet named Richard has been looking after her. On her second last visit Meredith requested that her anal glands be squeezed – super ick – because she’d been licking the area recently. Lots of stuff came out and he suggested she might have a bit of an infection. Routine follow up on Thursday, his jolly conversation suddenly gets a little serious as he has his finger up her bum. I know he does this sort of thing for a living so I know it isn’t a sudden distaste for his chosen career. No. Ruby seems to have a lump. Should I bring her back in a couple of weeks to see if it goes down? No. Get her straight to a specialist.

Next day, lovely Dr Katya Voss – how are these specialists so young? – confirms, very gently, that in all likelihood this is a cancer. My world is spinning now as I seem to understand that I need to hope that it hasn’t spread to the lymphs but if it has it can stay there for a long time before it inevitably goes to her – my beautiful Ruby’s beautiful lungs. No.

Just no.

The life expectancy of a beagle is 12 to 15 years. I want 15. Hell, I want 30!

We go back to Sydney Uni vet hospital tomorrow, me and my gorgeous Ruby who doesn’t seem sick at all, and she has a day of tests.

They’ve given me a long document to sign that tells me basically that I must cough up the dough before they will lay a finger on her and, if I don’t, they really don’t want to know about her. Also. In another really long passage, any mistakes they might accidentally commit upon this absolute dog love of my life, you guessed it …. not liable. I don’t want liable. I want mistake free, I want my 15 years. Let me be clear though, the vets have been wonderful, caring people. I'm merely protesting at the role the lawyers and the dodgy people of this world have played in throwing trust out the window.

Having said that, perhaps they will sign something to say they will do everything in their power to make her well. I know Dr Katya will, but why am I the only one who has to sign? It would also say that they will cuddle her all the time while she’s there, unless of course, she doesn’t want them to, and then they’ll stop. Additionally, they should handle her very gently, not put their fingers near her mouth because she doesn’t like that, make sure she gets neither too hot nor too cold, reassure her regularly that I will be back to pick her up as soon as they call me, give her as many treats as she wants when the procedures are through, make sure she gets taken for wees and poos so she doesn’t get uncomfortable, and grant her the last three years of her life. Please.

Having sought a million reassurances that they would give her plenty of love, I sent Ruby off for her tests and, guess what? Clear lungs, clear lymphs, and a most excellent chance that the big lump is nothing but a big lump of fat in a very odd place. I have those!!! Yay. Yay. Yay. Going for 15 years and beyond ... thanks Dr Katya!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Just Add Water

Dogs and Water. Water and Dogs.

On a scorching summer’s day, it is vital to ensure that the dogs in our pack have plenty of water available. There’s a tap and a bowl on our walking route – that should take care of any thirst, right? Sure unless you’re Dixie and Babooti, who can’t possibly drink out of any bowl another dog may have used. Heavens no. Doesn’t matter how hot it is, we need to make sure we have an alternate method of getting them to drink. Babooti requires her own portable bowl while Dixie, strangely enough, is happy to drink from any water laying around on the ground.

Even in the driest of weather, Centennial Park has water laying about, primarily in the form of a swamp, right smack bang in the middle of where we walk. Most dogs have no interest it unless it’s very hot. The athletes (ball dogs) however, need to run to the swamp in between throws to replenish their fluids and cool their undercarriages. No amount of stern “NO!” will dissuade them. We’ve tried. So on a perfectly fine day there is the odd dog who may well go home muddy. Some people see this as a sign that their dog had a great time. This we encourage. Some don’t. And that’s unfortunate.

Golden and Labrador retrievers will always lie in any puddle of water they can find. It’s in their blood, which incidentally must be like ice, given that they will indulge this passion even in the dead of winter.

Which brings us to the recent torrential rains. Aaah the glamour of dogwalking. When it’s outrageously heavy, most dogs bound out of the car, get struck by the fact that it’s pelting down in the park just like it was in their backyard – who knew? – and quickly turn around and head straight back for the comparative luxury of the dog bus. Most dogs that is. But when it’s bucketing down like that and the majority have quickly come to their senses, you can always guarantee there’ll be at least one waterbaby, standing there in the downpour, tapping their feet, and giving you the “I’ve paid for this” look. A quick negotiation will usually have them back in the vehicle waiting for it to clear with the rest of us.

