Mum, dad and I lived on what you might call a hobby farm on the outskirts of a nice little country town. Big enough to have everything you could need, including a permanent doctor and staff in a well equipped medical centre, two hotels and two supermarkets. We had a few head of multi-coloured sheep that mum looked after lovingly. She used their wool to spin into thread that was then knitted into jumpers, jackets, scarves etc, that were very much sought after in the city boutiques. It was a lucrative business for her with the added bonus that she loved making the garments.
Dad was happy if mum was happy. He had a huge veggie patch where he spent most of his time every day, fertilising, watering, trimming and weeding. He grew much more than we needed, and had a deal with one of the local supermarkets to supply excess vegetables in season.
We had a good thing going. Well, we did. Until this medium to large stray dog, of God only knows what breed, turned up at our door. Skinny as a skeleton. Dirty and smelly. Mum straight away took pity on the poor thing and gave it two of the lamb chops we were going to have for our dinner that night. He sucked them up like a vacuum cleaner and looked hopefully for more.
The first thing we had to do was give him a bath. I put some warm water in the laundry tub and hoped he’d be co-operative. He looked warily at me as I gingerly picked him up and placed him gently into the tub. So far so good. ‘Good boy,’ I said encouragingly, as I poured the warm water over his thin body. He didn’t seem to mind the experience at all, and actually appeared to enjoy having soap suds massaged into his fur. He turned his face to me and looked deep into my eyes. I could tell he was assessing me, wondering if he could trust me. I gave him what I hoped was a caring look and he rested his chin on my shoulder.
I removed the plug and drained the muddy water away. As I turned to pick up the old towel to dry him with, he jumped out of the trough and shook himself vigorously. Water sprayed everywhere. Bugger. All over the clean clothes mum had just ironed and hung on the rail. To my astonishment, she actually said, ‘Shit’. She was annoyed, but one look at the wet, skinny, four legged creature with big, velvet brown eyes looking hopefully at her, she didn’t make a big fuss about it.
It wasn’t even discussed if we would keep him or not, it was a mutual, unspoken agreement. It fell to me to name the dog. I called him Jimmy. And there was a slight tremor in the universe as we accepted him into our family, not considering any consequences.
It was my job to train Jimmy in some basic, well mannered behaviour. He wasn’t a dog that jumped up at people, so that was a good thing. He had to learn not to spring joyfully up onto any of the human beds, but to stay in his own basket in the lounge. That took a bit of persistence. Also, rubber boots left at the back door to dry were not toys to be chewed and wrestled with. He didn’t seem to understand the instructions, ‘sit’, or ‘stay’. Neither did he understand, ‘don’t dig in dad’s veggie patch,’ which was the most vexatious thing. It seemed that every time dad planted something, Jimmy had to dig it up and see what was so important it had to be buried. Dad was patient for the first one or two times, then got angry after the fourth or fifth time and threatened to take Jimmy to the pound if he didn’t stop it.
I sat on the verandah steps with Jimmy beside me, his head on my knees. I turned his head to look at me, holding his chin in my hands to emphasise how important the matter was. ‘This is your last chance, Jimmy,’ I told him seriously. He seemed to understand the gravity of my words as he looked seriously into my eyes and flicked his tongue across my lips. Yuk. I wiped my sleeve across my mouth and Jimmy wagged his tail. I had a horrible feeling he had no idea at all what I was talking about.
It was Friday, our ‘going out’ day. Most of the residents drove into town on Friday evening for something to eat, listen to the music at either of the two pubs, and to catch up with friends and hear the local gossip. Mum and dad went in their car and I took the ute so Jimmy could come with us.
There was a larger than usual crowd this week as a well known band was performing at one of the pubs and a number of out-of-towners were visiting. I leaned against the ute while Jimmy sat in the back, tongue lolling and panting in my ear as we checked out the action.
A man burst from the ambling crowd and started running up the road. A woman’s voice shouted, ‘Stop that man. He’s stolen my purse!’ The man ran faster, dodging between bewildered pedestrians. Onlookers were now in hot pursuit of the offender, and then I noticed a blur of movement from the corner of my eye. Jimmy was streaking up the road like a heat seeking missile, gaining on the thief with every second. When he was close enough, he grabbed at the guy’s ankle, gripped the jeans and hauled back on his haunches. The thief stumbled, trying to shake off the obstinate ball of fur that held him like a vice. He fell over and two of his pursuers flopped on top of him, pinning him to the ground.
I’d stood by my car, mouth open in surprise as I watched this whole scene unfold. I could hardly believe my eyes. Jimmy had snapped into action without any instruction or encouragement whatsoever, as though he was just born to it. This is the same dog who doesn’t seem to understand the simple instruction, ‘Don’t dig in dad’s veggie garden.’ Jimmy laughed and wagged his tail cheerfully as he accepted the praise and pats as he trotted back to my side, where he sat obediently by my right foot, looking for all the world like a well trained, well behaved, obedient and faithful dog. He glanced up and caught my eye. I gave him a look that said, ‘You don’t fool me Jimmy,’ as mum hurried over.
‘Good boy, Jimmy, good boy!’ she said over and over, patting him vigorously on the head. It was her purse the guy had snatched and she was most impressed with Jimmy’s quick reaction. She bought a bag of the best meaty bones she could get and Jimmy was set for at least a week of treats.
When we got home and talked about what had happened, I could see by the confused expression on dad’s face as he looked at Jimmy, that he was having the same thoughts as I did. ‘Are we talking about the same dog?’
Well, strangely enough, Jimmy changed from that day on. No more digging in the veggie patch or chewing on rubber boots. It was almost as if it suddenly dawned on him we needed someone to take care of us and he was up to the challenge.