My dog had about him the air of a ruffian with a shady past. Apparently, he’d been seen tossed from a moving car, and when rescued he had no tags and thus no name. A real mystery man.. The people who cleaned him up at the dog pound thought he was part Scottish terrier so they called him JOCK. The name so suited the little mongrel – a furry little Glaswegian pub-brawler – that the moniker stuck to him, even after my parents broke him out of prison and he joined the Baker Gang.
Like anyone who’s seen hard times, Jock had his quirks. For one, he didn’t like strangers near him when he was eating. If they approached while he was chowing down, Jock would stop, sit, wait, and watch until they moved away. Then he’d resume eating, but always warily eyeing the prison mess hall and watching for trouble..
As is common with small dogs, Jock was frequently mauled by toddlers. I never saw him bite them but he would snap or growl when reaching the limit of his patience, which didn’t endear him to everyone. Adults are oblivious as their nearby children pull the ears & tails of dogs & cats, but are horrified when the tormented animal, out of shear frustration, snaps “LAY OFF!” However, Jock also stood up for other persecuted underdogs, including a certain 7 year old wimp, not long after making his acquaintance..
Next to our house were tennis courts owned by the nearby school, and I sometimes wriggled under the chainlink fence to practice whacking a ball against the wall with a tennis racquet, or bouncing a handball. I was never good at such things, but for a short time I aspired to be, because handball was a required skill in the playgrounds of my new school. Jock often came too, and either lay in the sun playing with his own balls or fetching tennis balls of mine. On one memorable occasion not long after Jock joined our family, some older boys came along with tennis gear, and despite other options nearby, decided to play exactly where I was practicing. I protested that I was there first and one of the bigger goons raised his racquet as if to hit me.
Jock immediately sprang into wolverine mode to defend me. The goons brandished their racquets at him too, but the more they did so, the scarier he got. Snarling like a hellhound with fangs bared, he was a tiny angry whirlwind, seeming to be in seven places at once. Jock did not retreat at all but they sure did. And fast. This episode from early in our friendship cemented Jock’s place in my heart. I was a crybaby through & through, but had Jock as my tougher alter-ego.
People who were once children themselves sometimes forget the brutishness of childhood. Adults prattle on about what little angels children are, but in my experience (and I most definitely implicate myself here) children can be little savages, for all their appeal. In fact, children are not dissimilar to dogs. They are both pack animals, concerned with being accepted in their group, and where they fit within the hierarchy. They can be very passionate, either affectionate to those they love or vicious to anyone else. Maybe these things partly explain the kinship between children and their dogs?
Jock had black & white markings, which matched his temperament. There was no ‘grey area‘ with Jock. He was a ‘with you or against you‘ kinda guy, and not big on nuance. He was ALL IN. Though rigid in some ways, he could be extremely flexible in others – for a critter built low to the ground, Jock was agile. He could jump over our fence and go off on his own whenever he wanted, and he was nimble enough to clamber up through a window that would leave most little dogs whimpering to be carried.
I have no idea if there was a dog-catcher in town back then, but if there was, it never entered into my concerns nor that of Jock, who came and went as he pleased and had the run of the neighbourhood, if not the entire town. This seemed the norm when I was growing up. Both dogs and kids were free-range, and roamed around in packs.
I was capable of seeing Jock as a hero, a wandering ronin, a pirate and countless other other dashing personas, rationalising any of his behaviours, both good & bad, as evidence of his brilliance. However, even the hyper-active imagination of a small boy was flummoxed when I saw my beloved swashbuckling sidekick eat horse poop. I had never seen a friend eat poop before, nor had I ever heard tell of such a thing happening in fantastic literature, even by the basest of rogues and scallywags. Bushrangers didn’t do it. Pirates didn’t do it, nor ronin samurai neither. I could find no way of spinning poop-eating into anything other than what it actually was – Jock was a shit eater. Part of my horror in learning this fact was that Jock often licked my face with that very same tongue.
Speaking of poop, One thing that endeared Jock to the family is that when the time was right he would jump over the fence and take a dump next door in Mrs Mitchell’s garden, and jump back into our yard after he’d done his business. I never met another dog who was fastidious about that sort of thing.
I was convinced that he was a genius super dog, but I couldn’t train Jock to do much on command. “Sit” and “Shake” were about as much as he would suffer through. I saw this not as evidence of low intelligence but quite the opposite. Jock was simply above such things. Even though he loathed cats (to a cartoonishly stereotypical degree) Jock had a feline’s self assuredness.
As a free-range pooch, Jock accumulated fleas easily, and I was constantly picking the nasty freeloaders out of his coarse terrier fur, and dousing him with flea powder and soaking him in the big metal laundry tub. Jock hated getting a bath almost as much as 7 year old me hated getting my hair cut. I sympathized, but had to periodically wash him to evict his tiny squatters. Jock squirmed like a devil in the holy water, but if I could get him to stand in the tub long enough, waves of fleas would abandon ship. When Jock was clean, he’d immediately roll in dirt, and that distinctive terrier smell would return.
My family sometimes drove to visit my mother’s clan, and while there, Jock got an absolutely enormous flea. I was about to remove it when my maternal grandfather yelled to STOP, and told me it was not a mere flea but something worse, called a TICK. These were uncommon in the climate of the tablelands, where I lived, but thrived elsewhere. Pop warned that the tick’s head was actually IN Jock and would stay there if I pulled the body off. I was distraught. Horrified at the image of this evil little interloper inside my mate, and tears flowed freely, much to the discomfort of Pop. Thankfully, he showed me a neat trick. I held Jock absolutely still as Pop applied the hot end of a lit cigarette to the tick’s fat, blood engorged arse. Whereupon the evil creep screwed its head out of Jock, and prepared to skeedadle, but we triumphantly squished the bugger instead.
It wasn’t uncommon for Jock to come to my school looking for me. I’d get asked out of class by one of the nuns who would point to Jock wandering about the school grounds, and she’d ask me to take him home. This secretly thrilled me, beyond the obvious excuse of a chance to skip out of class. I liked to think that Jock had picked up my scent someplace and followed it to see what i was up to. He was just as curious about my external affairs away from home as I was about his. Or maybe he simply wanted to make sure I wasn’t getting more grief from school goons.. whatever the case may be, I was always charmed by his visits.
Jock was only with me for less than 3 years before he was ‘put to sleep’ (the first true heartbreak of my life). I got him when I was 6 turning 7, and he was taken from me when I was 9 and a half years old. Despite being in my life for just that brief time, Jock looms large in my childhood memories. At that age, even 6 months is a long long time, and the time I spent with Jock amounted to a third of my young life. As we humans get older, a year seems less and less, and we get less out of them, while children can fit a whole lot of living into the span of a calendar year, or even an afternoon. This is the case with dogs too, who famously live seven years to our one.
Jock had done time in stir, and had a troubled past. That little larrikin clearly had a rough life before joining the Baker Gang. But Jock became a fearless, affectionate, playful, independent and loyal member of my dog pack. Honestly, one of my best friends from very early childhood. No wonder a certain wimpy little milquetoast admired his spirit, loved him so, and never forgot him.