For the most part though, dogs like a bit of a play in light rain or, even better, immediately after. The smells that come out of the ground seem to be something particularly fascinationg immediately after rain. And the fresh water is such fun to splash through and flop in. After the weekend rains everybody had the best time. Even 10 year old Gordon Setter, Monty, danced like a two year old.

Unfortunately, the biggest fans of pelting through the water and mud at speed are our white fluffies: Jemima, Buttons, and Josie. Design fault. Josie outdid herself on Monday (see pic above) and was forced to suffer the indignity of being publicly bathed under the aforementioned tap. Next we ran her through the long grass to dry her off – theory being it’s a little like those carwash thingies. She returned home looking almost freshly washed. Almost.

All great fun but spare a thought for Dixie and Ruby Watson who both really can’t cope with the rain and its’ after effects. A lady should never have to get her paws wet. Never.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

One Wish

Before we took over this business, someone we privately considered quite bonkers said to us: “Be careful. Every dog walker I know is totally mad”. Unsure whether this was the pot calling the kettle black or simply the pot assuming everyone was a kettle, we ploughed ahead. After six and a half years of walking dogs, I have to note that I am no more insane than I was teaching high school but I do consider dogs to be some of the best beings around. Further, and this is where it gets a little scary, if granted one wish (OK, and all the nice poor people and sick people were already healthy and rich), I would choose to spend a day as a dog.


When you spend so much time with a different being, a whole bunch of questions start nagging away. And assumptions of so called experts really start to get up your nose. There seems to be an understanding that dogs are somehow less than us, that they are roughly the equivalent of a two year old child and no more. Rubbish. Why can’t humans think that maybe there are different kinds of intelligences and capabilities that may far exceed our own.

Simple case in point: I could find a whole bunch of dogs who could run the 100 metres faster than that Bolt guy. Yet the Olympic champion is feted for not being able to run as fast as many a dog.

This is just one experience I’d love to have during my day as a dog. I’d run fast and play lots and jump many times my own height, just to know what that feels like. I’d also cleverly navigate the world without hands and wag my tail furiously.

Then I’d check out what my vision of the world would be if I was less than, say, 30 centimetres tall. Would I just see a less than stunning array of knees? And I’d get to know if my eyesight really is my least adequate sense and if I see in colour and what that spectrum is like. I’d get to know what I actually see and think as I watch my people incessantly for cues that I can figure out.

And here’s the real kicker, the thing I’d really love to know: if I don’t have words, how do I think? If I think: “ooh it’s about dinner time” and I don’t have the words, “ooh it’s about dinner time”, then what do I think?

Which brings me to the next fascination, how do I know what time it is and what day? Because dogs do know these things. Dogs we walk will wait at the door on Tuesdays and Thursdays if they’re the only days they come out with us. On the other days they don’t wait. How does that work?

How will I know when my person is five minutes away in the car? Is it my amazing sense of smell? And what is it like to have a sense of smell like that? When my person comes home and I sniff them all over, what am I smelling? Is it like a story of the day? Does the ground have a history of every dog that has been past and can I recognise whether or not I would like each dog just from this scent.

Here comes the difficult bit. Some humans who proclaim to know about these things say that when a dog sniffs the bum of another that they get all manner of information, ranging from age and sex to understanding of their position in the hierarchy. OK, so as a human I don’t ever want to sniff a dog’s, or any other creatures’, bum, but dogs don’t seem to mind and I would really like to understand how this information is conveyed. And again, how do they register it without words?

And then, when my day is over, I’d want to be sure to remember it all so I could retain a better understanding of these gorgeous creatures.

But then again, I imagine the experience of their purity of emotion, simplicity of existence, and enduring curiosity, may not so easily be left behind.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Politics of the Front Seat

The true joy of dogwalking is the dogs. The ick of dogwalking is the driving to pick up said dogs. Sydney traffic, aaaaaaargh. Other Sydney drivers, double aaaaaaaaaaargh.

Sometimes, when we’re running through the process of the walks as mindless conversation with, say, an osteopath who must have studied at least something a little bit difficult to qualify to have you semi-naked face down, cracking that most vulnerable of body parts, your spine, sometimes they say “Oh, do you pick the dogs up?”

