Billy (with me) showing just what a great show dog he could have been if he'd wanted to.
Billy came to live with us when he was two years old. He had been bred and raised to be a Champion St Bernard. His breeder told me he had everything it took to make an Australian Champion and she thought she'd hit the jackpot when he grew into the beautiful fellow you see above. Billy had other ideas. He hated being taken to shows and refused to co-operate. He wouldn't raise his head, kept his tail firmly down when it should have been up and wagging and refused to smile at the judges. Consequently Billy never won a ribbon. I can imagine the frustration of his former owner- here was a dog bred to win ribbons and all he did was mope around. You see Billy was a people person. He lived in a dog run along at the back of the yard along with all the other show dogs and didn't see much of people, apart from feeding and show preparation. When I met him he was a sad dog who I thought lacked personality. He jumped out of his owner's car and into ours without a backward glance.
Once he arrived at Spring Rock and took in all the acres and other menagerie members he brightened up in a few days. At first he chewed his way through everything not nailed down, and some things that were. It seemed that when Billy was upset or worried he chewed. He didn't care what he chewed he just chewed. The first morning after his arrival we got up in the morning to find an array of work boots, buckets and assorted unidentifiable paraphernalia chewed into small bits of rubble all over the porch floor. Once he settled in and felt himself to be part of the family (it took all of a week or so thankfully for our farm and garden equipment) he was always at the back door ready for a pat and a bit of drool sharing. Drool sharing and leaning on people were Billy's two favourite pastimes. Within days of coming to stay at Spring Rock he had met and got up close and personal with most of its inhabitants. We woke very early one morning to hear one of our ducks scolding away near our bedroom window. When we went out to investigate we found Billy with said duck sticking out either side of his mouth. Billy had a big grin on his face (what wasn't taken up with duck that is) and pranced around ignoring the dreadful language and dire threats coming from the soft, fluffy thing in his mouth. We rescued the duck and build a safe house for him and his friend, but next morning the silly things had found a way out and Billy took no time in renewing his duck carrying experience. After that the ducks were happy to stay in their safe house - it might be a lot smaller than the whole back yard, but at least it was St Bernard mouth free. We found that while Billy was eager to please, he was also a bit of a rogue and would see what he could get away with no matter how much trouble he knew he might be in later. He lived by the motto that the fun was worth the scolding.
It actually took him a couple of weeks to meet up with the ferrets. Spring Rock was just so full of things to do and creatures to meet that he'd paid little attention to the big cage under the apricot tree. When he meandered over there one day just to complete his getting to know his new environment, he was shocked to find that the tiny inhabitants of the cage had absolutely no respect for a big, drooly dog. They were more than aware of the arrival of Billy and had their game plan ready to put into action. They lined up at the front of the cage and hurled insults at the new big dog on the farm. After that a life long war was declared between Billy and whatever ferrets were in residence in the cage at the time. Each new generation of ferret was happy to take up the cudgels and threaten to take Billy on any time he liked. Even in his last days Billy made sure he passed by the cage every morning as the ferret were put outside to exchange insults with them for a few minutes before going to find a quiet place to lie down for a good rest.
Despite his war with the ferrets, Billy was an easy going dog, with a live and let live attitude to all Spring Rock inhabitants including all the cats but one (he and Ambrosia never got on well together) and our ancient Marrema Apollo. Apollo was is the winter of his life when Billy arrived, a young, brash pretender for dog of the yard. They developed an uneasy truce and as long as Billy knew his place (well and truly down the pecking order from Apollo) all was well. Shadow, our tiny ancient Silky at the same time just rolled her eyes at the displays of testosterone. She knew she was the boss of the back yard, and what's more both male dogs knew it too.
Billy doted on Shadow. Shadow wasn't thrilled about this at all. Billy's demonstrations of affection usually exhibited themselves by his chewing on some part of Shadow's tiny anatomy. One time I found Billy with Shadow's entire head in his mouth. She was growling and cussing for all she was worth - if somewhat muffled in the interior of Billy's mouth, but Billy was just sitting there with the fluffy head in his mouth once again ignoring the bad things being said to him. I rescued Shadow and she emerged soggy but with steam coming out her ears. She baled Billy up against the porch wall and loudly told him a few facts of life about large, overgrown, dumb dogs who had no respect for their elders. Billy promised to try harder to behave but it wasn't long before he was gently chewing on some other part of Shadow. When Shadow died at a very old age Billy missed her dreadfully. He spent days looking for her and feeling lost.
Billy loved to help me with the gardening. I have a back injury and getting up and down to do the weeding or planting is a slow process for me. Billy saw the opportunity to channel his rescue ancestors and would lean up close to me so I could use him to get myself up. This worked well except for the times Billy was a bit too eager in his leaning and would knock me flat on the ground. He'd then stand over me with strings of drool hanging down asking when he could do to help. He also took it on himself to stand still next to me as I mounted the back stairs. He adopted the most angelic look on his face and waited patiently for me to lean on his strong back and get myself up the stairs.
Billy also liked to yodel. I assume with his Swiss ancestry that that was what he was doing. Some nights he'd sit on the back porch and make noises that in other dogs might be considered gentle howling or singing. Billy would keep this up for ten minutes or so, consider he'd entertained us long enough with his yodelling prowess and settle down for a good night's sleep.
He had a mixed relationship with my grandchildren. He loved every one of them but when they were little he was such a big dog, and they saw him so rarely that they were inclined to be frightened of him. This upset Billy and one dreadful day he managed to bale Hannah up on the porch where she felt trapped. I rescued her and brought the crying child inside for comfort and reassurance that Billy would never hurt her. Billy was very worried, and when Billy was worried he looked for something to chew. He found a little pair of gumboots and sat down to chew and think about what went wrong with his attempts to love Hannah. I convinced Hannah to go out and make friends with Billy. When she walked out the back to forgive Billy for being so big, Hannah couldn't believe Billy's wickedness. She discovered that not content with monstering her, he had the perfidy to chew holes in her brand new gumboots while she was inside crying. Billy sent her an abject apology and a new pair of gumboots in the mail, along with a photo of his sorry face. After that they were firm friends.
Billy's Sorry Face
Unlike most dogs, he loved visiting the vet. Everyone from the receptionist to the vets and other pet owners made a big fuss of him when he arrived and apart from trying to weigh him which he didn't like, everything else was just love and fussing over. All of which Billy lapped up with a regal air. Apart from the time when the vet tried to remove a grass seed with just a local aesthetic and me nowhere around to run interference. No matter how many times she tried to hold his paw he just removed it from her grasp with a polite but firm look on his face. In the end she had to put him under full sedation just so she could hold his paw. Billy didn't like strangers getting fresh with him, even if it was a vet.
I could go on and on with wonderful memories of Billy. He was a joy to own and a truly devoted friend. Life without Billy her on Spring Rock will not be the same. Each day I wake up and open the back door to a feeling of loss. There is no big, furry face ready to greet me and have his morning pat and chat. I don't have to worry about getting drool on me when I go out. The back porch is very empty these days.
Good bye Billy. I will miss you. Thank you for sharing your beautiful life with me.