Colin F. Jones

~ Once Upon A Time ~
THE RETRIEVER

My father owned a .22 BSA rifle – a seven shot bolt action repeater, which meant that every time it was cocked, a round was forced into the firing chamber, and it could be fired by pulling the trigger, providing the safety catch was clicked to the “off” position. It was called a ‘seven shot’ because that was all the magazine held that was attached to the rifle.

I had fired the rifle before but not at a live animal, although I had accompanied my father when he went hunting and was always amazed by his marksmanship. He hadn’t been hunting however since Jet – our black curly retriever – had been bitten by a snake.

We were pretty inexperienced with farm life, and with Australia, and did not know what to do when we found Jet, who had been missing for a couple of days, lying submerged in the creek with only his head sticking out. We thought he was going to drown.

Common sense perhaps should have told us that he had gone to water to keep his temperature down. But we did not know that, and we did not know he had been bitten by a snake. So we pulled him out, carried him to the house and wrapped him in a blanket. The fact is he may have had a tick on him somewhere. We found neither tick nor bite.

For three weeks that beautiful dog kicked and whined, wearing all his fur off one side as he perpetually spun in a circle as he kicked. Turning him over meant that the hair was rubbed from his other side. He was covered in terrible sores and bruises.

There was no vet. Only advise from people who didn’t know much about it either. Most said “shoot him.” But Jet was no ordinary dog, and he recovered. He recovered but not completely, because his back legs were paralysed.

To watch him leaping up to see where a duck had fallen from a well aimed shot, ears flopping as he charged off to retrieve it was a wonderful sight to behold. But we would not be seeing him do that again.

I tried to sneak away for two reasons: one – to avoid being seen with dad’s rifle, and two – to avoid Jet who was sure to follow if he saw the rifle. He had learned to walk – well stagger – along on his back legs, and looked quite comical, causing a giggle or too. He looked like he was drunk.

I crept away after dropping from my sister’s bedroom window, up along the fence line and through the long grass to the trees along the ridge line. I hadn’t gone far however when I heard a noise behind me, and turning I saw Jet had followed.

“Go home! Go home!” I called and he turned around and wobbled back down the track. I continued up the ridge line. But he did not go home; he had immediately turned and followed me again. I grinned.

“Okay mate. Come on”

When you fired a shot he would sit just in front of you and watch the end of the barrel. This bothered us because we thought it might harm his ears, but we simply could not train him to do otherwise. He would watch the end of the barrel and seemingly follow the bullet to its destination. If you missed he would run in circles searching, as he would if he failed to find the game.

I was moving up the ridge – Jet at my heels – when a Wallaby bounded out of cover, and leapt off down through the trees towards the gully. I spun with him to my right, aimed and fired the bullet going low and wide hitting the Wallaby in the belly bringing him down in a violent crash. He rolled a few times down the slope stopped and tried to get up.

But Jet was having none of that. Off he went flat out, falling over rolling and crashing through the scrub, until he finally reached the Wallaby. He grabbed it by the throat and began dragging it up the slope towards me. The Wallaby was at least three times his size. But he was determined.

I ran as fast as I could to get there to save him the effort, and the pain he must have endured. When I reached them he let go and I shot the Wallaby through the head to finish him off. Then I hugged Jet to my lap as I kneeled on the ground in awe of this gallant animal.

I spent a long time just sitting there, hugging Jet and looking at the dead Wallaby. I felt very sad.

Why? Why had I killed the animal? I asked myself: For what reason? It seemed pointless now, now that the thrill had passed. Such a brief thrill – to end an animal’s life for no reason.

I gave Jet another pat and set off down the hill, with him stumbling along behind me. That was the first and last wild animal I would ever kill. But perhaps it was worth it, just to see the faithful courage of this beautiful dog demonstrated.

Jet I know you have a special place up there mate… I know you have.

Because he thought he was suffering, my father took Jet with him one day and came back alone. It was the hardest thing my father had ever had to do, for like me, he loved that wonderful dog.