At this we pause. Wait for the penny to drop. It doesn’t so, aware of the power of the questioner, we ever so gently say, “We do. We’ve tried suggesting that they all catch a bus to the park but the idea has failed to gain traction.”

So yes. We drive. A lot. But there is one fascinating aspect that all but relieves the tedium of the drive and that is the race to get the best spot in the car. Or, as we like to call it, the politics of the front seat.

For some Critter Clubbers, there is no more desireable place than the front passenger seat. Harbourfront real estate. On the early run, it is owned by Buttons. Occasionally he allows Ruby Watson to share but he lets her know when she’s not welcome and, head down, she slumps to the back to see if anyone will talk to her there. One day each week Buttons goes on the second walk because the cleaners are scared of him – check his picture out on our Dogs page. On this day Buttons faces stiff opposition for his customary position. The second walk provides the fiercest competition of all. It is not pretty, not a place for wimps. His solution is not to compete but to sit on the brake lever between the seats and cuddle up under my arm. Never beaten.

First walk on Fridays and Otto has the seat all to himself. Don’t tell the others.

The reigning champ of the second session is the adorable Jemima. What is it with these little white fluffies? Her nearest competition is the seriously cuddleable Josie. They do, of course, both fit on the seat, but next to the backrest gazing lovingly at the driver is the prime spot. Yep, it’s a tough gig.

Josie accepts that Jemima gets the best spot because she was there first, but not all dogs get it so easily. Enter Babooti, Twiggy, Sadie, Bello, and Rex. Each of them tries to cling to the remaining area of the seat. Bello manages it with grace. Sadie growls at Babooti who growls back, all tough but not an ounce of fight in them. Now Twiggy notices that if she pokes Sadie with her nose she will growl. When she stops poking, the growling stops. So she does it again. Just like playing with a toy. At this Rex feels very uncomfortable, makes his excuses, and departs for the back.

If they all get a little squishy for Jemima she explodes (and clearly means it) and Sadie flies onto the floor, only to land on her sister Dixie, who lets fly with so many dog expletives that even the driver’s face turns a shade of tomato.

Make no mistake, the top of the pile has been won fairly and squarely by munchkin Jemima. New dogs Daisy and Indie have both tried their luck and been sent packing to the back, where interdog diplomacy is a much more relaxed affair.

Once Jemima has left the Critter Club to rule her home for the rest of the day, Ruby and Roger make their way from the back, very politely, to have a turn.

The only other given is the dog who would never fight for the front seat but who waits patiently for her opportunity to play driver. Olympic equivalent athlete Bebe just loves to sit in the driver’s seat when dogs are being escorted into their homes. Anyone going past sees a giant black groodle sitting proudly behind the wheel of the parked car, looking straight ahead determinedly, waiting for her opportunity to finally drive. What they don’t see or know is that the high level of ball activity in which she has just partaken has caused her to go and lie in the swamp to cool down. As the driver returns to the vehicle, Bebe returns to the back, the driver sits down and aaaaaaaaaaargh. Wet bum. Delightful. So yes, we do drive them to the park.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Beautiful Angus

Sad news this week. After 17 and 1/2 years on the planet, the most gorgeous of Border Collies, Angus, has left us. His Mum called us with the news and explained how in the end he had become totally deaf and blind as well as incontinent. She knew it was time and made the trip we all dread to his lifelong vet. She spent a half hour with him before it was time, talking about all the great experiences he'd had in his life. We were included in that and feel very privileged to have been such an important part in the life of a most beautiful dog.

Angus was with us from the very start. I remember our first day of walking a pack and there were three black and white border collies. They all looked so alike to us, naive new pack leaders. How would we ever tell the difference? Of course they all had their own personalities and Angus' was pure heart. Every morning he would be waiting for us at his gate - where are they? where are they? Open the gate and straight out, a quick wee in the lane so as not to disgrace himself, then into the van to greet the others.

On the walks we always felt that Angus was somehow looking after us. He was a brilliant ballcatcher, loving to play, but he'd also be always aware of his responsibilities, rounding up the stragglers - come on, we're all a pack together, do your bit! It always felt safe with Angus there.

He did have one little special quirk, not shared by any other dog we've met. He loved a little white fluffy dog. Not just to look at, or cuddle up to. No, he saw a new little white fluffy coming his way and he felt an overwhelming need to round up the unsuspecting little fluffball - come on little thing, this way, this way, over here, now there you go, through the imaginary chute. We figured he saw them as little sheep and his genetics just kicked in.

