My smart dog Shady
Canberra is the Capital city of Australia, but as the car-tags will tell you it is also the bush-capital of Australia. It has been home to me for many years, I have lived there from 1978 on and off for decades! But Tasmania is better for me!
Being the regular kind of guyI am I went to University in Canberra, and like others in my position at the time not sure what to do with my future. As Australia was heading into a recession (the recession ’we had to have’ according to the then PM Paul Keating) banks were scrambling to lend money. The commercials said they’d lend money to everyone. So I went to a real estate agent for a joke and told them I wanted to buy a house…
Being a second year university student, and part time taxi driver I never expected to get one without a deposit… the real estate agent managed to set it all up for me, and within 6 months I moved into my own new home way out in the suburbs…
The house warming party was in mud, outside of a 90% completed house which I called my own. All my friends came over, and a big pig-on-a-spit party was held to celebrate the house.
Neighbors were still scarce as the suburb was really still nothing more then a construction site. But one set of neighbors came! Their dog Shady came soon after – it took 30 minutes for Shady to built up the courage to jump the fence across the road.
These neighbors were not happy about Shady jumping the fence. They made it sit, slapped it and called it a stupid dog. They boasted about their pit-bull that had to be put down as it had bitten too many people. Shady came from a shop window. A two year old German shepherd that had failed police dog training apparently. It was not aggressive enough for these people and they thought they’d fix that soon with cruelty. This was not well received with my friends!
Mate Colin woke up with a hangover the following morning, as did many other party goers left stranded in the new bare house. Colin was feeling a little cloudy in the head, but was clear on one thing. Shady could not stay with my neighbors. He gave me his ultimatum: If that dog is still with them in 2 weeks he would come and rescue it and take it to his parents farm house where one more dog would not be in the way.
The morning after the neighbor knocked on my door at some ungodly hour – I had just driven taxis till 5am and any time in the a.m. would have been ungodly – and asked me if I wanted Shady…
And so it came to be that Shady was mine.
Contain that dog!
As was expected Shady was not easily contained. Shady was as big a female shepherd as one gets, she was a very strong dog and could just bite through whatever I tied her up with as soon as I left. When I would go drive taxis and leave Shady alone I would come home to hear that Shady had reported back to her own old backyard!
Obviously the good fencing I had was useless, as was the high fencing the neighbors had built. This meant that for now Shady had to come with me wherever I went. Shady wanted to be with me so badly in any case that even at night she would poke her nose under my blanket to physically make sure I was still there.
One of my first trips with Shady was to the real estate agent. Being convinced that Shady just wanted to hang around I left her in the foyer of the building… something a 20 year old uni-student would do I suppose. I went up in the elevator to the second floor, got out and went into the real-estate office where I disappeared into a little room with Mr. Tolhurst.
Minutes later Shady took the next elevator up. Careful to take the same elevator as I went into. As the elevator went up and down Shady sniffed the trail where the lift stopped and eventually got out on the second floor as well. Sniffing her way into the office she quietly sat down under the table… The real estate office staff was a little perplexed watching thisbig dog walk into their office, and no one was going to challenge her!
Wherever I parked my car it was Shady’s duty to watch the car for me. The old Holden Kingswood was a lovely car for a dog. It was a piece of junk that would never stop. I would park the Kingswood with the rear window down so that she could jump in and out – without touching the duco – as if it mattered! When driving taxis I would leave Shady to watch my car for the entire 10 hours shift! It was what she really wanted to do. Staying home was not for Shady even when I later lived in a group-house with other nice people.
Sometimes one of my fares would go past where my Kingswood was parked and I would offer the passenger a discount if I could pick up Shady for a spin! Shady would sit in the front passenger’s feet space. Fares would sit in the back. A few fares later I would drop Shady back at the car. She loved it. The passengers were a little worried about it as I heard from a fellow driver friend who was told by a passenger: ‘I caught a cab last week and the driver went to pick up his dog with me in it.' Or ‘I got in this cab and the driver had a huge German shepherd in the front!’. Ah well, nobody got hurt and no complaints were made!
