The Gold Coast Wanderer
There’s a very important animal which I haven’t taken the time to write about before. But she’s by far my favourite rescue story to date. My little mate Dodge recently ticked over into her 10th year, and though I’m getting very aware that our time together is running out, we are still on lots of new adventures together and making the most of the time we have left together. Every little grey hair appearing on her face is a reminder to me how little time together we have left, and also how much time she’s been with me throughout my last chapter of life. Time has flown since she came into my life, and now I am wishing we could be granted another 10 years more.
10 years ago, I set out to fill the void of losing my beloved childhood dog. I traipsed through pages of online dog adoption sites and while I could have taken most of them home, none of them really jumped through the screen. Then there she was, “Dodger”. This cheeky, playful looking ‘kelpie x’ with a rather bogan name. I left it a few days before I called to ask about her, knowing that it really wasn’t realistic at the time for me to have a dog. But I couldn’t get her out of my head. I dreamt about her, and I thought about her non-stop. It was something about that cheeky look in her eye that got my attention. By the time I’d decided to make some further inquiries about her, I’d assumed I was too late. I was pleasantly surprised when the lady on the other end of the line told me she was still available and asked when I could come to meet her.
Without any further thought I was in the car, taking the 6 hour drive from my hometown just to meet this pup. I’d decided that I would be just going to “look” at her, and would decide after that if I was going to take on the responsibility of a dog. At 19 years old, I was far from settled in any one location. Definitely not the right time to take on a dog. But still, she was worth a look after giving her so much thought.
When I asked what she looks like she said, “Like Santa’s Little Helper… on stilts.” And she wasn’t wrong. There was this ball of energy, on these really long skinny legs as if they were too big for her.
It turned out her name, though more suited to a male dog, came from her rescue story. I was convinced this name would be changed immediately to suit this dainty little lady who could run like the wind. She was found ‘dodging’ traffic on the Gold Coast Highway. She was malnourished and looked as though she had been abandoned. Her timidness was a good sign she had been mistreated. The couple, who owned a pet store, pulled over and coaxed her into their car and then set out to find a loving home for her. They named her “Dodger” at the time, and it wasn’t until years later when I looked back at her adoption certificate that I realised I had in a sense reamed her. I just called her Dodge. And the name has stuck.
And that was it. Without much thought she was being walked on her new red lead to the car and slept across my handbrake the entire way home. I had really let my heart do the talking on this particular day. My head, and mother, would have assured me that I was not in a place in my life for this kind of responsibility. But we instantly bonded and she was forever going to call my home, hers. Wherever that may be.
My mother put her foot down that day, when I made a surprise visit with my new pup. I was told very firmly that she was my responsibility and that she won’t be looking after “that dog”. Years later that of course has changed. Just recently Dodge stayed at grandma’s and when I returned she was twice the weight she was before I left and came with a bag full of new toys, gourmet food and a gorgeous new bed. Turns out grandma might have warmed to Dodge after all.
I’ll never forget the first time I took her on a long road trip to stay with friends on a big property. She witnessed her first cow, and her first chance to live without a fence surrounding the backyard. She was free to roam and run as she pleased. But because I was a worried Mum, we decided it would be best to keep her indoors at night. There had been some regular visits by snakes close to the house so the dogs were to sleep inside. Dodge and her young brother slept in a back room, which had some old furniture including a collectable antique couch which we had admired over the week. I was horrified when I woke up the next morning to find that very couch in pieces. Not only had she pulled the entire leather cover off the couch bit by bit, but together they had eaten the coconut husk filled insides of the couch. We spent the entire day painstakingly trying to stitch the couch back together with a needle and thread and also plucking up the courage to tell our friends what had occurred while they were sleeping. Years later, it’s a good laugh as they had planned to have the couch recovered that very week.
But those naughty little episodes have been few and far between. She has continued to adapt to new experiences and I am forever in awe of how she just goes along with it. She quickly found her sea legs when we would venture out in the boat to visit an island not far from where we lived. At the age of 5, she accepted a new addition to the family when we got a new puppy. After a week of ignoring him, and pretending he didn’t exist, she suddenly started mothering him and controlling his every move. They became inseparable and learnt to find fun and company with one another. They made up their own games and had their own rules. She would always intentionally take forever to chew her food and leave him just one biscuit as he sat drooling over waiting it out. When I threw the stick in the ocean, she would make him swim out really far to get it and give it to her as she waded her toes at the water’s edge. Sadly, she also had to learn to live without him after that relationship ended and the dogs were no longer living in the same place. I still say his name to her daily in the hope that this comforts her in some strange way.
