Once upon a time, there was a fairy tale about an ugly duckling that turned into a swan one fine day. Hans Christian Andersen wrote that. Once upon a later time, there was a true story about an ugly dog that turned into a hunting heroine on many moonlit nights. She was Trixie, the ugly Kangaroo dog.
Sam and his family owned two dogs. Lassie, the supposed guard dog was a Scottish Rough Collie—a tall laughing girl, who loved the world. At first glance, and the sound of her warning barks, strangers assumed Lassie to be a well-trained guard dog. Not so. Lassie was yet another animal who loved the world with a passion.
The other family dog was deemed unlovable in the traditional sense. Trixie was a Kangaroo dog; a little-known breed along the same racing lines as a Greyhound but three times the bulk, commonly mistaken for a Great Dane.
An unattractive black and tawny yellow brindle, her ugliness meant that her sole reason for being a member of the family relied on her unmatched talent as a successful hunter. She was a vital inclusion on shooting trips, and so all else was tolerated… barely.
“She endured much for those few short times to shine—didn’t she?” We both feel sad, remembering the deeply dug-out area around her kennel. It had been worn down by her constant pacing back and forth, to the limits of her heavy chain. This was not the way we believed animals should be kept—under any circumstances.
“All she asked was for a hand to be laid just briefly on her head, with a ‘good girl’ thrown in,” I say. I’m unexpectedly near tears again.
“No wonder Trixie fell in love with us when we came to live ‘across the road’ from her.” Across the road… I chuckle to myself.. The distance between our road gates stretched well over a mile—and to our farmhouses, even further.
Trixie simply took any opportunity to escape, and a number of leaps over a fence or three with her great long strides. found her at our place—despite anybody’s pleas, whistles or shouted threats. The only time she would obey the order to ‘stay’ was when all the signs showed preparation for a hunt.
“Didn’t I try to discourage those illegal visits?” I ask, and Kanute nods vigorously. Even his efforts to ‘tough it out’ and ignore her failed, time after time. Too hard to resist her monster head nudging me at waist level as her great quivering body wound itself around my legs. Her great, mournful eyes swam with love, as she serenaded me with a symphony of whimpers.
Sam’s family ultimately surrendered to the mutual admiration we shared, and granted us temporary adoption rights.
Trixie was overjoyed, especially to find she would be chained up only when we were shopping in town, or busy elsewhere off-farm. Otherwise she was free to shadow me whenever I went outside, wherever I went. Anyone who wanted to get to me needed to first step over her great body, usually draped across the doorway. What a daunting challenge to visitors. Our gentle giant was a guard-dog visually… well before she issued one of her mighty barks. Few knew this to be her greeting—most would read it as a dire warning.
Just a thought, from poet and writer, Douglas Mallock—
Thorns may hurt you, men desert you, sunlight turn to fog;
but you’re never friendless ever, if you have a dog.
“Maybe you should write a bit about the Kangaroo dog, love. Most people have no idea what it is. Even we had no idea about its beginnings—did we?” It’s true; before I met Trixie, I had little knowledge of the breed, either.
I discovered Trixie’s line was developed from the Greyhounds and Scottish Deerhounds, to create a suitable dog to come to Australia with the earliest settlers. Thoughtful breeding of several carefully selected dog bloodlines to combine all the desired qualities. These breeders were looking for speed, acute eyesight, tough feet, thick coat, powerful body and excellent stamina. All of these would be crucial to the survival of the pioneers. So would the skills of scenting, running down and catching animals—like emus, kangaroos and wallabies—for human and pet food. The dog they finally bred up to was the Kangaroo dog; a mighty hunter, capable of dispatching his prey with one crunch of those mighty jaws. His protection of flocks of sheep against dingo attacks is legendary.
“Imagine the dingo’s appetite for this brand new prey—sheep. They wouldn’t have stood a chance against hunters like that.” Kanute shakes his head sadly, and shudders involuntarily. He can easily understand the antagonism felt towards the predatory dingo, as well as the bloodthirsty fox. He’s seen the results of too many fox attacks on ewes, sometimes whilst they were still giving birth.
Before we came to live on the farm full-time, we had joined our friends on shooting expeditions through the more northern paddocks and neighbouring properties. Kangaroos were shot occasionally, but the main targets were foxes and rabbits. This was not dingo country, thankfully.
“They say cunning as a fox,” Kanute says, “… and they’re not wrong.”
Trixie’s expressive eyes, and woofs, and whimpers clearly said she knew all about that cunning bit. Her prey would be running full-speed ahead in one direction—and in an instant, with a barely perceptible swerve, take a sideways tack. In the blink of an eye, it spin-around on the spot—head directly back towards the hunters, turn again and zig and zag in the opposite direction once again. These creatures’ speed and agility were astonishing—and increasingly difficult to follow in the mini dust-storm raised by animals and pursuit vehicle alike. The trustiest utility and the most talented driver have a full time job attempting to match the convoluted turns and twists, whilst keeping the spotlight operator and the shooters aboard.
With or without shooters and their piercing spotlights, Trixie would be hot on each fox’s heels.. Her success rate was formidable. For the squeamish it may be comforting to know she had the Kangaroo dog’s renowned instant kill style of breaking their necks with one quick flick of her great head. Despite all the knowledge of the pain they cause, when you’re witnessing a small, beautiful dog-like creature being so hotly pursued, it’s difficult to keep the picture of that ultimate killing machine firmly in mind.
Trixie was so flexible, fast and sure-footed most of the time—except once in a while, when there would be one fox even craftier than the average. Then the chase became a magnificent spectator sport. The twisting and turning of the pursuer and the prey raised a ‘perfect storm’ of dust, and we were thankful for the slight wind helping to keep our vision clear—at least some of the time.
Occasionally, when the wiliest of foxes performed one of his most spectacular evasions, Trixie’s bulk propelled her past the point of no return and she ended up in a triple forward somersault. Undeterred for a moment longer than it took to draw breath, she would roll several times, scramble furiously back onto those huge paws, and leap into the fray again.
Seeing Trixie in this field of action made it difficult to reconcile the image of the clumsy, but gentle giant always on my heels, any time of the day or night. Quite a difference when that shadowing takes place with besotted adoration. How I missed that great ugly girl after we left to come home to South Australia.