Her father named her Penelope because her mother was too unwell to protest.
Penelope’s dad was fond of historical heroines, and Odysseus’s wife seemed like a wise and resourceful woman — someone he hoped his daughter would grow up to become. He always thought that Odysseus was a bit of a dick, but he gave him credit for finding his way home. The whole taking a detour so he could hear the Sirens sing seemed reasonable under the circumstances.
Penelope Spenser had her heart broken on two separate occasions — the second time being the most painful.
Her first broken heart was a shared experience. Many young women saw their beautiful young men go off to war, never to return. It didn’t help that she was part of such a vast sisterhood, but it gave her cover for being unmarried.
Death did not play a role in her second heartbreak.
Philip Dunstable promised much, but in the end, he ran away with the daughter of the local cinema owner.
No cover at all, only a heart that would not mend and ongoing embarrassment.
Her grandfather died and left her a cottage and about a thousand pounds a year. Not quite enough money to survive on, but she supplemented it with a bit of sewing and mending — the benefits of a practical education.
Her parents passed away and left her some excellent china wear and a mountain of debts that were only just cleared by selling their house.
Through it all, Penelope was stoic if not actually happy.
She was a quiet person who loved to read and walk and talk to people she knew.
Her garden was full of flowers and weeds and birds and other things that liked weeds and flowers.
I wanted you to know these things because it helps to explain why Willian chose her.
William had a home — if you could call it that. He wasn’t young anymore, and the few years he had left were precious to him. He wanted to spend them with someone who would appreciate his love and devotion.
He chose Penelope Spenser.
Of course, he didn’t know that was her name. All he knew was that she was friendly and walked most days to the shops and returned with a basket full of delicious aromas. That was most important because William was hungry most of the time.
William had come into the Getts family as a pup, and the young boy had looked after him until he’d been packed off to boarding school. It was lonely without him. The Getts family were not really dog people, and William was barely tolerated. A dog cannot live without love. Love is more important than treats and sausages and water and a warm blanket.
William planned his campaign with military precision.
He knew when she would most likely walk by on her way home.
Her big shopping day was Wednesday, but William had yet to be able to tell the days of the week.
His gambit was a bold one.
Lie in the road and look half dead.
As a plan, it had its drawbacks, and he nearly got run over twice, but finally, Miss Penelope walked by and noticed what looked like a dog in distress — legs in the air, not long for this world.
The ‘lying on the back with the legs in the air’, turned out to be a good ploy because upside down he looked like a different dog to the one she would pet every week on her way home.
“Oh dear. You poor dog. What’s happened to you? Are you lost? Are you hurt?” said Penelope, who tended to ask a lot of questions when things got intense.
William opened one eye and tried to look as pathetic as possible, which was a challenge because he was well fed and a bit plump, it has to be said.
Miss Penelope put her shopping down, and a bread roll fell out. It was all William could do not to leap on it.
He held his nerve, and Miss Penelope held his paw. It was then that he knew that passing up a crusty bread roll was well worth it. Her touch was gentle, and William went all wiggly inside.
“Do you think you can walk? I hope so because I doubt that I could carry you,” said Penelope.
William rolled onto his side and gradually got to his feet. He wobbled a bit just to press the point.
“Good dog,” said Penelope.
“Come,” she said, and William wobbled along beside her and her bag full of goodies until they reached her cottage.
Penelope showed him into the house and laid a blanket on the floor near the fireplace.
“This is a good spot for a tired dog to regain his composure,” she said as she lit the fire and made herself a cup of tea and put away her supplies.
“You might as well have this. I hope you don’t mind that it’s a bit dusty,” Penelope said as she put the crusty bread roll next to him.
She took one of the lovely china bowls that her mother had left her and filled it with water.
“Every dog needs water,” she said, “and when you are feeling better, I’ll look for your owner and give him a good talking too.”
Penelope did go looking for William’s owner, but even though she put up flyers and asked around, the Getts family stayed silent, and their son was sad when he came home from school to find his dog had ‘run away’.
