Our little black kelpie, Tilly, has big ears for such a small dog. They remind me of the cartoon character, Batfink, whose ears were proportionally larger than normal and sat on the side of his bat’s head like giant shells.
Batfink and his sidekick Karate You can see the similarities … Tilly in watching mode
Batfink was a spoof on the Batman cartoons in the 60s; Batfink’s ears and wings of steel were the tools of his rescuing trade. I wanted to call Tilly Batfink in recognition of their physical similarity, but I lost that argument. Nevertheless, Tilly’s ears are like super-sonic sonar receptors, swivelling independently, checking the sound-scape constantly. It’s a very valuable attribute, I guess, when there are sheep to be herded, although not so much at 2am when there are pesky possums are on the loose outside, and she is stuck inside in the laundry.
Last Sunday morning she and I did one of our regular walks, looping along the ridge beneath Mount Arawang. The Cooleman Ridge Reserve was devastated by the 2003 bushfires, and its recovery has been steady, although the vegetation is still pretty scrubby. I suspect it was always like that, but my memory may have distorted the reality.
A few years ago, a lot of work was done on the drainage systems leading off from the mountain … well, it’s a hill really, but now the walking trails are wide and easily shared with runners and cyclists. The vista is wide too, looking out to the north of the city as you head west along the ridge.
Around the back of the hill, the views south to Tuggeranong and then to the Brindabellas are breathtaking, and I particularly like it in winter. Sometimes you can see dustings of snow, and as you turn the corner to head south, the wind whips up and is bracing to say the least. It’s where I go to clear my head.
The wind is less bracing in summer, and more like an actual wave of heat. But the hour long walk I do with Tilly gives her a bit of a leg stretch, and it provides me with another way of doing a cardio workout.
We rarely do a walk without seeing some kind of wild life, with loads of cockatoos, rosellas, magpie larks and magpies, and if we’re late enough in the evening at dusk, (we’re rarely early enough in the morning!) we will see large mobs of kangaroos, wallabies and sometimes wallaroos that have come back to the mountain over the last ten years.
Tilly’s sensory system goes into overload; she sets a pace that is steady, pulling on the lead, as she tries to take it all in.
Sunday’s walk started out in the late morning and I was forcing myself to go the long way, trying to shed some of the Christmas cheer. Ice cream on several successive days is really a step too far. The walk was uneventful, except for noticing the height of the grasses, especially the wild oats, which were taller than the small kelpie. The birds and ‘roos were away in the shade – only we mad dogs were out in the midday sun.
We came down off the ridge path via the steps, taking our time as I nursed my various ailments. Once back on the path though, Tilly became very attentive to something ahead on the side of the hill. Her ears pointed upwards – very little swivelling – and her head slightly moved from side to side, in full alert mode. I eventually noticed her interest but could not for the life of me see what she could sense. My head voice sounded more like Sonny in Skippy rather than Batfink. What’s up Til, what is it? What can you see? My guess is that she probably couldn’t see anything much, but she could hear and smell something …
As we moved along the path around the side of the hill, I saw a small kangaroo bound away further up the hillside, and then stop and watch us. Nothing unusual, although it seemed to be by itself, which was odd. As I was looking at it, I saw something move near the fence, about twenty metres below it, but above us. We stopped, and it moved again. As we approached the path’s edge, I could see that a creature was caught in the wire fence.
My heart sank. I like to look at creatures, and I am more than happy to share the great outdoors with them. But I am less than keen on getting close to them, particularly if they are scared.
We went down into the ditch between the path and the hillside, and scrambled back up the other side, Tilly leading the way. I tied her lead to a nearby fence post and went to investigate. Sure enough, a joey had caught both of its legs in between the wire and was lying on the ground upside down, trying to pull itself free. But it was caught fast and there was no way I could separate the strands to release it. The animal struggled and struggled, and had obviously been there for some time. It was a hot day, and its eyes were glazing over. Its body was reacting to the stress both of me and the dog being so close, as well as its situation. I don’t think I’ve felt so helpless for a long time.
I glanced up and down the path – some other people with three dogs had been walking on the track earlier, but they had gone. I could go down into the houses that back onto the reserve, but was reticent to do so. Just then, a woman on a bike appeared, and I hailed her down. Her phone had internet access and she kindly looked up the ACT Government site (132281 – won’t forget that number) to call for help. Even between the two of us, we couldn’t move the wires. I got through to the rangers on my phone, and they thanked us for reporting it and promised to be there as soon as they could, but couldn’t give me a timeframe. The other lady headed off. Before I left, I tied to a tree the empty bag in which we carry the doggy-do, to mark the spot, and wrote a RANGERS HERE sign in the dirt on the path. Not quite up to the rescue standard of Skippy and Batfink though.
I wept all the way home.
Partly because of the animal’s suffering, partly because of my own inability to help it, and partly because I didn’t think the rangers could get there in time to save it. They have so many priorities and resources are tight. I wept for its struggle, and for its mother, which stayed near by the whole time we were there.
Thankfully, though, I was wrong. The rangers rang me about an hour later, saying that they had been able to find and free the joey – it was a wallaroo, a species whose numbers are low in the ACT, so I was relieved by their success. It had been well enough to bound away with its mother, and the rangers had been unable to catch it, so hopefully it will be okay.
Tilly had sat quietly through the whole episode, not a peep out of her – her super-sonic sonar radar had helped the little wallaroo, and that was enough for today. Really, there was a walk to be finished.