Works in the Herald 1935

Unlike my garrulous friend, Pete Parraday, the old-age pensioner, I do not claim for my dog abnormal powers of reasoning and sagacity. But I do claim that my dog has a fair working idea of cause and effect and a remarkably long memory.

In one corner of my residential three acres in the forest is a small clump of the original scrub –- wattle, dogwood, Christmas bush and what not. It has been left there to screen the seasoning household firewood, stacked in long heaps, some green, some partly dry, some ready for immediate use.

From the direst of these stacks, twice or thrice a week, the gardener wheels down a few barrowfuls to replenish that in the various wood-boxes about the house.

Until about six months ago my dog, Tam, though on the most cordial terms with the gardener, took a merely passing interest in this business of barrowing wood. From some vantage point he kept his eye on things, as became a dutiful house dog; but beyond that his interest seemed negligible.

Suddenly, however, and without apparent warning, the wood carting seemed to become for him a matter requiring his keenest and minute attention. Close at the heels of the gardener he followed as the empty barrow was trundled toward the woodpile.

Sitting at attention, head on one side, ear a-cock, he watched each billet as it was lifted form the stack and placed in the barrow. Then, slowly and deliberately, he followed the gardener to the house, carefully watched the unloading process; then back the slow procession came and the routine was repeated.

Until the last stick had been unloaded for that day, no smallest detail of the work escape the eye of that strangely watchful dog.

On the next wood-carting day, at the first clatter of the barrow, Tam was alert. No matter where he was -– upstairs, downstairs, in my lady’s parlor, even in the midst of begging cake at tea-time -– there was a mad scramble to get outdoors lest he might miss some trivial detail of this absorbing job.

We used to emlpoy him as a side-show for the amusement of visitors. "Come and see Tam helping with the wood," we used to say; and, watching his slow deliberation, his absorbed attention, everyone would laugh, and one might say, "He does really seem to think he’s helping." But Tam gave scant attention to these trivial humans. In his wise dog’s mind were thoughts and aspirations that we could wot not of.

So it went on for months. Then, suddenly, and again without apparent reason, Tam lost all interest in wood carting. No cajolery, no inducement of kind words or fondling could tempt him to follow the barrow again. He took up his old vantage point and just kept an eye on things.

“Now why?” we asked; for in places like this, lacking the intellectual diversions of pomes or pictures, we are apt to let trivialities obtrude. For weeks we wondered, and speculated, and tried to guess the cause of the dog’s strange behaviour.

Then the gardener happened to mention that Tam’s interest had begun with the first removals from the certain stack of blue gum that had been seasoning for two years. The dog’s interest ceased when the last billet of blue gum had been removed.

And then I remembered, and everything was clear!

Over a year ago, Tam and I had had some sport with a little black rabbit which had somehow got inside the netted fence that encloses the homestead block. With much excitement we had chivvied him up and down fences till, in a most unsportsmanlike manner, he squeezed into a small crevice at the very bottom of the blue gum stack and defied all our efforts to dislodge him.

But for over a year the patient dog had kept his eye and, at intervals, his nose on that blue gum stack. He had sent he rabbit go in, but he had not seen it come out; the place still smelled faintly of rabbit; ergo, the rabbit must still be there.

Not a bad bit of dog reasoning for all its absurdity. My only regret is that it could not be vindicated and patience duly rewarded.

Herald, 13 March 1935, p6

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2006