The Big Issue : Edition 506
THEBIGISSUE4–17MAR2016 11 MY WORD PHOTOGRAPHBYiSTOCK I OFTEN WALK my three dogs in expansive parkland that runs alongside a railway line in outer suburban Melbourne. I’m loath to give its name, as it’s an unofficial and much treasured off-leash area, though no signs attest to this and some killjoy is bound to come along one day and complain. But – so far, so good. If ever a person felt lonely, they’d only have to come here to be uplifted and entertained, or simply to laugh out loud. There are funny stories, sad stories and no end of observations to be made, about dogs and humans alike. Take Rose – a robust black dog who fancies herself to be part cat. When I first met Rose she was pouncing into the long grass in what her owners told me was a promising pursuit of field mice, an activity at which she excels. When Rose is feeling affectionate towards her owners she will back up, lift her tail in the air and do those schmoozing slow twirls around their legs. She grew up with cats and kittens, apparently, and took on many of their feline behaviours. It made my day, meeting Rose. There’s Henry the tradie’s dog, who fell off the back of a ute one rainy day and whose owner sped away, oblivious. The absence of name tags, registration or the necessary speed to get the number plate resulted in Henry now living in the lap of luxury, with his own couch and a penchant for watching the footy with his new owner. But not all encounters are happy ones. There’s the elderly lady who for years walked two beautifully behaved Airedale Terriers, one spritely, one starting to dodder. We chatted several times about doggy things – best food, best parks, vet bills – and then one day she turned up with just the one dog. When this happens, please, never say “I know just how you feel”, because this is not what the bereaved dog owner wants to hear. They know that no-one has ever been through anything as bad as what they’re going through right now. No-one. So don’t compete, don’t even empathise. Just listen and maybe suggest going into over- the-top memorialising mode; collating photos, making booklets, hoping all their friends send cards. (Anyone thinking “it’s just a dog”, leave the room now.) Other behaviours come as a surprise. Quite a few dog owners get tetchy if you get the gender of their dog wrong. A well-meaning “What’s his name?” can bring on the pursed lips and clouds of offence if he is in fact a she. Short of doubling over in a true hairpin bend to check the undercarriage for telltale signs, it’s best not to commit. I’ve modified Catherine Deveny’s “advice for greeting ugly babies” in these circumstances. Smile directly at the subject, look deeply indulgent and say, “Well, look at you! And what’s your name?” Thanks Catherine. Works every time. Unless the dog’s called Dusty or Spot. Of course, some people don’t deserve to own a dog. There are the two lycra- clad runners, a pair of women with legs made from nylon climbing rope, who pound on ahead of a poor little fluff ball in full designer doggy-gear who can’t keep up and frequently gets lost, needing to be rescued by some other more observant dog-owner. I long for that little bridge to collapse and send them plunging into the drain below, but no luck so far. We can but dream. There are the owners who keep their dogs on a tight leash, which they yank viciously if another dog approaches for a friendly sniff. Presumably they believe that decapitation is preferable to letting their dog socialise with another. A variation on this theme is to swoop down and lift the dog high, clutching it to the breast defensively in an act of fierce protection. Unfortunately, this usually leads to the approaching dog leaping high and repeatedly, pogo style, to get at the dog now cowering on its owner’s shoulders. Ah me, if only dogs were left to their own devices. Me, I often head for this park to walk our three dogs – one black, one brown and one white. Whatever I wear, I am sprinkled liberally with dog hair of a contrasting colour. People often say, “Oh, you have your hands full!”, but no. They’re friendly, full of fun and they come when they’re called. I suspect this is because they’re all rescue dogs and, so far, I’m the only source of Schmackos they know. » Gabrielle Gardner is a Melbourne writer. Her blog, Reading, Writing and a Few Dog Stories, can be found at gabriellegardner1. blogspot.com.au. Just a-Walkin’ the Dog EVERY DOG KNOWS HOW TO LOVE A PERSON, BUT NOT EVERY PERSON KNOWS HOW TO LOVE A DOG, WRITES GABRIELLE GARDNER.