The Prodigal Dog
It was on the very first picnic lunch on our new property that Shakti decided to go walkabout. The property was 80 lovely acres between Cooby Dam and Kleinton, just north of Toowoomba. Shakti is our young and still headstrong German Shepherd.

The land has a picturesque waterhole with water tumbling down eight feet of rock, overhanging trees and grassy banks with fallen tree-trunks for seats. We had chosen this spot as our picnic area the very first time we ever saw the land, and this was our first day there after the purchase had gone through.

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The waterhole lies about fifteen metres down a steep hillside below the dirt road that is the only access, and sitting beside the water one looks up at the fence that lines the road. We did that, during lunch, hearing the clop of horse hooves on the gravel of the road over the splash of the water. A lone rider on a grey horse ambled past. She waved in relaxed fashion, and rode on out of our sight, in the direction of the dead-end a kilometer further on.

Shepherd blood runs strong in Shakti, and we already knew from experience that herding cows was something he could do with great gusto, but not necessarily much purpose. He was in the water, and had not heard the horse. But some minutes later the rider returned along the road, and Shakti saw her before we did.

He was off like a flash! Around the pool, across the creek, and up the near vertical hillside like a mountain goat, clambering onto the road just behind the horse, and totally deaf to our belated shouts. If Shakti has a problem, it is that he is selectively deaf. He never hears our voices when he is having fun.

Having got to the road, he trotted sedately after the horse as though he was the most obedient dog in the world following his master. Long before we could get up the hillside, horse, rider and attendant dog were well out of sight.

At first we were confident that the rider would return. She would surely realize that the dog was following, and turn around to bring him back. Five minutes, and no horse. We packed up lunch and hurried the four hundred rough metres back to the car. We knew that Shakti did not know the area, and we had no idea where the horse and rider had come from or were going to. Should one of us stay at the waterhole in case he came back while we were away?

There began a hot, difficult and tiring two hours, during which we covered many kilometres and talked to more strangers than we normally would in several months.

"Have you seen a grey horse followed by a German Shepherd dog in the last hour?"

By following the "yes" answers we tracked him to the New England Highway at Cabarlah. The people at the shop had seen him on the road, and our hearts sank. He was not used to traffic at all, and would probably have been hit by a car, but there were no bodies visible. We drove down side roads; we knocked on every door. Then we found the horse. At least it was a grey horse that the neighbours said had been ridden that day by a woman, and had just returned. What was more, they knew her phone number, and would ring her for us. We waited.

Yes, she had been followed by a dog, and had not known what to do, and he looked large and fierce, so she had done nothing, just ridden on, hoping he would get tired and go away. He had left her at Cabarlah. No help. In desperation we posted a notice at the Cabarlah shop, checked back to the land, and then drove the 30 kilometres home, hoping that someone would have found him, read his tag, and left a message on the answering machine.

We arrived sun-burned, exhausted and worried, and rarely has the blinking light on the answering machine looked so welcome. He had turned up at a house in Cabarlah, tongue hanging half a metre out of his mouth and looking totally whacked. They had given him a drink, and he was in their yard. 30 kilometres back, and one relaxed and cheerful looking dog jumped back into the ute. He didn’t even look guilty. But we were pleased, all the same.

James Willis
Copyright, 1999.
All rights reserved.


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Last update: 26th August, 2003.