As for my taxi driving carreer, I did much worse! It was a great job in my student life. If any one is interested in taxi-stories let me know and I will write some (
firstname.lastname@example.org )! The worst that ever happened to me was me being accused of driving a passenger the 'long' way around and ripping him off. I had to stop driving for an hour to recover from that accusation as I took great pride in my street knowledge!! NB. The fare was $13 and the operator who was asked how much it would cost guestimated $15-$20, so I had done a particularly good route (admittedly through the country).
Going to Uni
Shady and I became the best buddies. I got involved with a lady a few years my senior. She had a one year old and three year old daughter. I had an instant family. Shady loved it very much. After a while we all moved back into town, closer to the university. I was able to cycle in the 5 kms to my lectures, and Shady would run alongside me on the cycle path.
German Shepherds are very strong animals, and very skilled in climbing. Shady was no exception. Keeping restrained her in the backyard was next to impossible. Metal chains had been bitten through, and fences had been climbed.
Sometimes I would be in a hurry and had to leave in a hurry. Leaving Shady in the newly re-enforced backyard was my plan, but not Shady’s. She would get out and catch up with me before I had come to the end of the street! Having to rush to my lecture I would pedal down the hill nice and fast. Sometimes my mind would be absent as I raced across a busy intersection, and realise Shady was following a hundred paces behind.. so I decided to train her to wait from a distance. After racing ahead on the bike across a littlequiet suburban side street I jumped off the bike. Pointed at Shady heading for me at high speed and yelled out ‘STAY!’. Confused she came up to me. I took her back to the curb on the other side of the street, told her to stay. Went back to the bike across the road, and then I said ‘Come!’, and she came. This one exercise completed the training, and from now on I could point at Shady and yell ‘Stay!’. I had a remote control. She would drop in flight!
Shady on the loose
Over time Shady understood about the roads I crossed on my way to university. And Shady knew the entire university. She would wait outside the lecture theatres for me, and if I was in a hurry on the bike she would come on her own., stopping at trees and fire hydrants, friendly people and cats. Not ideal of course, but for a 21 year old uni-student this seemed acceptable at the time…. Shady would sniff her way to the lecture theatre I happened to be in, sit against the door, and scratch her self. The door would bang and the lecturer would tell me to calm my dog. All I had to do was acknowledge her, affirm that I was actually inside, and she would patiently lie outside waiting for me.
The uni-bar was different. Too many people coming and going, too many open doors. People would entice her inside. Shady knew it was not allowed but would sneak in, come to me and hide under the table. Unfortunately I was banned from the bar a few times because of it.
Thinking that Shady did so much for me it would be good if I tried to give Shady some fun too. German Shepherd obedience training at the local show ground on Saturdays was an option that could be beneficial to both of us. Maybe this would curb that fascination for cats and kangaroos that Shady had. Shady would not come when called once engaged in a chase. In the case of a kangaroo in the local hills it meant Shady would return to the car 20 minutes later – empty handed. In the case it was a friend’s cat … well, Shady did catch the cat on one or two occasion back to me. This was not fun for my friends to watch. I would yell at Shady. Cat would run away, and once I was gone the cat would return again unscathed. Strangely enough cats did not seem particularly scared of Shady – but as all cats would, would run first!
One good Saturday Shady and I took off towards the show-grounds to find the obedience classes. I rode around all over the grounds but did not find them. I got frustrated and raced around frantically on my bike, and Shady ran around just having fun. At one point we got separated by a high fence. Shady climbed over it…. I never saw anything like that before, as fences like that are not often between me and my dog!
