*Pic: A Maltese Shih Tzu cross (not Philip’s). Image from here

The “Missing” poster of Ollie, our Maltese Shih Tzu cross, has been taken down from the window at the general store. A flyer for a yoga class is in its place; which is no surprise, around these parts, every second person seems to be a yoga instructor.

Despite the briars and our fear of snakes, we’ve beaten our way deep into the bush, as best we can. Only the chortling of kookaburras and currawongs has greeted our repeated calls. I’ve been up and down driveways and dirt roads, car windows open and radio turned off; scanning and listening. I guess it must be time to put away his stainless steel bowl and sleeping mat.

We’ve shoved copies of his mugshot into scores of mail boxes with flagging optimism. The reception staff at the council, always so polite and professional, must be over our daily enquiry. Facebook has elicited a chorus of sympathetic likes and comments, but nothing more – so much for social media being the brave new bush telegraph.

A quick google browse suggests a dog can last several days without water and about a week, possibly a little longer, without food. So with each passing day, our nagging pessimism is growing. The thought of him stuck out there somewhere, possibly injured, is almost unbearable.

His sudden disappearance has taken me by surprise. In fact I’m gutted. I simply hadn’t seen it coming. I’d half-jokingly grumbled about the cost of the regular grooming required to shave his shaggy coat which flourished at an alarming rate. Being bald myself, maybe I envied his wanton hirsutism. Up till now, I’d never really regarded myself as a dog lover. After all, when I was growing up in rural Ireland, our dogs were strictly outdoor creatures. They’d never get to flake out in front of the fire. And they knew better than to dare cross the threshold.

One freezing Sunday morning …

I remember one freezing Sunday morning, just after we got home from Mass, Spot, our pointer, inexplicably appeared in the kitchen and, with one fluid movement, swiped a string of sausages from the bench, and made good her escape. Back then sausages’ carcinogenic properties weren’t on anyone’s radar. But they were an integral part of Ma’s fry up. For her audacity, the sausage sneak copped a verbal barrage from Ma and a decent hiding from the old man, when he cornered her outside in the yard. A real pro at rising recalcitrant pheasants, she was to meet a premature end (at the Old Man’s insistence) by a bullet from an obliging neighbour, after she took to chasing sheep.

Our dogs were only ever fed left-overs and scraps. Dog-food never featured on Ma’s Saturday evening shopping list. And the idea of pampering a dog was just plain silly. Visits to vets simply did not happen. They were viewed in terms of their usefulness – rounding up livestock or hunting, and any sign of rogue behaviour was met with swift “justice”.

Our place here in rural Tasmania backs on to the aforementioned bush. And it’s into this bush; the little fella must have wandered that Tuesday when I left the bottom paddock gate open as I took a break for lunch. A so=called rescue dog, we’d gotten him from an animal sanctuary.

From day one he took to us unconditionally, as only dogs can. He probably wasn’t the brightest spark but he was an adorable sweet=natured scallywag. He had an annoying habit of spinning around in circles in the middle of the driveway whenever we arrived home. You could never be sure if he was going to get squashed, but he always somehow avoided that fate.

He quickly claimed his place on the nearest convenient lap and in winter he’d always assume prime position on the rug in front of the fire. But now, with no warning, and without any farewell, the little bugger is gone, and we are at a loss.

To hell with it, it’s time to deal with his stuff. But the grieving will last a lot longer.