When we first took possession of Billy he was in pristine condition, bathed, fluffed and groomed right down to his manicured toenails. Billy was a true sight to behold. On arrival at “Spring Rock” he was made to understand that while we loved him dearly, baths were in future going to be a rarer event, especially while the drought was in full swing. We were doling out water as if it was gold at that time and the gallons (or as modern society insist on calling them – the litres) of water required to keep Billy in the immaculate condition to which he was accustomed just couldn’t be afforded. I’ll admit I did briefly consider sharing a shower with him in an effort to conserve water, but after raising Bob the duck and sharing showers with that power hungry bird, I chickened out (if you’ll pardon the pun) and left Billy to grow grubbier and grubbier.
Don’t’ get me wrong. Billy wasn’t at all put out by this cut back to his personal hygiene routine. If anything he revelled in it, taking every opportunity to add another layer to the mud accumulated over the months. I did engage in daily brushing rituals, with Billy as a very active participant, but these always degenerated into a boisterous game where knocking me over and drooling all over me ended up as the main activity. Consequently Billy’s once sparkling white and glossy brown coat had begun to look decidedly the worse for wear. I have been throwing out gentle hints on the need to bathe Billy to Graeme and Justin for ages. You know the sort of thing, “When are you going to bath Billy for me?” And then, “When are you going to help me bath Billy?” and finally “I’ve got all the shampoos, towels and such ready and waiting, all I need is you and Billy in the bathroom!” Strangely none of these gentle requests succeeded in anything other than Graeme and Justin running as far from the bathroom as the farm permitted. There was always an excuse of farm work that had priority - a tractor to fix, sheep to crutch or cattle to drench – hang on we don’t own any cattle! The only way Billy was going to get close and personal with a tub full of water was if I took charge of the proceedings.
I chose my moment carefully. The moment I chose was my birthday, and I intended to pull that trump card out if necessary. Graeme’s self preservation sixth sense came into play and he scuttled for the neighbour’s place to help with fencing before I had even mentioned my plans. That still left Justin, who is also developing an early warning system where my pets’ needs are concerned. Fortunately Justin’s defence systems aren’t yet as finely tuned as Graeme’s. Justin informed me that he was leaving for Wagga at 1.30 and headed off to have a shower. I lectured him on not spreading water from one end of the bathroom to the other as he is inclined to do when showering. Don’t ask me how he manages it – I haven’t got the vaguest idea. He assures me he stays within the confines of the shower recess, with the curtain fully closed, but all I know is that when he leaves the bathroom it looks like a victim of a flash flood. I wanted the bathroom left in a fit condition for me to bath Billy when Justin was finished, although I made sure not to mention this yet in case Justin decided to dispense with his shower and bolt for Wagga immediately.
While Justin was showering I was gathering my supplies and battle plan. I was going to bath Billy today or bust. As soon as Justin left the bathroom (this time quite a dry and respectable bathroom for a change) I announced my plan. I was severely reminded that he was heading off for Wagga. There was no alternative. I played my trump card, “It’s my birthday, and I’m not complaining that you are going to Wagga and leaving me alone (sniff, sniff). All I’m asking is that you help me get Billy into the bath. You don’t have to stay to bath him, just lift his paws in and the rest will follow” accompanied by a pleading look with just a touch of reproach.
The guilt thing worked like a charm. Justin sighed heavily and agreed to get the bulk of the dog into the bath before he left. The best way to get Billy to the bathroom was via the front door. Billy spends his days on our back porch, from which vantage point he is able to waylay us as we go to and from the house to the farm. I stood on the front porch and called, “Here Billy, Billy, Billy!” No response. I tried again, “Here Billy, Billy, Billy!!” again the front yard was totally free of St. Bernards. I looked at Justin who began to form a refusal to drag Billy through the house to the bathroom, but before he could get the words out I devised a devious plan. Once again I opened my mouth to call, but this time I called, “Puss, Puss, Puss, Puss, Puss!” In no time at all Billy came hurtling around the front in search of any cat that might answer the call.
Justin and I had no trouble getting Billy inside. It has always been Billy’s dream to be a housedog. Actually it has always been his dream to be a lap dog, but I think even Billy recognises that will never happen. Billy happily danced along the hall with Justin attached to his collar. We steered him to the bathroom door. That’s when Billy put the breaks on. He came to an immediate stop when he saw the tiled floor, splayed his front legs far apart and tried to back away at the same time. Justin almost got whiplash! I was bringing up the rear encouraging Billy and complimenting him on being such a good dog. I was cut off in mid sentence by this sudden halt and ran into the back of Billy who was moving as quickly as he could drag Justin with him in my direction.
