Secrets, Lies & Chat

Saturday, June 25, 2005

An Australian Cattle Dog Named Scrubber

Scrubber was my best friend, my mate, my protector, and the sweetest newborn little being to come into my life in the last 11 years (with the exception of my grand-daughter who was born the same year 1994). Scrub, or Scrubbie, was born in January 1994.

Scrubbie was a beautiful red Australian cattle dog, pure breed, with the worst kennel name anyone could have ever come up with (someone else did this not me) - Averdale Red Big Boofer. Scrubbie's mum, Missy, was my son's dog. She was a small blue cattle dog, and a mean little miss too when she liked. She mated with a big red dog, and had 5 puppies, all red. The first male was stillborn; Scrubbie and his 3 sisters survived. They were big pups, and Missy had to have a hysterectomy to bring them into the world. Scrubbie came into my life at the tender age of 3.5 hours, after my son and I collected mum and the pups from the vet clinic.

I really knew him before he was born as I had a big part in looking after Missy during the gestation period. My son had taken her to the cattle dog breeder’s to try and mate his cherished Missy so her breeding would live on. She didn’t seem at all interested, so he came home leaving her there for a couple of weeks at the mercy of all the randy dogs. When she arrived back home he was disheartened, and sure there weren’t going to be any pups as the breeder said that Missy spurned all the dogs. However he said there was a slight chance that his prize big red dog had maybe had his way with her. My son had planned to go away fishing for a week, so he packed up and left, leaving Missy with me. I watched her over the next few days and saw changes, and I was convinced she was ‘up the duff’. By the time my son arrived back from his trip, I confidently told him puppies were on the way. Mind you I had never had anything to do with a pregnant dog before, but I could see her shape changing, day by day, and she was always hungry.

My son wasn’t convinced at all and I think he thought I was having a daydream. However over the next week or so he knew that Missy was in fact going to produce a litter, and he was ecstatic. She had obviously decided one of the dogs was okay J My son adored Missy, spoilt her rotten, and the rest of the family and I always blamed him for the way she was – mean when she felt like it. She would bite unprovoked, and wasn’t choosy about whom she bit, even me, the one who looked after her and fed her when my son was away. She now became queen of the castle and whatever Missy wanted, Missy was given.

When the time came for her to go into labour, my son advised me that he had been told we should leave her be, let her get on with the job without interference. I worried about her, she seemed to be in pain and a lot of discomfort, but I followed his orders. We knew she was close to her time this one night, but we left her alone in the special pen my son had knocked up for her in readiness for the new family. In the morning I wandered outside to see what was going on, and found Missy in the yard with a pup part the way out. I thought she was giving birth to it, but on closer inspection I saw that the pup was stuck fast. We tried every which way to help her, to no avail, so we packed her in the car and took her to the vet. The puppy was dead, and the vet removed him, and sent us home with Missy so the other puppies could be born during the day. But Missy was having dire problems, she was in a lot of pain, and distressed, and worn out. Once more we put her in the car, drove to the vets, and suggested she needed help. The vet decided we were right, that she did indeed need help, as the puppies were too big for her to birth naturally. And into the world came four squealing pure white puppies, three females and one male, and home they came with us once they were checked out and okay. Missy wouldn’t even acknowledge that we existed; she appeared to be totally wiping us out of her life as if we had done her an injury.

We worried ourselves sick about the puppies. We didn’t know if Missy was feeding them or not. I bought tiny bottles with little teats on them and we had puppy formula that we tried to feed them. They hated the bottle, and we became more and more frustrated. We finally gave up and left them to it, and started weighing them every day to check if they were getting enough to keep them alive. I had a set of scales that I used to weigh ingredients for cooking, and we used to lay them in the plastic bowl each day and weigh them and keep a record of their weight. All was well; they were gaining weight day by day. They would spend a lot of time inside on the tiles as it was January and very hot outside. We had newspaper everywhere and spent our days cleaning up after them. At night they would be returned to their pen outside and our sleep was often disturbed by one of them screaming. Out we would run wondering what was going on, and we would find either Missy laying on top of one of the puppies, or one would have fallen out of the box and would be crawling around blindly looking for Missy. We weren’t very good nurses.