Just this year she ran away from me for the very first time. I had taken her with me on quite the adventure, we were to look after a 64 acre rainforest property in Far North Queensland. No fences, and surrounded by a crocodile infested creek, I was convinced that harm had come to her after realising she had gone missing in action. One second she was peacefully asleep under the table, the next she had gone. In our 9 years together, she had never so much as gone more than 20 metres away from me. We walked the property with flashlights, drove the streets in the car. But there was no sign of Dodge. I lay awake all night imagining her running again along the highway, lost and confused. Or wading into the creek for a drink and being eaten by a croc, the big bull one we heard calling every morning. The next morning she turned up for breakfast, put her arms around my shoulders and gave me the biggest hug. I have never felt more relief in that moment to have my girl home. I still don’t know where she’d disappeared to and will never know, but I think she knew she had given me a fright when she cowered up those stairs that morning.
At this very moment we are on our latest adventure together. She is my little helper caring for sea turtles while I am looking after a rehabilitation centre for them on an island just off Gladstone. She never ceases to amaze me. In her lifetime she would never have seen a turtle, let alone seen things swimming around a pool. I wonder what she thinks they are and if she gets a sense that they are unwell and need care. Or if she sees my nurturing ways when caring for them and knows that she too must give them her respect. A few times now, she has lay beside Tina, our 110kg female turtle as we pull her out of the pool for treatment. When she is lying on a mattress receiving a drip, or spending time dry-docked for her bandaged flipper, Dodge will curl up beside her and sleep or lay nose to nose and just watch her. She is transfixed the whole time, not letting the turtle out of her sight. Now that very turtle come feeding time, looks up at Dodge and opens up her mouth as if to say, “Feed me!” I reckon she would if she could.
I was wary in the beginning, the little sheep dog in her was rounding up the turtles in the pool, and occasionally would gently nip a flipper if one stuck out for long enough. But I have quickly learnt that she is curious and protective of these animals we are caring for. I discovered this a few weeks ago, when we had one of the big boys “Harry” out on the scales. He weighed 70 kg’s and made Dodge look rather small sitting there still beside him. We had another dog visiting the island, who had come down to have a look. When he approached Dodge and Harry, she looked at him with warning and snarled viciously at him then resumed her position on watch. Since then i have given her more space with the turtles to observe how she behaves. Just this morning we put a new patient in the big pool who is suffering from considerable float. He struggled to submerge like the other turtles. Dodge spent the whole morning following him, and licking his back and whimpering when he went out of sight. She’s sat beside the sickest turtles here on a little chair and just watched them for long periods of time, resting her head on the side of their tank, sometimes whimpering a little. I find this so intriguing to witness new behaviours in her every day. Makes me think if she’d just been living a normal life, living in the backyard and being treated as a dog, she wouldn’t have the chance to learn and grow into the little treasure she has become.
On a Saturday we receive help from volunteers on the mainland. Together, with Dodge, we go and pick them up and she sits amongst them on the seat in the boat as if she’s a little human. She gets lots of pats and cuddles and everyone spends the time throughout their shift enjoying Dodge’s company. She gets photographed when she sleeps beside the turtles when they’re pulled out. We also had a visit recently from a special school in town. They came to see the turtles but Dodge was a hit. Some of the kids just loved stroking her and making a big deal of her and she didn’t mind one bit.
At the same time, I am caring for an orphaned wallaby joey called Maverick. He sleeps in a pouch in our room, and from sundown to sun up is with us.. He is cute as a button! He was orphaned and raised on the mainland but will live out his days as a semi wild wallaby on the island. No dogs, no cars, no dangers. This took some getting used to for Dodge. She would never have seen a hopping wallaby before. Her first look at him was shock, as if she was looking at me and then at him asking, “What is that thing?” Over time, she has learnt to accept him too and surprised me the other day after I bathed him when she licked him completely dry. A true mothering quality. The first few weeks I had to keep her from nipping at him, and now I have to keep her from wanting to follow him constantly to protect him and lay beside him at all times. Maverick shows no fear towards her now, when she gets too close the little thing swipes her with his little hand and hisses. She looks at me horrified, but respects this and backs off. I am so proud of her in these moments. She continues to learn new things each and every day.
It gives me great satisfaction these days when people ask me how old my puppy is. It feels like a win, that she is defeating her ageing process a little better than some. When I tell people she’s 10, they are mostly surprised. Then they notice her grey beard and her three missing teeth. I like the fact that she still appears youthful.
I have never once looked back. I am not at all one of those dog people. I don’t celebrate her birthday or post incessant photos of her on Facebook, I just sincerely enjoy her company. She’s my go anywhere girl. Beside me on the boat, in a camp chair by the fire, picnicking on a little island, whale watching. You name it, she’s done it. She has continued to bring me so much joy through each and every day spent in her company. I sat cuddling her just the other day telling her that if she decided she’d like to live as long as me, then that would be ok. I would gladly spend the rest of my days with her by my side. My biggest regret was having to spend almost a year apart from her recently, and I know that one day when she is no longer here, I will wish to have every day of that time back. Every day without her was so empty without her at my feet or just hanging out.
No matter what happens from here on, I will spend my time making sure each day she has is filled with fun, adventure and chicken necks! It never ceases to amaze me that to someone else, she was worthless, but to me, she is just my favourite thing in the world. I wouldn’t for a second take back my decision to adopt a dog, she has been the best part of those last 10 years hands down.