It’s been an upsetting week in my relationship with my dog which has been, until now, extremely close. Currently, we are estranged and we have been since early Friday morning when my husband woke me up by announcing, “Your bloody mongrel of a dog….”
That’s never a good start. For reasons that remain unclear to me, she is only “my” dog when she has done something bad. Gone bin-diving. Weed in the house because it was raining and she didn’t want to risk getting wet by using her dog door to go outside. Chewed up a roll of toilet paper. Jumped up on the kitchen bench to steal food. Eaten a tampon. Chewed up her own toy. Or bed.
But Friday morning was next level.
“Your bloody mongrel of a dog has killed a possum in the night and I’ve just found her eating it.”
It took a moment for this to sink in and when it did I wished it hadn’t. It would be safe to describe me as an animal lover. All kinds. I don’t even squash cockroaches. I trap them in the kitchen in a tupperware container and release them back into the wild. Where they no doubt just turn around and come back inside.
I rescue ants from my shower and bugs from the swimming pool. Possums though. Possums I LOVE.
So upon hearing that my precious girl dog had killed and begun eating one, I leapt out of bed aghast. My husband, hero that he is to me, had dealt with the possum who was now lying in state on the nature strip. “I’ve done my bit,” he said. “But the dog is covered in possum. And you need to deal with that.”
Of course. I’m an adult woman who is responsible and also a feminist.
“LUCA!” I shrieked, waking up my eldest son. “Bella has killed a possum and you need to deal with it!”
And he did. I have good men in my house. A few moments later, there he was, in his underpants, washing the dog who was tied to a pole. I was proud of him and extremely grateful. But I couldn’t look at her. I couldn’t even think about her.
I was shocked. How could my dog do this? The same dog I had been rolling around cuddling on the carpet just last night? How could my beloved dog be a murderous, blood-thirsty killer? Would I have to put her down?
She knew she was in trouble. Dogs do. “You can’t tell anyone about this,” my younger kids said, their voices hushed with the shame I too felt. But I needed to tell everyone. I needed to know if this was completely aberrant behaviour or whether maybe, maybe, someone else had experienced it too. Sure, I’d heard of cats bringing rats and mice and half-mauled birds proudly to their owners as triumphant gifts. But never a dog. Never a friendly, domesticated pet dog. Dogs didn’t kill things! I’ve had dogs all my life and no dog of mine had ever killed a living thing that I knew of. Maybe a lizard? Maybe?
In the meantime though, what to do with my dog. I couldn’t leave her at home unsupervised. Not with the taste of blood in her mouth and other vulnerable possums in the vicinity. I knew we had possums in our roof. Maybe no longer plural……
So without looking at her, I put her in my car and took her to work with me. She knew she was in the dog house. Her ears were plastered to her head and her tail was down. She looked sheepish. Also full.
At work, I started telling everyone in the vicinity. I even made a Facebook live video to share my story and ask for advice. Was my dog a killer? Could I still love her? Had anyone ever heard of another dog doing such a heinous thing?
What followed was a revelation I found both reassuring and shocking. It turns out that Australia is full of dogs who eat small things. And sometimes large things.
There’s the dog who ate a small duckling who wandered into his garden without even chewing. The dog who ate his owner’s pet rabbit and guinea pigs. There are a lot of guinea pigs who have been eaten by dogs. My mum told me about the dog who ate her brother’s pet turtles. There are many dogs who eat chickens – and not the marinated or BBQ kind. Blue-tongue lizards are also fairly unlucky when it comes to dog encounters.
ABOVE: me and my dogs in happier times….
And I heard many many many tales of possum murder. Like the miniature dachsund (!) who ate two possums. How that’s even possible, I don’t know because miniature dachsunds are smaller than possums.
There was no commonality when it comes to the breed of dogs their owners told me stories about. Labs and golden retrievers and rescues and purebreds and big and small breeds……it seems the only common denominator was ‘dog’. “It’s in their nature,” people told me. “It’s just instinct.”
People from rural areas went further. “Good on her,” they said. “Possums are pests”. Much to my surprise, I fielded many requests from people asking if Bella could come to their house and take care of their possums. I had no idea that so many people were down on possums. I’ve always thought they were adorable.
“You can’t blame her,” I heard, again and again. But I did and I do. “What about those youtube videos with the lions taking care of orphaned piglets or big dogs snuggling with tiny ducklings,” I wailed. “Why is my dog not like those animals? Why is she not a kind dog? Why didn’t she snuggle with the possum instead of dismember it?”
For 24 hours I couldn’t even look at her. “I don’t even know who you are anymore” I hissed at her repeatedly.
It helped though, to know it wasn’t just her. That I wouldn’t have to put her down. That possum-killing did not have to be a deal-breaker.
I am her favourite person so I knew how hard it was for her being in my bad books. Still, it took time for me to forgive her.
As I write this, 36 hours after possumgate occurred, I’m nearly there. We’ve had some stern words, Bella and I. I’ve explained how deeply disappointed I am in her murderous behaviour. I’ve explained to her that she does not have to hunt and kill her own dinner and reminded her that she receives delicious human food left-overs with her dried food every night.
She knows she’s not yet out of the woods with me. As you can see from this photo I just took of her:
Has your dog ever done something that upset you? Make me feel better. Please.
Mia Freedman is the co-founder of Mamamia Women's Media Company. She is a proud patron for Rize Up, the charity supporting women and children fleeing from domestic violence, an ambassador for Share The Dignity, the charity which provides sanitary products to vulnerable women who are homeless, disadvantaged or the victims of domestic violence and an ambassador for Sydney Dogs and Cats home, a no-kill shelter where thousands of animals are rehomed with forever families. She is also a proud supporter of Ladystartups, an initiative she began to support women who have started their own business. She is the author of the best-selling book Work Strife Balance for every woman who feel like she's the only one not coping (you're not) and the host and co-host of three podcasts: No Filter, Mamamia Outloud and Tell Me It's Going To Be OK (even though Trump is President).