To look at him, Nitro the Two Toned Cavoodle doesn’t appear to be an overly fierce creature, with his woolly shag and goofy grin. But it turns out ferocity is in the eye of the beholder. It’s a mild sunny afternoon – the last day of winter. Nitro and I are walking along the Bondi Beach promenade. He’s off leash – always a slight risk as he enjoys greeting people by jumping onto his hind legs and placing his paws as high up as they’ll reach. With toddlers, this tends to be head height. While most people are happy enough to return his affection, others are not so keen (especially those attired in white pants). But he knows that if he becomes a nuisance it’ll mean being hooked back up to his leash. So lately he’s been suitably restrained, more interested in sniffing the latest piss stains than harassing people. We are walking past the set of steps that leads up to the grassy hill. Suddenly, a Muslim woman decked out in full hijab and a long dress spots Nitro and starts screaming. She scrambles up the steps, Nitro on her heels, thinking this game is great fun. The hysterical woman then starts running along the grass, shrieking. Nitro’s loving it. Then, about to lose her mind, the woman sprints to the edge of the grass and jumps off the wall, sailing through the air. The bizarre sight momentarily transports me back to my childhood when I used to watch Sally Field as ‘The Flying Nun’. Unlike Sally, this woman only flies for a few metres – a pretty impressive feat nonetheless – before rushing into the arms of her bemused and smiling husband. Once she feels safe, she too manages a nervous smile. I shake my head and laugh. Better beware the Killer Cavoodle.
Nitro the Two Toned Cavoodle first discovered the joys of the dot one night on Bondi Beach. It was a green dot generated by a laser pointer belonging to the owner of another local Cavoodle (who doesn’t really look like a Cavoodle), named Poppy. The novelty of chasing a green dot zipping along the sand had worn a bit thin for Poppy. But to Nitro it was a revelation – a fast green light that could never be caught. The other owner and I were amused by Nitro’s gung ho efforts to catch the uncatchable. After being informed where I could buy one, I didn’t. At least not for nearly two years. But when I finally introduce Nitro to the red dot one night at the beach, he goes nuts. I point it in front of his face and then whip it along next to the water. Nitro takes off, galloping like a fuel injected rabbit, grains of sand flying in his jet stream. He comes to expect it every night and is disappointed if I leave the pointer behind. It doesn’t take long for him to figure out that the dot is somehow connected to the cylindrical shiny thing I hold in my hand. He even rises up onto his hind legs and stands for several seconds in gleeful anticipation of the shiny thing emerging from my pocket. But, unfortunately, the shiny thing chews up batteries and Nitro the Two Toned Cavoodle is deprived of dot chasing over the several months in which I fail to replace dead batteries. When my son and I finally take him out one night and resurrect the dot, there is not a more excited Cavoodle on the planet. He goes hard. My son especially enjoys swinging the dot from side to side, watching Nitro twist and turn. Unfortunately, this costs me over a hundred dollars for a vet visit where it’s decided that our over overexcited dog has pinched a nerve in his back. So the dot is once more retired for a spell. When it re-emerges, its trajectory is considerably straighter. The plus side of this is I discover a new game – ‘Point the Dot at Nitro’s Bullseye Bum Hole.’ This is a challenge but every so often the dot briefly hits the galloping target – as if a SWAT team sniper is lining up a shot. Once we finish our dot games on the beach, Nitro heads straight for the water tap on the walkway. I press the button and he gulps and slurps, replenishing fluids drained by the dot. He then coughs and splutters, redirecting water that’s gone down the wrong way. Nitro the Two Toned Cavoodle then looks up and smiles, delighted to have had yet another dot dalliance on Bondi Beach.