When I located the school Shady excitedly ran into the groups of people and their dogs. A wave of excitement came over the crowd with maybe 50 dogs – I never expected to find that many! ‘Contain that dog! Contain that dog!’ was yelled by organisers. I called Shady, and Shady came…. So? What’s the big deal? The crowd seemed to be amazed that Shady came. I thought most obedient dogs came when you called. Apparently not… maybe those dogs that attended were there for a reason.
Being a new student Shady was allowed to go past the different levels of classes during the morning to see what level would be appropriate. Level one was the sit and stay routine, level two the sit and heel… and so I went through the various classes. None seemed particularly exciting, and none were beyond Shady’s comprehension.
We were told to stay till 1pm when the utility dog classes started. These are classes where the owner would be trained to train his dog to go over obstacles and sniff trails. The organisers showed me the obstacles, and I told Shady to go over the obstacle. Shady went around it. I told her again, to go over it. She did. I had enough. This was no fun for us.
The only thing I really wanted Shady to learn was to listen to me when she started chasing a kangaroo. I was told that German Shepherds cannot be taught to interrupt their hunting instinct. This seemed unbelievable to me and left me unimpressed with the school. I know my current Bitsa dog (Bitsa this and bitsa that) comes when called even in the middle of a chase).
Hatred for Uniforms
Shady was rumored to have been a failed police dog. She hated uniforms, that was for sure. No hatred for the postman, but my stint in the Australian Reserve Army was not well received by Shady. Whenever I tried to take her on exercise run’s with the platoon she would run off, whenever I took her to training with me she would take off too. And being my dog’s best friend I eventually quit that lunacy.
Taking Shady on expeditions was one of my favorite past times. Taking her to the bush, camping was always a scream. I would encourage Shady to jump in rivers, and follow me across fast flowing rivers. These were big challenges for a dog. I could wade through them, but Shady would be dragged down river. Shady did not like the water much. She would come to me if I was in the water if I insisted. Touch my leg and swim ashore again. She was not a water rat.
Cliffs and loose surfaces were other great challenges for her in the bush. I would guide her down really steep hill sides. Shady trusted me like her mother – the bitch – and would always follow my orders.
One day a friend was not too happy with my ‘training method’ when Shady disobeyed me and came into his house. As the friend did not want Shady inside for some reason I had told Shady to stay outside. She sneaked in twice! To remind her that I was serious I lifted her up the third time, held her above my head with straight arms. Shady had to dodge the lights on the ceiling and when I came to the door I threw her outside. My friend thought this was particularly cruel, but Shady is a very strong and big dog who had tumbled and rolled a whole lot more then that. This was almost a playful act for Shady, but to outsiders this was not always well received.
The time that Shady did get a little hurt was the day after I dyed her fur red…. It was just an idea, and with this friend of mine we took Shady into the bath, washed her fur, and covered her in the all-natural henna muck. This was followed by the command ‘Stay’. Shady knew when something big was happening, and at these times took commands very seriously. So she stood there for 20 minutes in the bath, letting it all soak in.
A quick rinse and voila, a Red Shepherd! Looking awesome the next day in her new looks she went for a run with me, on a usual route. On the way home I cross the road and Shady takes the storm water drain underneath. The road is not exactly a dangerous one for a dog, but I always thought it a good habit for Shady to take the storm water drains in preference to crossing roads. Well… Shady got side-tracked and after I had crossed the road she did. A big old station wagon traveling at about 50 kph wiped her out of the way.
Yelping and howling she lied on the side of the road. I attended to her, and tried to calm her down. A friendly man came to offer a spoonful of herbal and home made rescue potion to calm her down. Shady stopped crying. I put her on the lead and started walking home slowly. Holding Shady back I broke into a canter, and eventually released Shady to continue on her usual free reign run. I took her past the vet for a checkup, but apparently she checked out clean. And the vet did not mention the red fur. I asked before leaving the surgery if he had noticed something strange. Apart from the color he said he noticed nothing strange… Apparently he was used to students doing odd things to their dogs – piercing ears etc.
