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My first novel (second one is in progress)

TWO DOGS ONE BONE

Chapter One

The dog gods. Interfering little buggers.

It was 1983 when they showed up.  I was a bit busy for them but they do not give up easily. You have to be on your guard. I was not.

I’d spent the last couple of years kicking around Australia picking up work, mostly on farms and bringing in extra cash with my dressmaking skills. I was trying to fill my pockets with enough funds to fly by the seat of my pants around the world. I was 23 years old with big plans. Not really clear what they were; but, boy, they were big.

I had just finished a stint as a jillaroo on a sheep station in the outback. The vast barren land was too much country even for my country loving self. Not a lot of customers for dressmaking out there either. Noosa looked appealing for a bit of sun and surf and to ponder my next move.  I swanned around there for a few days before signing up for a job on a horticultural farm in Gympie, not too far from this idyllic little suntrap. That would see me right for a few months before I headed off to the next country.

I found an old farmhouse on twenty acres to rent close to the farm I was about to be working on. It was a failed horse trekking business. The owners had taken their string of horses to a larger place to try their luck.  All except one. They hadn’t told me about him.  I found the bay gelding when I was exploring the place. I got on the phone.

“Hey, there’s a horse wandering about on your property.”

“Yep.” They’d said as if it was the most natural thing in the world to abandon a horse. “That’ll be Johnny. He’s old.”

“How old?”

“Oh, I dunno. About twenty. Could be older.”

“What do you want me to do with him?” I asked, incredulous at their lack of guilt.

“Nothing. He’ll be alright there. Probably die soon.”

Bloody hell.  I should’ve reported them to the RSPCA but I didn’t.

I don’t know why I didn’t.  I don’t know why I do, or don’t do, a lot of things.

“I’ll look after him.” I said and clunked the receiver down.

I wandered out to find Johnny. I’d better explain the situation to him and how it was going to be.

“Look buddy,” I ran my hand down his white blaze letting my fingers settle on his velvet muzzle. “I’ll take care of you while I find someone who can give you a good home. I’m sorry it can’t be me.  I’m off overseas soon.”

He gave a soft whicker. Poor old feller didn’t have a clue. He was just happy for some company.

I got the vet in to check him over and he was declared…old. But fit and sound with it. As long as I didn’t hoon on him he would be fine to ride.

I wasn’t in the habit of packing a bridle and saddle for my travels and certainly wasn’t going to fork out for the gear seeing as I wasn’t sticking around long but I was keen to see what he was like to ride.  I found some rope and belts and fashioned a halter out of them.  I rode him bareback which wasn’t ideal on a bony old back. We loped around the property except for occasions when Johnny proved to me the old boy still had it in him by taking off at a canter uninhibited by a bit to restrain him.

It didn’t take long in this small community for word to get around that there was a free horse up for grabs.

“He is old.” I cautioned the woman who rang. “The vet said he was fine to ride but just gentle rides. Okay?”

“Perfect!” She said. “He’s mostly going to be a paddock mate for my other horse.”

“Great.” I said with a stab of regret jabbing at my heart. “When would you like to come for him?”

“Ah, that’s the thing. Not for about three weeks. Is that a problem? I’m buying a horse float and I can’t get it ‘til then.”

Fine by me.

She was insistent that I meet her to make sure I was happy about who Johnny was going to.

“I’ll be at the dog training club on Saturday afternoon. We could meet each other there.” She said. “We’ve got a dog obedience competition on. Why don’t you come and have a look?”

That could be a pleasant way to spend the afternoon I thought.  I’d never been to one of those before.

The dog gods grinned.

I’d never seen so many dogs in one place before.  A big gluttony smile spread across my face as I mingled in the crowd.  I felt very happy. Oh so dangerously comfortable.

I strolled over to the club house and asked for Lynette Bishop.

“She rang me the other day; told me to meet her here.” I said to the woman manning the office.

“Yep, sure thing. She’s right here,” said the woman twisting her head around in all directions. “Hang on a mo.” She disappeared for a second returning with a friendly faced woman I supposed would be around 55 to 60.

Lynette and I chatted for a few minutes until she apologised profusely. “So sorry to have to leave you Katy, but I’ve been roped in at the last minute to do stewarding. Going to have to run out on you I’m afraid.”

We arranged a time for her to come to my place to meet Johnny and then she disappeared to a ring over the far side of the field.

She seemed perfect for Johnny. I didn’t mind that she had to leave so soon. I was happy to have some time to myself to take it all in.

My eyes feasted on dogs and their humans working together.  Such camaraderie, such…such… teamness!

The dogs looked up at their owners with adoration, watching and listening for every voice command, every hand signal.   Sit. Down.  Turn around. Stick like glue to your master’s leg. I’ve seen plenty of farm dogs work their magic with people and stock but this, this was different.  I was captivated; taken prisoner by my own emotions.

Man, I thought dreamily, I wouldn’t half love to do this stuff!  This unspoken statement must have beamed like a light from me because it wasn’t long before someone from the club spotted fresh blood and approached me. As clubs do.

“Hi, I’m Sally Coombs.” She said with a bright smile, I’m a member of the club. I’m one of the stewards here today. ”

“Hi,” I replied holding out my hand, “I’m Katy Pallis.”

Sally shook it with vigour. “Pleased to meet you Katy.”

“This is wonderful!”  I waved my arm over the scene before me.

“Ha,” she laughed, “they’re only the novices. If you think these guys look impressive you should go over there,” she said pointing to another couple of rings further over. “They’re the experienced ones and they’re pretty sharp. What breed do you have?”

“Oh, sorry no, I haven’t got a dog.” I turned to her taking my eyes off the action for a second. “Yet.”