William thought that his young master had gone away never to return, and he did not know of his sadness.
William made a ‘miraculous’ recovery and assumed the duty of keeping Miss Penelope safe and loved.
They read stories together, and William would chase and bring back anything that she threw. He was very good at sitting and rolling over, and he was warm and loved.
William felt badly about deceiving Miss Penelope, but a dog needs love, and Miss Penelope had plenty to share.
One of my favourite stories from RUFUS is Life Goes on Until it Doesn’t.
I remember writing it and thinking how often something like this must happen in real life.
I gave the unfinished manuscript of RUFUS to the person who I hoped would become my illustrator and she said that she was nervous as she read this story because “I really wanted it to end happily.”
As you probably know from reading the book, RUFUS does save the day, but RUFUS is not always around in real life.
This morning, I was going through my news feed and I came across this story. As I read it I too wanted to view a happy ending.
I understand that people can become desperate, but abandoning the one creature in your life who loves you without question only casts doubt on your ability to understand the things that really matter in life.
A little while ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing the then Deputy Leader of the Opposition in my home state. A little while later, he became the deputy Premier after winning the election.
I was a little cheeky on the day and put a few extra questions to him about animal welfare and his party’s plans, if any, to improve the situation. He kindly answered them (we have a shared love of basketball and have both been involved in coaching juniors, so I think he cut me some slack). To his credit, and his government, they have implemented some excellent changes to the way we deal with animals. They have also boosted funding to the RSPCA, the body that oversees the protection of animals in my state.
Dogs will directly benefit as the law is introduced over the next couple of years which will only allow ‘rescued’ dogs to be sold in pet shops. There is also a strong effort being made to stamp out ‘puppy farms’.
All of these initiatives are good, but they do not eliminate the central cause of the problem — people. The world is full of idiots and the trend is threatening to continue.
As I write this, the dog next door is barking because he wants to play with his humans. My dogs are curled up on the bed waiting for me to stop writing so they can go for a walk and the Dingoes across the road are on the lookout for us because seeing us means that there is a strong chance they will be able to join us on that walk.
Rather than being angry because of the actions of others I have decided to focus on the good things in my life, particularly the small fluffy things.
I say a group, but that’s a little bit too grand for who we are.
It would be more accurate to say that we’re just a bunch of dogs who like to hang out together. Not every day mind you, we all need our personal space and we all need a bit of time alone. That was one of Barry’s great strengths; utilising his time alone.
When we gathered together we would bring a problem to Barry and he would go away and think about it for a very long time. He never failed to come up with an answer. Sometimes we didn’t like the answer, but that wasn’t Barry’s fault.
Barry’s favourite place to do his thinking was in his master’s leather armchair. The leather armchair was heaps older than Barry and Barry felt that that gave him an edge.
“This armchair has wisdom stuffed right inside it,” Barry was heard to say. He said cool stuff like that all the time and if I had been born with opposable thumbs I would’ve written some of it down. Fortunately, I have a very good memory for a small black dog so I remember most of Barry’s wise sayings. Sometimes when we get together and Barry isn’t with us, the other dogs will ask me to quote something wise that Barry once said.
“Never leave your bone out in the rain.”
That was one of Barry’s.
It wasn’t earth-shatteringly wise but was still very good advice. No one likes a soggy bone and sometimes we need to be reminded how that bone got to be soggy in the first place.
“Always look behind you when you’re going on a long walk, you never know who might be following you.”
Before Barry said that one, many of us didn’t look behind us when we went on a long walk, but now you will not see a local dog cover more than 100 metres without taking a quick look behind him.
We call it ‘the Crazy Barry,’ and because of it no strange dog has ever been able to sneak up behind us.
It’s one of the things that makes us so strong.
Someone said that the Russian submarine fleet used to do something similar during the Cold War. But I’m pretty sure that Barry’s move was original.
When the local cats became a real problem we turned to Barry.
Usually, Barry would come up with an answer within a day or two, but this wasn’t just any problem, there were cats involved.