The one time she did need treatment was after a fateful late night run up the mountain. Running down some hill on a long forgotten trail my friend and I ran into a barbed wire fence that was somehow strung along the path…. Don’t ask, just some farmer’s bright idea or something. No injuries fortunately, just a shock. Once home I was asked by housemates if Shady also ran into the fence. Why ask? Her toe was pointing in the wrong direction. This required a day at the vet’s for her toe to be amputated.
After my girlfriend and her kids left to their home state up North they were replaced by student friends and their pets. A free range cockatoo, a cat, and another dog. When watching TV with the cat on your lap Shady would sneak up gently and open his mouth, and put the cats head in it. How and why does a dog do this if there was no intend to eat the cat? Don’t look at me for explanations, I only relay an observation!
Sometimes Shady would play hide and seek with the other dog. On one of Shady’s routine searches through the house she excitedly ran around the corridor’s corner thinking her mate would be there. It was the cockatoo. As cockatoos do in these situations is spread their wings and screech. A cockatoo has a wingspan that blocks the corridor, and the screech is not one to be encouraged indoors. Shady did an about turn and ran out of the house with her tail between her legs! That bird scared the living daylights out of her. That bird ruled all of us, including us humans!
One time I had ended up at my parents house without my car. I needed to go home after dinner and my smart brother decided I should pretend to be blind and catch the bus with Shady. And so it came to be that Shady was wrapped up in belts and myself wearing my mothers old and outdated 1950’s prescribed sunglasses. Mum, dad, my brother, Shady and I drove to a bus stop and stopped right in front of the bus as it was about to leave the stop. I came out pretending to be blind. The bus driver let me in. I put a dollar note on the tray, the driver gave me change. I did not realize he gave me a whole dollar’s worth of change and I had to put in the correct change in the machine.. I pocketed the change and sat down with Shady at my feet. With mum’s old glasses I really was blind!
Once we got to the city the entire bus crowd made way for me to get out. The crowd waiting to get in the bus instantly made space for me to alight the bus. I graciously got off, pretending to be blind and hoping none of my 2000 acquaintances in my home town would recognize me. I gradually made the transition from seeing dog to seeing person, hoping nobody would notice too much that I was a fraud!
This training came in handy a few times. Obviously it was not the preferred mode of travel, but occasionally I resorted to it. Ever since this first time my mother has been donating money to the blind guide dogs association in a cheap attempt at repenting for her part in my scam. One time I was stuck at the coast with Shady, and had to take an interstate bus home. The ticket salesperson told me there was a strict policy on no pets and the driver would not take Shady.
Having just camped at a camp ground for three nights where they also had no pets policy I was not too concerned. Shady was always on best behavior when we were ‘out of bounds’. Incidentally, during this stay in the national park Shady found a dried up old carcass of some dead wallaby. Shady brought it to me and I told her to leave it. The lady who owned the caravan we stayed in was sure that Shady had just killed it. I was always of Shady’s side, and I was convinced this carcass had long ago perished.
In any case… the bus arrived and the driver told me about the policy. Shady tried her best to look cute, tilted her head sideways, I told her to shake, and a pathetic claw went up in the air. The driver succumbed by the situation said he’d been instructed by a policeman to put a dog in the luggage compartment underneath after occupants of an overturned vehicle had to catch the bus home with their dog. Shady too got a ride underneath this time. At each stop Shady came out, but when we got home Shady wanted to stay in, she was happy there!
The strange thing that happened here was that when I sat down in the bus, worried about Shady below I thought I heard some crying. I listened carefully, extending out my jaw, frowning my face. The old lady next to me asked me what was up. I explained about Shady below. She asked me if I could keep a secret. What secret could an 80 year old tell me? I gave her my scout’s honors and she opened her purse and there was a Jack Russell. Not being allowed to drive by her family, and not being allowed to take pets in the bus she resorted to smuggling.
