A Gentle Gypsy Stole my Heart
First and Last...Loving Hands
My hands were the first and last Gypsy knew. Holding her with the greatest love - at her birth - and at her death, 17 years later.
The first time I saw her, she was still in her umbilical sac. I had to clear her mouth and tickle her nose with a dry stalk of grass to make her sneeze and take her first breath of life (a totally effective tool taught to me by our best vet ever... and one I would use often with small creatures having difficulties breathing). Gypsy was the largest of a litter of eight and hers was the most difficult delivery from a very tired, confused Mother, who was really too young to cope.
So I had taken on the role of midwife, comforter and mopper of brows (little-Mum-Candy's and mine!). In short order, I was also joint mother to the babes, when Candy, their sweet-natured, ever-so-patient Mum, just couldn't keep up the necessary milk supply, and supplementary bottle feeding was required.
Just look at that photo of young Mum to a mob of hairies, and the beautiful baby Gypsy. No wonder she stole my heart so completely.
NB: In the previous story about Candy, her mother, I said Gypsy reached 15 doggy years - but we just did a re-think and yes - born in 1971, died in 1988 - that's 119 in 'people' years! Wow.
Two 'Hairy' Girls to Love
There was never a doubt that one puppy would be kept when the painful time came for the rest to be weaned, given away and sold.
Gypsy had stolen my heart from the earliest days. As the biggest in the litter, she received the least attention, seemingly always able to look after herself well - and our experience has been that this can become the most affectionate and 'needy' of loving of a litter. And somehow, despite her size, she was so very gentle... even as a puppy.
We pledged ourselves to each other until death us should part. Her timing in my life was perfect, as we had just discovered we could not have children. All that pent-up love had to go somewhere, and my two 'woofers' - this mother and child - were the grateful recipients.
Doing Everything Together
... even being Desexed. Uh-oh.
My hands and voice were the only comfort that would do when Candy and Gypsy were both neutered, bewildered and in pain - and 'groggily' leaning against each other in the back of our station wagon, as we brought them home to the farm from our nearest vet... many, many miles away.
And later, these two made the most amazing transition from being farm dogs, free to roam anywhere on a wheat/sheep farm of some thousands of acres - to suburban backyard dogs for 12 months - and then to become another kind of farm dogs again, on our own dairy farm.
They just made seamless transitions. As long as we were a unit together, nothing else mattered.
When we called this beauty Gypsy, we had no knowledge that she would truly live up to her namesakes' reputation as nomadic wanderers. She actually lived in two vast States of Australia, three different farms that ranged from wheat/sheep, to dairy, to 'gentleman's' grazing farm, plus this one dip into suburbia. Maybe we knew something after all.
Well... there's 'Sleeping Together'
... and then there's Just Sleeping!
Their only trauma during their 'city-life' sojourn was their plane trip back to South Australia from Western Australia... a flight of almost three hours that they spent in cages in the baggage compartment (the only place 'ordinary' animals could travel then).
Just one problem - we had given them some expensive tablets from the vet that were supposed to keep them lightly sedated and almost oblivious to what was happening. Not so, according to our parents, who picked them up at the end of their flight. They came off the plane bright eyed and bushy-tailed, but terrified out of their poor little brains from all the loud noises and foreign smells.
Luckily they still had each other, and were warmly welcomed by two wonderful animal lovers, who took them home to be a family with their 'menagerie' (dog, cat, galah) until we, too arrived. You can imagine the welcome! That's the thing about dogs. They make you feel SUCH a hero on you return - whether you're away for minutes or weeks.
The photo is of the Three Canine Musketeers - in order from the top - Toby, our parents 'best mate', Candy -little-mother-girl, and young Gypsy (minus her head - who WAS that photographer?)
Accidents and Survival
... against the odds.
I loved Gypsy through her naughty, chew everything, puppy stage - and I loved and nursed her through two car accidents, either of which could have killed her. Only my arms could hold her, when the vet had to examine her - she would have bitten anyone else to escape his clutches. The reproach in her eyes made me feel terrible, and I would remain unforgiven for at least half an hour afterwards, until her love was just too much for her... thank God!