And anyone will tell you that cats just aren’t like anyone else.
They are inscrutable.
I don’t really know what that word means, but Barry said it, so it must mean something.
For about a week and a half, every dog in the area who wanted to look wise said ‘inscrutable’ as often as possible.
I wasn’t one of those dogs.
My human vocabulary is already larger than every other dog in the area with the exception of Barry.
So I have nothing to prove.
I credit my exceptional vocabulary to the fact that I am the dog of a writer, and everyone knows that words are a writer’s tool.
We went back to see Barry after a couple of days, but he said he had not worked out the ‘Cat Problem’.
In the end, it was almost a week and a half before Barry rejoined our group. He had been sitting in that big leather armchair thinking every day since we posed a problem.
Barry had endurance and perseverance, whatever that means.
We all gathered around and held our breath as Barry prepared to speak. You could’ve heard an owner banging a dog food tin 100 kilometres away, it was so quiet.
Barry turned to our collection of dogs, and with those big soulful eyes, he looked at each one of us before speaking.
“My friends you have posed the most difficult problem I have ever had to think upon. I considered many solutions but in the end I rejected them all. There is only one thing for it, we must enlist the help of the Mighty Tiddles.”
Naturally, being dogs, we had heard of the Mighty Tiddles, but none of us had ever seen her in person. Some said she had been dead for many years, and others said that her owners had taken her away, well out of our area. A couple of the crazy dogs said that she had sprouted wings and flown over the rainbow. We tolerate all views in our pack, even to the point of putting up with the concept of flying cats and rainbows. Everyone knows that rainbows aren’t real.
A meeting was immediately held and I was elected to be the dog who would go and ask the Mighty Tiddles if she would help us with our problem.
This was to be the most dangerous adventure I had ever embarked upon.
I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say there were rivers, sharp rocks and strange smelling milk cartons, all of which stood between me and the Mighty Tiddles.
The pack had faith in me, Barry had faith in me, and I was not going to let them down.
After three days of torturous travelling, I stood before our group and introduced the Mighty Tiddles.
Her first words to the group were, “I understand you have a problem with the local cat population.”
We agreed that we did indeed have a problem.
“If you wish to regain control of this area from the cats, you must do exactly what I say, no more, no less.”
We were all impressed with her no-nonsense attitude, and the fact that she hadn’t scratched anybody.
“Go forth into your town and seek out anything that is small and shiny. Gather these things together and bring them here.”
When the work was done there was a huge pile of shiny objects and we stood back and admired our work.
The Mighty Tiddles told us to place these objects in very specific places. No more than 3 metres from a cat door; no more than 2 metres from a front gate, and so it went, very specific instructions.
We had gone to great pains to get the Mighty Tiddles to come, so we would have been foolish to ignore her advice.
I took the Mighty Tiddles back to where she had come from and returned to my friends to find out if our efforts had been successful.
I didn’t even need to ask because every dog I met had a smile on his or her face.
The local cats were completely confused by all the small shiny things, and to this day they are well under control.
There was some talk in the group about erecting some kind of statue or monument to the Mighty Tiddles, but this was rejected because we felt it would eat into our sleeping time.
Someone suggested that we should reward Barry for his wise counsel so we organised a raid on the local butcher shop.
There were some minor injuries, but I manage to get away with a leg of lamb.
Barry was very appreciative.
He said he would not thank us straight away, but instead he would think about it for a while and deliver his thank you at a later date.
He did and it was magnificent.
Barry continues to think in his big leather armchair and we continue to bring him problems to be solved.
Barry never lets us down, but we have never had to solve such a serious problem as the time when the cats got out of control.
No one knows how it happened, and we don’t hold it against him, we are dogs after all, we don’t judge you on the colour of your fur.
If you contribute to the pack we don’t care how big, small, skinny or fat you are. Do your job, stay out of trouble and the pack will accept you.
There were many rumours and some of them were ‘off the wall, bat shit crazy’, but the most logical explanation came in the form of a large Samoid named Killer.
