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  • Published: 2 November 2021
  • ISBN: 9781761042522
  • Imprint: Michael Joseph
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 288
  • RRP: $34.99

A Dog's Best Friend

Extract

Introduction

It was a bomb scare that brought me and my best friend together.

The year was 1992 and we were twelve. Karlie and I went to the same primary school, but she was a year ahead of me because she’s six months older (a fact I delight in reminding her of every single birthday). We were friendly at school, but we weren’t actually friends yet. That all changed on that Saturday morning, when I arrived home from my weekly ballet class to find my quiet suburban street full of police cars.

A suspicious package had been left on the doorstep of a neighbouring house and the owners, alarmed, had called the authorities. The entire street was cordoned off and a special bomb-disposal robot was brought in to safely detonate the parcel, which turned out to be entirely harmless.

It was, as you might imagine, the most thrilling thing that had happened in my young life. Desperate to share the excitement with someone, and knowing that Karlie lived just around the corner, I made a beeline for her house.

When her mum invited me in, I found Karlie still in bed, even though it was nearly lunchtime. She was blissfully reading the latest Baby-Sitters Club book. At that moment I just knew. This was my lady soulmate.

Thirty years on, Karlie is still my very best friend. We’ve been through so much together. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for her. I love her to bits and I always will.

We have lots in common. We’re both still avid readers. She adores dogs and, as you might have gathered, so do I. (The last time I went to visit her I took half a dozen photos of her giant English mastiff puppy, but not a single picture of the two of us together.) We share a mutual love of weekend sleep-ins – when our respective small children allow it, which is not often. And we never get sick of reciting lines from the dumb movies we watched endlessly throughout our teens.

But we are different in many ways, too. Karlie still lives in our home town, while I’ve made my home 1300 kilometres away. International travel is a visceral need for me, but for her it’s less of a priority. Karlie lives in shorts all summer, whereas I’m a maxiskirt kinda gal. Even our taste in books is different: Karlie is all about gripping novels, while I read non-fiction almost exclusively. (We are equally excited about introducing our daughters to The Baby-Sitters Club, though.)

In some ways, it’s those differences that make our friend­ship so strong. I learn so much from Karlie thanks to all the ways she’s not like me, and I hope I’m not being too presumptuous to guess she would say the same about me.

Best friends find each other in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways. This is true for humans, and it’s most defi­nitely true for dogs.

Speaking objectively, there’s really no reason at all why a dog should become friends with a cat, or a llama, or a wallaroo. On the surface of it they can’t possibly have anything in common. If anything, they should be enemies, at least according to the ‘natural’ way of things. Why, then, does it happen over and over again?

Some people would argue that the interspecies friend­ships in this book aren’t really friendships at all. They’d claim that a dog and, say, a porcupine would only spend time together for dull, practical reasons like warmth or shelter or protection from predators. But those people have zero imagination and are no fun at parties.

The truth is that, while they may look as different as night and day, dogs and porcupines absolutely have things in common. So do dogs and raccoons, dogs and magpies, and dogs and every other creature on the planet for that matter.

If there’s one thing that the stories in this book make clear, it’s that dogs form friendships – real, true, lasting friendships – because they have feelings. They have souls. And so does every other living being. They all feel happiness and sadness, excitement and grief. They all love to play. Sometimes they’re cranky. They have favourite people, as well as people they’re not fond of at all, thank you very much. They remember kindnesses and they hold grudges. They need companionship and they get lonely without it. They have likes and dislikes, needs and wants, that go far beyond the basic requirements for survival.

My own dogs are testament to the rich inner lives of the canine community. My kelpie-border collie mix, Coco, must be physically touching me at all times. On the other hand Tex, my 14-year-old Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, will accept human contact under only the most specific of circumstances. My 11-year-old Toller, Delilah, loves to eat strawberries, while Coco will spit out any morsel of fruit or vegetable that attempts to cross her lips. Delilah adores Tex, and doesn’t mind that he’s been a big bully to her most of her life. Coco loves Delilah and expresses her affection by barking loudly in her face. Tex grudgingly tolerates both of his sisters, and they’re fine with that.

