When I first met Shadow, our little black and tan Silky Terrier type dog, she was scrounging dropped food from the car park of a shopping mall. When she was still there the following week with an aged, black potato chip hanging from her mouth, I knew that I had to do something so Rebecca, Joshua, Justin and I managed to convince this surprisingly overweight stray to throw her lot in with us. She sat on Joshua’s lap all the way home, looking at him adoringly. The rest of us she suspected, were definitely up to no good and couldn’t be trusted, but this tall, good looking boy was just what the doctor ordered for a little dog in distress. Once home she continued to follow Joshua wherever he went and so came to be christened Shadow.
Graeme came home that night without a care in the world only to find that the ever-growing pet population had once again increased by one. At that stage we didn’t know that our pet population was about to increase by a lot more than one!
Now if there’s one thing of which we can never accuse Shadow it’s being an ungrateful dog. She settled into our family quite easily and within a few days, even learned to trust the rest of us. Her attitude was if her personal god, Joshua liked us then that was all she needed for a recommendation in our favour. Before too many days had past, I discovered that Shadow’s round shape wasn’t due to an excess of worms, but rather an excess of pups! Day by day this little Silky type dog grew rounder and rounder, taking on the shape of an over-inflated balloon. Walking became more and more difficult for Shadow as her belly grew until finally her feet were no longer able to touch the ground. She looked exactly like a cartoon dog who had been blown up by an air pump. So Shadow spent her days resting on her bed or indicating by a series of sharp barks that she needed her new human family to rally round and give her some assistance so that she could answer calls of nature.
Thus I spent the first days of my university holidays, while everyone else was a school or work. Keeping my ears open for Shadow’s distress call and rushing outside to pick her up and put her in the garden so she could go to the toilet and then bring her back to her bed. Picking her up had it's own special problems. There was no obviously spot to grab and she squealed every time I tried to lift her. Shadow was a very cowardly little dog during those last few days. She seemed to squawk at nearly everything that happened to her, but I don't point the finger - I've never been pregnant with a litter of 9 so I don't feel that I can judge her. The large gap between Shadow’s feet and the ground lasted for two days before she finally delivered her brood. During these two days I lived in trepidation that she was going to need a caesarean to deliver her pups, and that Graeme would finally disown me. In the end there was no problem at all with Shadow’s confinement, she delivered her entire brood of nine pups naturally while we were asleep.
Now we were in deep trouble. Graeme’s patience with the rest of his family’s pre-disposition to welcome any and all animals into the fold, had worn extra thin. I think his breaking point came when I very recklessly pointed out that the dog count on our Razorback property was now 23! Our Maremma bitch, Robbie had recently given birth to a litter of ten pups. Apollo, our male Maremma and Socks our Kelpie made up the extra numbers. After taking in what I had said, Graeme tottered to the nearest chair and didn’t speak for some time (for which the rest of us were extremely grateful). When he did regain his powers of speech it was to ask us what we thought we were going to do with all these pups.
Robbie’s litter was not a problem. They were purebred Maremmas and very much in demand for guarding farm stock. Shadow’s more than likely Silky something else crosses, were likely to prove a challenge in finding homes for all eight of them (Shadow, believing nine to unlucky number squashed the 9th pup in her sleep). I galvanised the kids into action. They began doing the groundwork on their school bus and at school by telling everyone they could that we had eight of the most beautiful pups anyone had ever seen. We could have given the pups away several times each for all the children who wanted one of Shadow’s pups. My conscience wouldn’t allow me to dole out pups willy-nilly. I refused to hand over any pups without a parent present and in favour of taking it on. Things were starting to look grim. The pups had reached eight weeks of age and we hadn’t found a home for one. Robbie’s brood on the other hand, had all begun their careers as guarding dogs on other people’s property, so at least the dog count had reduced to 13. Graeme refused to be consoled by this piece of mathematics. In his estimation we were still at least ten dogs too many, if not 13.
I thanked God that six weeks later we hosted JOTA for the local Scouts and Guides. JOTA for those uninitiated in Scout and Guide lore stands for Jamboree On The Air. Guides and Scouts gather at various venues around the world and attempt to contact Guides and Scouts in other parts of the country or even in other countries. Our farm on the top of a mountain was ideal for radio reception so a camping weekend was organised for the Scouts and Guides and that weekend we played hosts to over 300 uniformed children and their leaders.
Now the wonderful thing about 300 plus children who are a captive audience for two whole days and at close quarters with a litter of adorable pups is that they very quickly devise plans not to go home at the end of the weekend without at least one little furry bundle. Thankfully the parents came to pick up their children and so got to observe child and treasured pup before they had been warned and made up a convincing argument against taking on one of Shadow’s team of eight. Consequently we found a home for all eight pups.
With only one return that night by a mother who had come to her senses when the pup began to pine for its mother, I felt that we'd got our money's worth out of hosing the JOTA weekend, despite the mystery stain on my kitchen ceiling that couldn't be removed no matter how many coats of paint we applied.