Dog walking is a funny thing because it throws complete strangers together and builds a community. That’s not necessarily through design but more by chance, serendipity or just meant to be. There are those you connect with better than others or see more often and you’re no longer just two strangers whose dogs both happen to sniff a pole at the same time.
Fortunately, we have a section of our local beach where dogs are not only permitted to legally leave their paw prints in the sand, but they can even run off the lead and be “free”. While I might actually equate such freedom with running full pelt along the sand, especially in pursuit of a ball, the dogs often have other ideas. More often than not, they’re more interested in sniffing. Sniffing the sand and and clumps of desiccated seaweed for doggy scents and, of course, sniffing each others’ you-know-whats.
Welcome to: “Dog Beach”.
As most of us humans are creatures of habit, I usually see pretty much the same dog walkers every day. So, we get to know each other and our dog walking community even boasts a few romances and I’ve celebrated a birthday or two down there. Indeed, I see and speak to these people more than my closest, long term friends I’ve known forever. So, in a sense, we’ve built up that sense of family, even though we might not know each other beyond the beach and our dogs.
Somehow, the dogs and I developed quite an affinity with Spitz and his Dad. Spitz is an effervescent pup and Dog Beach’s resident extrovert and live wire. Always trying to be everyone’s friend, the older and more mature dogs didn’t always appreciate his puppyish zest for life. They’d sort of look at him a bit like how we’d look at our human kids as if to say: “Why can’t you just sit still and not run around all over the place?!!” Yet, Spitz was not deterred. He went back and tried to befriend the big old dogs, as though it was some kind of challenge. “If I keep trying, I know you’re going to like me because I’m simply irresistible!”
When it comes to breeds, we were never really quite sure what Spitz was. He was supposedly Jack Russell x German Spitz but it certainly looked like a terrier had got
in on the action.
Spitz and Lady had quite a thing going. Spitz loved kissing Lady all over her face but at times I could see she was only just tolerating it. She’d have this haughty look as if to say she was too well-bred for all of that…a “Lady” after all. At the same time, Lady liked hanging around Spitz, possibly because his Dad had a bag full of dog food in his pocket. For some reason, Spitz wouldn’t eat breakfast before his walk but would then become peckish. Lady, knowing full well how to turn on those huge puppy dog eyes, would sit next to Spitz and stare up at his Dad so lovingly, that Spitz was forced to “learn how to share”. Of course, he wasn’t always happy about his older girlfriend getting his food but Lady was soon forgiven and there would be more kisses.
This morning, I’d been helping out at the school and we arrived at Dog Beach later than usual. I couldn’t see any of the usual dog walkers and was a bit disappointed to miss them again. I’ve been late other days this week and we haven’t caught up.
Moreover, things are also quite problematic at Dog Beach at the moment. Now that council is trying to repair the severe sand erosion from the recent storm, Dog Beach is looking more and more like a scene out of Bob the Builder, or a children’s sand pit which has become enchanted, coming to life. What with all the bulldozers, diggers and ginormous trucks digging up the sand making sandbags to save the road from total collapse, the beach has morphed into a construction site. There are roadworks signs, Keep Out and with all that heavy machinery around dogs off the leash, it’s a case of “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!”
This, of course, means that the dog walkers have become somewhat displaced. Given the beach works and being late, I wasn’t really surprised no one else was there and we actually ended up walking the opposite direction today, as the point was blocked off.
I was also trying out this new dog ball throwing gizmo and the ball was really flying along the beach. So much so, that you’d almost think there was a motor inside. The ball was going about 4 times further than my usual feeble throws and while I was amazed, the dogs were thrilled. They were off and running…especially Bilbo!! He just LOVES chasing that ball!!
Indeed, my throws were so good that I thought I might apply for a position with the Australian Cricket Team. I’ve heard they’re looking for a few new players after recent performances (or lack thereof!!)
Anyway, as we were heading back to the car, I noticed a lone figure sitting on the rocks in the distance. I’d thought it was Spitz’s Dad but couldn’t see Spitz and wasn’t sure. The sky was grey. The sea was a darker shade of grey. It was threatening rain. Way off in the distance, you could just make out Palm Beach Lighthouse perched upon the headland on the other side of Broken Bay.
As the figure walked closer, I could see that it was Spitz’s Dad but there was definitely no Spitz. That was very odd. Spitz is always bouncing around at the beach wanting to play, looking for treats and keen to catch up with Lady and shower her in kisses.
“Where’s Spitz?” I asked.
I certainly wasn’t expecting the response.
Spitz had died.
I was in shock. Totally numb.
Recently, I’d reflected that some of these dogs are getting older. I mean, Bilbo is almost 9 and there is a cluster of older dogs at the beach who I’m very fond of and it hit me that it’s going to be hard when they go. I pat and talk to them along with their owners virtually every week day and you form a bond. That sense of community, family. You care. Some of the dog walkers have become exceptionally good friends. I am relatively new there but there are people who have been walking their dogs there every day for more than ten, fifteen years and you do put down roots and make connections in that time.
However, I’d never thought in a million years that we would suddenly lose Spitz. Not Spitz. He was only 9 months old…still a pup!
With all his friendly exuberance and being such a character dog, I was very smitten by Spitz. He’d found a place in my heart as well as my imagination, joining the many dog characters I’ve created and written about over the years. I’d only known him for a few months and I’d never even considered whether this was the beginning, middle or end. After all, Act I isn’t supposed to suddenly skip to Act IV…especially for one so young and bursting with beans.
It is looking like Spitz was poisoned. Most likely accidentally but nevertheless, such a tragedy…especially for such a young dog. He was only 9 months old and had barely wet his paws. While he wasn’t my dog, I’ll still miss him terribly and I know the other dog walkers will feel the same. That’s what it means to be part of a community. You share each others’ joy but you also share each others’ grief.
I remember the dreadful silence at home after my last dog, Rufus died. You just get used to that clatter of claws on the floorboards behind you and no person can ever give you such unbridled, unconditional love than your dog. I still remember how that emptiness echoed and within a week we had bought Bilbo as a pup. When you are a dog person at heart, it’s like part of you ceases to exist if you haven’t got a dog. There’s a dog-shaped hole in your heart. I make no apologies for that. I love my dogs…and I also loved Spitzy. I hope he has found some other fun loving, energetic dogs to run around with in heaven and he’s still making the old dogs feel tired just watching him run. He might even have found another Lady and a bottomless pocket of treats.
We will miss you Spitz!
Love, Rowena, the kids, Bilbo and Lady xxoo