The crying started around midnight and didn't stop until morning. The sound of an animal in distress is always unsettling. Even more so, in the stillness of the night.
"It must be that little puppy one of the neighbors carried up the road last week," my Gran said.
But knowing the source of the pitiful howling didn't make it easier.
After another sleepless night, I decided to investigate. I ventured next door to discover the house abandoned. The neighbors had packed up and moved in the middle of the night. None the wiser, I returned home.
And someone followed me …
The howling was closer
When the crying resumed later that day, it was distinctly closer. Convinced the crying was coming from under our house, I left food and water outside.
Each morning, when I woke, the food had disappeared. It was a week before I saw the beautiful Blue Heeler cross puppy that had taken up residence under our house. I decided to call her Scruffy.
After many patient days sitting on the front veranda, Scruffy started to eat in front of me. Still, she scampered back under the house immediately if I moved. At night I could hear her shuffle about under the floorboards in my room. I continued to feed her for three weeks before she finally let me pat her.
It was another week before she allowed me to pick her up, and eventually, she let me take her inside. She was manky, covered in stick-fast fleas, and in desperate need of a bath.
Scruffy's fear of humans ran deep
Scruffy proved to be unusually intelligent and she learned quickly. But as she was terrified of her own shadow, it took months for her to settle. Scruffy's fear of humans ran deeper than abandonment and hunger. At some point in her short life, she'd been badly mistreated. Her favorite place was under the bed. Whenever her terrors took over, she would swiftly retreat to her safe place.
When Sam, my melting pot mongrel with shaggy black hair, looked sideways at Scruffy, she'd scurry away fast. But soon, they became friends.
I was working part-time — two days a week, which allowed me plenty of time to devote to Scruffy. Her confidence gradually improved. It was months before any visitors caught a glimpse of her. A year passed, I turned 22 and Scruffy was about 14 months. It was around this time that Scruffy gained the confidence to sit under the table when friends or family came over.
When my part-time job increased to four days a week, Scruffy started to bond with Gran. Perhaps her rough beginning had given her empathy, as she made an excellent companion dog for my elderly Gran. Under Gran's chair became her secondary "safe place."
When Gran sat outside, Scruffy would ever-so-gently place her ball into Gran's lap. Then she would dart into the backyard in the hope that the ball would be thrown.
As time passed, Scruffy grew more confident, but she was never a brave dog. Even when she reached the grand old age of sixteen, a stranger at the door could still make her feel uneasy.
After unexpected (and unapproved!) shenanigans with Sam, I discovered Scruffy was pregnant. My family warned me repeatedly that dogs go away to whelp puppies, and with her history, Scruffy would be overprotective.
But this beautiful girl who was still so scared of strangers trusted me implicitly and unconditionally. One morning I woke to feel her nudging me with her nose. As I turned on the bedroom lamp, she gave birth to her first puppy. I knew Gran wouldn't be too keen on more puppies being born in my bed, so I asked Scruffy if I could move her. I picked up her firstborn, and we both headed to her bed on the back veranda.
As I sat with her firstborn in my lap, a second puppy was born. Scruffy gently bit open the sack and nudged her puppy to me to look after. The absolute trust of my beautiful rescue girl is something I'll never forget.
Gran decided to keep this second-born puppy and called her Monkey.
Leaving home … and Scruffy behind
I intended to take Scruffy with me when I moved out of home. But Scruffy was settled and felt safe in her environment. She was a perfect companion dog, always sensitive to Gran's needs. Plus, Scruffy was thriving in Gran's company, and she became fearful if left alone for too long. My new job meant I would be away from the house for long days,
On the other hand, Monkey, who was supposed to be Gran's dog, constantly ran under Gran's feet. Monkey was living up to her name! There was a real danger that Gran could trip over her.
And so we decided that Scruffy, my beautiful rescue girl, would stay with my Gran.
A spot of babysitting
During my pregnancy, I'd often stop in on my way home from work to see Gran and Scruffy. During a cuddle, Scruffy would rest her head on my expanding belly. She knew there was a little life growing inside me.
When Jarryn was born, Scruffy would sit protectively near his blanket, watching for any danger. When Jarryn started to learn to walk, Scruffy would stand motionless, his fingers entwined in her fur as he struggled at first to stand and then to walk.
Just as Scruffy had trusted me to look after her babies, I trusted her to look after mine.
Our special bond never wavered over the years. Although Scruffy was a loyal companion to Gran, I was always her first human. For the rest of her days, Scruffy felt safe—and, with Gran's habit of sharing breakfast, morning tea, lunch, and dinner with her, very, very, well-fed!
Sandi Parsons is the author of "Pepsi the Problem Puppy." She lives with her favorite husband and a house full of problem puppies.