It is one thing to dog sit a neighbours dog, quite another to take full responsibility for him. Mind you Rastus was quite indifferent to the changes occurring in his life. After my elderly neighbours last visit to hospital she sadly did not return home again. I took over the ownership of the dog and all his chattels with the express approval of his mistress’s relations who must have forgotten that there was someone else living in her house and the need to cover the evidence before the property could be put on the market. Rastus had accepted the change months ago and I could see his concern as each time my neighbour was permitted to go back home again to look after him. That is not to say he didn’t love her, he did. He tended to love anybody subject to smell. Which if his detection system could sense the faintest trace of food on them, for him it was love at first sniff. So Rastus took up permanent residence with me and his licence was duly cancelled and transferred to my name. By this time the metal dog tag was now a plastic one and instead of a tinkle there was a quieter “thuck, thuck” from the disk so he was duly and officially renamed Rastus.
In a braver moment I actually phoned Penny now living in the hills a few miles outside the city and told her of the change. She sounded quite pleased.
“Why don’t you come up this weekend, I can cook if you like,” she says laughing, “We can have bone stew.”
Curiously her saying that took me back a few years when our family did indeed have bone stew. I think is was a concoction of a really cheap cut of lamb cooked in the oven for hours with potatoes, carrots and other vegetables and the necessity of having a bone bowl on the table to extract the bony and gristly bits when you found them in the meal to plonk them in the dish. I think we spread curry powder on top of ours. It was a very tasty meal and I am sure Rastus would have liked it but perhaps without the curry powder. Mind you Rastus would eat almost anything. I must have been silent a little too long as Penny then said, “It’s OK, I am only kidding.”
So I arranged to visit that weekend with Rastus as she wasn’t rostered on at the hospital for change. So we got in our car and drove up the hill into the leafy area that was full of little townships and winding roads and inviting pubs and a myriad of new smells for Rastus to enjoy. I knew there would be problem with him with all the extra sensations and debated whether allow the window to be open for his head to be poking out so he could appreciate each new scent with his nose wet and twitching and his tongue hanging out and of course the self satisfied smirk on his face as well. But in the end I was strict and kept the window on his side shut until we had got off the freeway and had started to negotiate the winding roads through the villages at a more leisurely pace. He was miserable at first especially as my side window was open but he settled down as soon as he could get the breeze on his face and the smell of eucalypts on his nose and half closed his eyes in pleasure with the seductive smells of the country to savour.
We found Penny’s place after passing it once in error and drew up in the driveway. She was very pleased to see us both beaming at her with delight. Looking at how pleased Rastus appeared I hoped I didn’t look the same as him with his tongue hanging out with a stupid grin on his face. So we had to have an inspection of her place. So we traipsed around her little rental cottage and while Rastus does the real inspection of sniffing in corners for rats and cats I observe Penny who is happy and voluble telling us of how she likes it there and how peaceful it is after living in the city. She is so relaxed and I fall in love with her all over again, not that I had fallen out of love, just out of reach.
“I have a present for you’ I say, giving her a little wrapped gift.
“It is not a dog biscuit that I have to share is it?”
I shake my head while she opens the little package. It is silk scarf that belonged to my mother. It is pink with a flowing flowery pattern on.
She is stunned. “It is so beautiful.” She says looking at me with moist sparkling eyes. “I love pink.”
“It was my mothers. It is just one of the things that I just couldn’t throw away…I thought it was beautiful too. But I couldn’t wear it, could I?”
Rastus had got fed up with the tour and decided to plonk himself down at our feet.
“Up you get Rastus” she says, “We are going for a walk.” He jumps up straight away and grins at her and she tells me that there is a park close by.
Unlike the park in the city this one is far more natural with gum trees, scrubland and winding trails and a shallow lake drying out in the summer heat. We are alone and tentatively I let Rastus off the lead. He bolted off and sniffed his way around looking round every now and then to check we were following. He chased imaginary animals and completely missed the koala sitting asleep in the trunk of a tree directly above him.
We sat down on a fallen tree that was hollow and he attempted to discover what was inside and had to give up after several attempts to put more than his nose in.
After we had worn him out we made our way back to the entrance holding hands and put him back on the lead. His misery was obvious at first but he soon realised that all the exercise had made him thirsty and as we passed the lake he urged us in that direction to have a few laps of water and to threaten the ducks and moorhens by his presence.
When we got home Rastus drank a complete bowl of water and the settled down for a nap.
“I’m doing Lasagne tonight, you happy with that?” Penny called out as I was looking at her bookcase of books. She obviously liked Janet Evanovich.
“Yes that fine.” I replied.
“I have a Pinot Grigio in the fridge, you do drink don’t you?”
“Well, not if I am driving... perhaps one glass.”
“You can always stay the night, have you any other plans?”
She had come out of the kitchen and stood looking at me with those beautiful smiling eyes. "Rastus has made himself at home, why don’t you?”
Rastus was snoring happily on the floor while I remained speechless.
“I could tell by the way you looked at me that very first day we met,” she said and was about to say something else when I interrupted.
“We would be both pleased to stay.” Meanwhile Rastus snorted an affirmative in his sleep.