Barney – you taught us that life is short and to enjoy it. You taught us to go out and meet our neighbours. You taught us that a friendly encounter can make your day. You taught us that life isn’t profound. You taught us to just do things – with a good attitude and a wag in your tail.
Everyone knows a Barney – the being so full of ‘something’ that you know it will kill them one day. He was four months old and had already been threatened with a shotgun, lived in four homes and had a reputation about town. Barney was full of happiness, curiosity and energy. And whenever things went wrong, he took it on the chin and thought, this is life – you go places, and meet people, and learn things, and stuff happens.
By the time Barney came to us he was street wise. He knew to eat his dinner quickly or someone else would. He knew to be assertive and ignore size. He knew it was all about attitude. But our three-year-old Kelpie didn’t know those things, and she didn’t know that she would need to know, until she met Barney. At four months old, Barney was eating her dinner and pooing where he shouldn’t, digging where she couldn’t and escaping where she wouldn’t. Our Kelpie decided not to learn, but to dob instead. She followed Barney around, in the sure knowledge that he would stuff up and she could report back to headquarters (Lassie style). It turned into a fantastic game and we were guided to many holes in the fence thanks to our dobber Kelpie, but the holes were never ending and we couldn’t cure Barney of his need to venture into the world.
At the sweet age of eleven months, Barney was killed by the dog next door, but we don’t blame the dog. The vet advised the owners to put it out of its misery, but the owners couldn’t do it. That poor dog was in so much pain that anything could trigger it, not to mention a bouncy eleven-month-old puppy, coming to say hello and ‘wanna play?’
But Barney had a jam-packed exciting eleven months of life. He went out into the township and made friends, escaping from our yard seven times in the first two weeks. Each time, he made new friends in the neighbourhood and we knew, because our Kelpie would be dobbing and our phone would be ringing. Because of Barney we met neighbours that we’d never seen before; we made friends and shared laughs – mostly about Barney and his antics. The phone calls went something like this, ‘hello, do you have a dog called BARNEY? He’s so cute, he’s been here for a bit and we gave him something to eat.’ Or, ‘He’s been playing with our dogs,’ or, ‘he’s had tea out of my thermos, he’s had a ride in the Bob-Cat, he nearly went into the cement mixer.’ But always, ‘You don’t have to come straight away, he can stay longer.’
I painted this picture because in the short seven months that he was with us, he was thoroughly loved. He taught us so much about life and death and living. This painting is oil on board, scumbled burnt-sienna background and underpainting (light wash at first), with raw sienna, yellow ochre, burnt umber, titanium white, zinc white, cadmium light red and indigo blue. He was so easy to draw with distinctive Jack Russell markings and massive brown eyes. In the process of painting Barney my family’s grief moved from ‘he’s dead’, to ‘he lived!’ If you look closely, his tail is still wagging. This is a tribute to an adventurous spirit – we all know one.