Myself, my son, two brother in-laws, four cousins and a Spoodle named Chicks wander down to the local footy field for a friendly game of Christmas cricket. It’s been years since my social cricket days but I soon enjoy having a bowl of the soft rubber ball – especially to my son. While he’s not really a cricketer (it’s the one sport he’s banned from participating in – I’m happy to drive and watch him play footy and basketball but I’ll be buggered if I’m wasting an entire day sitting around in the summer heat while he does very little on a cricket field), he of course has some natural ability and has proven impossible to get out. So I start to mix up some slow balls with some spin and the results look promising. Anything he does manage to hit is quickly chased down by our most enthusiastic fielder, who has the advantage of four legs and plenty of experience chasing and returning balls. I’m starting to get the spin happening so I flick one down to my son. He hits it high and about ten metres to my right. Focused on the floating piece of rubber, I sprint towards it, arms outstretched. Just as it’s about to drop into my hands, my feet hit something soft that yelps. I crash to the ground. “Fuck Chicks!” My left hand is sore, around where I broke a finger decades ago. But I suddenly realise that my brother in-laws might not be too impressed with my recent expletive, so I mumble ‘Sorry’ as I pick myself up. It turns out both brother in-laws and all the kids have their attention focused elsewhere – on a whimpering dog. It looks like Chicks came out of the collision worse than I did, which, given the laws of physics, makes sense. Her concerned owner takes her away from the playing area and, after ten minutes or so, I’m relieved to see our star fielder return. We had a little bond earlier in the day so I go over to give her a pat and an apology. She starts to shake and eyes me suspiciously. “Sorry Chicks. All forgiven?” She nips my hand. No, apparently all is not forgiven. Oh well. I’m sure that she’d be pleased to know that, ultimately, I pulled up worse than either of us that day. It turns out I badly strained a chest muscle, no doubt angry that it had been suddenly required to start bowling balls after years of rest. So I guess playing with balls really is for dogs.
It’s after nine on a Sunday night. There’s a knock at the door. Must be another resident from our building or they would’ve used the intercom. I open the door and am surprised to see the young woman from unit six. She has a drink in her hand and a dog at her feet. He’s a French Bulldog and his name is Frankie. Nitro the Two Toned Cavoodle is not a fan of Frankie’s, barking at him ever since Frankie had the audacity to invade his block of units. Frankie doesn’t seem not give a toss what Nitro thinks, occasionally snorting in his general direction. But little does Nitro know, his worst nightmare is about to unfold. “Sorry to bother you,” slurs the girl. “I went to take Frankie out for a wee but left my keys in the flat. I’m locked out.” Bloody hell. This is not what I want to deal with on a Sunday night. “Ok. No worries. Come in.” So in she comes, Frankie strutting behind her. Nitro can’t believe it. His first reaction is stunned silence. A few years after invading his building, Frankie has finally made his move and is going to take over his home. The girl attempts to contact her convicted drug dealing boyfriend. No luck. She then calls a locksmith. Meantime, Frankie notices that there’s a bowl of dried dog food in the kitchen. This is what we call Nitro’s ‘rubbish’ – the least appetising bits of his dinner that are left until after his nightly walk – if they are eaten at all. Frankie, unaware of the routine, is happy to eat rubbish anytime of the day or night and soon the bowl is empty. This crosses the line. Nitro makes his displeasure known and finds himself shut out of the lounge room. Frankie then discovers Nitro’s discarded pig’s ear. He decides this is the best thing ever and chews it with gusto. Soon it’s reduced to half its size. He makes grunty snorty noises. We all find this amusing. Except for Nitro, who’s unsure of exactly what is going on but doesn’t like it. I take him into my son’s room and shut the door. I come back out and notice a pile of puke on our nice rug. Bummer. I grab a paper towel and when I return there are two more piles. I wipe up the warm gunk as the drunk girl attempts to negotiate with a locksmith, oblivious to the deposits her dog is creating. My wife joins in, trying to clean up puke piles. But Frankie is on a roll and is regurgitating faster than we can get rid of them. The girl finally becomes aware of what’s happening and attempts to help, getting in the way more than anything. We open the door and shoo Frankie into our hallway. Realising another rug is at risk, I quickly roll it up. Nitro starts yapping, incredulous at what he can hear and smell from the other side of the bedroom door. But Frankie’s not finished, the contents of his stomach determined to escape. His owner suggests putting him out into the common hallway but I stop her, not wanting to have to clean that carpet as well. At last, Frankie has nothing left to throw up. He is taken into the kitchen. My bleary eyed son comes in and begs us to let Nitro out of his room so he can get back to sleep. So I take the distressed Cavoodle into our room, shut the door and climb onto our bed with him. This settles him slightly. But he remains alert and doesn’t completely relax until he finally hears the door shut behind Frankie, the Regurgitating Invader.
I am tossing a Frisbee with my mate Jezza like we do most Saturdays. We are in a fairly enclosed area of Centennial Park. Although we aren’t in the main dog walking thorough-fair, dogs and their owners drift past. We suddenly notice four big black dogs having a bit of a romp. In fact, they’re having more than a romp – they look like they’re pretty keen on making more black dogs. We have a bit of a laugh at this, assuming they’re all part of the same pack. So it surprises us slightly when they eventually split off into two pairs. A little later, we see what we assume is one of the pairs coming back towards us. But it turns out to be a completely different pair. Ok – that’s a bit weird. We keep tossing and here comes another black dog, indistinguishable from the others except for having a different owner. “Looks like it’s Black Dog Day” I shout to the dog walker. “Yes, we’ve just past several.” It’s only when yet another pair of big black dogs gallop past that it starts to get freaky. “Bloody hell – that’s seven in a row now!” Finally, a German Shepherd and a brown Beagle break the spell. It’s a few weeks later and Jezza and I are tossing in an open area of Queen’s Park. This time I’ve brought Nitro the Two Toned Cavoodle, who’s having a great time. After a while, Jezza points off into the distance. I look and see a pack of about five little white dogs. I laugh. He then tells me to turn around. I do and see a tall white dog next to a short one. But Jezza’s not done, pointing in the other direction. There’s another pack of about six white dogs, one of which is a poodle whose white afro matches that of its old lady’s. I decide to do a quick head count and of about twenty dogs I can see, Nitro is one of about four that isn’t white. Very bizarre. But given it was Black Dog Day a few weeks earlier, I guess the universe decided to square the balance with a White Dog Day. No doubt Brown Dog Day is just around the corner.
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.
“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.
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.