The memory of one of those accidents is imprinted indelibly on our minds - it happened on the first night we were milking cows (also the first time we had ever 'machine' milked cows. There were 60 of them - in a dairy that milked 6 at a time (quite a momentous undertaking for two 'learners'). After a few false starts and many traumas, we were just beginning to get into the swing of things (more or less), when a stranger burst in to the dairy, terrifying cows and two humans alike with his urgency and distress.
Our beloved Gypsy had just run in front of his truck and he had hit her. She was alive but hurt, and had dragged herself to the road edge.
I still am not sure how we coped with the rest of the milking (there's just no way to leave it in the middle!) - and dealt with an injured dog at the same time.
I remember we piled hessian bags in the corner of the milk room and laid her on them. She had cuts and grazes and much soreness, making movement difficult - and she was really 'shocky' - but nothing appeared to be broken. All she wanted was to lay quietly. I will never forget running backwards and forwards between 'runs' of cows - from the dairy to the milk room, to check her progress, and getting grateful licks as I comforted her.
It was a nightmare, but thankfully, eventuated in nothing broken (as established by our vet - phoned when I could finally take a few minutes to go back to the house and call him. No mobiles in those days!). She was a sore and sorry girl and had difficulty walking for some days - and then recovered 100%.
And I can't tell you where Candy was at the time. We think back at the house, and Gypsy had somehow escaped from there and found her way to the dairy (right next to the road, for ease of milk pickup). All the rest of this trauma has driven other details out of our minds.
... for Gypsy
In our early days on the dairy farm, our little old farmhouse had no carpets, and because of this, and also the exceptional cold weather we were experiencing - for the first and only 'regular' time, our dogs were allowed in at night.
Once, as we were relaxing in front of the TV, all farm chores done for the day, Candy suddenly came to me, quivering and looking worried in her eyes. I patted and soothed her, but something didn't feel right, and we decided it was either an urgent 'call of nature', or maybe she wanted to be sick.
Our normal practice before settling for the night was to let them both out for a last 'whatever', so out into the dark they both went, as normal. The only difference this night was that only one came back - Gypsy - and we never saw Candy again. And nor did anyone else.
The waiting and searching and somehow functioning continued for days and weeks. And we never found her body and so we have never known what happened for sure. Gypsy and I grieved openly for some time - and privately forever. But finally it was clear Candy would never be coming back.
A New 'Best Friend'
Another dog would help all of us, I believed - and I was right. Our first German Shepherd, the very beautiful and special Sheba, came into our lives - once again the biggest of the litter - and true to my belief, SO affectionate and ready to be everybody's friend.
Gypsy was not quite so ready to give her heart away to another dog - and regarded this 'idiot' puppy as nothing but a precocious invader of her territory. A couple of times in the first days, I feared another disaster, with Gypsy baring her teeth and growling warningly. Her basic loving nature and Sheba's irresistible charms conspired to turn them into the best of friends - whilst establishing their clear 'demarcation' zones.
Gypsy was the 'Alpha' dog, the matriarch - and would remain the kind but firm 'Boss' of all our animals for 14 years of her life. Long Live the Queen!
Cowboys and Cowgirls?
... but how about a Cowdog?
One of her more amazing developments was to become a fantastic 'dairy cow herder'. There are of course, countless sheepdogs capable of amazing skill and prowess at herding sheep wherever the 'boss' whistles them up. And there are other dogs that are expert at herding cattle - either wild or domesticated.
But there is a subtle skill and delicacy required to quietly bring home a herd of dairy cows - to keep them moving along at a steady pace, but not fast. The best milk production requires the 'girls' to stay calm and not have udders swinging around, sprinkling the earth with their precious load.
And so Gypsy started her dairy career with me, walking down the hill and through the swamps, twice a day to round up the cows, and I taught her how we would do this - gently but firmly. In short order, she could not only do this by herself, but actually enjoyed it - especially the praise after a job well done.
