How my dog told me to shut up and sleep

I’ve just reached the tail end of a pretty crazy exam period involving hominins, Indigenous knowledge, medical anthropology and the environment. Admittedly, I’m not sure how well I did, but one of my study methods involved voice-recording all of my notes and listening to them on repeat in bed, night after night, in the blind hope that I’d absorb something in my sleep. This went on for three weeks. Every night. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep very well.

IMG_0180My lovely Labrador, Sheldon, suffered through my droning dulcet tones, too. For three weeks, he grunted and grizzled, nudged and huffed during the night from his nest of blankets, then looked at me with bloodshot eyes when the time came to roll out of bed and hit the pavement for our morning walk.

I’m still in that hyped, stressed out study mode, so yesterday I downloaded some mindfulness podcasts to help me reach for that illusive sleep. Expecting another sleepless night last night, I turned off the light and hit play.

Sheldon immediately let out the long, drawn out huff of the damned.

I patted his head and told him he was beautiful, while in background the podcast dreamily spoke about embracing the moment.

Sheldon replied by kicking me in the legs.

I took it for the sign it was; I turned off the phone, settled into the darkness and listened to something I hadn’t heard in three weeks: silence.

Sheldon huffed again, this time in bliss.

It was the best sound I’d fallen asleep to in weeks.

Apocalypse Dog

My Labrador, Sheldon, has an adventurous palate. Whether it’s wombat pooh, jellyfish or dead animals, he’ll generally roll in something foul and then eat it. He’ll find the smallest crumb in the tightest nook, and delight in sitting beside the dining table with foot-long drool strings in the hope that a single pea will tumble to the floor. His alternate name is Apocalypse Dog, because when zombies inevitably take over, he’ll be the one relegated to finding the food source (whether said food source will actually be suitable for human consumption is debatable).

Today I decided to do a bit of Sunday baking. I settled on a zucchini cake and, without really paying attention, chose an online recipe that for some reason used both metric and imperial measurements, plus US colloquialisms I didn’t quite have the capacity to decipher.

As an aside, let me just mention that I’ve been knocked around by a virus for the past week, and so my mental functions haven’t been particularly optimal.

Consequently, the half cup of dressing oil became french salad dressing (it was the only ‘dressing’ I had in the fridge), and the 350˚ cooking temperature resulted in the oven being ramped up to full and the timer set for almost double the baking time to compensate for my oven’s 220˚C limitation.

My only excuse is I think I had a fever.

An hour later, the kitchen was blackened with smoke and what promised to be a somewhat zesty creation (the batter had been delicious) was in fact a hardened brick.

With no other option, I presented a slightly charred portion to Sheldon, certain that at least someone would appreciate my efforts.

He buried it in the garden. With enthusiasm.

I’m still a bit dumbfounded. Only this morning, Sheldon had discovered a dead fish on the riverbank that was so badly decomposed that it looked like patient zero for the newest plague. He ate that with gusto.

But my blackened, pockmarked cake with its fusty smell and questionable green bits was headed for the bin, hitting the bottom with a dull thud of rejection.

Apparently even Apocalypse Dog has his limits.

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Dogs are gloriously disgusting

The beach at Chelsea, in Victoria, is a secret gem. Pale white sand, surprisingly turquoise water and thunderclouds on the horizon are the norm. It could be a 10˚C day and Chelsea’s beach could fool you into thinking you were on a tropical island watching a summer storm roll past.

Chelsea on a 10C day.

Chelsea on a 10C day.

Ahh, summer!

Ahh, summer!

Jellyfish the size of dinner plates wash ashore most mornings. Their stinging cells are negligible to all but the tiniest of fish, and by the time they hit the beach, they’re harmless. Most beachwalkers avoid them anyway, so too their dogs who enjoy the freedom of an off-lead outing.

