Once upon a time, in a galaxy not so far away, I was out on a walk to the local outdoor shopping centre with my sister and my dogs. It was foretold that she would venture out on a noble quest to obtain the sacred chocolate bars from the hostile land of Safeway and that I would stay back and keep the dogs in check. I was just sitting on a bench, minding my own business and occasionally telling one or both of the dogs to shut up, when a man came up to me. This man delivered a pearl of wisdom that I’m sure will stay with me for the rest of my life.
“You have two dogs. One is bigger than the other one.”
After informing me of this, he left, presumably because his people needed him. Needless to say, I was in awe. He was right. I do have two dogs. One is bigger than the other one (Pumba being ‘one’ and Max being ‘the other one’). How he figured all of this out from simply looking at them, I’ll ever know. Perhaps he is a wizard. I’d like that. I’d like it very much.
I love dogs. This is one of the basic things about me that doesn’t take most people very long to figure out. I am a dog person. Dogs generally tend to like me, too. I’m not sure whether it’s because I must smell vaguely of Sheltie and Cocker Spoodle, whether they know that I adore them and want to play fetch, or whether they sense that I’m pathetic and not a threat and thus are not afraid of me. Whether it’s option a, b, c, a ‘d’ that I haven’t thought of yet or some mixture of any of those, I’m okay with it.
Actually, I used to be more of a cat person. When I was younger, they were one of my obsessions. I had a couple of books with lots of information on cats. I can still remember the advice of blinking slowly instead of staring into the cat’s eyes – and yes, that did actually help me to make friends with the neighbourhood cats. Both outgoing Leah the Tortoiseshell from across the road and shy Toosa the Chinchilla from next door were friendly with me.
Then, when I was ten, our family friend’s tricolour Sheltie Tish had a litter of puppies. Of course we went up to see them. As you should probably know, two day old puppies look like mutant hamsters from space. But they look like adorable mutant hamsters and make cute little high pitched noises from time to time. There were five pups in Tish’s litter, three males and two females. Their names were Pippin, Nala, Simba, Milo and the biggest one, Pumba. It took all of five minutes for Pumba to be ours. Due to them all being very young, though, we had to wait a while for them to mature before we could bring Pumba home with us.
The next ten weeks were the longest of my life. The first thing I did was tell everyone ever that I, Rachel Mitchell Macwhirter, was getting a puppy. I can still remember running up to my teacher and yelling “I’m getting a doggy!” like it was the greatest thing in the world (which, in retrospect, it really was). During these weeks, I acquired a new toy to cuddle up to at night – a fluffy, soft dog that I named Maxine (most likely after Madame Maxime from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). Up until this point, I only held onto Piglet (so named because she is a bipedal pig wearing a dress) when I went to sleep. Now I had a doggy as well. Another of my ways to pass the time what to chatter aimlessly at our budgerigar for hours on end. The longest session of this was the day before we were due to pick Pumba up.
The day of awesomeness finally came. Excited to the extreme, we got into the car and began the one hour car trip to the farm. These days, the trip doesn’t take nearly as long, what with Eastlink being built. I was practically bouncing out of my chair the entire way there. When we arrived, I know Pumba recognised us. We’d been up to see him a couple of times as he was growing up. He was bigger this time than we’d ever seen him – he’d grown so much! However, at ten weeks old, he was still a baby and still prone to silliness.
This fact shone like a star as we were driving back home with him. Although we had bought a seatbelt harness especially for him, he turned out to be extra proficient in self tangling. Becca and I tried to free him and stop his crying, but being eight and ten years old respectively, we never had much of a chance. Unable to do anything else, we pulled over to the side of the road and Mum and I switched seats. I was now riding shotgun and Mum was next to Pumba, trying to stop him from destroying the universe again.
Success! We finally got home and our new puppy was in one piece. There isn’t a lot more I remember about this day, except that Pumba settled straight into our house and was more than happy to start playing tug of war as soon as possible. No, what I remember clearly are the second and third nights. Staying at our house for one night was obviously not an issue for him, but on the second night, he must have decided it was time to see his buddies again. Our failure to provide said buddies disappointed him and he felt the need to vocalise said disappointment all night long. Rinse and repeat the next night. We were now privy to the fact that not only was our new dog adorable, but he also had an impressive vocal range.
Despite the initial angst, Pum settled in just fine. He took to us very quickly and was always super glad when one of us walked in the front door. We discovered his trilling ability early on. He also warbled like a magpie on occasion when one of us came home. It was also obvious that we had bought ourselves an excellent watchdog. Not a thing can get past Pumba without him scolding it. How dare those birds fly across his street?
For three years, Pumba protected our home, frightening off many a door-to-door salesman with his Rottweiler-like bark. I would like to point out at this stage that although Pumba is a huge Sheltie by Australian standards, being only just shorter than a Border Collie, his bark is a lot deeper and more threatening than it should be. Now, when you’re a door-to-door salesman, trying to talk through a wire door to the owner of the house and you can’t quite see what’s on the other side, a bark like that is going to frighten you a little bit. One man even asked us if we had ‘a tiger in there’. He promptly left when Mum said yes.
However, we began to realise that Pumba needed a friend. Yes, we were his friends, but when all of us were out of the house, the only one he could talk to was the bird, and our budgie is still a vicious beast in its old age. Pumba’s sire and dam had another litter together, but we didn’t end up getting any of the pups. My aunt and cousin did though, and they are now the proud owners of Pumba’s brother Finn. But that’s a different story.
The next part of this story (no, I’m not shutting up yet) starts when I was very sick in year eight. I’d had to stay home for an entire week. It sucked really bad, but at least I wasn’t at school. I spent a lot of the week moping around, playing Maple Story and downloading old Evanescence tracks (as I’d found out that fans actually had permission to download their pre-Fallen material). By the time Saturday rolled around, the most notable thing that had happened was that we got a new computer desk.
Near midday, Mum and Dad went out to do some errands. Or something. I was thirteen years old and sick, I didn’t really care as long as it didn’t involve me doing anything. I can’t remember where in the lounge room I was sitting, but I was either at the computer or watching TV when I received a fateful SMS. It read ‘we are bringing something home’ and was from Mum. Naturally, I shouted out to my sister not to eat, because they were probably bringing McDonalds for us. I was sick, I deserved it, of course.
As it turns out, they were not bringing food home at all. When Mum came back through the door, we noticed she was holding a puppy in her arms. Okay, Dad must’ve had the food- holy shit, my mother just brought a puppy into the house.
BEST. SURPRISE. EVER.
The first thing I can recall Max doing is trying to eat Mum’s watch while he was still half asleep in her arms. Back then, we thought it was because he was hungry. Oh, how naive we were. Max turned out to be a very, very naughty puppy. That was okay though, because he was so loving, so cute and almost immediately brought a new spark into Pumba’s life.
So there you have it, the story of how I became a dog person.
Cats don’t like me any more.