Before there was blog there was dog. Bert was my best mate and confidante. Back in high school we'd sit on the veranda and chat. The conversation was mostly non-verbal, with me telling him how school sucked or my parents were jerks or boys were evil (the usual teenage angst) then occasionally saying out loud, "So what do you reckon?" or "Isn't that right, B?" and he would yawn in agreement.
Bert was the runt of the litter. His siblings got shipped out to other farms and forged illustrious sheep-chasing careers, but he wasn't very bright and couldn't get the hang of it. So his job was to just hang around the house. He claimed a groovy 1940s armchair that I'd planned to take away to university, and dug a Bert-sized hole in the seat. When I'd arrived home from a shift at KFC, he'd hop off the chair and do that leisurely dog stretch as he wagged his tail expectantly. He loved leftover chicken nuggets and gravy.
He was not a traditionally handsome dog. About a decade ago he developed a bald patch on his head, then a bald streak right down his back. His snout was patchy and he lost half the fur on his tail. He did have a ridiculous thick, clown-like layer of fluff around his neck that was as coarse as a doormat. Of course we thought he was gorgeous.
His dilapidated exterior suited his personality. You couldn't do normal dog things like take him for a walk or introduce him to your friends. He basically hated everyone in the world except The Mothership, Rhiannon and me. He wasn't nasty or aggressive, just slightly batty. He was fiercely loyal to the three of us, and despite the lack of brains and brawn he made you feel safe and loved. Whenever we left the house he always did what Mum called The Lean, sidling up and pressing his scraggy wee body against your legs and refusing to budge, as if to say Don't go don't go! He was extra leany the day Rhi and I left Australia.
He was also entertaining. Mum used to live in a house with a walkway beside it. Bert would slink up to the tall wooden fence when he heard footsteps then wait for the best moment to pop his head over and let fly with a giant WOOOOF, scaring the bejesus out of innocent drunks and old ladies returning home with their shopping.
The Mothership called on Saturday to say had Bert passed away. He was an old man, fourteen or fifteen years old (no one can remember for sure) so the news shouldn't have come as a shock. But three of us are utterly devastated. I've been crying my guts out. At first I felt stupid for being such as mess but he's been part of our lives for so long, he has seen so much. He helped us through many tough times. We leaned on him as much as he literally leaned on us. Bert was a man you could trust.
We all hoped he would hold until our visit at Easter, but Mum thinks the heat became too much for his weary bones; the temperatures in her part of Australia were soaring over 40'C (104'F) all week. Or maybe when she told him he'd made his debut on American television he just thought, Well really… where could I go from here?!
The last time I saw Bert was October 2005. On the final day of our trip we did the Fat Jeans Photoshoot for a laugh. Mum kept saying he knew we were leaving, which is why he insisted on sneaking into every frame.
By then Bert was mellowing in his old age – he'd stopped barking at cars and had made friends with the guy who mowed the lawns. But he didn't think much of Gareth. He snarled upon introduction, then a few days later when Gareth was hanging washing on the line Bert wandered over and slowly opened his mouth then closed it again – there was an audible snapping sound, like a crocodile. We interpreted this as, Dude if I wasn't so old I'd totally go you.
After that Bert just ignored him completely. Here's Gareth after he climbed out of my old jeans. You can't see Bert's face but you can tell from the flattened ears that he is giving the stink eye.
Here he is doing two of his favourite things – getting a pat from The Mothership and also eating a lamb neck chop. Gareth threw him a bone in a final attempt at friendship. You could see the conflict in Bert's weary yellow eyes – I don't like this guy but I really love necks. He begrudgingly accepted and stalked off to a corner of the back yard.
Bert chilled even further in his last few years, to the point where he had walks on a leash, talked to other dogs and loved cuddles from small children. I had high hopes that he and Gareth would be good buddies after Easter. I'm so gutted that we missed him by two months. You don't always feel the miles with emails and Skype but right now Oz seems horribly far away. I can't believe he's not going be there waiting at the back door of The Mothership's house. It's just not going to be the same.
I miss you B-Dog. I can't believe I won't see you again. Wherever you are now, I sure hope you've been reunited with all your missing fur.