The bus was a ‘mail bus’ and stopped everywhere in between. Shady got lots of chances to get out for fresh air. By the time we arrived in Canberra she didn’t want to come out, she was quite comfortable thank you very much!
Flying Guide Dog
Then the day came where I graduated from university… well, if it wasn’t for the ½ a credit point for my ‘logic’ unit in philosophy which stopped me from getting my BSc in Mathematics. On a side note... I hated that dumb lecturer so much, I vowed to take revenge, and a year later returned to that faculty to complete a BA in Philosophy in one year of sleeping in lectures and ‘composing’ essays in record time with my computer without reading so much as one complete book on philosophy!
I purchased a ticket from Sydney to HK, via Brisbane. Virginia and her new man lived just outside of Brisbane on a rose farm near Mount Nebo. They offered Shady a home while I was gone looking for a life in HK. But how does one get a dog to Brisbane… well, fly of course.
Mom dropped me off at the Ansett-Pioneer bus station in Canberra where I bought a ticket to Sydney for myself and Shady. They steadfastly refused to take Shady… I got mom to drive me to the Greyhound terminal, purchased a cheap pair of awkward looking sunnies at the shop and a one way ticket to Sydney. Mom bid me farewell and made a mental note to increase her donations to the guide-dog association.
Sitting in the bus were some wild teenage girls heading for Sydney too. They had craned their necks more then a few times to catch a glimpse of me in the back of the bus. They shifted a few seats closer to me, and again, and again, till they were in the seats in front of me.
I overheard them talking about their friends’ car who they had not seen passing the bus yet. They were too busy keeping an eye on me to notice the car-full of teenagers passing the bus – all wildly waving and hanging out the window. I asked them if their friends were driving a blue rusted Falcon station wagon. Surprised they told me it was, and were even more surprised to learn I saw them go by. They were let in on my secret.
It was a different story in Sydney where my brother picked me up. He was very concerned about my plan to fly with Shady. As I had enquired you needed all sorts of documentation for a guide-dog to fly. Veterinary certificates etc. none of which I had or was able to obtain. Frank drove me to the Sydney airport nice and early.
Underneath the airport, in the car park, I again prepared Shady with a bunch of belts to look like a harness. Gave Shady a last lecture on the severity and gravity of its next mission. Shady knew about my lectures and understood that when I made her sit and listen carefully, speak to her in that special tone for a full two minutes that I was serious and something was about to happen. Shady psyched, Frank choking, we paraded into the terminals. All went fine, including the 2 hour wait in the café. Fortunately Shady did not have to go for a leak during this time!
Eventually boarding time arrived. Two flight stewards guided me onto the plane, commending me on my guide dog, how well behaved she was and what a miracle it was that digs could be trained that well. I nervously replied that Shady was very nervous and did not guide very well right now as he had never flown before – paving the way to a humble pee on the plane…
Nicely seated in first class, complimentary upgrade, I flew to Brisbane. The stewardesses were all intrigued and fascinated by Shady who sat at my feet with her own bowl of water and my belts roughly bound around her. I felt I had to explain the poorly looking arrangement and explained to them they were my belts and that Shady preferred them to the official harness. They all nodded in agreement and thought it was all wonderful
The first class meal was shown to me by a stewardess who took my finger and pressed it into the food. These are mashed potatoes, slob, this is a meatball with gravy, dunk, …. She gave me a beer. And another beer. It was a long 90 minute flight, and I had to explain to the crew that Shady did not like me drinking too much. The stewardess gave me a beer from behind – psst, Shady isn’t watching she whispered in my ear.
My after dinner chocolate was not pointed out to me and so I decided to leave that on the tray. The tray was removed efficiently without the chocolate being pointed out to me. Ah well. Small price to pay.
After the plane landed I was escorted out by crew and as the sliding doors opened leading into the arrival hall the crowd parted for me. Virgina was standing there blushing. She grabbed me from the crew’s hand and dragged me off. Preferring to drag me by the ear she did the right thing and did not blow my cover.