“It’s a dog’s life”, so the saying goes. Until a couple of years ago, I’d always assumed that this was a negative analogy – that living “a dog’s life” was not a desirable thing. Then Nitro the two-toned Cavoodle came into my world. Having closely observed his life over the past two years, I’m beginning to re-assess my position. Sure, some dog’s lives are miserable. I’m especially happy that I don’t live a Thai dog’s life – scruffy, scabby and scavenging crap off the street. And there is no doubt that Nitro sits comfortably on the spoiled side of the scale: fresh meat twice a day, constant company, at least a couple of kilometres worth of daily walks and hours upon hours of nap time. That’s a dog’s life I’d gladly swap for. Then there’s all those weird doggie rituals like pissing on poles (or in Nitro’s case: poles, shrubs, steps, sand castles, sea weed and the occasional unguarded garment or handbag). Our outings are punctuated by piss stops, all following the same pattern. First, Nitro stops at a previously sprayed pole (or whatever else). Then his nose hovers about it, nostrils all a twitter. In fact, I think these piss poles are the canine equivalent of Twitter or Facebook – leaving each other messages about where they’ve been, what they’ve been eating or drinking and who still has balls dangling between his legs. I’m sure Nitro can distinguish the scents of a good number of different dogs who have all graced a particular pole. Once he’s worked out who’s recently visited the site, Nitro lifts his leg and leaves his own message, careful to ration his precious piss. Then off to the next one. If we are venturing outside his usual territory, these stops become more frequent, until he is spraying nothing but vapour. Should we come across an actual living, breathing, dog, then a whole new set of rituals kick in. First there is the stand off – both dogs facing off at a distance proportional to their mutual suspicion. Any sign of tail wagging is good. They then come together, almost touching noses. They can either rotate around each other for a bit, until one of them goes in for a butt sniff, or a bolder dog can cut to the chase and stick its nose straight in with no invitation. Usually this is accepted but on occasion it is not and there may be a snarl or a snap to warn off an over familiar approach. Once the initial sniffer has worked out what the other dog has had for breakfast, then their bits will be offered up for a receptacle sniff. After each dog is satisfied, it may be time for a game of chasy or some doggie wrestling (when Nitro does this with a fellow Cavoodle, I call it ‘Cavoodling’). Or sometimes, one of the dogs will then simply ignore the other and go about its business. All up – it’s strange behaviour. Imagine what it would be like if our species had the same sort of social rituals. I’m walking along and I see this guy approaching me. We both stop, sussing each other out. I see that he’s younger than me, muscular with bristle-like short hair. A couple of tatts are poking out from under his sleeves. I do not want to piss this guy off. He slowly starts to approach me and I cautiously follow suit. As we get close we both start sniffing and slowly rotate around each other. He smells of tobacco and sweat. I stop. He walks behind me, bends down and puts his head under my butt. I can hear him inhaling deeply, taking it all in. After a few moments he slowly straightens up and walks in front of me, his backside turned in my direction. I carefully lower my head until I can see nothing but his butt. He is wearing faded jeans. I breathe in and am overwhelmed by the bouquet. This guy is obviously a huge curry fan. I can smell at least three different flavours, including a particularly pungent beef vindaloo. Wow. He starts moving away. I stay put. He goes over to a nearby pole. He unzips his fly, hauls out his hose and has a spray. Nice stream. Once he’s done, he packs away his junk, zips his jeans and wanders off. I wait a moment and then head straight for the pole. His piss is still sliding down, forming a little yellow pool at the pole’s base. I take a good whiff. Ah – a VB man. Makes sense – some beer to wash down all that spice. And it would seem he’s still in possession of his balls – no de-sexing for this dude. Ok – my turn. Out comes my somewhat smaller hose. Now to wash away all that cheap crap beer with the fragrance of some high end Belgian stuff. Right – that’ll do. Need to save some for later. Who knows what awaits. Oh! There’s a pack of drunk chicks across the road. Better head over and give them a sniff.
