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.