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Byron Shire
January 20, 2022

I believe in dog

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Dozer relaxes with the author during an afternoon farm round. Photo David Lisle

An elderly aunt recently told me how, after a decade in the spiritual wilderness, she had found her way back to god. In return, I told her how, after more than four decades of dog aversion, I found my way back to dog.

I fell out with man’s best friend as a preschooler when my dog Rudy fell out of an old farm ute on the Monaro Plains in southern NSW. Rudy was tethered to the tray by just enough rope to swing him under the rear wheels. Dad unceremoniously deposited the broken little body in a gully a short distance away and we continued our morning rounds. I have never had another pet.

Rudy’s demise gave rise to my dog problem. I developed a new default response to dogs – which was to kick them. The antipathy became mutual and I’ve lived life being bailed up by dogs.

When we moved from the Monaro Plains to Sydney, my paper round brought me into conflict with the neighbourhood hounds. They routinely chased and occasionally bit me, as I delivered the local news on a red BMX with a milk crate strapped up front. 

In my early twenties I was assailed by a frothing Tibetan mastiff in a remote village in Nepal. By the time I’d found my way to the rabies clinic back in Kathmandu my shredded hand was mostly healed and the serum I was injected with was likely wasted. Nonetheless, mangy mutts continued to haunt my wanderings. 

As my eco-anxiety blossomed in the late nineties, I came upon a factoid concerning the environmental impact of dogs. The energy value of food consumed by an average pet dog is apparently sufficient to feed a dozen chickens. The difference in output though, between a dog and a dozen chooks, is the difference between a large pile of shit, and a couple of thousand eggs a year (in theory).

Mountains of shit 

There are about one billion dogs on the planet. While most are free-ranging village, street or feral dogs, there are roughly 200 million pet dogs globally, five million of these are in Australia, and 10,000 in Byron Shire. This equates to a vast mountain of shit, and an enormous potential supply of eggs for human consumption.

Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to track down the source of the dog/ chicken energy comparison. But it seems consistent with recent research indicating a medium sized dog has a carbon footprint double that of an SUV driven 10,000km a year. And like SUVs, dogs pose a potent threat to wildlife when given free rein by their human guardians.

Keeping dogs seems indefensible when the world is viewed in such stark, rational terms. But not everything succumbs to hard-headed analysis. We humans are emotional creatures and decisions are made in our guts as much as our brains. Dogs have been our close companions for at least 15,000, possibly 40,000 years. They are not accoutrements but fellow travellers, as deserving of Earth’s bounty as we humans.

Which brings me back to how I found myself believing in dog again.

Believing in dog

Two years ago, upon returning from travels abroad, I came to be living in Goonengerry on a friend’s farm. They keep bees, chickens, cows, three horses, three children, and three dogs.

The dogs – River, Dozer and Ziggy – are very friendly to humans, and somehow, quite inadvertently, I started perambulating the property with them in the late afternoon. Soon a solid ritual was established. The boys take it very seriously and so do I. It is dog work, not just a dog walk.

Before I knew what had happened, my guard dropped and a strong bond had developed between the boys and I. We are mates. They might not always be obedient, but they’re absolutely loyal and ever enthusiastic for company. When I’m feeling good, the afternoon lap is a joy. When I’m not, the boys’ carefree demeanour, their casual disregard for anything not on their olfactory agenda, is deeply comforting. And they’re great listeners.

Like my aunt finding her way back to god, my journey back to dog involved not thinking but doing. I let go, and man’s best friend returned faithfully to my side. It feels so right believing in dog. 


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9 COMMENTS

  1. Since a lot of people have dogs instead of kids these days it might be better to compare their ecological footprint to that of a child, rather than chickens. I don’t have stats but I think it would be much greener to have a dog than a child. They don’t drive SUVs, take planes or use nearly as many resources as humans. If it’s a small dog, even better and most of these breeds have no chance of catching any native wildlife.

    • in the case of kangaroos – who, when frightened, will develop something called myopathy which is fatal – it is not about catching wildlife. chasing is the problem.

  2. Mark Twain’s observation ” The more I see of people, the better I like my dog. ”
    I couldn’t agree with more,….dogs are intelligent ,caring, loving beings who cope amazingly well , even when at the total mercy of inept, callus and cruel humans.
    Dingoes, if you have ever had the honour of meeting one on their own terms you will be aware of their majesty and sublime self-assuredness and intelligence.
    The only dogs I have ever met that I was unable to reason with , were those that had been tortured and abused by humans. The common practice of leaving a half-starved dog chained to a hollow log, to save the cost and inconvenience of installing a gate on wealthy wool properties in western NSW, clearly demonstrates the relative worth of the two species.
    Such is the scale of horrors committed in standard farming practice, that this government have had to design atrocious laws to criminalise those who expose these practices, in order to protect their National Party co-conspirators.
    It IS …..”a sick sad world” G”)

  3. What wouldn’t I do….for the love of a dog…Mark Twain was right…dogs are nicer than most people.
    As for their environmental impact, I’d rather get rid of a few billion humans, and ALL of the SUVs before getting rid of the dogs.

  4. the “bond” mentioned in the narrative is something i experience with chickens, egg-giving or not. twice i had to be witness to an “oh, he just wants to play!” canine mauling my defenceless feathered friend(s) to death. dogs are not so much – but to a certain extent – the problem. it’s the “owner”, humanising the animal. an suv doesn’t attack out of “playfulness”. dog licence?

  5. Thank you David or your excellent story. It made me laugh with your line about the Goonengerry farm – They kept bees, chickens, cows, three horses, three children and three dogs. Loved the order of that line, beautiful.
    Jan

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