Sometimes his Mum would go away and he would come to stay. Our dogs were all thrilled when Angus arrived, like some sort of God had deigned to join them. Socksy, our cat, on the other hand, would be most amused because he knew that for the duration of his stay, Angus would try to befriend him. This gave Socksy the much coveted opportunity to mess with the mind of a dog. It always went the same way. Angus would stare from a distance. Socksy would grant him a glance. Encouraged, Angus would move closer. Socksy would do that thing with his fur where it ripples up and down his back. Angus would take this as a sign, and move closer. Socksy would look him directly in the eye, get up, and turn his back before settling down facing in the other direction. Angus would sigh gratefully. This would go on for hours, days.

I remember the first day we became aware that something was wrong. We never had to worry about Angus on the walks, he was always rounding up the pack, checking what dangers or fun lay ahead, reporting on the others. Sure his legs had gotten a little wobbly and he needed help into the dog bus, but he still performed his duties with distinction. Then one day he was well behind the pack. We called him and while he heard the voice he could no longer tell which direction it came from, nor, it seemed, could he see too far ahead. He responded to the call by running to catch up with us, but entirely in the wrong direction. Our hearts broke. Our beautiful Angus was getting old.

From that day on, we reversed the roles of him looking after us and made a priority of looking out for him.

We are eternally grateful to have had this wonderful dog as a part of our lives. May he rest/play/round up the pack in peace and joy. We miss you Angus.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Delight of Dogwalking

Starting to get a little concerned that this dogwalking stuff all sounds like a joyous piece of cake. The dogs themselves are a delight, the people we walk for are a delight, but there is the occasional moment that is anything but … a delight. Try this:

It’s a Tuesday, the start of a busy day. Mitzi is a Miniature Schnauzer. She has the unfortunate combination of the most delicate stomach known to dog and a predilection for eating poo. For this, of course, she has made Baci her role model. Aware that Baci has a better nose for finding freshly arrived poo or recently dead animal, she follows her around like a canine acolyte.

On this particular morning her tracking of the naughty Labrador pays off. She scores some poo. Ick.

Already I think you know where I’m heading with this but stick with it, because it may be even worse than you’re imagining.

Between the first walk and the second, there is dropping off of dogs and picking up of others. We would prefer that they get a bus to the park and meet us there but this has proved an unpopular concept thus far.

Mitzi is still in the dog bus, waiting to be dropped off. I go up to get Dixie and Sadie from their apartment, leaving Mitzi on the front seat next to Bichon Frise (a small white fluffy), Babooti. Back to our transport, I get Dixie and Sadie in and take my seat, ready for the next pickup.

Suddenly the stench hits. I look down. Great gobs of sticky, runny, Mitzi nutrition (regurgitated dog poo for those of you not following) all over Babooti, the cloth seat - say it again – cloth seat, and running down the side to the part under the seat from which nothing is ever recoverable – nice design there Mr Volkswagen.

Slightly agitated, I pickup Mitzi, lovingly, and gently deposit her in the back of the van, WHERE SHE SHOULD HAVE VOMITED IN THE FIRST PLACE … if she had ACCIDENTALLY eaten poo … WHICH SHE SHOULD NEVER HAVE DONE. Fullstop.

This gentle action of depositing her in the rear of the vehicle somehow causes runny regurgitated stinking dog poo to further find its way into my lap, onto my phone, and onto my hands. Too awful.

I know really really bad things happen to people in their lives but I truly believe this is the Everest of ick. I scream. I get out of the car. I look around. I’m the adult here. This really sucks. I cry. None of these actions cause the sticky runny regurgitated poo to clean itself up off the seat of the car, Babooti, under the seat, my phone, or me.

I contemplate calling 000 like those crazy Americans who call 911 because their Big Mac lacks special sauce. But I couldn’t possibly do that … my phone is covered in the unspeakable. I’m going to have to be a grown up. Gingerly I go to the back of the dog bus and find a towel. I start with myself but only serve to smear it further on my clothes. I contemplate throwing myself on the ground. Fortunately I realise this would only serve to draw attention to myself and pretty soon people would notice I'm covered in excrement that has spent time in the stomach of a schnauzer. Bad idea.

