TWO dogs coveting each other's food often led to snarly growling at our back door. A few weeks back Finn, the beta dog, stole a second breakfast. That was the early warning and now there's only one bowl left to trip over.
My wife Leslie’s forebears include Pat Dillon, a Richmond River version of Henry Lawson. One of Pat's odes about life in the 1870s mentioned an ever-loyal dog named Carlow, which apparently means four legged in Gaelic. We just had to continue the craic when we collected our eight-week Labradoodle from the airport. We added an ‘e’ because it looks better in print.
Destined to be the best dog ever, we planned to have Carlowe sleep in his spacious travel crate but the howling got to us. Before midnight on the first night, out came the blankets. We did stick to the BARF. Some people are baffled by a diet of bones and raw food. It kept him hale and hearty, though it took me a while to get used to the chicken frames.
We stuck with the training for a while. Among a dozen commands, he responds to sit, drop, leave it, OUT! and fuck off, but, without incentivation he’ll just glare at an empty hand. I taught him the meaning of fuck off just before our semi-detached neighbour told me that we were in her prayers.
Carlowe was always too damned smart. He won a ribbon once: most improved but that was from a low baseline. We had our worst dog club moment when he decided to drop, forcing 15 obedient dogs with smug owners to walk around us. I dragged him away as the line reeled around for a return pass.
He was never meant to be one of the pack but his joy was contagious when following his own nose. He led us from Port Melbourne to Bass Coast. Watching him dive in and out of the long grass was more compelling than any corporate sales pitch. A dog’s paradise! A great place to chase a ball or play in the dam.
A year after the move a phone call to South Gippsland Animal Aid brought Finn into our lives. More an ally than an adopted brother, Finn’s deafness often caused Carlowe to seek him out and alert him to the things that matter. All those invading quadbikes and tractors need to be barked at and two voices are scarier than one.
A dog might sit in a corner and wait to be summoned. Our Carlowe is a canine Jerry Lewis. His favourite prank is to burst into the room with a stolen sock, shake it to death right in your face then jump onto a lounge to bury his head under his own front paws.
The list of things he’s ripped up is long and lost in misted memory so no particular event defines his naughtiness. He’ll sneak a single tissue from the dispenser and tear it up under the kitchen table. Then steal another one. And another one. Grabbing the whole box is no fun.
In summer, flies are Carlowe’s enemy and he often leaps from a deep slumber to snap at his butt when under attack, real or imagined. His favourite TV show is Minuscule with its exaggerated insect noises. The screech of nocturnal plovers across the paddocks drives him nuts so we live in a plover-free zone.
One morning we noticed that Carlowe could barely walk. I took him to the vet. Twice. The second time we took samples from the crippling swellings. He stood there calmly as the vet drew liquid into the syringe. One little yelp as the third needle went into another swollen gland. He always was stoic.
Results? Two days later my phone rang. Caught with no pen and no note pad I couldn’t just jot down the dot points for later. Or never. Time to listen. The vet used a thousand gentle words that condensed thus: Lymphoma. Six to eight weeks if we do nothing. Chemo might add another year but. Bring him back in two weeks and we’ll assess. Haircut? He’s due for one on Tuesday. Those lumps are tender, inoperable and growing fast. That bastard thing in his jaw is the arbiter. No more grooming. Comes a time …
Between lengthening naps there are moments for farewell pats from the people who love him. We’re reminding ourselves of the story of his life. In the early days he had quite a few toys. His favourite was a velvety kind of stuffed chicken that was constantly ripped and restitched. Eventually it was just a glorified flannel.
We loved watching him grow from a puppy. It was that experimental learning and the need to explore that showed he was a self-contained bugger, especially when he shimmied through the cat door to escape into those paddocks. Eventually his size exceeded this ambition.
One Labradoodle website says “If you are not prepared to be flexible you might want to choose a more predictable breed.” Carlowe’s relationships are constantly evolving. In Wattle Bank he quickly realised that although alpacas charge and dairy herds flee, a 200kg pet pig couldn’t give a stuff about some fake farm dog.
Now seven years old, he knows how to offer a paw for us to shake. Until recently that was a demand, now it’s a request that verges on a farewell. One day his ashes will lie in the foundations of our forever home.
There’s more than a few tears to shed before we write his epitaph: “Carlowe: A great dog, not always a good dog”. Time for a pat, eh Finn?
Carlowe missed the deadline for this Post, his story's all past tense now.