Have you ever received an unexpected gift? I have, and it came from the carpark at Toombul Shopping Centre.
In the picture above you can see the iconic ‘T’, torn down a few years ago. If you follow the bitumen down behind the ‘T’ in the middle of the photograph, where it slopes away from view, there is a creek at the end of the parking spaces.
I was in a particularly good mood that day. It was the height of summer, a Friday afternoon, and I had raced down to Toombul to catch the bank before it shut. My husband and I had decided to go out that night. Dinner, maybe some dancing or a show, or just a walk around town. We hadn’t been out on a date on a Friday night for far too long. We’d been managing a farm in crippling drought, and we really needed a break.
The shopping centre was mental. It was the last weekend before school went back and there were cars everywhere. I struggled to find a park, ending up in the corner down near the almost dry creekbed, and then raced in to the bank, getting there as they were beginning to close the doors. They let me in and rushed me through. When I came back out I went straight to my old ute, baking in the scorching afternoon sun. I was about to jump in when I heard a sound like a chicken peeping. Just one or two little peeps then nothing. But it aroused my curiosity.
I got back out of my car and looked around. I heard one more little peep, and my eyes went to a big cardboard box, all stoved in on one corner, sitting on the baking bitumen. Why would there be a chicken in the box I wondered?
I walked over, dragged it clear of the traffic and opened one corner. I almost gagged. That was the corner that had been stoved in as cars had driven over it. Inside were two tiny puppies, flattened. The blood pounded in my ears. Who could do such a thing?
I yanked open the rest of the box, and there he was. Huddled in behind a big bag of dry dog food was another tiny pup, skin stretched taut over ribs and bones. He looked up at me with his big eyes, but the rest of his body stayed motionless. He looked barely alive. I reached in and pulled him out and he sat like a hot stuffed toy on my palms. The puppy wobbled there unsteady for a moment and then collapsed.
A man came to see what I was doing, and squatted beside me. “Bastards,” he muttered. “These two are dead, love. Nothing you can do for them.”
He handed me a scrap of paper. On it was written ‘plese look afta thes pups, there mother is a boxa and dad is a heela. both good dogs’
The man stood up. “Looks like they’ve been here since this morning with nothing to eat or drink. I’d say that one’s a goner too. Why don’t you put him back in the box and I’ll chuck them in the skip?”
I clutched the puppy’s hot limp body to my chest and shook my head, unable to speak.
“I’ll get this off the road. Good luck, hey?” He patted me on the shoulder, grabbed the box and walked off with it. I watched him toss it into an open industrial bin.
I walked back to the car and placed the limp puppy on the seat beside me. His head lolled, and one gummy eye cracked open.
“Don’t you die,” I said to him. “You’ll ruin my Friday night.”
I took him home, where I promptly burst into tears. My husband then drove us to the local vet. The duty vet was female, and clearly not impressed with our find. She barely touched his tiny, filth-encrusted body with the flea scabs and pus-filled bite marks.
“You found him, you say?” she said, arching one eyebrow in distaste. “I wouldn’t be spending any money on him. He’s not going to make it.”
“But what if he does?” I asked.
“If he does, bring him back.” Her tone was dismissive.
We brought him home and while Ben found another cardboard box and some old towels I found an eyedropper and tried to give the pup some water. I managed to get a scant dropper in. Then I mixed up some sugar and salt in some warm water and tried again. Two droppers full. It didn’t seem to make any difference. I tried not to let myself get emotionally attached.
Ben asked if I wanted to stay in. No, I decided. Let’s go out. We had dinner somewhere local, and when we got home a few hours later the pup was still alive. Barely. I said a little prayer for him, got a few more eyedroppers of fluid into him, and said goodbye.
When I came down to the laundry the next morning I heard peeping, like a chicken. The little dog was scrambling to climb the side of the box. I lifted him out. He stank, covered in shit and pus and muck, so I bathed him and towelled him dry. Then I put a saucer of water in front of him. He wouldn’t drink. I got a few more mouthfuls of fluid into him, and then mixed up some calf-milk mixture and found some minced beef and an egg. I put them in a bowl and set it down beside the pup. He sniffed at it but ignored it.
And then I understood. He wasn’t weaned. He’d come straight off his mum. I put my fingers into the milky eggy mixture and let him suck it off. Slowly I led his little nose down to the bowl and let him suck a little more off my fingers. The next instant he was snout into the trough, eating for all he was worth.
“He’s still alive? my husband asked, incredulous. “I’ll start ringing round and see if any of our friends want a dog.”
He was right, we already had a great dog, Charlie. We weren’t in the market for another. “Okay”, I agreed. “But let’s wait another day. Just in case he doesn’t make it.”
By the end of the weekend the little pup was following us everywhere, and eating like a pig.
“I’d better start calling people,” Ben said.
“No!” It came out stronger than I meant it to. I softened my tone a little as the pup climbed into my lap and licked my face. “I want to keep him.”
So, that’s how we came to have Bert in our lives. I’m so glad for that day. He’s a brilliant dog, and we love him dearly. Best thing I ever got from Toombul Shoppingtown.
I think you’ll agree he’s pretty special!