Friday, June 1, 2018

Dogs have Dreaming

Recently a bloke turned up at my place at dusk, looking for Cootamurrup Beach. He pulled to a stop and my dog went bucketing outside, barking. He stayed in the car and wound down the window. ‘Gidday. I’m lost. Is she going to take my leg off if I get out?’
Of course, she wouldn’t, and I’ve stopped catastrophising these days about pig hunters and the other wild men peopling these woods. I called Selkie back and he cautiously climbed out of the car.
This short interaction made me think. For starters, that dogs are excellent companions to lone women and it makes sense that Blackfoot women were among the first to domesticate wolves. Tim Flannery writes, ‘Intriguingly, their stories often involve wolves helping women and in Pierotti’s experience wolves and wolf/dog hybrids have a natural affinity for women that is only rarely seen when they interact with men.’
And secondly, the presence of my dog actually changed this person’s behaviour; he stayed in his car and spoke to me through the open window. The ability of an animal to change a human being’s behaviour is, to me, quite remarkable. We are so used to thinking it is the other way around.

About 26,000 years ago a child and a dog walked deep into a cave to find the Room of Skulls, were the cave bear skulls can still be seen. They walked together, the child slipping once or twice and stopping to clean the torch on the wall. An epic adventure for any child, this one must have been great because the art and the cave bear bones in the Chauvet Caves had been abandoned for thousands of years, and because she had a dog with her for company. Not long after they left the cave, the land slipped and covered the entrance. Their footprints and the smear of charcoal on the cave wall were trapped in kind of cryogenic state until now. Recent radiocarbon dating established that these two wanderers were the oldest solid example of a relationship between humans and canines.

I watch my dog on the day we are burning off. She sits close to the flames licking at the understory. It’s warm and she is completely comfortable with fire. It is a primeval instinct. She and every other dog know that where there is fire, there is human company and possibly even some chop bones.
She climbs under the bed during a thunderstorm. Some dogs just run, run for miles until they are exhausted and lost. People sometimes think this response is against their better survival instincts. But the dogs know. They remember these things. Sky sparks were the beginning of the apocalypse when asteroids fired the earth. They remember the catastrophe. That’s why they run.

So she is not only a beautiful, nervy, dingbat flirt - the Blanche du Bois of Broke Inlet - but also my faithful helpmate hound. There are some favours I could do without though. This morning while walking on my Morning of the Earth beach, she came bursting out of the storm tide scrub with a decomposed kangaroo leg between her teeth.

Photos by Nic Duncan.
Quotes by Tim Flannery, ‘Raised by Wolves’ in The New York Review of Books, 5/4/18.


  1. The child in the cave account was magical. I love snapshots in time like that.

  2. Just gorgeous. I really love having dog friends in my life.

  3. Fascinating story about the Chauvet Caves, I remember seeing a documentary about them years ago. Interesting about the domestication of wolves, I must look further, the idea fits nicely with one of my current projects. The dog as companion to lone women is something that has been impressed upon me lately. Not that it hasn't occurred to me in a vague way before, but #metoo, and the fact that 6 months ago we gave a large hairy, male rescue dog a home, because that was the kind of dog I specifically wanted, made me revisit the thought. He is the first male dog I've ever had, and after heelers, I wanted something large and hairy and cruisy in temperament. He is a gentle giant, and my constant shadow, never wanting to be far from me, and I love that. I had romantic ideas of striding along on long walks, with my 'lurcher' at my side, like some kind of romantic gypsy dream. But #metoo, and sudden insight into a song I've known for a while, made me realise that it was the independence that a large dog gives a woman that attracted me. That a woman with a large dog can walk in places that a woman alone would not risk. It was a sobering thought, that deep down, that was at least part of what I liked about the idea of a large hound at my side. The song in question is Richard Thompson's 'Beeswing'. I wonder if he realised, when he wrote it, why a woman in that position might need a wolfhound at her feet, other than as a romantic image in a song about living on the road in the 60s.

    Last I hear she's sleeping out
    Back on Derby beat
    White Horse in her hip pocket
    And a wolfhound at her feet.
    And they say she even married once
    A man named Romany Brown
    But even a Gypsy caravan
    Was too much settling down.

    Not that I don't love Fergus just for his big, hairy, loving dogginess...but even though I know he'd lick anyone to death before he bit them, he's good to have around on the occasions when hubby isn't home (who is also a gentle giant, just less hairy!)

  4. Oh Mermaid, I've just visited your beautiful blog. What a great outpouring of loveliness!
    And you have a lurcher! They are beautiful dogs. I too like the idea of striding out with a wolfhound.