Tambo was a little black and white dog. He had short hair, pointy ears, a very waggy tail and sharp little teeth. His home was a kennel in the back yard belonging to a boy called Jim, who lived with his mother and father in a small town in Tasmania. Jim loved Tambo and, for most of the time, it seemed that Tambo loved Jim. But Tambo was a wanderer and Tambo liked excitement and, when Jim was at school for days on end, Tambo would become bored and want something to do. Tambo would go to the back door and scratch and cry a little, but Jim’s mum, who was mostly home all day, would say, “Not now, Tambo. Jim will be home this afternoon.” Sometimes Jim’s mum would say, “I’ll take you for a walk tomorrow, Tambo.” But Tambo knew that tomorrow never came, especially when it came to promised walks. So, on many days, Tambo would just trot off, on his own, down the street, in search of adventure. Sometimes he would find another dog or two and have a game of “you chasemy tail and I’ll chase yours” for a while. Sometimes he would spy a cat lazing in the sun and would creep up near it and give a short little bark, just to have the fun of seeing the cat’s fur stand on end as it ran, faster than lightning, to escape towards the nearest tree or house. Once Tambo saw a little mouse hiding under a bush and crept up to frighten it and, when he did, the mouse had such a fright that it scampered up the nearest thing, which happened to be Tambo’s back leg. Tambo never tackled a mouse again. Not that he was frightened of mice, mind you, it’s just that he didn’t like the creepy feeling of those little feet. There were sometimes other - and bigger - adventures that took Tambo away from home for more than a day. It was in these times that Jim would become worried and upset. If Jim arrived home from school and Tambo was nowhere to be seen, Jim would stand at the door and yell, “TAMBO !” at the top of his voice a few times before Tambo would come through the fence (he never bothered with gateways) and up to Jim with a happy lick of Jim’s hands or face. But every so often, Jim would call Tambo’s name over and over and Tambo would not come at all. Not even at dinner time. Then Jim would worry all night and most of the next day at school, until home time. Sometimes, Tambo would be waiting for him when he came home, but sometimes, there would be no Tambo for days. On these occasions, when Tambo eventually did arrive home, he and Jim would excitedly greet each other. There would be shouts of joy from Jim and lots of tail-wagging and licking and yapping from Tambo. “Where have you been, boy?” Jim would ask over and over. But Tambo gave few clues as to where he had been. Sometimes there would be an extra amount of dried mud on Tambo’s feet and legs and Jim often wondered where it was that his little dog liked so much and that had mud. For many days after these disappearing adventures, Tambo would often stay home without going out much at all. It was as if he had come home for a rest, or a bit of a holiday, to recover from all the action of the days before.
Twice a year, Jim’s Grandma would come over from the mainland and stay with them for two or three weeks. Grandma and Tambo did not get on very well together. Grandma never called Tambo by his name. It was always “that pesky little dog” or “the four-legged nuisance”. So it was perhaps fortunate that Tambo had taken it upon himself to disappear on another of his longer adventures when Grandma came that particular May. Although Jim missed Tambo, he was relieved that he did not have the worry of trying to make Tambo invisible, every time Grandma went outside. One Saturday morning, Grandma and Jim decided to walk to the shops to buy a few things. Jim looked forward to these trips as, even though he ended up carrying Grandma’s heavy shopping bag home, he knew that he was sure to get a treat along the way. Grandma wasn’t like Mum and Dad in some ways. She thought it was quite alright for kids to eat chocolate and saw nothing wrong with rainbow or licorice ice-cream. Also, she was mad about books, and so Jim was always sure of Grandma taking him into the best book store in town and letting him choose whatever book took his fancy. (Once, Jim found a huge book called “Dogs of the World”, which cost about three times what Grandma usually paid, but, as she said, “If that’s what you’d really like, Jim, then you may have it.”) On this particular first Saturday of Grandma’s stay, off they walked, Jim and Grandma, heading for a happy shopping morning. They had gone perhaps half a kilometre, when, in the distance, they saw what was for Jim, at least, a familiar little figure. Although it seemed that there was definitely something odd and different about the look of this little creature. It was bigger somehow and more bulky. And, as they looked, Jim and Grandma suddenly realised together, that it was, indeed, Tambo and that Tambo was carrying something large and heavy in his mouth. Just as Grandma and Jim saw, with horror, that it was a dead chook between Tambo’s teeth, they also noticed that Tambo was being chased by someone. “Tam……” Jim started to call. “SSHH!” said Grandma in an urgent way. “But, Grandma, …..” Jim felt Grandma’s fingers grab his shoulders and decided that it was best not to say anything. Tambo, by this time had nearly reached them. And, by now, they could see that there was a very angry man who was chasing Tambo. He looked just like the story book picture of Mister McGregor chasing Peter Rabbit, as he was waving a rake in the air as he ran. “That rotten dog’s killed half my chooks!” the man yelled in a puffed but gruff voice. “Is he yours?” “NO,” said Grandma, quickly, “I’ve never seen him before.” “But, Grandma………..” Jim started to say something, but he felt Grandma’s fingers on his shoulder. They were pinching quite hard by now. Jim realised that he had better not say anything. Grandma added, “We don’t have a dog.” And then “Shoo, shoo, bad dog! Shoo……go away, horrible little creature!” By this time, Tambo had dropped the dead chook at Grandma’s feet, like a present. He looked at Jim, expecting to be rescued from the rake-waving man, but Jim looked the other way and Tambo realised that even Jim was not happy with him. One more quick glance at the angry farmer and Tambo was off. The body of the poor chook left dumped on the ground. “Rotten mongrel,” growled the man, as he picked up the chook’s body and headed back in the direction from where he had come running.
