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An old friend
03/02

The sun was beating down, like a red hot hammer on the van, the air-con struggling to keep me even a bit cool. I found my way across the steaming, baking, brown and suffering city of Townsville to my next call. I opened the gate and drove in. I knew that the old lady would have her dog tied up, and be waiting for me. She was none too steady on her pins, and even to walk out to greet me was a bit too much for her. I walked into the laundry, and the fat old be dog wagged her tail at me.

“Hello dear!”  she said, eyes bright and happy in a web of wrinkles, sitting on a chair. “I won’t get up, my legs aren’t working so well today.”

“That’s ok,” I smiled back at her. “What’s up with your old friend today?”

“Just the usual checkup, and I can’t remember if she needs to be vaccinated, or to have her yearly heartworm injection, or exactly what. She’s certainly well and happy, though.”

“Let me see what’s going on,” I said, tapping away at my computer. “No need to vaccinate her this year – she had the vaccine registered for three years two years ago, and there’s good evidence to show that that should give her solid protection for at least 5-7 years… And yes, she does need her heartworm injection, and I’ll give her a good check over as well.”

“That would be wonderful,” She replied. “She’s a good old dog, and it makes me feel a lot safer with her out and about in the yard, I tell you!” (She lived on the edge of one of the rougher parts of town.)

As I checked her dog over, we chatted away. She was an old bushie, had lived on cattle and sheep properties most of her life, and it was such a pleasure to hear the familiar accents and stories of life on the land. It took me back to my childhood, running wild in the bush, the smell of horses, mustering cattle…

“She’s pretty healthy!” I told her. ‘But she’s still overweight- probably a bit worse than last year, actually. How are you going with her diet?”

“I try and try,” She told me, “And then she looks at me with those big brown eyes like the whole world is ending, and she’s starving to death, and I’m afraid that I weaken, and give in. I’ll give it another go, I know she’ll feel better if I get a bit of weight off her.”

I gave her her heartworm injection, and wrote up my notes. I knew that I’d be saying the same thing about diets next year, but that didn’t really matter. What mattered was that this lovely old lady’s dog, her only friend and full time companion and protector, was shiny, happy, and healthy. I lingered for another quarter of an hour or so, gently drawing out stories of her life, watching her face sparkle and come alive with the joy of her memories.

“I’d love to stay and chat for a while longer,” I said, “But I have a busy day, so I suppose I’d better get back on the road.”

“Very well,” she replied. “No doubt I’ll see you next year, unless she needs your attention sooner. You have a young boy, don’t you?” she asked me.

“Yes, I do,” I replied.

“I found some old toy cars, matchbox cars, in the shed the other day – why don’t you go and see if there’s a few of them you like, and take them for him on your way out?”

“That’s very kind of you,” I said. “I’d love to!”

I collected a couple of little cars, worn and played half to death, and made my way out to the van. She saw me off with a smile and a wave, from her chair, with the faithful old dog wagging gently at her feet.

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