The really strange thing about unlikely animal friend­ships is not that they happen, it’s that we humans think of them as unlikely in the first place. What’s so unusual about two souls meeting and connecting, even if one is furry and one is feathered, or one is little and one is large? Nothing. Such relationships are the whole point of existence. They are both as commonplace and as miraculous as two little girls bonding over a bomb scare.

It’s even less surprising that one half of each of the duos in this book is a dog. Dogs are the ultimate ambassadors for friendship. While they’re commonly known as ‘man’s best friend’, a more accurate title would be ‘everyone’s best friend’. They are curious about everyone, always happy to meet somebody new, willing to overlook all sorts of glaring character flaws, and loyal to a fault. Once a dog has chosen you as their friend, they’ll stay by your side for better or worse. If only human friendships were so steadfast.

As you read this book, I challenge you to think of these heartwarming interspecies friendships not as weird or unlikely, but as evidence that embracing difference is every bit as wonderful as celebrating similarity. If more of us sought to befriend those who appear to be different from ourselves, we might learn that we are all more alike than we ever imagined.

If we all followed the example set by dogs, the world would be a friendlier place.

 

G-Bro and Buttons

Golden retriever meets deer

There’s an age-old adage in the United States: everything is bigger in Texas.

Technically, the saying refers to the size of the enormous southern state. Texas is the second largest American state, at 695,660 square kilometres, and has the fastest growing population and three of the four fastest growing cities in America.

But plenty of things are bigger in Texas besides just geography and the number of inhabitants. The hats, for example. Texans sure do love their ten-gallon Stetsons. (Women’s hairstyles under those hats can be pretty gravity defying, too.) And the cows: the horns of the iconic Texas longhorn can extend more than 2.5 metres from tip to tip.

Texas is also a state of vast open spaces, endless blue skies, and mind-bogglingly big cattle ranches: the 3340-square-kilometre King Ranch, near Corpus Christi, is the largest in the US and is bigger than the state of Rhode Island.

For most ranchers – which is what Texans call livestock farmers – more space means more cattle or sheep, which in turn means the potential for earning more money. Lorrie Brown’s family, however, took a different approach with the animals that populated their ranch.

‘I grew up in Canton, Texas, on a ranch and we had every animal you could possibly think of. In Texas every­body has ranches, but ours was not a working ranch – it was just a zoo!’ says Lorrie. ‘We did not eat any of our cattle. They were literally all pets.’

Alongside the cows, the family also had dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, sheep, goats, chickens and more. ‘I could just keep naming. We had so many animals,’ she says with a laugh.

Lorrie’s late father was the famous country music singer-songwriter Boxcar Willie. He travelled constantly for performances and she suspects that having a house full of animals helped to give her mum something to focus on during his absences (besides the kids).

Many members of their menagerie were purchased from a monthly flea market they loved to attend near their home, where virtually any animal under the sun was available to buy. Other pets were adopted or simply turned up and stayed, as often happens in rural areas.

And some were acquired by Lorrie and her twin brother, Larry, without any input from Mum and Dad, like the pocket pet she brought home as a souvenir from a primary school field trip.

‘Everybody else came home with clothing and I came home with a gerbil. I had just bought him with my own money and brought him back on the bus in a little card­board box,’ she says. ‘At school I kept him in my locker and then I brought him home and kept him in my armoire. My mum found him in there, but I didn’t get in trouble because she loved animals too.’

When Lorrie left home to attend college, her dormitory room became something of an extension of the ranch.

‘I was not supposed to have animals in my room, but I got a chow chow puppy,’ she admits. ‘I kept him in my room and named him Booker. I would ask my roommate, “Did you go get the book?” meaning did she take him to potty. We thought we were so clever.’

Booker’s college career came to an end when Lorrie went home to Texas for Christmas, where her parents promptly fell in love with him and offered to keep him at the ranch.

Later on, in one of those uncanny twin coincidences, Lorrie and Larry both bought cocker spaniels at the same time, though neither had discussed their planned purchase with the other.

It wasn’t just her many pets’ cuteness and cuddles that Lorrie adored – she was equally fond of getting stuck in and doing the dirty work.

