Sarah was a beautiful German shorthaired pointer, who came to us from a broken home. What we weren’t told was that she broke it.
Her mother, Mia, was an exceptionally well trained hunting dog, responding to hundreds of verbal and hand-signaled commands. She would sit still as a statue, looking at a piece of cheese placed on top of her fore paw, and not eat it until commanded to do so. We would watch her, amazed, while behind our backs Sarah would meanwhile have climbed onto the table and eaten the rest of the cheese block.
Mia and the rest of the hunting dogs were keep in a large dog run outside, with plenty of room but little people contact. Sarah lived there too, except she managed to escape numerous times to roam the countryside, terrorizing the neighbourhood chickens. Her owner finally gave up and locked her in a store room inside the house. My husband found her there and berated the owner, saying that this was no way to treat a working dog. The owner handed her over, saying “You don’t like it, you take her then.”
So Sarah came to live with us. At first she sat at our feet, shaking like a wet kitten. Eventually, she rubbed my legs, climbed onto my lap, curled into a ball and purred. This was a dog, not cat, I reminded myself.
Soon she relaxed a bit and explored her new semi-suburban home, taking less than a week to escape the yard by climbing onto the dog kennel and jumping the back fence. We moved the kennel. She jumped the verandah railing. We extended the height with chicken-wire. The next escape route was harder to trace but eventually a brush turkey strayed too close to the house and she couldn’t resist the chase even though we were watching. She bolted straight at the wrought iron railing on the front porch and shot straight through it with a quick shoulder then hip wiggle. I measured – no way should she have been able to fit that gap. We chicken-wired the rails, even those areas two metres above the ground.
The next attempt was amazing. [I will post a photo when I find and scan it]. She attempted to climb a wire fence, hooking her paws through the wire and inching her way to the top before falling back.
She did not forget her hunting background. I walked her often along the bush fire trails near our house. If unleashed, she would chase ‘roos unsuccessfully; they would bound effortlessly over her head with 3 metres clearance and disappear into the eucalypt haze. She would sit motionless in the scrub, waiting for another. Her liver and white colouring made her impossible to see and she would not come when called. The leash stayed on.
One day, as we were crossing a little creek, a galah flew down and landed without fear a metre away. Sarah immediately pounced, grabbed, crunched and stood there proudly, with the dead bird’s beautiful pink and white wings trailing to the ground from either side of her mouth. I was horrified, even more so when I could not get her to let go of the bird. I did not know the command for release (which turned out to be “Release”….duh). Sarah would not obey all the hunting commands anyway, not like her mother. The thought of walking back through the suburb with the glassy-eyed feathered carcase still lodged in the dog’s mouth was terrifying.
Eventually, risking loss of fingers and bird mite infestation, I wrestled it from her mouth and threw it into the dense undergrowth. On the way home, we passed a forlorn, hand-drawn sign on the side of the road “LOST. Pet Galah. Please Phone” followed by the phone number. I should have known; a wild bird would be more careful near dogs and people. I never rang the number. It was better that they think their pet is out there somewhere, enjoying a long and happy life in the bush.