As they grew they changed of course, and started to get their colour and markings. The four of them were red with some blue on their faces. They were all different in colouring and markings and easy to tell apart. We had pet names for the four and Scrubbie was always Scrubbie. I was never a dog person, I loved cats, always had cats as a child and teenager and young adult. We had dogs at home too but they were guard dogs, not house pets. These puppies enchanted me and snuck into my heart. I loved them all, but as they started to develop little personalities, Scrubbie won my heart. All he ever wanted to do when I sat outside on the grass with the 'family' was sit on my knee, or lie next to me, while his sisters tore around the yard getting into all the mischief they could.

My son of course owned the dogs, and wanted to sell them once they were weaned and old enough to go to new homes. I asked if I could have Scrubber, and he said no, that Missy wouldn't get on with a dog, even her own pup. I said I didn't care; after all it was my home they were residing in at the time and my son and Missy would no doubt leave at any given time. I offered to buy him so my son didn't miss out on the income from not selling him. One day he piled them all in his car and took them to the breeder to sell, ignoring my pleas to keep Scrubbie. That's where Scrubbie had his papers done. I cried for 3 days, and wouldn't speak to my son. I had already become so close to that puppy that I felt something precious had been torn away from me. My son eventually relented, although he didn’t tell me he had. He arrived home on the third day with Scrubbie in the car and I was so happy. He soon learned that I had chosen a beautiful animal, a dog with a nature not to be believed.

As the years went by no one who ever met Scrubbie didn't fall for him almost instantly. He would be wary, let people know they were being watched, but once he knew they were no threat, then he was a gentleman and became a friend easily. Missy died a few years ago; my son had to have her put down, as she couldn't walk anymore, her body just gave it up. It broke his heart to have to make that decision, but she was in pain with no light at the end of any tunnel that she would heal. From then on Scrubbie became his mate, slept with him every night, and wherever he went, Scrubbie was with him. He wasn't a one-person dog, he loved all of us, and whichever one of his 'family' he was with, then that was the one he protected and stayed close to.

My son left her home about 2 years ago, leaving Scrubbie with me, as he knew I would be heartbroken if he took him away again. He had been away from home for a few years after Missy was gone, then came back, then left again and came back. He had no ‘roots’, no home for Scrubbie, and he knew he was best left with me as I would look after him and love him and treat him with the respect he deserved. So Scrubbie once more became my protector and my best friend. He felt the loss of my son out of his life, but gradually he forgot about it and he and I became as one. Whilst I never encouraged him to sleep with me, he was inside the house whenever I was and slept wherever he liked. For the first few weeks he slept on my son’s bed, no doubt waiting for him to come home. Gradually he realised this wasn’t going to happen, and he moved out of there to the family room where I allowed him to lay on any chair he liked and the floor was also his, wherever he liked. He was such a clever dog, would come and tell me when he wanted to go outside. He would come into my bedroom, stand beside my bed, and make noises until I awoke. He would then walk right up close to my left leg while I found my way in the dark down the hall to the back door. Once he was done outside, back he would run, and off I would go to bed once more.

We had a wonderful time together. Wherever I could take him, I did. The backseat of my car was his, and if we went on a trip, then he sat in the front on the passenger seat because he suffered carsickness on long trips. We used to go for long walks every day before and after work, and on the weekends once a day. We were both fit then, and he loved his walks, and was never a problem. He just walked either in front of me pulling me along by his strength, and as he got older, he walked beside me. I could take him anywhere with never any fear that he would bite anyone or show any aggression. Other dogs he ignored when he was out, and my grand-daughter’s little flighty dog, he tolerated in a gentlemanly manner. He loved my grand-daughter and there was never a moment in the almost 11 years they knew each other, that I feared for her safety when she was near him. Of course I watched him carefully around her, not being a ‘dog person’, but there was never a need for any concerns.

