Rip the Airedale

Hilda Evelyn South                                                                                   July 1952

From his arrival the puppy was a nuisance. Eight weeks old and not house trained there were puddles to clean up. Tillie had expected this and knew it would soon stop.  She anticipated she would have more permanent chores and from the beginning of her daughter's longing for a dog she resisted the idea. 

`I will have to feed it every night: you will be home from school too late to do it.'

`It will make such a lot of extra work for me.'

`It will kill the fowls.'

Her daughter said she would teach it not to kill fowls. At twelve years of age Evelyn had no knowledge of the difficulty of achieving what she promised. She had no desire for a wristwatch or any of the other ideas Tillie thought would be preferable to giving her a puppy if she passed the examination giving free entrance to the Grammar School. She truly intended to train the dog not to kill the white Leghorns and black Orpingtons which she helped her father care for and which provided fresh eggs for these three people.

Evelyn was not fond of work so Tillie also told her `You will have to wash it every week. If it gets sick you will have to dose it and look after it. You will have to take it for walks. You will have to brush it and keep it clean.'

Evelyn promised to do these chores.

So when she passed the examination the puppy arrived: it was a gift from her father Percy's brother. He had recently brought a prize-winning Airedale named Shirley Mac from England. After a long period in quarantine and wins in Kennel Club shows this dog had fathered a litter which contained one throw-back: a large healthy pup with strong black and tan colouring.

This puppy was Evelyn's reward for her entry to Grammar School.

Percy's idea that dogs served mankind by bringing in the daily paper, the `Courier,' to his bed each morning had to be discarded. The pup had the fun-loving terrier nature and he tore up whatever he could find. Percy had to rise earlier each day in order to save his paper from  being shredded. The only suitable name for this destructive puppy seemed to be Rip.

The weeks passed into months; Rip grew rapidly but had no wish to do as he was told. One danger was coped with by an Orpington hen, which had been let out to roam the garden with her chickens. When she saw Rip galloping towards her she flew at him. Her feathers stood out from her body so  that she looked twice her usual size as her beak delivered a well-placed bite on his nose. Great was her rage as she attacked again, her wing feathers beating his eyes. This was not Rip's idea of fun: he retreated and never attacked a hen again.

Rip respected the cat, which had informed him from the first moment of meeting that he would scratch pups that came close. Certainly Rip came when he was called but was willing to be obedient only occasionally, though he  enjoyed life and showed affection for the family. Evelyn's friend Claire with her pug dog Mac were treated with delight, Mac being led to think he was powerful enough to push Rip over. Each time Mac came to `Wavertree' Rip pretended to succumb to his onslaughts, falling to the newly bought Wilton carpet.

`I like your carpet, Tillie' commented a friend one day.

`Yes, I bought it to match the dogs' replied Tillie, who had a habit of talking which nonplussed the listener. Did she mean what she said?

One evening Tillie and Evelyn were walking when Rip, now almost full grown, and not on a lead, raced across Milton Road in the path of a car, which hit him. Tillie immediately went to him and Evelyn helped her pull him off the road. He was unable to stand but still conscious.

`You stay with him' said Tillie.  `I'll get a deck chair to make a stretcher. We'll take him home.'

Although cars were becoming numerous on city streets this family never owned one. The nearest veterinarian was many miles away; also Tillie was accustomed to dealing with emergencies in her own way. As she decided the damage to Rip's spine was above his tail, and that nature would heal it in time, she made him comfortable under `Wavertree,' a wooden house which, like many others in Queensland, was built on posts with metal caps against white ants.

A couple of times each day, with the aid of a towel under his midriff, she lifted him and walked him away from his bed to relieve himself. Soon he co-operated efficiently and after some days managed to get to his feet unaided.

Near his bed was the neat kennel Percy had had made for him. Written in blue chalk on its gabled top were the words `Le Palais du chien Rip.' (Evelyn was learning French at this time.) This kennel never interested the dog. Many years later it was sold - still with legible blue chalk - for a good sum.

Although Tillie had made many attempts to turn Evelyn from owning a dog, she never uttered any complaint about the time, effort and care she now was giving him. He was young; she intended to nurse him back to health. In the unforeseeable future, when she was frail and old he would be her loved companion.

Rip's convalescence brought many problems. The happy animal he once was became a weak creature cringing before smaller dogs. When going for walks with Evelyn he sometimes took fits, rolling on the ground, his tongue collecting dust and pebbles... limping home sad and despondent.

His black and tan coat, once so healthy, developed mange.  A neighbour who bred and showed fox-terriers gave Evelyn his secret recipe, which was a mixture of oils, to restore the dog's coat. It was a nauseating treatment, requiring to be rubbed in by hand. Both girl and dog felt ill after each application.

 It was, however, effective; and before long it became evident that Rip's glossy coat had returned. And his strength grew. He stopped having fits. He did not tire as outings became longer. He walked well. But although he resumed playing with Mac, allowing the pug to push him over on Tillie's Wilton carpet, in the street he had a craven fear of other dogs. It was distressing to see him cringe before them.

That winter Percy was loaned a house at Scarborough. To get there necessitated a bus trip, which made Rip sick. Apart from car sickness, soon got over, the holiday went well.

Living in the next house there was only one dog, a white bull-terrier of impressive pedigree and commendable behaviour; he ignored Rip but came to greet Evelyn enthusiastically each day as she walked to the cliff path. After conducting her to it he returned to his own home and his own responsibility of guarding it

Each day the bull-terrier extended this courtesy to the girl. But after a couple of weeks a morning arrived which was to be their last time of greeting each other.

On that day Evelyn happened upon a place where the narrow strip of sand between Moreton Bay and red cliff widened to a fine stretch of grass, with a group of small but old trees with broad trunks existing precariously over and around a  shallow pool of water. It was a perfect picnic ground, a resting place with shade and water for man and beast so it was not surprising that a number of cows were there. She did not, however, expect their re-action to her, which was to attack.

Deviating from her intended route, she ran to the nearest tree.  Some of the cows had new calves at foot and felt the intruder should be eliminated. She was now their only interest. Perched in a small tree she wished it was bigger. The cows had ignored the dog, until he began nipping their heels.

It was clear that Rip's intention was to annoy the whole herd. He worked around the cows until they forgot about Evelyn and in a group opposed him. To say Evelyn was astonished when he ran off towards a cliff path with the whole herd in pursuit was an understatement. The cows chased him to the uphill path, then up it and all vanished from sight... though some of them were struggling with the slope and took a time to disappear.

Evelyn had not left her perch when Rip re-appeared in the distance. There was not a cow in sight when he returned for her. Together they set off for home. He had an air of satisfaction, having organised her rescue as a brave dog should.  That day his fears and uncertainty had been discarded for ever.

The white dog came to Evelyn as usual on the way home but the Airedale did not allow him to touch her. Some low growls and a raised upper lip sent him back, dignified as always; well versed in good behaviour, he was not about to demean himself by loutish quarrelling.

And Rip? he found himself that day not wanting in courage; a dog able to plan strategy, and carry it out, he had confidence in himself again.