‘I’ve always loved having responsibility for something else, even as a child, and I’ve always said that the chores that we had taking care of our animals made me a harder worker,’ she says.

She and her husband Jason have passed that work ethic and responsibility to her now adult children, Gabby and Gavin. The family now lives on an idyllic 250-acre property near Branson, Missouri, and they have their own ragtag collection of pets and friendly wildlife.

‘With my own kids, there’s not an animal they haven’t had except for snakes. We’ve let them keep turtles, we’ve had chipmunks, we’ve had southern flying squirrels – not sugar gliders, but these actual flying squirrels that are native to Missouri,’ says Lorrie. ‘We have so many animals and there’s not one species that we’re particularly attached to. We share the love around.’

Just as in Lorrie’s own childhood, many of the Browns’ pets have arrived in unexpected ways. As owners of a nearby mobile home park and most of the homes in it, Lorrie and Jason often find themselves taking in animals that once belonged to tenants. Jason, she says, is particularly unable to refuse a critter in need of a new home.

‘Everybody thinks it’s me rescuing all these animals, but oh no, it’s him. He’s a big softie. People will get these animals and then can’t keep them and he ends up bringing them home,’ says Lorrie. ‘We’ve acquired most of our cats and dogs that way. Once he brings them home to the kids, they’re ours.’

Their two most recent arrivals, a pair of brother-and-sister cats called Mango and Soy Sauce, were found in a dumpster by one of Jason’s employees in 2020. With two cats at home already, Rabbit and Zubie, Lorrie tried to discourage her husband from rescuing two more – happily, to no avail.

‘They called and said, “We’re worried they’re going to get killed.” As soon as they showed up on my doorstep I said, “Get those cats out of here before the kids see them!”’ she says. ‘I knew that as soon as Gabby and Gavin saw them it would be game over.’

She was right, and Mango and Soy Sauce became beloved family members. Tragically, Soy Sauce died from the tick-borne disease bobcat fever in July 2021.

Not all of the family’s pets were foundlings or rescues, however. They also have three golden retrievers, and two of those were purchased because the first one is so perfect.

His name is G-Bro, which is objectively one of the coolest dog names in existence, and Lorrie says he is ‘the best dog you could ever ask for’.

‘My son, Gavin, was ten and got three hundred dollars from his grandparents for Christmas one year. He said, “Mum, I want a dog,”’ she recalls. ‘He was a keen swimmer and we were looking for a dog that would be a good active companion for him.’

It was Gavin who bestowed G-Bro’s unusual moniker upon him. It’s a mash-up of his own name, Gavin Brown.

‘I think it was his computer password in school and so when he got his very own dog he named him that,’ Lorrie explains. And why not?

From the moment G-Bro came home as a tiny, fuzzy puppy at Christmas in 2010, he has been Gavin’s constant companion and treasured by the entire family.

‘I can’t say enough about what an incredible dog he is. G-Bro is just loyal. He’s always been my son’s companion. They would swim in the pool for hours. I’ve always taken him on walks and runs. The kids would say, “You’re going to wear him out!”’ she says. ‘People tell me all the time that they want to clone him because he’s just been such a good dog.’

The Brown household now includes two more golden retrievers: two-year-old Junie, who is obsessed with water, and Kai, one, who is as rambunctious as G-Bro is mellow.

‘G-Bro is the reason we have three golden retrievers,’ Lorrie admits.

The lovable retriever even inspired a new business venture for the family. They spent so much time travelling for Gavin and Gabby’s various swim meets and tennis tour­naments during their school years that they decided to invest in a motorhome – known in the US as a recreational vehicle or RV – so that G-Bro could travel with them. They enjoyed the road-tripping lifestyle so much that, ten years later, Jason owns a motorhome dealership.

Everyone who meets G-Bro tends to fall in love with him, but it turns out that human beings aren’t the only crea­tures that are unable to resist his charms. For the past eleven years, the handsome dog has been devoted to a best friend who isn’t one of the Browns.

Her name is Buttons. She’s a white-tailed deer.

 


A Dog's Best Friend Laura Greaves

These uplifting stories of dogs and their unlikely mates are living proof of the life-changing power of friendship.

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