Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dingo and Dog

Last evening’s TV news ended with a delightful shot of Wellington zoo’s new dingo pup and a labrador cross slightly older pup from the SPCA romping in their pen. The idea is to socialise the young dingo into canine ways. The young of most animals are cute. Pup’s playfulness is especially charming. But play is learning.

The theory is that the Australian dingo evolved from dogs brought across from Indonesia. They filled a niche and have flourished. Unlike their marsupial brethren they are an introduced species, however.

It has been said the past is elusive. The ‘Harvey that once was’ is so. But the ‘Harvey that is’ retains clear memories of what was There were always pups in my childhood. My grandfather, Pop, would give those he intended to keep – he was a dog-trial enthusiast – to widowed Mum to raise. My brother and I played with them. One was called Rag, we spent hours with an old blankets tug-a-warring him. Hence his name. Being a huntaway he made a lot of noise.

But my favourite was Sandy. A half-grown pup we were raising was run over by a neighbour. I saw the accident. I was told the following morning he had died in the night. I knew better. I’d heard the sound of the shot-gun. The charades that adults and children play. The neighbour had a new litter. He gave me this male huntaway pup. Pop wasn’t keen, he was not of good stock. But he’d taken Rag away now he was a mature dog; he was earning his keep as a working dog. So I was left with Sandy as we called the new addition..

When Mum married my stepfather Dick Sandy transferred his affections to him. Dick was obviously leader of the pack. Sandy adored Dick. Pop on his death-bed divided up his dogs, he gave Rag and a young heading pup called Meg. to Dick. Meg honed her sheep-dog skills on the chooks – eyeing and heading them. To my delight Sandy turned out to be a successful dog – Dick won many a trial with him and he was a godsend out in the farm.

Sandy was in heaven when Dick bought a small Dodge triuck, a car converted for farm use. When let loose from their chains the dogs would go for a run to the woolshed and back. Having done that several times they’d make a beeline for the truck. Quick leaps and they were all there on the back,.tails thumping waiting hopefully and expectantly for Dick to appear. If he walked towards the truck Sandy would bark his pleasure. Dick would growl ‘shaddup’ but Sandy knew the depths of emotion. This was an affectionate admonition. Even better when Dick was on his own. Sandy could sit in the other front seat of the cab, obviously 2i/c of the pack. The other dogs never challenged this position.

Dick and Mum by their labour turned a broken-down old farm into a good production unit. Sandy, Rag, Meg and their cohorts helped greatly in that process. The farm house had clear spheres of interest. The house and vegetable garden proper had a netting fence. Woe-betide the person who left the gate open.

Out the back gate was the yard, a place for dogs and chooks. The ducks couldn’t get through the next fence and gate. In season there were pet lambs there. At the north end there was a big macrocapa hedge gone to trees. Under this there was a line of dog kennels. On most days the dogs were loose all the time. If necessary they were tied up. There was a further fence and gate. Beyond it was the fowl-house, duck pond, cow bail and pig sty. The dogs had free range. The duck-pond meant fresh water was available.

Once or twice there were piglets. When little they had the run of pond area and the yard. The dogs tolerated chooks, piglets, lambs surprising well. I think they saw them as lesser animals in the pecking order. When Mum had twin boys I was surprised to see Rag when his ear was pulled mercilessly, gently take the child’s hand in his jaw and disengage it. I sensed the dogs realised the young humans were not yet fully responsible.for their actions.

I’ve read the claim that the early domestication of dogs, (almost certainly from wolf pups) meant that humanity lost its sense of hearing and smell to a considerable extent. The tribe could rely upon the dogs for warning in those spheres. What did the dogs give up in return? Protection and a guaranteed supply of food! There is another aspect of the partnership abhorent to the Anglo-Saxon mind, dog as food. Amundsen knew the value. My memory of Sandy does not permit the possibility. He and his peers laid down the memory-banks that go all ga-ga at the sight of two young pups cavorting around.

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