A TRIBUTE TO JILLY (A true story)

© V.P. Read

Winner, 2008 ABPA West Australian State Championship Boyup Brook, WA.

I was only six years old when Jilly came to me;
she was a border collie and as gentle as can be.
She’d spent her life on Warraween, was known from near and far,
the best with sheep they’d ever seen; ’twas said she had no par.
She’d never known a loving hand, the warmth of homestead life,
with other dogs that herded sheep, chained up to keep from strife.
For it was known that station dogs if left unchained at night,
would go on forays killing sheep; a really awful sight.
Her kennel was a petrol drum lined with a hessian sack;
her food a lump of mutton, or a bone or two to crack.

One day her owner came to Dad and said: “My dog’s packed up;
I cannot bear to put her down; I think that she’s with pup.
She’s got a full-blown pedigree; she’ll make a lovely pet;
I wonder if you’ll take her on; she’ll breed a few years yet.
You’ll make a packet from her pups; they’ve always sold real well;
if you could give my dog a home, that sure would be real swell.”
Dad really wasn’t keen at all; more dogs he didn’t need,
but he turned round and said to me: “She’s yours to love and feed.”
I put my arms around her neck; she licked my face and ears;
I swear when I looked in her eyes they brimmed with grateful tears.

At first she’d slink into the house expecting to be cursed;
she’d cringe when I bent down to pat, subservience rehearsed.
Her role was as a working dog, she knew no other way,
and when I threw a ball to her she’d yelp and run away.
Too well she knew the crack of whip; the sting of pelted stone;
the loneliness of ev’ning hours chained up and all alone.
But came the time she followed me and distance shorter drew,
and as the weeks went drifting past her self-assurance grew.
No longer did she stare across the paddocks bleak and bare,
or check down at the shearing shed if she was needed there.

It took a while for her to learn that life was diff’rent now;
she had to guard a lonely child and keep her safe somehow.
And soon she stuck through thick and thin, my faithful, hairy friend,
from crack of day till sunset’s glow her duty did not end.
But came the day she needed me, ten puppies came along;
they were a robust, hungry brood, demanding loud and strong.
Poor Jilly didn’t have the milk to satisfy each one,
so Mum taught me to help her out. It was a lot of fun.
Some pups would clamber over me; the rest would nuzzle Jill,
and then they’d huddle round their mum when they had had their fill.

In time we left the station life and moved to live in town,
I’d go away to school each day; Jill wouldn’t settle down.
She’d hang around the front wire gate and check each passer by,
Mum said it almost broke her heart to hear that collie cry.
She knew when it was half past three and paced along the fence,
and when she saw me on the road she’d lose all common sense.
She jump about and twirl around and bark like all let out;
her absolute devotion she thus proved without a doubt.
On weekends, with my newfound friends, we’d head down to the creek,
and Jill would bound across the flats, adventures new to seek.

We’d swim in muddy billabongs and climb the highest trees,
while Jilly whined her warnings as I hung from vine trapeze.
We’d stone bob-tailed goannas, frighten ’roos from shady rest,
chase emus over stony flats and then our courage test
by teasing snakes whose bite could kill within a minute flat,
and even now I shudder when I think of things like that.
One day, upon a stupid dare, I tried to grab a black;
it stared at me and flicked its tongue but I would not move back.
Next minute Jill was standing there ’tween me and certain death,
then, luckily, the snake backed down, and I drew thankful breath.

So many stories I could tell about my canine mate.
I often wonder, without her, what would have been my fate?
We’d venture to the quarry where we weren’t allowed to go,
and balance on a crumbling ledge, our bravery to show.
I always had to be on top; I always had to win;
I’d teeter there upon my heels so scared that I’d fall in.
The other kids would urge me on though they had failed the test,
and I would feign bravado hoping I would be the best.
Then just in time, as gravel rolled down to the quarry floor,
a high, shrill bark would break my trance and sanity restore.

I went away to college then, down in the city’s clime,
and mother said that Jilly whined and whimpered all the time.
She’d lie there on my counterpane and stare with saddened eyes;
she wouldn’t eat or leave my room and grieved with endless sighs.
One day my teacher called me in and handed me the phone,
and quietly she slipped away to leave me all alone.
My mother said I must come home; she’d booked me on the plane,
but doubted if I’d ever see my dear old friend again.
I wept a multitude of tears upon that awful flight,
and prayed with all the strength I had: “God, don’t take her tonight!”

She knew that I was coming and she just would not give in;
I tell you, when I rushed inside she raised a feeble grin.
I held her tightly in my arms and wept in dire distress;
she licked my face and wagged her tail, then died with happiness.
The time has come for us to meet again in Heaven’s clime;
I know she’ll greet me at the Gate and we’ll go back in time
to when I was a lonely child and she’d been cast aside;
again we’ll share that life we knew and roam the countryside.
I’ve lived a very happy life and do not fear the end,
because I’ll spend eternity with Jill, my dearest friend.

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