Another idea. You can clean the phone, go on, you can do that much. And I do. Horror everywhere but at least the phone is clean and now I am able to do the only thing I know how to do. I call Meredith. Help.

And she drives across town and saves me.

Monday, January 11, 2010

New Puppies!

Two new puppies have joined Critter Club. One is the most handsome, Indie who started with us one whole week ago. On his first day: ick I will not get into the car with you even though you smell like a dog and thus could be fun. Wolf in sheep's clothing and all that.

Indie's Mum and Dad told us that Indie will love to walk with us but really doesn't go much on other dogs. But of course we are the Dog Rock Gods and we do make magic happen. Today, just one short week later (miracles always happen in short weeks), Indie not only jumped enthusiastically into the car but played like a crazy boy for the entire hour walk with Olive the Staffy. Good huh?

Today we introduced a brand new puppy to the group. Despite our well placed bravado we were a little trepidacious because this particular pup is a Labrador from the House of Baci. Baci's individual Critter Club page tells you a little of what you need to know about her but trust us, there will be plenty more Baci features on this very blog before our time is up. In short - because this really is meant to be about her new sister - Baci is the naughtiest dog we walk - currently or ever. Fortunately for Baci she is also loveable, but enough about her. This is about her new Chocolate sister, Daisy.

We've known Daisy for five or six weeks now. While we waited for her to have her final shots, we'd go pick up Baci every day and little Daisy would be waiting at the gate with her. We'd pick Daisy up and take her over to the Dog Bus, let her look inside, give her a cuddle, then put her back behind the gate.

At last, today is different for little Daisy. This time the gate opens and a lead is paced on her collar and she follows Baci to her transport. Open the door and in jumps Baci with Daisy quickly looking up at the human to see what to do. With encouragement, she pops in and scurries immediately to the back to sit next to her big sister. Paws up if you're surprised Baci sits at the back of the bus.

Once at the park, Daisy is last out of the bus, firmly on her lead. The first walk is always on a lead no matter how good the dog appears. And puppies take quite a while to be allowed to roam free. Into the park and Daisy is so excited she doesn't know where to look first. So she looks to Baci. Unfortunately at this very moment Baci is engaged in one of her favourite past times. PLEASE STOP READING FOR A FEW LINES IF YOU HAVE EATEN OR INTEND TO EAT WITHIN A THREE HOUR PERIOD. As Daisy looks to her big sister she sees Baci rush to the back end of Tilly, mouth open facing up, hoping to catch the poo Tilly is producing before it hits the ground. Think Homer Simpson under a beer tap.

We turn the innocent head away and encourage her to sniff the grass to get an understanding of the dog wonderland that is Centennial Park. Heaven. Daisy attempts to sniff every blade of grass in the park. Gradually she looks up and starts to interact with other dogs. This is great!

We're so impressed with her alert responsiveness that we try to call her between us - first a metre away and then further. We get all the way up to five metres on her very first day. What a clever little dog. We praise her lavishly, "good girl, good Daisy" and who should come running over for a congratulatory pat? You guessed it, Big Sister Baci.

On the journey home, Daisy runs into her first piece of bad news. Dogs who are big or who will grow big, are not allowed on the front seat of the car. The politics of the front seat is quite the area of discussion at Critter Club and a blog on that very topic is bound to follow. Daisy simply cannot understand how masses of praise do not lead to an invitation to join the Dog Rock God in the front of the car. But being a smart little girl, she gets the message, and curls up with the others in the back.

Once home, a big kiss and cuddle - for Daisy, we do not share kisses with Baci, ironic isn't it? - and then in to rest to prepare for tomorrow's big adventure. We can't wait.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2010 - it begins ...

The first day back walking after the Christmas break is like a regular Monday on steroids – no, we don’t take steroids, just look at us for heaven’s sake. No, the regular ‘why aren’t I rich, why do I have to work for a meagre living?’ Monday feeling is amplified.

Mongrel alarm goes off and the bad news begins. It is no longer a day off. There is work to be done. Dogs to be walked.

Out of bed ridiculously early because the dog rock gods have to walk their own dogs before the actual work of dog walking begins. Ruby, Bubble, and Gizmo cope with our hurrumphing around Sydney Park, groaning about how ridiculously quickly that ‘holiday’ went. We hurrumph a little too long and suddenly we’re late. Great.