You might remember that the reason I was given Billy in the first place was because he hated going to dog shows. It was slowly becoming evident that Billy very closely associated being shown with being bathed. With a very reproachful look at me, Billy kept backing away from the bathroom, muttering about people lulling a dog into a false sense of security for five months before getting ready to drag him off to a show without so much as a by your leave. It only took a little amount of effort on Justin’s part and plenty of reassurances that there was no show at the end of this bathing session on mine, to get Billy actually in the room and facing the bath. I then speedily closed the door. With a great deal of moaning about being clean and dressed for town, Justin was nonetheless persuaded into lifting first Billy’s front legs and then his back legs into the bath of warm water. I will admit that it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. The problem was that as soon as Billy’s front legs were settled in the bath and Justin headed for his back end, Billy would simply lift his front legs out and turn around to face Justin’s ever growing wrath. In the end we worked as a team (all except Billy that is – he was playing for the opposing team) and Billy was duly plonked unceremoniously in the tub.
As soon as the last paw hit the water and Billy’s collar whisked off, Justin did a runner for Wagga, leaving me alone with a decidedly dejected and soggy dog. I set to, slathering shampoo all over Billy and telling him what a good boy he was and how beautiful he was going to look. In retrospect, telling him he was going to look beautiful wasn’t a good idea. It made my protestations about not going to a dog show sound phoney. Throughout the lathering and rubbing session Billy stood in the tub with a stoic expression on his face, contenting himself with darting wounded looks in my direction. He chose to follow the passive resistance example set by Ghandi and the like, and while offering no real opposition to being bathed, he wasn’t going to help in any way either. I soon found out just how hard it is to reach those more inaccessible body parts of a huge, wet dog who won’t budge an inch.
As I moved to Billy’s back end, he saw his opportunity and climbed out of the bath. Don’t think that I was just standing there watching him leave. I had hold of his back end and was pulling for all I was worth, which in a battle of strength between Billy and me isn’t very much I can tell you, all the while commanding that Billy stop and get back here. With each step Billy took I moved closer and closer to losing my balance and landing in the muddy soup that was Billy’s bath. In the end I decided to make the best of it and steered Billy’s front end through the shower curtain and into the shower recess. Once he was in I blocked off as much of the opening as possible and turned on the shower. Billy’s reaction was to try for sympathy. He lowered his head almost to the tiles and began to let out pathetic little snoring noises with each breath. At first I thought I might be accidentally drowning him. I turned off the shower and performed a quick check of his nose and vital signs. I reassured myself that he wasn’t in any danger of inhaling water and once again turned on the shower.
After what felt like hours of playing the water over his back and neck in an effort to rinse off the soap under his belly and chin, I was beginning to make some headway. Billy all this time seemed to have resigned himself to his fate and stood still, if dejectedly, while I rinsed off as much of him as I could reach. What I didn’t know was that Billy was formulating his own devious plans. When I moved to rinse his back end, Billy saw what he had been waiting for - an opening between me and the shower wall. He lost no time in leaving the shower recess to stand dripping on the bathroom floor. There was no way I could get him back in the shower now so I opened the door and scurried out into the hallway to leave him in the bathroom to shake off the excess water. As soon as I was on the other side of the closed door, I remembered that I had taken my jumper off and placed it on the vanity with our towels, well out of Billy’s reach, but not well out of shaking range. I dashed back into the bathroom to rescue these items. Not a good move. As I dashed in, Billy dashed out as fast as a soggy St. Bernard can. Did he head for the front door and freedom? Did he head for the back door and his old familiar porch? Not likely. He noticed the open door just beside the bathroom and ran in there. Here he proceeded to shake and shake spreading water far and wide and leaving the room looking like it had been caught in a thunderstorm. And which room of the house was it you ask? My sewing room!
So the damage tally stands at one drenched, tired and sore birthday girl, one totally trashed, filthy and water logged bathroom, a shower curtain that has definitely seen better days, a jumper that may never get the smell of wet dog out of it, a set of towels ditto, a stretch of carpet between the bathroom and sewing room that squelches underfoot and a sewing room full of soggy fabric, water damaged patterns and damp magazines. “And Billy?” you ask. Well after I had dabbed at everything I could in the sewing room and shut the door to the bathroom with the intention of getting back to it when I feel emotionally stronger, I went in search of my once more beautifully clean pooch, just to remind myself that it had all been worth it. What met my eyes, immediately brought tears to them. After being pulled and steered out the front door accompanied by a lecture on the evils of taking revenge on innocent sewing items, Billy headed for the biggest dirt patch he could find.
I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. I’m just too fragile at the moment to continue this story.