I recently read a saying “When your children are teenagers, its important to have a dog so that someone is happy to see you”. I can relate to this. As my girls were growing through the tumultuous teen years I never quite knew what the greeting would be when I entered the house in the evening.
Sometimes it was quiet, each of the girls in their own ’corners’ amusing themselves. Other times I was greeted with a barage of questions and news about the day. Sometimes there were tears, other times laughter and smiles.
Every day was unique.
Except for our two dogs. Every day was the same. I would arrive in the driveway and no matter where they were in the house or yard they would run to the top of the steps and greet me with a mix of barking and howling. An onlooker would think I had been away for months, not a few hours. As I entered the house they would run around along the lounge, up and down the hallways, jump and bark and almost try to speak.
Admittedly I would join in the game and ask them who called today, how many neighborhood cats walked past the front window, how many birds did they chase out of the back yard– you know all those important things a dog would want to report . As teenagers the girls would sit sullenly on the lounge and roll their eyes at the act.
Every day was the same.
Fizz and Freckle joined our family about 14 years ago. We visited dog pounds, vet clinics and pet shops to look for the perfect dog for our home. We found Fizz at a pet shop, a small bundle of shyness, the runt of the litter. She and her siblings had been born new years eve and had been rescued from a flea infested house by the pet shop owners. While all of these puppies were cute to hold and play with my daughter picked little Fizz.
A few months later we picked up Freckle from some people in Barraba who had let their show Japanese Spitz accidentally mate with a terrier. He is a white dog, not spotted as his name would suggest, but he has always been Freckle.
Much to my husband’s distaste we had, in a small space of time become a two dog family. As with all new pets the novelty of daily feeding and walking wore off with the children. Evening chores became the usual battle of not only who is washing up, wiping up, doing bins but also who is feeding the dogs, locking them up and bathing them.
Just a normal house with pets.
Our dogs had their own personalities. Fizz definitely the smarter of the pair and Daughter 2 spent hours training her to Sit – Paw – Lay for biscuits and beg on her hind legs. Freckle was not so keen and Daughter 1, a little on the lazy side herself used to say “Freckle and I know each other – I don’t want to teach and he doesn’t want to learn”. Hence Freckle mumbled through life following Fizz’s leads.
When the house was quiet during the day our dogs became escape artists. I am sure Fizz was the ring leader, finding the best place to dig under the fence or under the rock boulders we had to line up against the house. We had to build gates to make the yard dog proof, redesign the fences. Somehow I know Fizz convinced Freckle with his bigger paws to be the manual labour to dig.
The girl’s primary school is just a block away from home. I always thought this as one of the highlights of raising children in a small country town – how many other places can you stand at the kitchen window and watch your children walk into the school gate? I think the dogs thought this was a great benefit too. They became regular visitors to the school – somehow knowing which classroom the girls were in and putting on their cuteness at the teacher so that they weren’t scolded. I am sure Fizz was the mastermind, Freckle the disciple.
Each of the girls spent time walking the dogs home from the school and locking them back in the yard. My mum also spent time driving them back home from her place, 2 kms away. Yes, they regularly made their way that far as well. Other residents of the village also knew these rascals and would bring them home, or text me at work to say they saw them trotting down the road.
There were times when I cursed their existence.
They were woven into our family. I never thought I would drive 1.5 hours to take the dogs on a day out at the Nundle Dog Races, but I did. They came to Anzac Day marches, family picnics, celebrations, camping. They even co-signed birthday and Christmas cards with their paws.
It has never ceased to amaze me how astute the dogs are about the human habits in the house. Just the sound of the chopping board moving on the kitchen bench brings them into the kitchen – they know there will be morsels of meat and food coming their way. As soon as I put on my hat and have my phone and headphones in my hand they are ready at the gate, knowing that we were going for a walk – even before the shoes were anywhere in sight. They know that when we settle in the evening with a cup of tea that I will have an extra biscuit for them. Yes I dunk in my tea first too.
As I head off to bed each evening Fizz would snuggle into her bed in the lounge and Freckle faithfully follows me and sleeps under the bed. It’s such a routine that I hardly notice anymore.
We were a family of seven, not five.
Over the last few years the girls have moved onto to become independent adults creating their own lives. The house has fallen silent, very silent. I have found the dogs are important now more than ever.
I could re-write the saying to “When your children leave home, its important to have a dog so that someone is happy to see you”
When I arrive home from travelling with my work, the house is quiet and darkened. No matter what time it might be the dogs are on the top step, greeting in their usual frantic way. It is indeed very welcoming. There are no sullen cold shoulders to reflect that I’m late, that I’ve been away for days, sometimes weeks. It is an unrequited welcome and love with no strings.
Without warning this all changed last week.
Fizz scampered into the bedroom for her usual perky good morning. At 14 human years the scamper was a little slower and the perky not quite as energetic but it always started the day on a positive note.
Within the hour I was the bearer of terrible news. Three phone calls I wished I never had to make. As the girls are scattered across the country we couldn’t hug each other and grieve together. We could only take time to remember the many, many wonderful moments that little Fizz shared with us, the love, the fun, the loyalty that a dog can give a family. Her memories will stay with us a lifetime.