Joadja, Jesse the dingo, Old Possum and I were sitting in the dark in Jo’s rainforest garden after she’d closed the café. The moon rose over the old terraces while we chatted intermittently, tuning in to the rustle of leaves, the gentle chirping of crickets and the quiet hum of traffic on Sydney Street.
“Have noticed that a sound that used to dominate the night is missing?” asked Joadja.
“You mean the distant primative rhythm of tribal drums and Tony Abbott chanting ‘Big New Tax, Big New Tax’?”
“No, seriously, a noise we once heard incessantly has gone, vanished.”
“I can’t pick it.”
“Dogs. We used to hear dogs barking, barking, far into the night … and we hardly hear them nowadays.”
We all fell silent for a while and indeed not a single yap broke the silence.
“Yeah, I think you’re right. Dogs must be getting quieter. But why?” I mused.
“Obviously, it isn’t that there are no dogs”, Old Possum said. “There are more dogs around than at any time I can remember. Every second person you meet on the street seems to be accompanied by a dog and when you ask people where they got Bella or Tilly or Pawdie, most of them seem to be rescue dogs from the pound. The puppy farmers must be tearing their hair out.”
Jesse piped up with one of his long, soft, weird, dingo vocalisations – something between a crow and a cow distantly lowing.
“What did he say?” Joadja asked, looking at Old, who spoke Dog like a native.
“He says: ‘Those poor dogs you remember … they barked to tell whoever might listen of their pain, of their frustration and anger’”.
Joadja fondled Jesse’s ear and took another sip of her cider. “Seems right to me. If you go back thirty years, to when I moved into Werrong Lane – and you too Nick – not many people had dogs but those that there were – and you never saw them except when they barked at you through a chink in the gate – barked far into the night. It used to drive me nuts.
“I think most dogs were badly socialised. They seldom got walked. They seldom met other dogs. They never learned the nuances of behaviour in doggy or human society. And I suspect a lot of people wanted their dog to be mean because they wanted it to be a guard dog. There was a prevailing ethical carelessness about the whole relationship.
“And then a few years passed and we hardly ever saw or heard a dog at all, at least around here. I guess a whole generation of dogs just died quietly, defeated and demoralised, in the backyards they never got out of. And then a few more years passed and along came one of those mysterious public enthusiasms that roll in like waves and before you knew it there were dogs everywhere, but they were quiet.
“And you know why? Because in the intervening period the culture had somehow changed. The new dogs get out every day. And now there are off-leash parks where they can meet other dogs and play and usually they live in the house with their folks.”
“Yeah, at least for dogs, it’s becoming a kinder, gentler world. When I was a kid, so many were mean and unpredictable”, I said. “And then there were always roving packs of males following any female that was on heat. I guess it’s no wonder local councils banned them off-leash from just about everywhere. When one dog met another, as likely as not there’d be a fight.”
“Some dogs are still letting the side down”, said Jesse. “Like that nasty little terrier thing that attacked me, out of the blue, at the Sydney Park kiosk the other day. I just walked past the bastard and he goes ‘Eh, Jimmy, who you lookin’ at?’, like some BBC caricature of a Scotsman and then he lunged. Small dog syndrome. Who needs it? I shoulda bit his face off”.
“Yes, well I’m very glad you didn’t. I thought you showed great restraint and behaved like a real gentleman, considering that you could have chewed him up”, I said.
“Mum always said I must be an ambassador for the subspecies”, Jesse muttered.
• More Nick Possum at brushtail.com.au