On Monday 13 June this year, Scrubbie and I went to my daughter's home for a bbq lunch. It was a farewell bbq and early birthday get-together for my son (Missy's owner) who was leaving Sydney that week, with his lady, to start a new life in WA. We had a great afternoon, with everyone remarking on how well Scrubbie looked, and how fit he was. On Tuesday morning, after sleeping near the fire as usual, he went outside while I went to work. Nothing seemed amiss, just his usual 'oh no you are leaving' look. After working back a half hour that day, and having to go to the local shops for a quick stop to buy him some more biscuits etc., I arrived home to find him very ill. He walked very slowly to the back door where usually he ran, and when he came inside he fell on his hammock and didn’t move. I knew by his eyes he was sick. I went into terror mode, I didn’t know how long he had been like that, and I knew he was perhaps too ill to get himself out to the car and into the back seat to go to the vet.

I rang my daughter and she and my grand-daughter came over to help me get him to the vet. The local vet had three options for me, two I wasn't interested in. The third was to take him to the Animal Referral Hospital at Strathfield. They carried him back out to my car on a stretcher and my grand-daughter sat in the back with him, patting him and singing to him all the way there. He was admitted as an emergency patient and after speaking with the doctor we said our farewells to a very sick boy, telling him to hurry and get well and come home. The doctors rang me often through the night with updates. I sat up for hours crying; the tears wouldn’t stop. I was broken hearted; I wanted to be with him and yet I knew it was best that I wasn’t. The hospital was like an emergency ward in any hospital, and there was nowhere for relatives or owners to go except in the waiting room.

At midnight the prognosis had improved from a code red to yellow or orange. They had found a tumour on the spleen, and while it could have been operable, he developed an even more dangerous problem with his heart. The internal bleeding was not severe; he was not anaemic and his blood readings were good. He showed some signs of diabetes but nothing that couldn’t be treated. His heart rate was 300; they tried different drugs to bring it down through the night, and rang me often to tell me how things were progressing. By early morning he had taken a turn for the worse, and it was now imperative that the heart rate come down. The next call an hour later wasn’t much better; things were grim. Two hours went by with no word, and I rang out of desperation to know what was happening. I was told the doctor would ring me soon, as he was tied up with something and couldn’t come to the phone. Approximately an hour later he did ring to tell me that they had the heart rate down to 160, and Scrubbie had been sitting up while they were getting organised to take x-rays of his chest. He went into cardiac arrest and could not be revived. He died just before 9.00 Wednesday morning and I was not with him. I now have to try and live with the fact that I wasn’t there and that he died with strangers, something I would never have let happen if only the circumstances had been different. And yet I had prayed to whoever in those long lonely worrying hours, that if he couldn’t make it, his heart would give up so I didn’t have to make a decision that would break my heart even more than it was breaking already.

My daughter drove me to see him a few hours after he had gone, for the last time. He looked so peaceful sleeping. Through my tears and heartache I remembered vividly on the Monday night, that he was on the floor behind me while I was using the computer, snoring his head off. I loved to hear him snore, as I knew he felt so safe with me, as I did with him. To say his passing devastates me, is putting it mildly. I have lost something precious from my life that nothing can ever replace. The safety I had, and the love I felt from Scrubber, is something now missing. No more coming home to a wagging tail and a dog that couldn't wait to be let inside to lick me and cuddle with me. No more waking up of a morning to find him on his back on the lounge wagging his tail for a tummy rub. No more excitement when I lock the back door and he knew he was going either for a walk, or out in the car with me. No more Scrubbie.May he rest in peace. He is not gone, he is just away, and will be in my heart forever and the hearts of those that loved him and mourn for him now.

I decided on cremation. I had a dream to take Scrubbie to a new life in the not too distant future to WA. My promise to him I will keep. He will go with me and when it’s time for me to depart this earth, my wish is for our ashes to be scattered together on the sea. Together forever.

© 2005 Vena McGrath


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