For The Dog Lovers


I’ve known many boxers in my time and have always found them to be energetic, oafish and drooling. I am speaking here of the canine, not the pugilist, as if there was any confusion. I have also found them to be utterly lovable. This may very well be true of the pugilist – I don’t recall knowing any intimately enough to say.

The boxer in question was a fine specimen named Bosun. Forty-seven kilos of rippling muscle carved from a block of granite. I once clocked him at forty kilometres an hour as he ran alongside my farting and spluttering 1983 Ford Laser and he was accelerating. Further monitoring was halted as I almost collided with an oncoming pelican and steered into a sand dune – but that’s another story.

It goes without saying that most flat nosed dogs drool, but what Bosun did deserved a new classification; slobberoobbing perhaps. I recall a time when he had cords of drool reinforced by scaffolding of sand hanging a full thirty centimetres from each jowl. He was seated proudly in the rear seat of my Laser, looking as though he’d swallowed a piece of gym equipment and was having trouble with the ropes when I turned the stereo on. He swung around to source the noise and when he turned back the drool was gone. I never did get the sand out of the speakers.

One cool September morning, Bosun and I were in a little town called Bermagui on the New South Wales south coast. Nearby, the women’s surf life saving team was preparing the boat for practice in the mangrove-lined estuary. Bosun wasn’t particularly interested in them, preferring to run along the shore barking at the pelicans. That was until the girls pushed the boat into the water. Then he was very interested indeed. He charged in after them leaving me to yell at him to get back to shore. I may as well have been yelling at the wind.

An interesting fact about boxers, at least this particular boxer: they can’t swim worth a damn. Where the majority of dogs cruise along, floating like a piece of driftwood with propulsion; Bosun floated along like … well … at least his gargantuan lips floated.

I wasn’t concerned. He would tire quickly, turn around and come back. At least he always had before. On this occasion he did seem particularly interested in that boat. On retrospect, I suppose he figured that as he was tiring, the boat itself was the closest point of refuge rather than the shore. And then the boat disappeared around a mangroved corner and was gone.

I’m sure I saw Bosun’s shoulders slump with disappointment. As he turned for shore, I readied myself to administer the bollocking of a lifetime. Then he turned away. Had he read my mind? And then he turned again … and again. Now it was my shoulders that slumped as the reality dawned on me. Bosun was caught in an eddy current and from my perspective his eyes were lower in the water than his lips. “Oh, good.” I thought.

I suppose I should have been rushing with panic. Ready to bound to the rescue of my faithful companion. I should have, but I didn’t. I walked up and down the bank cursing. Then I walked up and down some more. And I cursed some more. Then I started to undress with about as much enthusiasm as I would for a prostate exam.

I know how to swim but it’s not an activity I enjoy and generally avoid if at all possible. I also don’t like being cold and wet. Now in my jocks I started into the frigid water. Truth be told, it was probably closer to a little on the chilly side than frigid but in my memory, each footfall broke a layer of ice.

One thing that Bermagui is famous for is its seafood – everything from fine fish like snapper and kingfish to calamari, octopus and prawns. It also boasts delicious oysters and the bottom of this stretch of the estuary was teaming with the razor sharp little buggers. “Oh, good.” I thought again.

Hobbling to about knee deep I made the decision to dive long and shallow. The skin on my feet was in tatters but was thus far holding the claret in. I braced for the impending dunking and, with a mighty push, an oyster claimed the end of my middle toe. I often wonder which of God’s aquatic creatures made a meal of it. I hope it choked.  

I cursed, took in a mouthful of seawater and tried to keep myself flat along the surface away from nature’s implements of torture. I took a breath and commenced my impressive Australian crawl. (Actually, I’ve seen my swimming stroke on video. The only thing impressive about it is the sheer volume of uncoordinated flailing.) Hand over head, into the water and … along the oyster shells. I had misjudged the depth of the water by about a centimetre and to this day sport a scar running most of the length of my left ring finger.

Like most people I am a little afraid of a few things. And like most people I am a lot afraid of others. At that moment one of the latter was the sole occupant of my thoughts. Sharks. Couldn’t they detect a drop of blood in an Olympic swimming pool? Granted the estuary was a little bigger than a pool but there was a reasonable amount of blood coming out of my digits. I decided to turn my attention to my motivation for getting to Bosun and rescue began to make way for dogocide.

By the time I got to Bosun I was cold, fatigued and let’s not forget about the bleeding but I was pretty certain I had the energy to get us back to dry land. That went out the window when Bosun used his talons to climb up my chest and onto my head and shoulders. I sank like a stone. The thought of getting him back to shore to administer that fatal beating must have given me Herculean strength. I wrestled him to a position where I could grab his collar and hold his head aloft. It didn’t take much wrestling – he was exhausted.

Recalling my Intermediate Swimming Certificate from high school decades earlier I stretched out with my right arm to execute a flawless sidestroke. Interesting how long it takes the brain to register that the action you are executing is absolutely fruitless. Around and around we went in the eddy for a silly amount of time now that I think about it. I wiser man than I would have quit much sooner.

I treaded water with my legs (helping the blood to pump into the water) and held Bosun’s collar with both hands drawing his drooling, panting face against mine. I politely asked if he realised that I was going to kill him as soon as we got to shore – that is, if the sharks didn’t get us first. I understand they prefer the taste of dogs. I don’t suppose it would have mattered; it would have been difficult to tell us apart since I was covered in Bosun’s gigantic lips.

And around we turned.

It was about here a sight met my eyes that started me thanking deities I have no belief in. The Bermagui Women’s Surf Life Saving Team B turned the corner. They’d seen us! I heard them informing one another that we were in trouble. Stupid thing to say, really. What else would I be doing in the middle of the bastard river with a dog on my face?

Closer they came … closer … trumpets and hymns sung by angels filled the air. I told the dog joyfully that his impending doom at my hand was close. The boat was almost on top of us …  oars up and then … it cruised on by. “Oh, good.” I said it aloud this time.

The girls got back to us eventually. It took a little while though. Those surfboats are directional and have a turning circle of about seventeen and a half kilometres. Bosun was first. He got his front legs over the edge of the boat but, in his exhaustion, his back legs refused to cooperate and the girls were having trouble getting a good purchase on his wet skin. I tried swearing like a sailor at the dog but it didn’t offer much by way of assistance. Made me feel a little better though.

Then the solution presented itself. Bosun was a big dog. He had a big head with big lips; a big chest of big rippling muscles and he sported a pair of great big testicles! Not too big for my hands though and I grabbed them like they alone were to be my saviour. Bosun howled and was over the edge of the boat like he’d been fired out of a canon. Can’t really blame him.

My turn next. Hands on the edge, haul myself up, get balance before I throw my leg over. Bear in mind that I am naked here and there is a boatload full of surf live saving type girls. I wanted to appear at least a little macho. Clearly the girls failed to be impressed and didn’t take the time to admire before they grabbed my arms. My elbows buckled and I speared, nose first, into the bottom of the rescue boat.

As I lay there in the bottom of the boat bleeding, throbbing nose and exhausted, all thoughts of murdering the dog faded away …

… until he put his great drooling lips over my face by way of thanks and damn near suffocated me.  

As much as I wanted to throttle him that day (just one of several), I was deeply saddened when Bosun was bitten by a Brown Snake a couple of years later and died. An irritating buffoon much of the time, he was consistently a loyal companion and is greatly missed years later. Although he went the way so many dogs in the country do, he has the distinction of being the first and, as far as I know, only rescue of the Bermagui Women’s Surf Living Saving Team B.


Anthony VercoeComment