When my husband was a young child, his favourite book was The Digging-est Dog by Al Perkins, illustrated by Eric Gurney. As soon as our first child was born, he went out and bought a brand new copy of this book and we both read it to both our sons who, in turn, also loved The Digging-est Dog. So when we decided four years ago to get a dog we were fortuitous enough to find the perfect little dog from the Sydney Cat and Dog Home. Part cairn terrier and other parts unknown, this 3 year old little dog, despite being micro-chipped and registered, had been found on the streets and went by the name Tigger. Now, we weren’t all that thrilled by the Winnie-the-Poohesque name but we were well aware that he already recognised his own name so we changed it, only slightly, to Digger. The name conjured up all the best elements of both the childhood classic and the quintessentially Australian term. The name almost begged for a quick wink while saying it.
In the book, Sam could not dig (how could he learn on the hard concrete floor of the pet shop). True to form, if not name, Digger could not dig. He begged, shook hands, rolled over and could even do backflips (though he never really mastered fetching). But we thought that the digging gene had passed this dog by. This was not something we were overly concerned about. Non-digging in dogs can be a good thing, and Digger didn’t seem to be ostracized by the neighbourhood dogs for this inability (unlike poor Sam who got laughed at by even the smallest, mangiest mutt). Then one day we came out to find a hole in the garden, with Digger standing proudly beside his handiwork.
Digger explored digging in a haphazard fashion. Some months would go by without so much as a scratching, followed by something not unlike an escape attempt from Stalag 13. His digging abilities allowed him to escape from a temporary enclosure in the large backyard of my mother’s house while our backyard was being turned into a building site. Each time huzbah would walk triumphantly back to the house having added another inescapable addition to the fence he was beaten back by Digger, tail wagging with a look that said “that was fun, try another one!” It turned out Digger was digging out even large tent pegs to facilitate his escapes.
Digger’s also loved being with us at all times. When we first brought him home he had that rescue dog anxiety that tears at your heart. An anxiety that you will leave him behind, an anxiety upon seeing cats and an almost desperate need to please his owners. I have no idea how someone who could lovingly own a dog for 3 years, train him so well and then so either callously or carelessly dump him and leave him to his own devices on the street.
The first day we had Digger we took him for a walk to the local shops and while there a car came to a stop and the driver almost ran out crying “Tigger!” We were horrified that this dog, with whom we had already bonded, had been ‘found’ by his erstwhile owners. However it was one of the many wonderful volunteers at the Sydney Cat and Dog Rescue Home, all of whom, it appeared, had fallen in love with this most lovable of animals.
A houdini-like dog presents challenges for dog owners, especially when we temporarily were staying at my mum’s. Left to his own devices in the back yard, he dug out mum’s vegetable garden and left little surprises where they would remain unnoticed by all but the most eagle-eyed of grandparents or innocent fingered of toddlers. Tying up a dog is cruel. Luckily, my sister in law who lives in the country came to the rescue and offered to take care of him. Digger who had visited the farm with us many times, loved the farm, with its expansive running and digging opportunities, and with acres of land on which to defecate freely (although curiously, he seemed to confine this to the immediate vicinity of the main house).
Fencing designed to keep much larger animals in proves ineffective at farms for domestic animals, but Digger, like most dogs, didn’t stray far from the house. However, yesterday, Digger strayed from character and in a tragic chain of events, ran under my sister-in-law’s car as she left the farm. He gave out a sharp yelp and died almost instantly. We received a call moments later from my distraught sister-in-law. While we made the sad journey to the farm, her family put together the most touching tribute to a dog ever seen. Her 5-year-old son collected flowers, her husband etched a small headstone, and other younger children staying on the farm, witnesses to the event, helped pay their respects collecting berries and even making a wreath. My own sons, stoically helped dig Digger’s grave down on the point near the river.
Digger looked peaceful and happy as he was laid to rest in the last moments of daylight yesterday, with all of us there to pay our respects and to say good bye to our own most digging-est dog.