The first time I saw him in public was a classic double-take moment. I was walking up Curlewis street in Bondi when a group of about four people were leaving the Brown Sugar café and started walking in front of me. One of them was unusually tall. Wow. He’s big enough to be a footy player. Then I noticed his curly hair. Hang on. He is a footy player! It was Shane Mumford – aka Mummy – the Sydney Swan’s enormous ruckman. I was a newly born again Swans fanatic at the time and was even wearing my prized black hooded Swans jacket. I reached for my phone and the nerve to approach him for a selfie. But I stopped myself. Here was a guy just hanging with his mates on the weekend. He didn’t want to be hassled by an annoying footy fan. So I resisted. The next time I saw him, he was no longer with the Swans. The shock signing of superstar forward Buddy Franklin had created the salary cap pressure to force Mummy out of the Swans and into the still fledgling Great Western Sydney Giants. And once again, I didn’t recognise him straight away. I was in the Bondi Vet waiting room with Nitro the two-toned cavoodle, who was worse for wear thanks to an encounter with a tick. A couple with a cute cavoodle pup entered, so naturally we started chatting about the virtues of cavoodles. After a little while, the penny dropped. “Uh – is your name Shane?” He nodded. “Right. I’m a huge fan. I saw you in the 2012 Grand Final in Melbourne with my son. You were great.” He politely thanked me but as I could sense a bit of embarrassment, I went back to talking about cavoodles. Once again, I didn’t want to be seen as an annoying footy fan. The third encounter, over a year later, also involved our cavoodles. I was taking Nitro for an afternoon stroll near the beach when I noticed another cavoodle he plays with sometimes. So I let Nitro loose for a bit of cavoodling. I then see another dog owner playing fetch his cavoodle. It’s Mummy and the now fully-grown Bella. I watch them for a while, wanting to say something but resisting. When Nitro decides to steal Bella’s ball, which I rescue, I can no longer help myself. “You guys were in a tight one the other day”, referring to the Giant’s last second one point loss to the West Coast Eagles. Mummy groans. But he then starts chatting about the frustration of losing such a close game. We continue talking footy – the form of other teams, the excitement of the Giants about to take part in their first finals campaign and the possibility of a Swans v Giants final. I am really enjoying the chance to be a footy bore with one of the AFL’s best players. And despite my dog repeatedly thieving his dog’s ball, Mummy also seems happy to chat. Finally it’s time to head off and we say good-bye. I’m buzzing and later tell my wife and son all about me and my mate Mummy. It’s maybe a couple of weeks later when I next spot Mummy and Bella. Nitro and I are on our way back from the north end of the beach walkway. Mummy is about twenty metres ahead, putting a lead on Bella. He sees Nitro and, without making it too obvious, sees me. He then turns sharply and starts walking in the other direction. His long legs get into gear and in no time at all he is speeding away, the curly haired Bella forced into a trot beside him. Ok – no worries. He obviously isn’t up for a chat today. Then it hits me – I am an annoying footy fan. Even worse – I am an annoying footy fan with an annoying cavoodle. A combination best avoided whenever possible.
It’s days since the deluge but the Bondi sky remains heavy and grey. I am taking Nitro the two-toned Cavoodle for his morning walk. Am feeling flat but hoping that my daily yoga stretch and meditation in the park will soon revive me. We get to the park and the dog is unleashed. I keep an eye out, waiting for him to assume the position that will require me to shove my hand into a blue plastic bag. But the only position he assumes is one of hunter as he leaps onto a lame lorikeet parrot. We are all surprised by this, especially Nitro, whose habitual chasing of birds has so far been without triumph. After a couple of seconds of shock, I am shouting like a mad man and yanking the bird from the furry jaws of death. Then I awkwardly attempt to re-leash an excited canine with one hand while holding a freaking parrot with the other. This proves rather painful as the lorikeet’s little beak pinches my hand, biting down like his life depends upon it (and from his point of view, it probably does). Somehow I manage to tuck the bird under my arm, safely padded by my hoody, leash the killer Cavoodle and head back home. Whilst walking I decide that I will drop the dog off at a neighbour’s and take the bird to the veterinary hospital in Bondi Junction. I took an injured bird there years ago and was surprised by how Hollywood handsome the vet was. At that stage, neither of us had a clue that he would later achieve celebrity status as the star of the “Bondi Vet” TV series (which conveniently ignores its true location since “Bondi Junction Vet” isn’t nearly as sexy). Once Nitro is safely enclosed at the neighbour’s, I head home, put the lorikeet into a box and then wash the tiny wounds on my hands. I look for some disinfectant but the best I can do is splash around some mouthwash. I know it’s supposed to kill mouth germs but am unsure if that extends to bird mouths. The car is parked a block away, so I walk along holding a hairdryer box like it’s a gift for the baby Jesus. As I enter the car, I notice that the inside of one hand is starting to ache. Is this the onset of some strange avian disease? And just how do you contract bird flu? Doing my best not imagine that this is the beginning of my end, I arrive at the vet. Dr Hollywood is rarely around these days, most recently sighted in an African jungle hosting a show featuring a number of dubious ‘celebrities’ all wanting to get the hell out of there. So another vet inquires about what’s in the hair dryer box. I unveil the little guy and the diagnosis is immediate: beak and feather disease. He says that most vets put such afflicted birds to sleep but that they won’t. Instead, they’ll take him and put him out the back in a little sanctuary they have. Lucky birdy. Or lying vet. I mention that I ended up with several wounds on my hands. I’m told not to worry as the disease is only passed on between birds. Seeing an opportunity too tempting to resist, I quip: “So I don’t need to worry about my beak and feathers?” Having achieved the sought after chuckles, I leave the bird behind and head back for another attempt at walking the dog.