"Right Down, Gypsy", either of us would shout - for her to know there was still a last cow or two to get, right down the end. From the top of the paddock, a person could see where the last cow was - and keep shouting 'right down' until she was behind it. Then a shouted "Good girl, Gypsy" told her it was time to turn for home with the herd. If they were too slow, or stopping and continuing grazing too much, she would just do a gentle 'woof' and walk them on until they stopped again. Another moment or two, another 'woof' and she would keep them all moving quietly up to the dairy.
But only to the beginning of the 'dirt yard' (the last yard before the concrete dairy yard - always churned up into a quagmire in wet weather by so many heavy hooves, twice a day). After that, she refused to take them any further - not with her 4 white paws - no way! - and would turn and trot back home. It wouldn't matter how kindly I tried to call her, she would just wag her tail vigorously and continue on her way. She knew who wore the tall rubber boots in our family!
A classic was when my husband got a motor-bike. Right away, Gypsy refused to bring the cows home anymore - unless someone was on foot. Just like saying - "No way, Dad... NOT when you have wheels!"
Loving ALL - ...and beloved by ALL
I guess all of our animals have been adaptable to our changing circumstances, but Gypsy was exposed to more than the others. Beginning as a puppy growing up with both doggy and human mothers; living in two states of Australia; country to city to country again; loss of mother and gain of new 'best mate' (Sheba); welcoming and loving our three adopted children, and my widowed mother on her countless 'holidays' on the farm; the addition of various cats, horses, pigs, lambs, calves, and even goats.
ALL were either tolerated - or, as in the case of yet another dog, our beloved Taffy - deeply loved by our dear Gypsy.
... to Beta, in a few short embarassing minutes
When arthritis from her old wounds began we thought she was coming to the end of her road... but an aspirin a day, and being allowed in front of the fire on cold nights, kept her comfortable. A move to another farm in a warmer area had benefits for all of us, but the surprise was Gypsy.
The kinder climate and a warm verandah to lay on gave her a new lease on life, and for the next three years she was really active again, despite finally losing her 'Alpha' status. Sheba had challenged her several times, and always lost, despite the fact she towered over Gypsy, almost twice her height. (Funnily, Taffy never challenged anyone - but of course, she was much smaller, and the last addition of these three)
The successful challenge for Sheba left Gypsy at the bottom of a short flight of steps (pictured) - sore, no skin broken, but pride in her 'boss-cocky' status destroyed - and Sheba standing triumphantly at top of steps, proclaiming herself as the new Alpha female. Funny how it can be so opposite in the 'domesticated' animal world. Everyone settled into their new places with no further fuss, and no lessening of their love for each other.
In Illness - ... and in Health
Time was catching up with our old love, however, and within the next few years, Gypsy had two strokes. Each time we carried her inside, made her warm, comfy and loved, and then carried her outside twice a day to do her necessaries. Each night I would give her last cuddles and say a tearful goodbye, and each morning dread not being able to wake her.
And each time, after about a week, she recovered - a little more deaf, a little more short-sighted, a little slower - but in no pain, and very happy to be the honoured 'old lady' of our family. In 'people' years, she was now over 100.
Farewell My Darling Old Girl
On her final day she suddenly started coughing blood, and we knew this time we could not avoid taking her to her arch-enemy, the vet. Thankfully, she was really too tired to care, and after consultation, the final decision was made.
Our vet offered to give Gypsy her injection after we had left, but when I told her that mine had been the first hands she had ever known in the world, and I wanted mine to be the last, the vet understood.
It was one of the best choices I have ever made - the privilege of sharing the last gentle sigh of one so beloved to me - whilst holding her close to my heart. Afterwards, while I was out in the car mopping my streaming eyes, the vet refused any payment for the service... and my husband said there were tears in her eyes, too.
And it's not really the End
...after all there's a Legacy.
Gypsy was the one who really taught me I can be present at the death of a beloved animal or human - and perhaps the best lesson of all - that I cannot be without a dog in my life.
Her lessons of love, respect, comfort, adaptability to change, acceptance of whatever happens, and gratitude for the ability to care and share... all of these precious gifts have shaped me and my way of living.
One day Gypsy, I'll look into those faithful loving eyes once again
... and we will relive our youth and our love for each other
... and maybe get the cows in once more... if only in our dreams.
I believe this.