At Christmas 2003, a little tiny pup was given to me. My children all clubbed in together to pay for him. I remember at the time-before I picked him from the litter-I wondered 'what do I need a dog for?'
He was the runt of the litter, the one least expected to survive; so small one misplaced step of my foot he will have been no more. He wasn't the first choice, which was a female. She appeared very uncomfortable being picked up, but he wrapped himself around my neck quietly wagging his tail and I melted like ice cream on a hot day. On the way home, after choosing him from the rest, I made myself, and him, a promise; that I would give him a fantastic life.
Flynn was a little ball of fluff at six weeks of age with flashes of an oyster-like sheen here and there. In two months he grew a lot of wool, so much so he resembled a feather duster. Around the same time, while I groomed his long woolly coat, he sat straight up on his hind legs with no coaching from me. His whole life this became his way of asking for things or attention. It amazed me that some people found this very engaging habit annoying and even tip him over.
This little horror bug loved shoes and especially the feet that wore them. The nipping habit had to go, but the trouble was that he thought being gruff meant play, so did stamping one's foot. At the level of 'stern and cross' he would drop his tail down between his legs with hurt feelings.
My garden was not used to the dangers of animal interplay, it too suffered from the shock of the new. He didn't demolish it like he did with his box of toys, rags, old shoes and bits of stick. Instead he would line himself up with a 'flavour of the month' plant - like a flourishing fern, take a running jump, landing right in the middle of it as if he had conquered the black night! Little wonder his breeder actually christened him 'Napoleon'.
Inside the house, when he found out it did not conform to 'his marked out territory' he pulled some clever tricks. First came the newspaper stunt. I placed it at the back door to help house train him. Soon after he'd peed or pooped on it, the paper was offered up as a gift after being dragged through the house searching for my elusive foot. Then there were the hours spent wandering around the dingiest parts of the back yard, sometimes in the dark, while I uttered encouraging sounds designed to get him to do the right thing and pee-still he would save it up and leave his mark, especially if the floors had just been mopped. The clincher came one day when he relieved himself on a freshly polished floor and he was whacked for his trouble. Well-he ran to his toy box and pulled out one old mangled, chewed up, felt, toy shark. This he placed on the doormat near the back door then, he ran to the garden and dragged any bits of dry grass he could find and covered up the toy shark with it. He sat down quietly beside it when he was done and loked at me straight in the eye. A bigger wag I never saw. Eventually an emphatic ?NO' brings out a long drawn out yawn and a sudden urge to scratch out some mythical monster like a flea or some such other from under his chin. I wondered how long it would be until he found out he is a dog!
Flynn sat on the table at the vet's, almost posing, when it came time for his three monthly shots; he sailed through the event with no obvious drama. The same could not be said of his first grooming day. While he was perfectly behaved, and really enjoyed all the ?oooong and aaahring' of the girls doing the grooming; at home afterwards, his pouting behaviour suggested he is insulted at being denuded of his very long woollen coat. It was summertime after all.
He got away once - on a four-lane highway. I had loaded all the groceries in the boot, and was leaving the supermarket exit in the car. I did not notice how he must have jumped out of the hatchback. There he was, in front of me, on the road, playing 'chicken' with the traffic! It took 'running the gauntlet' to get him onto safe ground. Little bugger!
There was another time he just quietly disappeared; he slipped out when no one was looking, as is often the case when someone comes to the front door; an open door and attention distracted. Soon every house in the suburb knew of the little Shih Tzu puppy, about six months old named Flynn. After two hours and some very anxious imaginings, he came tearing down the driveway, tail up, ears flapping, wild excitement in his eyes and not so much as an ?excuse me'.
***********At around four years of age, Flynn and I became separated for six weeks. He stayed with my son while I travelled to the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. I rented a small flat on the edge of one of the small villages just outside Katoomba, furnished it with the help of the Salvos, and set up adequate heating and bought a little car before sending home for Flynn. I bought him a warm jacket and some leather boots for his feet; he was coming from a warm climate to a cold one. He travelled in style. My son had him picked up at his house; flown to Sydney, and delivered to my door at the flat. That was some reunion. He was bright-eyed, bushy tailed and my anxiety faded away.
When I undid the packet of little boots - it contained only three?
In no time at all the daily routine became set. We dressed for the cold weather - boots, coat, scarf and brolly, for me, and a warm jacket for him. Soon Flynn learnt what changing my shoes meant and even took to sitting, in his jacket, by the front door with his lead. (It was a very small flat.) The fifteen-minute walk took us across the railway crossing, and onto the main street. First the shopping, then the paper, and coffee at our regular café, that is after we wandered through town stopping every so often, when the locals stopped to talk to Flynn. A bigger show off I've yet to meet.
Soon we were lucky enough to move onto a 35-acre property with a lovely Swiss style home and a studio upstairs. Flynn and I wandered around the pine forest every day picking up cones for the fires that were lit every day in the kitchen and living room. In the afternoons, feed was put out for the hundreds of birds that flew in for their regular visit - all kinds and ages - truly colourful, if very noisy.