She grinned at me. That spider was caught easily into the web. “What breed would you be after?” She asked weaving her web some more.  “We might be able to help with names of breeders.”

“As a matter of fact I’d probably not choose a purebred. ‘I’d like to rescue a dog in need from the RSPCA.”  That wiped the grin off her face.

“Ah,” she said like a mother about to disappoint her child, “if you want to compete in the obedience trials you must have a purebred.” And to ensure I was under no illusion she added, “A pedigree. With papers. That’s the rules here in Queensland.”

And that wiped the grin off my face.

“Er,” Sally continued as she swept her hand over the field, “they’re all purebreds here today in case you hadn’t noticed.

I hadn’t actually.

“What!” What’s wrong with a bitzer? They can do anything a purebred can.” I whined.

“I’m sorry but that’s the rules.”

If I was going to get a dog, which I wasn’t, I would want a dog that needed rescuing. I have nothing against purebreds, I’ve just had a fantasy since childhood to rescue a dog in need. But only when the time was right.  Which wasn’t now.

“However,” Sally’s tone had taken on extra effort to win a new member, “if you’re happy to just come along and learn how to train your dog without the intention of competing you’re more than welcome to bring a mixed breed.”  She finished with another warm smile. Warm and enticing.

“Thank you, I’ll give it some thought.” I said as I excused myself to go over to where the ‘pretty sharp’ ones were working.

I stopped by a ring. This one, unlike the novices, had jumps in it. A woman stood inside the ring at a marker peg with her Border collie sitting expectantly beside her left leg. In her hand she held a wooden dumbbell which the judge ordered her to throw over the jump. As it hit the grass on the other side the dog’s eyes shot a look up towards her face. “Now? Now? Can I? Can I?  Plllease?”

After a dramatic pause the judge’s voice spoke out. “Send your dog.”

The handler gave a subtle command and her dog sprang from her side, raced towards the jump, flew over it like a bird, picked up the dumbbell and flew back over the jump. He came to a skidding halt at his handler’s feet planting his butt into a perfect sit. He arched his head back to present the dumbbell, every fibre of his being plump with pride.

The judge said, “Take the dumbbell.” The handler took the dumbbell out of the dog’s mouth. He gave it willingly. The judge then instructed the handler, “Return to heel.” The handler flicked her wrist to command the dog to come to heel. Her dog whipped around her body and sat at her left side grinning up at her. Then the judge announced to the handler, “Exercise finished.” The handler gave a whoop of delight, swung her hands in the air and lavished praise onto her equally happy dog.

Wow!  That’s it. That is so damn it!  I want to be a dog trainer. I want to teach people what dogs can do. And to be one of those I would have to be one of them.

And just like that, with a come-to-heel flick of the wrist, my grand plans of travelling the world;  bon jour France, well hello old chap UK,  howdy pardner USA, and all that jazz just went ‘pffft’ before my very eyes. Instead I would be getting a dog. A ped…ig..ree.  With papers.

As I drove off a seething rage began to burn up my brain. What!  No bitzers huh. No indiscriminate heterogeneous hounds here please, we’re Queenslanders. Them’s the rules.

What a bloody dumb rule!  Quite frankly.

But that there one bloody dumb rule led me to what was to become one of the biggest heroes to enter my life. Ben, a six month old golden retriever.  PEDIGREE WITH PAPERS.

And the dog gods allowed me to get in the last laugh. He was a RESCUE.  Yesiree. Stick that up your pedigree pipes and blow it out your bums.

I rang the number in the paper. A Brisbane number. “Hello, yes I’m answering your ad about the golden retriever.”

A gruff sounding woman snapped out the words, “I want a $100.00 for him. Yes, he’s got papers.”

“How much?” I gasped, “$100.00!  Er, sorry I think perhaps not.” I said goodbye and hung up the phone.  “Good grief.” I muttered to myself, “He’s not even a brand new puppy.” I went outside for a walk. Get a grip on yourself girl. Forget it. Dumb idea. Overseas remember?  C’mon, focus.

But those niggly old dog gods turned me around and marched me straight back to the phone.

“Hello, yes it’s me again. Look, I can offer you $50.00 and the best home you could ever ask for him.”

“How soon would you be able to pick him up?”

“Oh well, let me see. How about next Saturday?”

“No. It’ll have to be sooner than that.” Mrs gruff said.

“How about tomorrow.” I said.  I can’t believe what I’m doing. Did I even ask any questions about this dog?  No I did not. Why?  I have not got a clue.

I am not impulsive by nature. I can’t even buy a dress without trying it on several times and then returning to the shop a couple of times more before I’m really sure. And here I am getting a dog that I’m going to live with for, possibly, around 15 years. Sight unseen.  By God you dog gods….

It was a two hour drive and dead easy to find. I arrived in good time. I pulled up alongside the kerb, engine idling.  Nice house, I observed, very respectable looking. But I got an attack of cold feet. I haven’t met this dog. I know absolutely nothing about him.  I can’t go through with it.

Boot it babe. Go to the RSPCA, pick yourself out a nice homeless pooch that the staff can advise you on and forget this obedience competition nonsense. Yep that’s what I’ll do.  I mean this woman did give up rather easily about the hundred bucks. Why?

Off I drove. But I had to park up soon after to consult my map because I didn’t have the foggiest clue where to go. Ah, problem number one.  Map reading.  Problem number two; I would have to get on the motorway and then find the correct turn off and navigate myself all over the bloody place.  I can drive tractors up hill and over dale and get behind the wheel of any type of vehicle and I’m home and hosed. But put me on a busy motorway or try to get me through a maze of city streets and I’m snookered. And besides I didn’t even know if they were open.

The house back down the road is though.

The dog gods smiled.

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