Domino 2006 – 2019

Dom and Lil

I must write something about our dog Domino, who died last month after a short illness. Her final few weeks were marked by sudden symptoms of escalating seriousness, yet she maintained her basic outlook, which was that if her humans were happy then she was happy too. And as a result we have been left both bereft and somewhat shocked that it could have all happened so quickly.

When I first met Domino she was still a puppy, but with a frame almost as big as it would be when she was fully-grown. She needed to fill out, and Laetitia, who I was just getting to know then, was concerned that whatever she did she could not get Dom to put on weight. This phase soon passed and the weight came and the concern changed to preventing this dog who loved eating so much from eating too much.

Laetitia had two dogs and a cat, and when I first visited her at the little country cottage where they lived, it seemed almost alarmingly unruly. Domino, a medium-sized black dog, and Lilly, her small white “sister” (who wasn’t related in any human sense of the word, but they clearly thought of each other as family) jumped up and down at the gate, barking and barking and the sound seemed to echo and I wondered what madness I was about to enter. But it was just high-spirits and it was also that I hadn’t spent time with a puppy since our first family dog was young and that was twenty years or more before this. Dom and Lil would have play fights and chase each other and seem to be about to violently tear pieces off each other with their teeth, but that was just recreation and showed how much energy they had. They would play with a towel and would have a tug-of-war and then Lily would sit on one end of it while Domino dragged her around the cottage floor. While this was happening Mr Mu, the older, wiser, far more civilised cat would be above all this, sometimes literally – on top of some furniture – disdaining the filthy creatures and occasionally threatening them when their games got too close or they tried to include him.

Laetitia would take the dogs for a walk, morning and night, and they needed this exercise and more each day. She would take them to the beach and the sight of Domino running, running as fast as she could, along the sand, and in the shallow water, maybe bringing back some mysterious object, which might have been seaweed and might have been something else, was a favourite early memory from my relationship with her.

The dogs were brought up well, behaved themselves, and had been taught many tricks by the time I got to know them. Domino in particular was very good at tricks, not because she was a genius, but because she was willing to learn and eager to please. She also responded well to the food treats used in training, which never excited Lily as much and perhaps as a consequence Lily was never as interested in this activity. The dogs grew up, from early puppyhood, together. Lily, a mini Fox Terrier, had come along a few months before Domino, who was given to Laetitia by a neighbouring farmer in the district where she was living. The farmer bred Border Collies and Curly Retrievers and had not intended to cross the two breeds, but when an amorous canine accident occurred a litter of little balls of black fur, so cute they were almost unbelievable, was produced, and Domino was one of them. Initially she was actually smaller than Lily, which seemed hard to believe only a few months later when I met them. By this time Lily would habitually lie on Domino, or rest her back feet on her, or just cuddle up to her much bigger sister, and these habits would continue for the rest of their lives together.

When just getting to know Laetitia there was so much I did not know. I knew almost nothing about girlfriends and relationships and the bush and cats and multiple pets, but I knew about dogs which were about Dom’s size and must credit her with helping me to adjust to all of the other new realities which were dawning at this time. It was so comforting to touch her ears or rough up her wavy coat and the smell of her was something I loved the instant I met her. She smelled like dogs to me – the way they should smell, a comforting deeply pleasant scent to experience, and I’m not ashamed to admit that even when she became dirty the smell was still good, better even, to breathe deep into my nostrils. I miss the way Domino smelled, so very much now.

Eventually the pets moved to Sydney with their human and then I became their other human. The time we were all together formed the majority of her life. We would go on holidays to the country, where Domino barked at cattle and alpacas and sheep and kangaroos, and enjoyed sleeping in front of a log fire at the end of a day’s hard walking. It was always good to have her leash when walking up hill, as in her enthusiasm she would pull you up, like some sort of bush sled dog, and this really helped if you were getting tired. On local walks she barked at fish once in Cooks River, for unknown reasons, and it perhaps doesn’t need to be added that the fish remained unconcerned at this behaviour.

