Rural Living Blog by Rob Shackleford
With the decision to move from their beach-side home in Burleigh Heads, Queensland, and head for a more rural setting, author Rob Shackleford and his partner Deb Mackay recollect past rural experiences.
Other Rural Living Blog: Brooster and the Chooks
When driving the hinterland country roads behind the busy Queensland beach destinations of the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, you can often experience a countryside swathed in bright yellow. Known as the Japanese or Mexican Sunflower, this weed is not noxious, but has made itself at home in the picturesque hinterland areas and is really quite pretty.
For my kids and I, the pretty yellow flower is called the Gypsy Flower.
When we took on a more rural life in the Sunshine Coast hinterlands over twenty years ago, my son, Kyle, was only about nine and my daughter, Bree, three. We had to get a dog, of course. On asking a local vet for a good idea as to where we could access a puppy, she offered a choice from a few puppies she had rescued after someone had tried to drown them in sump oil.
I often wonder who could perform such a heinous act? The puppy we saw was adorable and had a bright-eyed, mischievous look that could not be resisted.
I’m not sure who called her Gypsy, but the kids adored her and the name stuck.
Gypsy was a unique Australian blend of kelpie, a breed known for being a legendary working dog, and dingo. For us, she was undoubted one of the most beautiful, loving, brainless dogs ever known. When first received and smothered with hugs and kisses, it quickly became apparent that her little bed in the fern-house was not to remain. No way. Endless howling and yelping into the dark night ended in Gypsy sharing one bed or another with a night filled with giggles and cuddles, eventually leaving a puddle on the floor.
Yes, having a puppy is one of life’s true joys, but can still be a trial.
While she was loved by all, Gypsy and Kyle became particularly inseparable. He was the right age and dogs love being part of a pack. Together they would wander the countryside around our home, touch electric fences, throw stones at wasp nests, fish and swim in the creeks. Because she was part dingo, never lovers of a swim, Gypsy needed encouragement. Kyle would climb out of the creek, grab the poor dog and then jump in with her.
Country life was great for Gypsy, except when there were storms. She didn’t like thunder and would do all she could to hide in the laundry. We knew a storm was coming whenever she hid in the laundry, even if the sky was clear.
Gypsy never had puppies. It became obvious from an early time that we would need to get her spayed when she received too much adoring attention from a grizzled old three-legged blue heeler. The vet advised that she actually was pregnant, so throughout her life her puppies would always be Kyle and Bree.
Each day she would wait at the bus stop for Kyle to get home from school. She would also care obsessively for Bree as she played, or sometimes sit next to me as I wrote or worked. She was our constant companion.
She was that kind of dog. A good dog.
But she had her trials.
Her chief nemesis was the local butcher-bird crew. Intelligent, fast and enormously maneuverable, butcher birds could easily catch a piece of meat thrown into the air as they twisted and turned like Spitfires. Gypsy’s food was a particular target. A butcher bird would land on our back deck and Gypsy would immediately dash off in pursuit. The bird would fly away, just as another would land by Gypsy’s food and take a piece and fly off. Seeing the nefarious act, the chase was on, but as Gypsy sped after the other bird, the first would land by the food and take a piece. Gypsy would then turn and run back, just as the canny butcher bird would speed away. The first would then land and take another piece … and that would continue until the birds were full.
One day, one of the butcher-bird crew decided to teach our dog a lesson and took off with Gypsy in hot pursuit. Naturally she missed and slid over the metre drop from our back deck and into a garden. As we laughed, Gypsy’s dopey, embarrassed face reappeared from the midst of the basil and Vietnamese mint.
As we lived by a lake and close to a creek gully, we sometimes experienced snakes. Most were harmless carpet-snakes that took an occasional shot at our chickens, though there were the occasional venomous red-bellied-black snakes, after which our home suburb of Woombye was named, and highly dangerous brown snakes. Of course we were always cautious when walking through long grass or undergrowth, but sometimes snakes made an appearance. One particularly memorable day was when preparing for our pre-Christmas family gathering, where a giant brown snake, over 2 metres long and big enough to kill anyone it bit, fled under the tables and into the gardens with Gypsy in hot pursuit. She rummaged trying to catch the snake, which wisely fled. While Gypsy would have been killed if bitten, it was a reminder that snakes get frightened too.
The other thing Gypsy liked to chase was our cats – either one. She would actively nudge our Himalayan, who generally could not be bothered to run, while our more dominant grey Felix would dash away and then, Matrix style, mid run, would jump, twist and give Gypsy’s muzzle a two-pawed wack.
Gypsy also accompanied us on canoe rides, which she adored. As soon as we stepped into the canoe, she would be there with us. Sometimes she would shift in an overloaded canoe to cause a capsize, where we would all then have to swim for it. She also came with us to the beach – which she hated as she was frightened of the waves.
But of course there were the walks. But Gypsy wasn’t the bravest dog. Once when we walked past a strawberry farm with aggressive dogs that barked from 50 metres off, I turned to see Gypsy dashing down the hill and making a run for home.
As Gypsy aged, she began to suffer from a few ailments of which arthritis was the most telling. It seemed to take over all too quickly, that her walks ceased and she spent most of her days laying in the sun to keep limber. By then, Kyle had left home and Bree was barely home too, so Gypsy missed her pack. On accompanying me on walks up the hill to the large trees and the forest, she eventually could not keep up and wandered home with her tail tucked firmly under her bottom.
Living in the Australian country, Gypsy had survived ticks, thunderstorms, parties, firecrackers, roosters, wasps, snakes, backyard bonfires, being squirted with a hose and attacked by angry dogs, but now, aged a little over twelve years, she could barely move. Her health rapidly deteriorated. I took her to a vet who gave the chilling news that she was no longer able to be treated and live a pain-free life, that she was miserable and in agony. Sometimes, as she lay at her favourite place on the back deck, we would hear her cry.
I discussed her condition with Kyle and Bree and we pondered and worried, but in the end took her to the vet again, for he had recommended how the most humane act was to have her euthanized.
It was a surreal experience. As the humans she loved and who loved her gathered around the stainless steel table in the veterinary surgery, the vet shaved a small patch on her front leg and inserted a drip. She looked to us with her big brown eyes and smiled. Kyle held in a fond embrace, the injection was made, her heart leapt, and she was gone.
We all cried and cried. Even now that memory is painful enough to bring tears.
But it would be as I would go, if I could choose. Imagine if critically unwell and in pain, what better way to go than surrounded by loved ones.
Gypsy was buried on our property and the kids gathered armfuls of the yellow flowers that were growing in profusion around the countryside. The flowers were mounded on her grave and Gypsy was always honoured when Kyle or Bree visited.
That is the story of the Gypsy flowers.
Now, as the pretty flowers yellow the hinterland countryside, I remember Gypsy. In our lives, pets may come and go, but they teach us all to love and care, to have respect for all creatures and to appreciate the unconditional love that animals can offer.
Yes, Gypsy was a very good dog.
About the author:
Rob Shackleford is the author of a number of novels, though so far Traveller Inceptio is published by Austin Macauley. Please check out the latest reviews for Traveller Inceptio on Amazon or at the publisher web site:
Deb Mackay is a yoga teacher and wise woman.
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