It was a little over 14 years ago that I phoned an ex-neighbour who used to breed small dogs.
‘Do you have any puppies for sale at the moment?’ was my question.
‘Well we only have one right now; she’s a sweet little Cavoodle.’
I parted with $300 (apparently half price!) and we took possession of Matilda. She was indeed ‘a sweet little Cavoodle’. She was also an adventurous and agile little Cavoodle. She learnt to climb fences and, when we made them higher, she tunnelled underneath. She loved the great outdoors – especially when there were rabbits to chase or cow manure to roll in. (Yuk!).
She had a companion on these outings – a very naughty rough-haired Jack Russell, named Chappie. The two of them created chaos and became well known around our rural neighbourhood.
But those days are well gone (as is Chappie) and we live no longer in a rural part of Victoria, but on the Gold Coast in Queensland.
Matilda is now 14 years old and showing signs of age. She has developed a habit of (after waking from a snooze) standing and looking blankly into space, or staring at a wall. On searching the Internet about such doggie habits, I discovered that it is most probably a sign of canine dementia. Oh, dear.
She is still a lovely little dog; a dog always looking for a meal or a snack - and a dog who loves her walks in the park – even though they can be very slow lately.
She has cost us buckets of money over the years: food, vets’ visits, medication, flea & tick control, bathing and clipping, boarding kennel fees and so forth, but she has been worth it – we think.
How much longer we will have Matilda as part of our family is unknown. She spends most of her time sleeping inside, wherever she chooses, and that’s fine with us.
In February of 2014, I wrote a memory of a particular day in Matilda’s early puppy life, when we nearly lost her. It’s a story I called, ‘Chappie and Matilda – a dog story’
And, if you have time, you can read it below:
Chappie and Matilda – a dog story
One day, a few years ago, I met a little rough-haired Jack Russell dog. His owner had died and he had no one to care for him and, well, he looked at me and I looked at him and the next thing we knew, he was ours.
We called him Chappie.
Chappie was a good looking, young and very lively little dog. We let him come inside whenever he wished. We installed a two-way ‘doggie flap’ in the door and made him part of the family. But he loved to chew things; anything that wasn’t nailed down or hidden away securely was fair game. Mats and hats and socks and jocks - and scarves and gloves and cushions and chair legs and anything else he fancied were bitten, chewed and sometimes taken outside and destroyed by his strong teeth.
We bought him special dog toys, which he loved, but which he also wrecked in quick time.
‘Get another dog’ was the universal advice from people who ‘knew about dogs’ and their needs and behaviour. ‘He’ll be fine, with another dog to keep him company and play with.’
So, we bought another dog – this time a sweet little Cavoodle puppy (a cross between a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and a Poodle) and called her Matilda.
Did Matilda teach Chappie how to behave? Did Matilda provide Chappie with companionship to keep him occupied, and to stop him chewing and wrecking the place? Did she show him good dog manners? Absolutely not!
It was Chappie who taught Matilda all the naughty things. She was tiny, but she was a quick learner.
Now we had two dogs to chew the furniture and our belongings.
And then they began escaping.
I had affixed metal name tags on their collars with our phone number engraved. And soon it was a daily occurrence that I would receive calls to tell me someone had found two dogs - and were they mine?
The fences around our property were reinforced and wired to Fort Knox standard and still they escaped. They burrowed like badgers under the fence; they climbed like army recruits on obstacle courses, to get over the fence.
They chased after rabbits and cattle and came home filthy.
When I put them on leashes to take them for walks, my shoulders were strained to breaking point to keep them in check. My arms ached and my walking took on a manic look as people called out to me, ‘Who’s taking who for a walk?’
As Matilda grew, the two of them occasionally stayed at home and played tug-o-war with one or other of the toys we had bought them, or even with a scarf they had found inside. The dog-flap door constantly flew open and closed as they ran in and out of the house.
Phew! It was Mayhem!
One day there was an unusual quiet and I imagined they had escaped once more. On looking out of the window to check that they had, indeed, run off, I was surprised to see them having a game, with Chappie pulling Matilda around and around.
On closer inspection, I realised that it was not a game, but that Chappie had caught one of his big eye teeth (fang, really) in Matilda’s collar and was trying to unhitch it. As he was doing so, he was tightening Matilda’s collar around her little neck. By the time I reached them, she was unconscious. It was difficult to undo her collar and release Chappie, but I eventually managed to free him and then saw that Matilda’s eyes had rolled back into her head and realised that she was not breathing.
What to do?
I began by rolling her from side to side and then faced the fact that there was only one procedure that might have a chance of bringing her back to life: Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
I did not put my mouth directly on hers, but made a hollow fist through which to blow.
Remembering that she was only the size of a baby, I didn’t blow very hard and also supplemented this with some chest compression – being careful to use two fingers, as you would for a baby. After what seemed a long time, Matilda’s eyes flickered and she made a strange noise. I rolled her from side to side a few more times and she took a breath.
Her gums were white and her eyes were bulging, but she was alive. She spent the night in the vet’s surgery and by morning all was well again.
Life resumed almost as usual. I left Matilda’s collar off for a week or so, except when she was on the leash. And the rough house behaviour - and the escaping - began in earnest once more.
The day came when I had to face the fact that these two dogs were never going to be ‘good’ family pets and the decision was made to send Chappie away to live with another family in a country town far away from us. (Yes, with the vet’s help we found a family who really wanted him. That we ‘sent him away’ is not a euphemism for you-know-what).
Matilda settled down to be a non-escaping, happy little dog, who most probably misses her lively friend. But she will probably live longer without him. And, come to think of it – so will I.
I choose to comment on social issues and write creatively on a variety of subjects - for a variety of audiences.