365 Days with Banjo

I’d seen him the previous day,  in a photo online—a nameless, spotty, and speckled cocker-spaniel cross with gangly legs, oversized paws, and glassy brown eyes. And he’d looked straight through the camera into my heart. So, Wednesday the 23rd of March, last year, we drove up the mountains towards Armidale discussing names on the way. A petrol station in Guyra was the pickup point. When the farmhand handed me Banjo, his whole body was shaking with fear. Only minutes later he was curious and keen to lick my arm, while I signed over my life.

The long drive home, our new baby slept on my lap. Oh, bliss!

Oh bliss? Don’t think so. We’d bought him his very own crate (long gone now because he only slept there at night, didn’t see it as his safe space, and outgrew it anyway). To begin with, we kept it not too far from our bed. With time we moved it into the bathroom across from our bedroom. He was only meters away. It went on for weeks and weeks—him crying, or jumping on the door every 2-3 hours to let me know how awake he was, and how busting. And it rained for weeks. So it was me with Puppy in arms and hanging onto an umbrella, run out, drop him on the grass, wait and praise, wait again and praise. Then pick up, run inside, wipe him dry, and back to bed, lay awake. Banjo’s puppy bladder kept me on my toes even during the day. Every time he had a drink, or a play, or woke up from a nap, or happened to walk past the front door, I’d take him out. There were still plenty of accidents.

This is what puppies do though not usually at 13 weeks—Banjo was the last in the litter; apparently no one wanted his white and tan design. In any case, I’d forgotten about babies and sleepless nights. I was a wreck. More than once I considered giving him up. No seriously.

We now had a serial chewer in the house who’d also eat anything he could reach—scrunchies, hair clips, socks, tassels, toilet paper, toilet rolls, in fact anything paper, plastic lids, pencils, rubbers, bubble wrap, nuts, bolts, dead insects, live insects. Banjo ended up at the vet’s with an infected throat. Thankfully three courses of antibiotics saved us and Banji-Boo an operation. After finding a toothpick stuck in his gum, I’ve become the toothpick police. One on the floor and I will hunt down the perpetrator.

I bought toy after toy after toy. Banjo loved them into smithereens. The little cute soft things with squeakers—gone in minutes. Every time I visited the pet shop looking for the most durable toy, I’d pick up the TONKA double tyre, only to put it back again. Forty dollars was too much for a dog’s chew toy. I gave up around Christmas. After two months, riddled with teeth marks, it’s still in one piece.

Then there was the idea of walking the beach in contemplative peace while my dog runs along the water’s edge. With Banjo that can never be anything but a lofty concept. Once he was over the initial chock of a breaking wave, he set out for Lord Howe Island ignoring my panicky calls. All I could see was his little head. No way could I swim out there. I made big theatre of running away from him, flailing my arms, screaming at the top of my head, and moving my legs in slow motion. He believed me—I was deserting him, hurrying home to use the dunny without him at my feet. Or worse, to have a slice of cheese without him. He began the long swim back. I couldn’t stop and wait for him. If I stopped, he’d turn back to the horizon. I had to pretend-run-away until he finally made it out of the water. Freaked out, I grabbed his collar decided no more beach.

I bought a thrower with dense rubber balls, and over a couple of months, I encouraged a desire to chase—something he didn’t have to begin with. Now he has OCD which works as a water rival. After all kinds of trials and tests, there are two ways I can take Banjo to the beach. At low tide, me moving fast—power walking or riding a bike—while continuously throwing the ball. Or at high tide, him in harness attached to me through an eight meter leash. This boy can swim non-stop for hours and his nose always points towards the horizon. He cries with impatience when I park the car at Arrawarra bay. When we leave, he cries with frustration that it’s over.

I had hoped for a dog that doesn’t shed—or at least much. One quarter labrador, three quarters cocker spaniel, Banjo shreds. Much. We could sell his soft hair as stuffing. It would be a pillow’s worth/month. If we start now, he’ll have enough funding once the TONKA comes apart.

My last dog, Elsy, was a clever, well behaved, keen to please, loveable rottweiler/border collie who lost only moderate amounts of fur, and enjoyed beach-walks like a normal dog. She preferred people to her canine cousins, and would quickly heel if asked. She was friendly in a reserved manner. And though she loved the entire family, and in particular her mum, Elsy craved her own space.

Banjo’s idea of independence is venturing out on the top balcony for two minutes. Privacy has lost all meaning. This dog is always at my feet, slips into the bathroom with me, sits right outside the glass while I shower. When I write he sleeps at my feet or right behind me on his bed by the window. He can be snoring deeply, yet if I try to sneak out of my chair to make a cup to tea, he’s up in a second. What are we doing now? Where are we going? Banjo hates being alone. When I have to go to work, he sulks on his bed by the window. When I return driving  up to the garage, Banjo is the first thing I notice, his hopeful face behind that glass.

Banjo is curious by nature, and I imagine, in his head, he asks questions—What’s in the drawer? What’s that in your hand? What are you cooking now? What’s that tool? What are you doing with that brush? Where are you going with that plate? What did you buy at the shop? What’s in the oven? What’s on the chopping board? What’s in the freezer? Can I have another ice-cube? So I keep telling myself he may be a doofus but he’s not stupid. Like a dachshund, he has a mind of his own.

Banjo loves people though he’s shy. But other dogs? He’s that over enthusiastic, in-your-face freak with bad breath who doesn’t get personal space or takes no for an answer. His saving grace is his complete submissiveness, no matter the size of his counterpart. And ‘heel’? Forget that. This boy pulls like a sled dog, zig-zagging forward with his nose to the ground. I thought I had developed carpel tunnel syndrome in both hands, but no it was some kind of strain or nerve damage that’s taken six months to mend. Only nose leash or special harness will do.

The scared and scrawny baby who couldn’t climb our stairs has grown into a strong and sturdy boy, who flies up and down the stairs as he follows me around the house. Our 365 days with Banjo have been hard work and more costly than expected. To my shame, I’m not making it up about coming close to passing him on to someone else.

I’m so glad we stuck it out. Banjo cuddles are the best, and 365 days of the year, he makes me laugh.

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