Adventures with Bear

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By Joanne Williams

When I was one year old (in 1988) dad bought me a dog; his name was Bear. I remember a little black ball of fur in my dad’s big hands and from that moment he was my best friend. He was a mix breed; half Newfoundland and half Border collie, so he had the large paws and thick fur coat common to Newfoundlands and it was completely black, thus the name Bear.

Dad was the main person caring for Bear for the first five to six years, because I was only little, but once I had grown enough to help, I did just that. Dad and I walked him almost daily and we bathed Bear at least once a week because he loved getting dirty, he enjoyed his baths almost as much as the getting dirty part. His Newfoundland roots made him love water in any form, that included the garden hose and swimming in lakes at parks, if he ever got loose from the lead that Dad almost always had a tight grip on. If Dad slacked his grip for even a second Bear would bolt away and make a splash in the lake, scaring the ducks and other water birds. His Border collie roots made him want to chase anything that moved, especially small animals; Cats, rats, rabbits, foxes and birds were most common (and even lizards if he spotted any).

The three of us spent quite a lot of time at the train yards of Newport Workshops, Victoria, as Dad was a member of the Heritage Steam preservation group; ‘Steam rail,’ that ran out of there. All the locomotives and carriages were stored out in the weather in sidings with tarps on top of them. Bear would chase rabbits, foxes, rats and pigeons around the yard, and most of the time he’d catch whatever he’d be chasing. On the rare occasions when ground animals made it into holes or under a big pile of rail sleepers he’d still try to dig them out of the hole or try to squeeze into whatever small hole his prey had gone into. He had loads of fun chasing the pigeons; if they were too slow to fly away he’d catch them without too much trouble and even if they managed to get off the ground Bear would leap nearly ten feet in the air and snatch one from the sky. As he got older though he couldn’t leap like that anymore, but it was always hilarious to watch. He would also race up and down the barbed wire perimeter fence, chasing the suburban trains going past on the main line.

Bear would put on a huge show and dance whenever anyone walked along the footpath outside the perimeter fence, barking and growling and dashing back and forth.

He picked on a teenage kid walking past one day, following him all the way along the fence and barking. At the top of the yard, near the main gates leading to the main line, there is a small pedestrian gate that is almost always closed. Someone had forgotten to close it though on this occasion and it was wide open. Bear reached the gate first and stopped dead, looking between the gate and the teen. The teen stopped 10 to15ft from the gate, unsure if Bear would come out after him or stay in the yard. Bear growled once in warning and then sat down just inside the gate. My dad and I had been watching from a distance so Dad called Bear away from the gate and went over to reassure the teen that Bear was safe to be around, he was mostly all bark and no bite. Bear had followed Dad back to the gate by this time. The teen laughed and said hello to Bear and Bear let the teen pet his head before he went on his way. Dad closed the gate, said “good boy, Bear” and gave him a bone to enjoy for a while.

Bear, as noted earlier, had pitch black fur so he would blend into every shadow at night. He could sneak up on anyone he wanted and they wouldn’t have a clue he was there until they felt a wet nose, tongue on exposed skin, or until he barked really loudly right behind them. He scared the pants off numerous other volunteers of the steam rail group over the years.

Bear also doubled as a guard dog for the yard; protecting the locomotives and carriages from vandalism and graffiti. While Bear was in residence there was never any new graffiti on the carriages. Dad and I would sometimes stay overnight on a weekend in an old converted metal carriage that had some beds in it, while Bear had his dog house next to the carriage with a warm blanket and a curtain of plastic strips across the entrance to keep him warm from the wind and rain. We never heard Bear barking at night though because we were used to it, he barked a lot at home.

Some Sunday mornings we would walk through the yard and find discarded spray cans on the ground beside a few carriages. Once in a while, there would be a just started lot of graffiti on the carriage. We’d smile and give Bear a few treats for every can we found, knowing Bear had scared off the vandals during the night. Sometimes Bear would even lead us to some cans. We knew they were from that previous night because they were barely used and clean; no dirt on them, not dented or crushed, brand spankin’ new, meaning Bear had scared the vandals enough to make them drop their spray cans and bolt for the fence. Such a good watch dog.

At home Bear was a cheeky mutt. He had an orange ball that was about double the size of a tennis ball and he would never bring it back whenever we threw it around the backyard for him. We would have to chase him around and steal it from his mouth, all slobbery and wet, which made it really hard to grab said ball (especially since it was made of smooth and flexible plastic). It was hard to get a grip on the ball besides squeezing it, and it was even difficult to do that, until the day Bear pushed out the air valve inside of the ball with one of his teeth. From that day it was much easier to grab from his mouth, but Bear was still an agile mutt.

Another silly thing Bear was known for was attacking a metal headed rake that Dad used on our gravel driveway or gardening in the backyard. Sometimes Dad would forget about it, or it would fall off a fully loaded wheelbarrow, and when Bear found it he’d start pushing it around the yard with his nose, back and forth, up and down. He’d hurt himself a little if the metal tongs got stuck on an uneven spot on the lawn and he’d cry out a little, but then he’d be back at it, growling all the while. Dad had to remember to lock it away in the garage from then on.

Sadly, dogs don’t live long enough. Bear made it to the age of fourteen years (in human terms) and it was obvious that he wasn’t in the best health at that time. My mum thought he had tumours on his underside, and my dad was between jobs so we couldn’t afford to get Bear treated by a vet, so we took him to the RSPCA and they had him put to sleep – it was the kindest thing to do. That was the saddest day of my life, but I have a few good photos of him and I will always remember him and his hilarious antics.

Why hasn’t anyone cloned family pets yet? It would be great if our much loved pets could be around again. It wouldn’t matter too much if they weren’t exactly the same every time, because we’re not the same either, so it’s a whole new experience, but the same much loved characteristics… Oh well, another story for another day.

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