The stick library

We have become familiar with street libraries which have popped up in the most unlikely places providing a much-needed community service. People take books that pique their interest and bring back ones they have read, but no longer wish to keep. There are no forms to fill out, no due dates nor any fines to worry about. It is a self-regulated system that works because everyone who uses it benefits. It only takes one person to start it, keep an eye on what comes and goes, tidy up every now and again, and occasionally cull. No wonder they have become such a hit.

Yesterday, as I was walking two dogs at a local park in Watson, Canberra, I discovered a variation on the theme – a stick library. My first reaction was joyous laughter. Such a charming idea matched with a quirky sense of humour, and a doggone purpose. In its vicinity, I spied four people and at least double that number of dogs. I should also mention that there was a lagoon nearby. The humans were standing at its edge, throwing sticks into the water for the dogs to fetch.

I walked up to a man whose Border Collie ran towards us with two sticks in his mouth.

‘What a great idea,’ I said, pointing to the stick library.

‘Yeah, whenever we used to come down here, no one could ever find a stick to throw,’ he said. ‘Then some guy decided to do something about it and since then, people bring sticks back for others to use.’

‘I love the community here in Watson,’ a younger woman chimed in. ‘The stick library speaks volumes about the kind of people who live here. It’s such a friendly place.’

‘Someone called ABC radio the other day to say thank you for the stick library and the switchboard lit up,’ the man added. ‘Now they’ve tracked down a guy called Tom who’ll give an interview at the local radio station.’

I nodded in appreciation and could immediately see the appeal of this good news story. After all, we are a dog loving nation. One in three households in Canberra owns a dog. You don’t have to walk very far to encounter a pooch with its special human beaming with pride as they make their way to the nearest off-leash area. Exercise is essential, especially in a city brimming with apartments. And what better exercise than to fetch a good old-fashioned stick?


Zoë and her bunny

‘No, she’s not a groodle, or a cavoodle, she’s a standard poodle,’ I explain patiently as someone stops to enquire about Zoë’s breed. ‘I always thought poodles were small dogs,’ is the usual reply. I sigh, go into detail about the different poodle sizes and temperaments before concluding that the standards are the best poodles by far. They are.

I have had minis and even a rescue toy poodle. Except for one of the minis, none of the other dogs have come even close to the intelligence, elegance, and devotion of the standard. Zoë is not a lap dog nor is she particularly cuddly, but she is constantly by my side without getting under my feet. If I’m working in the kitchen, she leans into me. It is her way to claim me as her own. Her bark would deter most people from entering the house, but she is friendly with strangers, as long as I am relaxed in their presence. She is the perfect companion.

Zoë is well known around the village. People may not remember my name, but they know hers. If we stop at the corner store for milk, she is often rewarded with a piece of bacon from the proprietor. Children come and pat her and visiting tourists stop to have a chat. Zoë knows how to wheedle her way into most hearts.

One of her endearing qualities is her love of toy bunnies. Whenever I bring a new squeaky animal into the house, Zoë leaps with joy and plays for hours, biting obsessively until she finds the squeak she is looking for. We then play a game of fetch which will be repeated every morning until the squeak dies and it is time for a new bunny. She is like a young child at Christmas taking her toy to bed and protectively putting a paw over it. Her devotion to her bunny melts my heart.

A less endearing quality is her love of chasing real bunnies. Selective deafness is a well-honed skill and when she sees a rabbit, no amount of calling, cajoling, or yelling will stop her. She is off through the thick scrub but she ain’t never caught a rabbit…  What she does come back with is a coat full of burrs which take the best part of an afternoon to remove – one by one, tugging them loose from her woolly coat. Zoë is never sorry for her disobedience; she always returns with her tongue out, eyes sparkling and tail wagging. It is hard to stay annoyed with such a display of exultation.

You can see standard poodles are hardly lounge lizards. While they don’t need a huge amount of exercise, they do love a good run. They will chase balls, their favourite human, and of course other animals. I have seen Zoë keep up with kelpies and border collies at the dog park. There’s an elegance to her run, a regal poise, and a graceful stretch of the legs as she flies through the air, ears flapping behind her. Out on a field, she is cheeky and playful, bursting with energy and joie de vivre. Poodles are quintessentially effervescent party animals. They are a pure joy to watch when playing with other dogs.

I never have to worry about doggy smells in the house, nor are there any dog hairs to sweep. As poodles don’t shed, even people with allergies can safely own one. They are clean dogs but do require regular clipping. If you don’t, before long, they will resemble your favourite reggae singer without any of the musical talent. I don’t recommend home haircuts; dog clipping is much more complicated than you think. It is well worth the money to employ a groomer every six to eight weeks. Zoë isn’t ever coiffured to resemble topiary at Versailles. After a trim, she simply looks like a well-heeled, short haired dog.

I can’t imagine my life without Zoë. I never feel lonely with her in the house, and she motivates me to go for long walks which are good for us both. Zoë can read my mood and responds accordingly. I would go so far as to claim that she has more EQ than most people. I have often thought, she would make a great therapy dog. But then, I believe that every dog has the capacity to be a therapy dog. Zoë just happens to be mine.

%d bloggers like this: