Rocket grinned. She drooled a bit too. I opened the car door and she leapt in. She walked around in a circle and then settled herself on the back seat. The kids are going to love her, I thought.
"Goodbye Rocket." The woman reached into the car and patted the dog on the head one last time.
“I hope you don’t miss her,” I said.
“She’ll be much happier on a bigger property with you. I have to let her go.”
The dog wasn't going to miss her old home. I could tell. She didn't glance back even once as we drove down the driveway. She was looking straight ahead to a new adventure.
We’d never had a dog before. We’d just moved into an old cottage on a 100 acre property, a long way from town. It was the perfect place for growing vegetables, raising a few chooks, living a quiet life... having a dog.
There was only one problem. The fences around the property were in need of repair. When we arrived home, my husband Andy was busy banging in posts and securing wire. When he saw the dog, he said, “Tie her up on the verandah for now. We’ll eat lunch and then I’ll continue working on the fences.”
But before we’d eaten more than a mouthful or two, we heard a strange noise coming from outside. I ran to the back door. “Oh no! The dog’s jumped off the verandah,” I yelled. “She’s hanging in mid-air.”
We’d only had the dog an hour or so and now she was dead. She’d hung herself on the end of her leash. Andy ran down the steps and thrust his shoulder under the dog's huge hairy body and hoisted her back up onto the verandah. She breathed. So did I.
“Stupid dog!” Andy muttered.
When our next-door neighbour saw our new dog she glared at me and said, “If that dog jumps over my fence, I’ll shoot it!” Her mean beady eyes flashed. “If it gets among my sheep...” I gulped even before she finished the sentence.
Could Rocket jump high enough to clear the fence? Probably. So we followed the dog around whenever she was off her leash just to make sure she never got the urge to sail over the fence into hostile territory. But sometimes it was Rocket who did the following. She was often in a rounding up mood. She nipped at our heels and tried to herd us this way and that. I guess we should have expected it. After all, she was a sheep dog.
At night, I tied Rocket up so we could sleep without worrying about fences and gunfire. But we didn’t sleep very well. Hour after hour, the dog howled at the kangaroos and other wildlife that came to visit. I lay in the dark, imagining a stout woman dressed in huge flannelette pyjamas and dusty old boots, leaning her pudgy elbows on our fence, as she adjusted her gun and then bang! bang! Quiet. No more dog.
Then one weekend, friends arrived: the rescue team. They brought fencing posts and bales of wire, post hole diggers and nails. They constructed a brand new fence around the cottage. Inside the fence was civilisation: short grass, a few drought affected flowers, toys, a sand pit and the dog. Outside was The Wild: the untamed bush with kangaroos and wallabies and snakes and the neighbour's fence.
One day while I was resting on the bed I heard a scream. “Mum! Mum! Rocket’s stuck in the fence.”
I ran outside. I didn't want to. I wished Andy was home to deal with the emergency, but he wasn't. I found the dog whimpering, one leg caught in the brand new wire fence. Blood was dripping onto the ground.
“Go get the wire cutters,” I shouted to the kids, as I positioned my pregnant body under the dog, taking the weight off her imprisoned leg. I really didn’t want to cut a hole in the new fence. But I didn’t want to stand under the dog forever either. Snip! Snip! The fence was ruined. But the dog was free. She ran off, grinning. I crumpled into a tired pregnant heap and wondered how I was ever going to keep that dog out of trouble when our new baby arrived, and I had less time to keep an eye on her. She was a big problem.
But on a quiet winter's afternoon an even bigger problem unexpectedly arrived at our cottage. There was a loud knock. I swung the door open, and discovered a sinister looking man standing on the step outside. Was he a gangster? He thrust a piece of paper under my nose and announced the landlord was breaking our lease contract. “He wants to sell the farm,” he snarled. “You’ll have to move out.”
I looked around at our old cottage on the edge of 100 acres of dry and dusty drought-affected bush. We’d hoped to grow our own vegetables and raise chooks, but we hadn’t. There was never enough water. We had too many mice and too many snakes. We'd got a dog but she'd turned out to be nothing but trouble. Despite the problems, we'd enjoyed our time living in the middle of nowhere. It had been an adventure. The adventure was now over. We were moving back to town. But we decided Rocket couldn’t come with us.
“We’ll have to find the dog a new home. Do you think we will be able to persuade anyone to have her?” I decided to put a ‘free to a good home’ notice on the board at the village store. I considered writing 'free to any home'.
“I’ll stop at the store on my way to town tomorrow,” I told Andy. “They’ll be time to do that before I meet you at the hospital for the ultrasound.
So the next day I parked a van full of kids outside the village store. I darted inside and asked, “Can I please put this on your noticeboard?”
The woman behind the counter glanced at my piece of paper and said, “I’m looking for a dog. I’ll take her.” She didn’t know us. She obviously didn’t know our dog.
“You’ll take her?”
“We live on a large farm,” said the woman. "Lots of room for a dog."
“Sounds wonderful,” I smiled. “Rocket will love that.”
“Shall I pick her up on Saturday morning?”
So our dog problem was fixed. We could move back to town. We were free to apply for rental houses with the condition 'no pets allowed'. Things were working out perfectly. Well, that’s what I thought for a whole hour.
Sixty minutes later, my life fell apart completely. It only took a few words, two sentences to be precise. They were uttered by a man in a white coat with compassion in his eyes. He looked at the ultrasound of our unborn baby, touched my arm gently and said. “I’m very sorry but your baby has a life threatening abnormality. It's very unlikely he will live after birth.”
I don't know how I drove home from the hospital. I was almost blinded by my tears. I gulped and sobbed as grief gripped me tightly. Five children sat in silence. Five pairs of frightened eyes peered at me from the back of the van.
When we arrived back at the cottage, Rocket greeted us with her usual grin. I walked straight past her without a word. It was hours later before I remembered to say, “I found Rocket a new home. The woman who owns the village store… she’ll collect the dog on Saturday.”
On Saturday morning clouds of dust signalled the arrival of a car. It was Rocket’s new owner. She opened the rear car door and Rocket needed no invitation. She leapt in, walked around in a circle before settling herself on the seat. She was grinning.
“She looks a nice dog,” said the woman.
“Very friendly,” I agreed.
“I hope you don’t miss her too much.”
“She’ll be happy on a farm,” I said.
The car door banged shut. The key was turned in the ignition. Clouds of dust once again rose into the air. Then Rocket was gone. I sighed with relief. Our doggy problem had just disappeared up the driveway. We’d given her to someone else.
“Do you think the woman will bring her back when she discovers Rocket’s true nature?” someone asked.
"You never know, Rocket might behave. Maybe the woman will like her."
“The farm might have good fences.”
“Perhaps the woman hasn’t got a grumpy neighbour.”
“I wonder if she’s got sheep. Rocket would like to round up real sheep.”
Yes, it's quite possible the woman was pleased with her new dog. But I don't believe it for a moment.
So Rocket was gone. That problem disappeared easier than I expected.
But we still had another problem. We couldn't pass this one onto someone else. It was our problem alone. It was a lonely problem. It isolated us from everyone around us.
We had an unborn baby who was going to die.
Yes, there are some problems we just can't avoid. This one came hurtling towards us. It hit us full force. For a long time I thought we weren't going to survive. It was a problem like nothing we'd ever experienced before.
Except it wasn't really a problem. It was a baby. He was Thomas, and he changed our lives forever. And I wouldn't have it any other way.