Tambo ran off after the dreadful ‘chook incident’ day. He never came home again. Each and every day, Jim would hope, as he came home from school, that Tambo would be waiting, but those joyful greetings that used to be were now just memories. Jim worried about how many other times Tambo might have been up to bad adventures like the chook affair. He had always imagined that Tambo was just having happy doggy-fun times when he was away from home. Jim was sad for the chooks that Tambo may have killed and felt sad for the farmer and his family, but he still loved Tambo and missed him a lot. Jim spent many hours after school, walking the streets, calling Tambo’s name, but Tambo never came. Jim talked Mum and Dad into driving around the streets at night-time, a couple of times. “We’ll hear him if he answers us at night,” said Jim, “Maybe he’s tied up somewhere.” So the family drove slowly around the district, with the car window open and Jim calling “TAMBO!” every now and again. But there was no answering call from Tambo and Jim finally had to accept that Tambo had gone forever. But, one night, when Jim was in bed asleep and Mum was just about to turn off the lights and go to bed, she heard a scratching at the back door. She stopped and listened. There it was again and, this time, there was a little familiar cry as well. Mum opened the door, and, surprise, surprise, in ran Tambo, tail wagging madly and almost dancing around the kitchen. Tambo gave Mum a big lick and then scampered off upstairs, straight to Jim’s bedroom. Jim was sound asleep and didn’t see or hear his cheeky little dog come into his room. He also didn’t hear or see anything as Tambo put his paws up on Jim’s bed and gave Jim a doggy kiss on his head. It was a very quick greeting and then Tambo was downstairs again. Mum didn’t wake Jim, or even Dad, to tell them the news. She quickly gave Tambo a drink of water and a little meal of leftovers, and smiled to herself as she thought of how pleased and happy Jim would be in the morning when he found Tambo back home again. Tambo went to the door and Mum opened it and watched him run towards his kennel that had been empty for so long. She breathed a happy sigh as she went up to bed.
The next morning was not as Mum expected. She had not said anything to Jim or Dad, but had waited for them to find out the happy news themselves. But there was no happy news. There was no Tambo. What Mum had thought was a joyous greeting that Tambo had given Jim the night before was, in fact, a goodbye kiss. He was never seen again. Well, that is, he was never seen by Jim or anyone in Jim’s family again. Tambo was not a dog to spend his life with a small family of a mum, a dad and one boy. He was not a dog to live in a town. He needed wide open spaces and lots of animals and lots of kids and people who were home all day to play with him and give him activities like rounding up cows, perhaps. And maybe Jim knew all that, and it may have made him a little happier to think that Tambo had found a bigger place with lots to do and maybe even a family who loved him nearly as much as Jim did. It was many months before Jim really knew that Tambo was no longer going to come home. He often wondered about the story Mum told him of the night when Tambo had come home and kissed him goodbye. It was strange, thought Jim, that Tambo had run up the stairs and straight to his room. Tambo had never been an inside dog. He had always stayed outside and never been allowed indoors. How, then, did he know so surely, where Jim’s bedroom was? How did Tambo know where Jim was and what made him come back on that night and kiss Jim farewell? Only one answer to that, thought Jim. He must have really loved me as much as I loved him. But, for some dogs, there just has to be more to do. And Jim (and Grandma, too) knows what happens when an adventurous dog doesn’t have enough good things to do.
P.S. Just over a year later, after Jim had said that he never wanted another dog again and Mum and Dad had tried to talk him into getting a cat, and Grandma kept sending him pictures and information about creatures like gold-fish and guinea pigs and long-eared rabbits, something happened. Jim was visiting his cousin’s place when Aunty Sue came in with a cardboard box. “Hold this box for me for a minute, will you, please Jim?” she said. Jim took the box from his aunty. For a moment he didn’t look inside, but, when he felt it move, he was so surprised, he lowered it to see what was in it. Jim saw the most amazing little ball of fluffy white curls that he had ever seen. The little curly ball wriggled and looked at Jim with big, round, beautiful eyes before trying to jump out of the box. Not being able to resist it, Jim put down the box, reached inside and picked up the bundle. Lick, lick, lick, went the little pink tongue as the puppy (for that’s what it was) decided that Jim was the best person in the world and wagged its tiny tail to show it. Although Jim had said, “Never again!” when anyone suggested he have another dog after Tambo had gone, he immediately forgot his vow when he saw and felt the little ball of fluff that had been in Aunty Sue’s cardboard box. “Surprise!” said Aunty Sue, “She’s yours if you want her.” And that’s how Mindy came to be the new dog in Jim’s life. Mindy was an inside and outside dog. For adventures, Mindy only needed short walks in the park, or a tug-of-war with a piece of old rag. She never ran away and guess what? She was frightened of chooks.