The escalators were too much for Shady, I had to take the stairs. On the way to the car park I merged into seeing-mode again. We drove to the farm.
Welcome to the farm
Farm life is somewhat different from university life. Shady needed to be introduced to that. I had taken a week for this. Shady was pleased to see Virginia, and her two kids Sara and Naomi again. Quiet the reunion. We were introduced to Stewart, Virginia’s new man.
The main two things to learn on a farm that German Shepherds must know well are the rules about chickens and poison. Poison was easy. IT has a foul smell and comes in distinct buckets. Shady received a 2 minute lecture on it and seemed very impressed by my words and kept a safe 50 yards whenever I carried a bucket of poison.
Chickens was a weird concept for Shady. I took her into the chicken pen and introduced her to about 50 of them in this small space. I held a chicken in front of her, was nice to it, told it nice things about chickens. Let it go again. Grabbed another one, said nice things about it and let it go too. Shady was in awe about the chickens. Her face showed enormous amazement at these creatures. She got a good sniff of them too.
As I walked out the chicken pen Shady spotted a lone chicken near a shed. Decided that chicken ought to be with the others she raced after it. Around the shed she raced after the flurry of feathers. She just managed to grab a mouthful of feathers as I raced around the shed in the opposite direction. Caught Shady, grabbed her by the throat, knee on her belly. Feathers in her mouth she looked helplessly as I told her in my angriest voice not to ever chase chickens again! She whimpered some high pitched groans and I let her go again. She never chased chickens again…
It was time for me to head for HK, and was driven to the airport by Stewart. I was very sad to leave Shady, but she was in good hands in a good place. Whatever it was I was going to do it was not going to be on a farm. More likely my life as a semi-graduate, would be 9-5 oriented in a suburban location – certainly not the place for Shady. I promised to come back.
For Christmas I mailed Shady a bone from HK and one of my socks. It mysteriously made its way through the agricultural checks. Never expected my sock to pass through.
Then I got a notice that Virginia and Stuart were getting married, getting another baby, and starting their own rose farm in Gympie, Queensland.
Not knowing exactly where I mailed my next care-parcel to ‘Shady, Naomi, Sara and Virginia Taplin on the rose farm somewhere near Gympy, Queensland, Australia’. By chance the Gympy postmaster happened to be the mother of a little girl Naomi's age who had a new friend who had just moved to the Gympy area… with a strange name Naomi! And so my mail arrived there too.
After my return to Australia I first went to the new rose farm. Found Shady there settled in and very happy. The newly extended family was a great joy to Shady who was Queen of the Hill there. Uncertain about my future I left Shady there…
Every 6-12 months I returned. Whenever I showed up in whatever car I drove Shady knew it was me in the car by my distinct beeping of the horn in the driveway. From that moment Shady was my dog again, following me everywhere, continuing her love and loyalty as only German Shepherds can….
I would take Shady on a few runs and take her out for entertainment. Shady grew a little on the heavy side as the top of the hill granted her great views of the property, and there was no need for extended patrols.
One day I arrived with 2 puppies and another dog. This dog Suka was a proud surrogate mother of the two fluffy pups whose mother did not wish to care for them, nor wish to travel to Queensland by car (a 14 hour trip). Once on the farm Shady took control of the puppies – much to Suka’s disapproval. Shady was only about 4x bigger then Suka, so the pups were under Shady’s guardianship whilst there. Suka was not impressed.
Virginia and Stuart's family expanded rapidly, gaining girl after girl after girl, even a set of twins! One little girl passed away which was a traumatic event on the farm. Shady survived for a few years more and eventually died when she was 9 years old, not sure of the cause, but it was either poison fed to her from a nasty neighbor or a snake bite. The truth never came out, but Shady lived a wonderful life and made a lot of people very happy and proud of here. When the family got over the loss of Shady, a year later, and had moved to another house, they got a new ‘Shady’…..