Schnoodle

Schnoodle

She and her brothers and sisters were dropped off at the RSPCA in Toowoomba, where I did not live, and she was almost a surprise when I came home. I’d had the heads up it was a maybe but then it became a sure thing pretty fast and the way I remember it is that I came home from my university job ripping movie tickets and cleaning cinemas and there was a new dog in the house. We called her Cleo. She was, and always will be, an angel.

I never knew for sure her breed. Her mum was a Bernese mountain dog and her dad, as far as we knew, was either a border collie or a kelpie. Someone I saw for a little while with a keen interest in dogs and a border collie of her own said her tail was more like a kelpie and since then I’ve believed her. That wasn’t even a year ago now. Not that we’d have loved her any different. Just something curious about knowing and being known.

She was about eleven or twelve when she died. I told work fourteen because I got the years wrong because Mum got the years wrong but she wasn’t around until I was at university well and truly because I remember finishing work to take her to a vet appointment in Toowoomba as a follow up a few weeks after we brought her home. I must have had her on my lap she was that small. It took two of us to carry her down the stairs in a black bag to be cremated. The decision was made without me to not keep the ashes. I kept a hypercolour chew toy instead that, “still has her slobber all over it.” She went to a long sleep half on one of her many indoor beds. The tiles and the wooden floors had scuffed the joints on her legs and she’d gotten fat with privilege and such a sweet face that we couldn’t help but give her leftovers as we went. The vet asked how her appetite was yesterday, the day before, and she’d had a scotch fillet for dinner while we ate cheap Dominos pizza that she got a corner of just about every slice of. The dog that never went without.

She did not fly first class on airplanes but she had a front and back yard, air conditioning that was on inside just for her in the summer, a pile of beds it took two people to carry downstairs in her wake, and buckets of toys. One Christmas my brother and his wife and my ex bought my parents a pizza oven for their new back deck. I organised the logistics of ordering it, picking it up, getting it in the house, hiding it, and then putting it where it still is for the Christmas morning reveal. My brother organised pizza boxes printed with Cleo’s face. Cleo’s Pizza Parlour. I don’t think she’d have been a good pizza chef. She’d have just eaten everything first and what she didn’t eat she’d have been pretty fussy about.

I’m tempted here to write about what she taught me about love but every dog story does that. She was part of my family and not just a lesson. She was remarkably human in that way among other ways. Her most human experience, I reckon — at least the thing she did most like me — was a trip years ago to see my grandma after she’d sewn for me something for a project I was working on. Simple for her but an excuse to drive up to the Sunshine Coast with Cleo in tow. I can’t remember why she came. Maybe I just thought it would be fun. Maybe Mum pressed it upon me. But Cleo paced Grammy’s little outdoor terrace in the place where she still is and she didn’t like the tiny patch of grass but she sat herself down in the sun for a while and then she came inside and sat beneath the dining table as she would always do and she listened like I did while Grammy went through the old family albums and taught me the things I’d never heard. her father was an ice salesman in Central Queensland. A horse-drawn cart with an enormous block of ice that he would chip away to give to people for a fee to keep in their iceboxes on the sides of their houses. That was the year that I started to swear by Apple AirDrop. On the way home we stopped by the beach and I took a photo of her that I love on top of a dune, her harness on and her lead just trailing behind her, looking out over the Pacific. Then the most human thing: she slept all the way back in the passenger seat. Buckled up of course. We would have been able to give her a passport that day if she’d asked me to change the music I think.

In the back half of her life I was out of home, in and around Brisbane and London and a few other places in Logan sporadically living another kind of family life. In the first house I owned she only spent one full night. Mum and Dad were away and so she stayed with us in our cavernous place. The fence shut, the roller door on the carport closed, but without a dog door she was either in or out. Where she was used to was my parents’ bedroom. Where she was used to was home. I don’t know that she’d have done a lot better in our room. She cried through the night, wailing, afraid, nervous, struck maybe by the same anxieties that have cut me down in moments of opportunity, faced with risk. It is not the same. I guess she didn’t know if she was ever going home again. Even sleeping down beside her on the couch didn’t help so I stayed the next night back at Mum and Dad’s with her, I think. Maybe in truth I did not and instead stayed with her through the day and left her to a sleepover by herself in the big brick place she knew and loved. She loved company most of all but I reckon she’d have preferred that.

What I’ve left out so far: burying whole blocks of chocolate. Packets of mince pies. Not eating them. Just taking them clean off the kitchen bench — which is taller than she is — and taking them outside and burying them in the yard. When Mum and Dad got the back deck done they had the backyard done too. Landscaped and totally overhauled. They dredged up a fair few packets of things that were useless now. Dad found the mince pies while he was gardening one day. She would have been a poor pirate. She would hate too when I’d be playing videogames. My hands occupied by something that was not her. Getting her head beneath my wrists and lifting my hands off the keyboard for her dopamine not mine. She wanted to share the bed and when I left my old room became hers. Bed and everything. Covered — covered — in fur black and white so there was no saving it. Nothing ever clean. Cleo hairs on all of your clothes every time no matter what. Even now: little bits of her are still, monochrome, on the colourful squeaky toy hedgehog on my bedroom shelf.

I miss her already and I missed her very fast. At the end a lumpy little lady (a big lady…) who struggled with the stairs and even with getting herself back up once she was lying down but she was just happy to see us all and happy to have us all and she had a smile on her beautiful face, panting away with shallow breaths that were getting harder and harder as the weeks went on, until the sedative kicked in and she fell asleep that last time before The Needle in her front leg. I called her many things. Cleo. Schnoodle. Schnoofet. Just sounds that felt like they matched whatever she looked like, whatever she was up to. My sister-in-law always described her as, “so pure.” She was. She still is. In hindsight we didn’t socialise her particularly well as a puppy so the other dogs in the neighbourhood might not agree — not for violence but just for standoffishness — and in treating her like a people I think she half became one. She certainly thought she was.

I won’t have to go get her from the path that runs between the houses one and two doors over when we leave the door open on the way in. She won’t try to pat me back in the dead centre of the face when I lie down next to her for a cuddle. She won’t sentry the back fence and crush the growing trees because she sits where she wants to sit while she does. She won’t bark at me every time I knock now. I won’t hear her thick tail smacking the tile at the top of the stairs. The cool brick house is going to get a bit colder. I’m going to miss her every time I come home. We will be finding hairs for months still.

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