Put Simply, The Luck Of The Draw

By Brett Dolling
Finalist, 1996 Top Dog Journal Short Story Competition

Per kind permission Top Dog Journal

As I was saying to the drover's bitch just the other day - she had remarked on the freshness of the water in my drinking bowl - "A dog's life is a matter of luck, my dear. Either you get a good master or you don't. It's as simple as that. "She agreed a little wistfully I thought, but then we had only just met and I didn't really know he well enough to be making judgments.

She sat back on her haunches and scratched a spot behind her left ear. An indication to me that she may have fleas - or, horrible thought - have a touch of mange. Either one very off-putting, but looking at her I knew she had been well groomed. I could never considered her anything but a casual acquaintance. "A ship that passed in the night", so to speak. A Blue Heeler, but not one from the top draw and a bit on the rough side.

It had been a pleasant day, but tiring as it always is at shearing time. My legs were weary from working 'wide' on a large mob of wethers and with rain clouds looming, being called from my kennel at midnight to help 'shed' the ewes. Not something I particularly enjoy, working by lantern light, but necessary sometimes if the shearing is to go ahead.

I was explaining the problems of wet sheep to her, just by way of light conversation, but she wasn't the least bit interested, finally yawning, "I don't know how you stand it. Chasing stupid sheep around all day. Stupid things, without a brain in their heads."

That got my back up. Speaking of my precious flock as being stupid. I could feel my bristles rising. "Chasing," I told her, "Is not a word we sheep dogs use in our profession. Herding! Rounding up!, but 'chasing? Never! I've known dogs to be shot for 'chasing'"

She rolled over languidly, turning her underside to the sun - not an attractive sight I can assure you - and yawned again. "Boring,boring,boring," she said. "Same old thing day after day. Why, even a scruffy old rabbiting dog would have more excitement in one day than you'd see in a month of Sundays."

I was finding this know-all pup of a Blue Heeler less and less attractive by the moment. "And what", I enquired tersely, "Has less excitement to do with earning your next tin of dog food?
"Everything !" she answered me with a gleam in her eye. "Racing a rogue steer through the scrub. A nip at a heel here, another there ! Dust in your eyes, hair in your teeth. Taking your life in your paws with every bite. That's what life is all about, old boy! Excitement, and at the end of the day, sleeping under the stars with a good feed of bones in your belly."

There's a limit to any dogs' patience and I had reached mine. It had gone past the point of me countering her derogatory remarks about sheep, by telling her of the noble heritage of the noble Spanish Merino. My heckles were up at the sheer nerve of this pathetic looking creature who could have benefited from a worm drench. Calling me "old boy'!! I resorted to sarcasm. "Only bones?" No flea or mange powder?"

That brought her to her feet. AN all-in cattle versus sheep fight looked inevitable. Then I heard my master calling. Hers was mounting his horse, ready to be on his way. He looked down at me from sixteen hands of brown gelding. "Good looking Border Collie you have there, Bill," he remarked."Consider selling him to me?"

My master laughed. Yes! He actually laughed in the drovers face. "Sell Scottie?" he said, leaning down to rub me between the ears in that affectionate awy he has. "Not for a million quid. We're mates, aren't we, Scottie?" I sat there at his feet feeling mighty proud.

"Pity",said the drover,"I could do witha blue dog....Come on you!", he called to the Blue Heeler and she turned to follow him, a hangdog expression on her face and with her tail tucked between her legs.

Bill went back to his work in the shaering shed. sat and watched them until they were out of sight, the drover and his dog. Sitting and thinking of the different paths our breeds had taken us.

Hers, Blue Heeler, to ensless days of trailing cattle. Blazing sun, choking dust and uncaring master. Mine to gentler days. To Bill and warm companionship, green hills mist mornings and new-born lambs.

I don't know her name and will probably never meet her again, but in realising that all her yap about excitement was only a cover-up for a miserable life. I count my blessings and see the truth of Bill's belief that you can't judge a man until you have walked in his shoes. Or, in this case, have followed in the footsteps of the drover's bitch.

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