One morning, while taking Flynn around the pine forest, he accidentally walked into a small, low-lying branch, which pierced his eye socket; bad enough I had to take him to the vet. The vet explained that he often saw little dogs that live close to the ground with such injuries. Luckily Flynn's injury had no permanent damage and he was better within a couple of weeks. While we were having his injured eye attended to, the vet checked him over and found him to be fine - except that he heard a little heart murmur. The vet assured me Flynn was okay and there will be no problems; he said a lot of pups have them at birth.
Winter came and still we rugged up, climbed into the car and drove into town. Many of the café's had wood fires; often I would leave him in the car when it was very cold and shop etc alone. The whole time I would hurry though my jobs so I could get back to the car as soon as possible. Only one person ever said to me 'but he's only a dog'?
I used to smoke. Flynn let me know very early how much he disliked it. Unfortunately, in June 2008 at home, I suffered a heart attack. I did not realise what was happening at first. There I was sitting on the steps leading to the studio feeling awful - I couldn't stand up properly and it seemed I was only half conscious. So I thought ?I'll just sit here for awhile and have another cigarette.'There was no chest pain, only a crushing, hot, feeling in the armpits as if something held me very tightly there. I told a friend on the phone who rang an ambulance. By then I kept on falling down. Suddenly all I could think about was the undies soaking in the bucket in the laundry. No way was I going to let anyone else find them - so while I wobbled all over the place I managed to get them rinsed and hung out on the back veranda line. By the time the paramedics arrived I was hardly conscious. They placed me on a stretcher and loaded it into the ambulance. Then Flynn realised something was up and raced up into the ambulance and underneath the stretcher. The paramedics had to take the stretcher out, retrieve a yelping Flynn and lock him in the house before they could take me to hospital. Only then did I find out I was having a heart attack. I don't smoke anymore. It may sound odd but I know Flynn noticed.
The incident changed everything. My daughter had to fly over from the west, and, after I was released from hospital, she had to pack up all my work and arrange for everything to be sent home. Then with Flynn travelling with us, we returned home.
Flynn settled down very quickly, while I took a couple of years to get over it all.
The years after my illness were very hard at first. The fact that the family was able to buy the house next door to my daughter's home made a lot of things much simpler. Flynn soon became a favourite with all the kids in the street, mostly because my daughter's own little dog Penny, that was the same age, knew each other from birth even though they came from different litters. Soon Flynn worked out that if he kept digging right near the back fence, he would come out the other side at Penny's place. And that is what happened. Soon the two little dogs spent more time with each other and were only at their respective homes at night and for meals. They had a daily ritual around mid-morning, by coming into the kitchen at my place wagging their tails, obviously wanting biscuits. Afterwards they disappeared as quickly as they appeared. No manners just eat and Run!
April bought showers this year, a rare event; and Flynn caught a cold. He coughed a bit and I noticed that he lost some weight. Still he wanted to go for his walk as usual. Then I had a very sore leg and couldn't take him, so I drove to the park around the corner, and sat on the bench there while he visited every tree in sight. As the days past, I noticed his visits to the trees became fewer and fewer, until he would wander over to just one or two. He continued to lose weight and cough and gag. Mid-May I couldn't put it off anymore; I took him to the vet.
"We categorise heart murmurs between one and five and he is a five at the extreme end." The vet told me. "He has to come into hospital, you can pick him up at five o'clock. He'll have an injection and he'll have to go on medication for the rest of his life."
Flynn was a different dog when I picked him up late that same afternoon. Apart from the weight loss, he seemed back to his normal self. But within a few days he was coughing again and gagging too. I gave him the medication every morning; that is if he let me. He rallied for another few weeks. I asked the vet if there was anything more he could do.
"Well" he said, "from here it gets expensive. The medication he is on now will cost $25 for 100. At the next level, when they are not enough anymore, we add another tablet as well - that costs about $100 a month. Then we add another later on - and three lots together are around $200 a month."
I wonder now; did Flynn understand what the vet said? I believe he did. I am a pensioner; I could never afford to pay the money. Thinking back on it and while I may not have recognised it at the time, Flynn appeared to behave as if he was going to 'DO IT HIS WAY.'
At three in the morning,on the 14th of June, I woke up when I heard Flynn coughing. It went on and on, I had to get out of bed. I took him outside because I thought he might be sick. He disappeared in the dark and the rain; I went looking for him with the torch. After awhile I went back inside, put on the kettle and made tea.
It was just getting light, and raining, when I heard him come back. He was covered in wet sand. He had crawled under the fence to be with his little friend Penny; it seemed as if he went over there to say goodbye. Now he was completely exhausted and lay spread-eagled on his tummy; his whole body rocked to the very fast beat of his heart, as if it would explode.
At 5.45am; I was cradling him as I walked through the back door; Flynn let out a yelp, twisted in my arms and died. He was eight years, eight months and twenty days old.
At sunset that evening, around 30 people from the street, especially all the children who knew him, came to the house in the back yard to be part of his funeral. I wrapped him in a pillowcase, and some ultramarine penne velvet. Byron, my grandson, dug a deep grave and placed him in it; Joanne, my daughter planted an olive tree. Granddaughter Amy placed a bunch of red tulips, granddaughter Maddie took a plastic lotus and put that on the grave.
I know now that I never believed Flynn would die. All the time I kept thinking, 'go on, he'll be all right!!!' I feel guilty; as if it is my fault he died. I do not suppress it. I know this grief will pass, and life will go on. I can still feel him around me as if he hasn't left.....