Killer was one of those dogs who don’t know when to shut up, and who spend all their time trying to show other dogs how tough they are. It gets very old very quickly. Most of us tried to avoid him and his owner kept him locked behind a large wooden fence. Wooden fences a fine, as far as they go, but they get old and the posts rot and the fence begins to sag. Killer had a sense that his fence was on the way out and he worked on it ever day for many weeks. He was a big bloke and just by leaning on the fence he managed to get it to move just a bit each day. Eventually the inevitable happened and Killer squeezed through the gap he had so diligently created and proceed to rampage through our small community. It is said that he mated with every female he could find before his owner caught up with him, and one of the unfortunate females was Chopper’s grandmother.
So now, with each new litter, there is at least one white pup mixed in with all the black ones.
I have a soft spot for Chopper.
He gets lonely and he does not get to visit with my mistress and I very often. When he comes to stay I show him around all the sights. He particularly likes visiting the butcher shop, but that can require a bit of stealth on my part because the butcher hates dogs. I don’t know why and I don’t particularly care either, but I do know that he can be dangerous. The Pomeranian that lives across from the park still walks with a limp, and all he did was wee on the corner of the butcher shop.
Chopper’s favourite thing is sitting on chairs.
I must say that he sits very well and there is even a photograph of him sitting on a chair. His mistress has a large version placed prominently on her piano; I’ve seen it. Chopper showed it to me the last time we went there for a visit. His mistress also carries a very small version of it in her wallet. She used to have a photo of her children in her wallet, but she took it out. Apparently they never call her and she is fed up.
“Just one bloody phone call a week. That’s all I ask. Is that too much, I ask you?” She wasn’t talking to me but if she had been I would have agreed with her.
If my mum was still alive I would visit her every day.
We should always remember where we came from.
Apart from sitting on chairs, Chopper is also very good at carrying stuff. Not big stuff obviously, but small important things. He regularly carries his mistress’s handbag. The bag is nearly as big as he is, but as long as he keeps his head up he can manage it, at least from the car to the front door. His mistress loves him for it and he is very proud to be able to help her. It is very difficult to understand what he is saying with a mouth full of handbag, but it usually doesn’t matter much because Chopper is not a great conversationalist. He mostly likes to talk about things he has seen on television. Strange things like people dancing and singing. It all seems a bit unnatural to me, but Chopper loves it.
The best thing about Chopper is that he takes one day at a time.
When I came around the bend, there he was, sitting on the side of the road; sitting very still. At first, I wasn’t sure why he was there, and then I noticed the large stick lying on the ground in front of him. I’ve seen this kind of behaviour before.
Hell, I’ve behaved like this before, but usually, there is a human involved, and usually they have thrown the stick, and the dog retrieves it and places it at the feet of its owner.
It’s a game and a damn good one.
When I was younger, I could keep it up for what seemed like hours.
Dogs aren’t good at ‘the passage of time’, so it may have been shorter than hours, but it seemed that way to me at the time. I love games, especially when humans are involved.
My theory was valid, but with one exception; there wasn’t a human in sight. I hadn’t seen one on my walk, and I had walked a long way.
I carefully approached him, making sure not to make eye contact; this was no time for a punch up.
I sniffed him, and he sniffed me back. I could tell that he had not eaten in a long time. His fur was in excellent condition, and his eyes were clear [I took a quick peek], but his breath said that his tummy was empty and had been that way for several days. He must have been in a bit of pain, but he was doing a good job of not showing it.
The words of my mother were ringing in my ears, “never show weakness, always look like you know what is going on, and give the impression that you are smart and strong, that way they will want you in the pack”. She never explained who ‘they’ were, but I listened, and I remembered. I think that this bloke’s mother must have told him the same stuff.
After a little while, I got a conversation going, and it turned out that his owner had driven him out here a few days ago, and they had been playing his favourite game, ‘fetch the stick’ when his owner said ‘wait here’. He then got back into his car and drove away.
This big black, faithful dog had been waiting here ever since.