Sheldon, however, is an exception. A handsome Labrador with a distinguished grey muzzle and jaunty tail, Sheldon will examine each and every jellyfish. He looks for The One—a jellyfish whose edges have been crusted by the sun, whose solid bulbous centre has turned slightly to mush. To this chosen one, he gives a lick and a gentle nibble on the side (just to be sure), before he cocks his leg and continues on his explorations.

It’s only half an hour later when the debacle begins. On our return along the beach, Sheldon, eyes bright and tongue lolling, will hunt out that special jellyfish. It has been sitting in the sun, seasoning, if you will.

It’s clear the moment he’s found it. His muscles seem to loosen, his very bones turn to liquid, and he flops down onto the jellyfish shoulder-first. Then comes the joyful rolling, the happy wriggling and victorious bark as the jellyfish turns to slush.

Sheldon eventually rises, covered in gloop and his own urine.

I give an embarrassed shrug to horrified onlookers, but I don’t stop him. A bucket, shampoo and towel are waiting for us beside the back door at home.

But Sheldon has one more act in this daily show. He snuffles the sand and digs out the dirtiest, smelliest remnant of the jellyfish.

And then he eats it.

I don’t know of any other dog who pees on jellyfish, rolls on them and then eats them. But his simple joy is one of the many reasons I cherish him.

My love requires no seasoning.

Don't judge...I'm awesome.

Don’t judge…I’m awesome.

Why dogs are awesome writing buddies

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There’s a long history of famous authors and their beloved pets. Mark Twain snuck a kitten into his room during his year-long stint at a sanatorium. Virginia Woolf is quoted saying that dogs bring out the playful side of life. William S Burroughs’ last journal entry was about his four beloved cats and the great healing capacity for love they engendered.

Personally, I find dogs and cats equally wonderful—dogs because they look at you like you’re the centre of the universe, and cats because they don’t.

Four years ago I adopted a stray Labrador called Sheldon. He’s both intelligent and socially inept, just like his namesake on The Big Bang Theory. Hide a treat in his vicinity, and there is no puzzle toy, bag or piece of furniture he won’t work his way through to get to it. Take him on a new walking route and he’ll remember it perfectly for next time.

IMG_3080Sheldon has a few issues, of course—shopping trolleys, dogs on leads and motorbikes are creatures deserving extreme suspicion. Hats are inappropriate attire no matter the occasion and sock-wearing feet are too delicious to pass up.

As for my writing, well, Sheldon plays a key part. He’s my early morning alarm clock by way of a wet nose on the cheek and some exuberant pouncing on the bed. We’re generally on the pavement by the time dawn hits the nearby mountains.

There’s plenty of info out there about how going for a walk is excellent for creativity. I’m a big adherent, and even more so for a dawn walk. Photographers call this time the magic hour. It’s when the air is crisper, the birds louder, the colours and scents more vibrant. By the time we’re back home, I’m buzzing with ideas and ready for a decent writing session. Sheldon will generally wedge himself under the chair or beside the window in preparation for some serious napping.

After about an hour, I’m reminded that it’s time for breakfast by way of a paw on my leg and soulful, sad eyes. I’ll take advantage of the offered break, feed us both, and then it’s back to work—me writing, him napping and giving me the occasional nudge for a pat.

Multiple studies in the past few years have shown that patting and talking to dogs results in lower blood pressure. As a writer who spends way too much time worrying, my being able to give my pup a good rub is cheap therapy. I have a habit of talking to myself while writing, too, and Sheldon offers great advice by way of a grumble or snore. Coffee breaks are admittedly a time when I come up with ridiculous names for him, like ‘Magical Mister Gruff’ or ‘Sleepy Bun Bun’. I slide back to the desk afterwards feeling a bit better about life.

On the days when the writing is not happening and the biscuit tin beckons, he’s my go-to-guy. Whether he’s rolling in wet grass, barking at butterflies or having fluff unexpectedly explode out of a much-loved toy, his exuberance and curiosity for life are reminders of why I write. The world is full of amazing things to explore and experience, and dogs take it upon themselves to show us. That’s why I count on Sheldon as my writing buddy. If you have a hound, you’ll be able to count on them, too.

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