Rush rush. Fortunately there’s not too much traffic on the roads because all those other bastards are still on holiday. Not us. Our holiday is over. Serious grump.

And then, and this is going to sound pathetic but its true so the cynics need stop reading now, because, yes I’m going to say it, the magic begins.

First stop, Monty and Buttons' house. Still groaning, out of the car and … engage.

Bark bark bark bark bark. That would be – you’re late and oh, by the way, where have you been for the past ten, yes ten, days? Always complaining. Fumble for the key, the barking intensifies, gate flies open, and there they are: two of the biggest smiles you ever did see. Hello hello, how are you, good to see you.

Rush to the Dog Bus, and once inside, licks, and cuddles, and vastly wagging tails, and sheer delight. The scenario is repeated at every stop of the day. Nothing is more delightful than the unadulterated joy of a dog. And this is pretty much what greets us at every house, every day that we walk.

Terrible job. So sad the holiday is over.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Play Ball

Dogs love nothing more than to play with a ball right? If you answered yes, you’re either a novice around dogs or you have a Border Collie. The correct answer is … some dogs live to play ball, some dogs love to see a ball being thrown around, and others, like Jemima Maltese x, Babooti Bichon, Dixie Special Girl, and Ruby Watson Cairn Terrier see it this way:

“She throws the ball. You run a million miles an hour to get it. You rush back and present it to her. She throws it away again. And you chase it? You’re kidding right?”

Steadfastly ignoring the disdain of these naysayers, Critter Club has a virtual rugby team of ball-chasing talent. And, like a rugby team, there are many positions to be filled by all creatures great and small.

But first, lets examine the game itself and the equipment needed. Equipment, you laugh. Read up, junior.

We Dog Rock Gods see many a debutante dogwalker pick up the ball and throw it as far as they can, pick up the ball and throw it as far as they can, over and over again. In a straight line no less. Where’s the art? Where’s the finesse? Where’s the fun? The skill?

Rocks, stones, hills, trees, and tree roots were invented for a reason: to make playing ball interesting. The skilled ball thrower learns to ricochet the ball off these helpful tools so the ball catching dog need not only be fast but agile, alert, and aware.

This is where the most vital piece of equipment comes in, the ball itself. And truly, there is only one. It must be light so as not to damage nature’s tools, and it must bounce like billyo. The ball? Spalding’s High Bounce Ball. There is no other.

Now to the team. Essentially there are the High Performance Players, the Supporters, and the One-Offs.

The Supporters are a unique bunch. In our team they are Spikey Cairn Terrier, Snowie Westie, and Twiggy Manchester Terrier. Their role is to bark like crazy at the Dog Rock God until the ball is thrown. They then run like crazy after the ball – all looks normal so far – but when they get to it they refuse absolutely to pick the thing up.

“What? Put that in my mouth? I don’t think so.”

Fortunately for them, one of the A team always swoops in, gathers the ball, and rushes it back to the Dogwalker Extraordinaire, allowing them to bark like crazy in support of the elite athlete carrying the ball.

Twiggy has her own little twist on her supporter schtick. While the A Team have their eagle eyes trained on the about-to-be-released ball, Twiggy chooses one to stand behind, usually superstar Bebe Groodle, and pokes them continually with her pointy little nose, as though looking for the on button which will start the chase again.

This brings us to the One-Offs, all of whom have their own little quirks. They’re basically dogs that are more interested in the ball itself than the game. This manifests itself in various ways. Baci (“Marley’s got nothing on me”) Labrador likes to grab the ball and run with it so no-one can play the chasing the ball game. She likes them to play the chasing Baci game. Fortunately she’s a bit of a wimp so as soon as one of the elite wrap their mouth around hers, she quickly surrenders the ball.

Little Charlie Cavoodle would love to be a member of the big team but he really only has his training wheels on at the moment, so if ever he has a chance to snaffle the ball he just lays on the ground and chews it, much to the chagrin of the big kids.

Perhaps the smallest dog in the pack is Sadie Terrier. Not often, maybe once every two months or so, Sadie thinks it would be hysterical if she stole the ball. Somehow she manages to grab it and steadfastly refuses to give it up. The sight of this tiny little thing with her mouth opened as wide as it will go in order to accommodate the said ball, being frantically followed by a pack of big dogs, while refusing to give it up point blank, is something to behold.