But she loved being at home, was onely really relaxed when we were all present and accounted for, and was more than happy to simply lie in a corner on a dog bed or maybe on some “human furniture” as we called a lounge or bed. Once we came home from a night away in the winter months and we turned the light off and turned the heater on and all sat on the lounge – two humans, two dogs, cat on the arm of the lounge – while we watched football on the TV, and it seemed to me then, as I patted Domino’s head, that this was about the best thing she could probably imagine and that there was nothing at all that I would rather have been doing either.

As a retriever, a gun dog, Domino produced a strange kind of vocalisation, which sounded like moaning. We would refer to it as singing and indeed some songs and types of music would cause her to sing along, almost involuntarily, although she also learned to respond to the command, “Domino, listen!” She would then hear the music, and especially if it was high-pitched female voices (or boy sopranos) she would sing along. She sang to the theme music of The Brady Bunch and The Cook and the Chef and Everybody Loves Raymond and she sang when Songs of Praise came on on a Sunday morning and no one else was in the room. A video was made of her singing along to the Flower Duet from the opera Lakmé by Delibes and sent to Australia’s Funniest Home Videos, who didn’t think it amusing enough to put on their show. It is sad to watch it again now, but her vocal skills remain entertaining:

Domino would make her noises when she thought you should know something. She would tell me, while I was watching the football on Sunday afternoon, that dinner was coming up and she was getting really quite peckish. This message could be delivered for well over an hour before the thing she wanted to tell you might take place and she would tell you again and again as it got nearer. But she also would just moan – lie there and moan or come over to you and loudly vocalise in your ear.

This got worse and eventually Laetitia and I realised we would often just raise our own voices and talk over her, almost screening out the sound, which could be made at a surprisingly high volume. I once heard Domino inside the house, when I was on the street out the front, and it sounded as if she was being tortured. She wasn’t, of course. When she wasn’t apparently experiencing some sort of existential angst she was enjoying herself, making a noise and listening to it.

The thing Domino always wanted to do was to share the bed with us and Lily and Mr Mu and there would have been enough room for us all but whenever this was tried she would behave strangely and get off. She didn’t want to lie in some parts of the bed and seemed to think that feet moving under the covers were small monsters to be scared of. This hadn’t been a problem when she was younger – I recall waking up in the cottage one morning and feeling uncomfortable because Domino was lying on the covers and between my legs, facing east west and causing my legs to go as far apart as they possibly could.

She wanted simple things: comfortable bedding, of course, and food most of all. On one occasion she ate a selection of meats about to be barbecued and got into serious trouble as a result. Most of the times she was in trouble were food related. On Christmas Day last year she ate part of a decoration, which had small wires in it and the veterinary advice was to feed her every few hours, to flush the potentially very harmful foreign objects from her system. This was Domino’s best Christmas ever – whole cans of dog food, several times a day – and she was perplexed and a little put out when we got the all clear and went back to feeding her normally again.

But she was a good girl and we told her so whenever we could. In the end she was medicated for canine dementia and for a number of other things which all seemed to arise together but she kept her spirits up and loved it when we got home from work and wagged her tail if you entered the room or said her name or for numberless other reasons. The wagging was such a constant in the house that it is quieter here than it was. It was a kind of drum beat. She set the rhythm, kept it up, and we all lived at that tempo, performing all those household functions in a certain way, at a certain time, every day. And now the beat is missing and we are endeavouring to carry on and it is hard. It is hard for the humans, who lost a friend who was always there – to pat on the head as you walked past and say hello and goodnight to – but most of all it is hard on her sister, her aged little white sister, who doesn’t see or hear all that well herself, and who isn’t really her sister at all, but is surely missing her like the world just became a smaller, dimmer, more empty place.

Published in: on November 17, 2019 at 4:00 pm  Leave a Comment