I wrote a bit a while back about an old fellow in townsville- a confirmed bachelor and passionate breeder of pig dogs. He was one of those special clients, the sort who have you clenching your teeth in frustration, and smiling in admiration. But mostly clenching my teeth with frustration, I’m afraid. He could talk the legs off a chair, too.
“Is that you Edward?” the familiar voice burst out of my phone, and I wondered what the hell was up with his dogs this time. “I’ve got a problem, I need you to meet me out at the pound. The bloody council has taken three of my pups, they stole right out of my yard, the bastards. I’ve got me lawyers onto them, don’t worry about that, but it’s taking forever, and me poor bloody dogs are all locked up, and I can’t look after them properly. I’m really worried about them, and I need you to come out to the pound with me and give them a look over, so I can make sure they’re ok. Can you come this afternoon?”
I smiled wryly to myself. He had no concept of the fact that I had other people to see, and as always his dogs were the most important thing in the known universe. Everything else could wait, as far as he was concerned. In fact, as I’d come to understand over many years of being frustrated and entertained by this crusty old bachelor, his dogs were his universe. I’ve met few people over the years who loved their dogs so much.
“I’m flat out today, ” I told him (with a frustrated hiss of breath in response) “but if i shuffle things around a bit, I can make it tomorrow. How does that sound?”
“It’ll have to do,” he said, and abruptly hung up the phone. He really did give new meaning to the term “socially awkward”!
The next day I rolled into the pound, run by the RSPCA. I walked up and through to the isolation cages, a row of bleak, rusty and tired looking cages on a rise a little way from the big shiny new admin building. He was waiting, with 3 of the pound and kennels staff – a ranger, looking bored and wary, and two tired looking girls in faded, work worn uniforms. He looked old, and for the first time, frail. Worry etched his face, deeply. His big, raw boned frame seemed to have shrunk in on itself. This the man who only a few months before told me about flattening some young bugger who took his dog and wouldn’t pay for it fully, with just one punch.
He saw me, and suddenly animated, like a faded and worn scarecrow come to life. “Edward – You’re here – can you come in and have a look at them with me? The poor buggers, they’re lying in their own shit, no-ones cleaned the cages for days, and it’s ruining them, ruining them having no contact with people. They’re only pups….” His voice faded away, and he glared at the staff, who shifted their feet microscopically, and looked uncomfortable.
I took a moment to introduce myself, and they explained what was going on. “The rangers picked them up on the street, they’d gotten out of his yard – and one of them showed signs of aggression, so we aren’t allowed to handle them at all, we have to have a special team and equipment -”
“They’re just scared, poor buggers,” he burst in, obviously incensed at how his dogs were being treated.
I raised a hand, made a soothing motion, and he settled a bit.
“It’s not the best, I know,” one of the girls said, “but we have to follow the rules. They’ve been classified as dangerous dogs…” She shrugged her shoulders helplessly.
So – we opened the cage, and I went in with him. The three pups were spooky. And they were big dogs, even though very young- a good 10-15kg in weight. It took ages of settling and calming them to be able to catch and handle them, and to carefully and gently examine them. The one that had shown signs of aggression was dicey, very dicey. Not nasty aggression as such, simply consumed with fear, torn forcibly from it’s pack, and then shoved in a cage with no human contact. They had a hatch to put food and water in, that was all – no exercise, not touch, no human contact. It took a long time to gently hold and soothe this scared pup to the point where I could examine him, and even then I made very sure I had room to get away, and was very particular about keeping my hands out of reach of his mouth.
I watched the old man’s face, and I could see that this was tearing him apart inside. His pups, his pride and joy. He spent hours and hours with his pups, training them, working with them, simply being with them. “It’s a terrible thing,” he said, and I couldn’t help but agree, on the inside.
He fed them, cleaned out the cage, and spent some time with them after I went back out. I could see that the people watching (they had to, rules again) were touched by his care for the dogs. Never mind that he was an impossible old bugger, kept many more dogs than was allowed on his suburban block, and had had neighbours complaining about this for years. They were still touched.
I wrote out a report for him, and had to keep on rolling through my day. I rang the ranger a week or so later, just to check in. The dogs were still in solitary, and would be until the court case was sorted. And the old fellow had collapsed at the pound while caring for his dogs just a couple of days ago, and had to be taken off to the hospital in the ambulance. I only heard from him a couple more times. He did get his dogs back in the end, though…