I’ve been around a bit, and I was pretty sure that I knew what had happened.
I asked a few more questions.
“Has your family added a new small human recently? It smells like powder and milk, and it makes a lot of noises?” The big black dog said that they had, and he wanted to know how I knew. I pretended that I could smell the little human on him, but I couldn’t. I’ll bet that they put this big black dog outside and never let him guard the little human.
“Did the male and female human argue a lot and use your name?” Apparently they had, and he didn’t know what he had done wrong.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him what had happened so I told him to wait there and I would go and get him something to eat.
“I might not be here when you get back if my master comes back and collects me.” The big black dog’s voice did not sound very confident.
“Don’t worry about it. If you are not here when I get back I’ll eat the food myself.” This seemed to make sense to the big fella, so I headed back down the road. It was going to take a long time for me to find food and bring it back to him, but I knew he would be waiting when I got back.
Getting food wasn’t going to be a problem, but working out what I was going to do with this big dumb dog was going to require a bit of thought.
I got a couple of friends to help me distract the butcher so I could sneak in the back door and steal some chops. The bulldog and the Jack Russell from Scotia Street were only too happy to help out. They don’t like our butcher any more than I do.
I’m not very big, so I could only carry two chops, and that was never going to be enough to feed this big black hungry dog, but it was going to have to do for the moment.
On the way back, I hatched a plan.
Old Mrs McKenzie needed a dog to look after her since Bruiser got hit by that bus.
Bruiser was a good dog, and Mrs McKenzie was very lonely since he had died. She wouldn’t take another dog into her house because she was so sad about Bruiser, but I had a feeling that I could talk her into it. Now, all I had to do was talk the big black dog into following me back to her house. It was not going to be easy; he was not going to leave unless I could come up with an excellent reason. He wasn’t very bright, but he was very loyal. His owner was never coming back, but he would sit there and starve to death waiting for him.
It made me very mad.
The big black dog was very happy to see me or was it the chops I was carrying? Either way, the food got him to trust me.
It was starting to get late so I had to work fast.
While he was still eating, I told him that his owner had left word that he had been delayed and that he should follow me to Mrs McKenzie’s house and wait there.
The story was a bit too long, and he looked very confused, but I needed to keep all the detail, so I just went over it all again and tried to sound like it was all an adventure.
I must have been very convincing because he seemed to like the idea.
I suggested that we get some water at the stream that was close by because I was thirsty after all that walking and I was a bit concerned about the stamina of this big black dog after sitting out in the open for so long without food.
I need not have worried because we trotted along together and he ambled because I have very short legs.
When we got to Mrs McKenzie’s house, it was still light, and I scratched on the back door. It took her a while to open the door, but when she did, she recognised me.
“Hello, Rufus. I haven’t seen you for such a long time. I’ll bet you are missing Bruiser too, aren’t you boy?” She was right, I did miss Bruiser, but life goes on until it doesn’t.
“Who have you got with you there Rufus? What a beautiful big black dog you are.”
The big black dog licked her on the hand because he believed that she was a friend of his master so she must be a good person.
Mrs McKenzie looked to see if the big black dog had a name tag, but his owner had removed his collar before driving away.
“You look hungry, big fella. Would you like something to eat? I was just making my supper. You are welcome to join me. You too Rufus, if you like.”
I wasn’t going to say no because all the dogs in the neighbourhood know that Mrs McKenzie is an excellent cook.
Mrs McKenzie was trying to decide what to do with the big black dog, but I knew that there was an excellent chance that she would not turn the big black dog into the pound.
“I guess you can stay with me for a while. I’ll ask around and see if anyone has lost a beautiful big black dog. Someone is sure to claim you.”
Not bloody likely.
I told the big black dog that his job was to look after Mrs McKenzie until his owner came back for him. I told him that he was to protect her just like he would protect his owner.
He seemed to understand, and he was happy to have someone to look out for.
They would make a good team, and now it was time for me to head for home. I would probably be in a bit of trouble for getting home so late, but it would be worth it.