And finally, the oddest one-off of them all is Buttons Maltese x Shihtzu. The Dog Rock Gods must be very careful that Buttons does not get hold of the ball at any time during the walk because he feels – no, he knows – that it is his responsibility to return the ball to the car. We can be at the furthest point from the start of our walk and, if Buttons is allowed to swoop on the ball, it is not only game over but walk over. What follows is a little white fluffy busily moving all four legs for all he’s worth followed by up to ten other dogs and a couple of humans trying to persuade him that it will be OK to leave the ball out of the car for just a little longer.

We now arrive at the A Team, the jocks, the elite athletes, the friends of John Coates. The stars are Harry German Shorthaired Pointer, Jennifer Labradoodle, Tilly Boxer, Toast Boxer, and the champion of the world, Bebe Groodle. Each has their idiosyncrasies:
Harry likes to give the ball a thorough chewing before he gives it back so it is clearly marked with his slobber. Tilly and Jennifer both like to prance in circles, heads held high, “how clever am I?” Toast prefers to have the ball kicked rather than thrown because he has his eye on Mark Schwartzer’s position for South Africa 2010 and needs all the practice he can get. Toast’s goalkeeping approach is particularly frustrating for all other participants as the more successful he is in stopping the ball, the less chase they have.

This leaves the wonder that is Bebe. Athletic, balletic, fast, agile, smart. In short, superior all round. If we happen to come without a ball, Bebe gets her nose to work and finds one that some poor schmuck has left behind. Once in play, Bebe can outsprint, outjump, and outmanoeuvre every other dog. Every time. She is one of the few dogs who can follow a ball in the air, anticipate how it will bounce, know where it will land. She is Ronaldo, Nadal, Jordan (not Woods) all wrapped up in one. She is our megastar. Want to challenge us anyone? Bring it on!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jemima and The "Musician"

We're bounding along in the park, our usual happy selves, when we hear this sound. It is the sound of someone kicked out of their very own home, the sound of a poor misguided soul practising the saxaphone. Don't get me wrong, there is no sexier instrument than the saxaphone, played well. As one might imagine though, the skill level of someone sent to the park to practise their instrument does not tend to be in the higher range.

So we're all walking along, coping with the discord, all that is, except Jemima, the smallest of the pack. As soon as she becomes aware that her regular sounds of breeze in trees and carolling cockatoos have been disrupted, the little munchkin sprints forth to find the offender and howl him down. By the time we all catch up, the poor confused would-be saxophonist has downed his instrument and is staring in disbelief at this angry ball of fluff.

Job done, we move on. Sadsax starts again. I look at Jemima, she looks at me. There's a decision to be made here and I believe she makes the right one. She moves toward me and climbs up my leg. This signals her need for a consoling cuddle. Dutifully I pick her up and begin to snuggle her little head into my neck. But no. No, this is not what she wants. She struggles, forging her little body ever higher until she is virtually standing on my shoulders. And now she fills those little lungs with more warm air than global warming has ever produced and she lets loose. Screaming abuse at the misguided musician, right next to my ear. She didn't want a cuddle at all, she just needed height!


Welcome to our brand new communication to all proud Critter Club members and their people. At least once a week, but hopefully more often, we'll post true stories here about all things weird, woeful, and wonderful that happen on our walks in Centennial Park. We'd like to thank you all for being Critter Club members. We're in the very fortunate position of not having a single client, dog or human, that we don't love working with. How lucky are we?

We've been doing this for six years now and we become very attached to all puppies great and small who walk with us. So, in our very first post, we'd like to remember those wonderful dogs who are now romping around in heaven:
Ziggy Great Dane, Cooper Great Dane, Loki Great Dane, Lucy Terrier, Waldo Bitsa, Chloe Boxer, Max German Shepherd, Max Doberman, Sasha Doberman, Buddy Labradoodle, Bridie GSP, Maeve GSP, Chester King Charles, Charlie King Charles, and Billie Saluki.
We've also lost one human in that time, Marlene Snider, a truly beautiful woman. Our thoughts are with all of them.

That's the hard part of what we do. But there's plenty of great stuff and we intend to share it with you right here forever more.