He was truly a bloke of the 90s. An uncombed mop of hair hid an attractive face with strong features. Chicks dug him. He had a powerful, guttural voice and could growl with bravado. His barrel-like nose led him into all sorts of trouble, including a near-death experience with a car, surviving only by virtue of being so short that the car ran right over top of him without leaving a scratch, like a magic trick.
We got Scrubby the way you used to get everything: from an ad in the paper. Free to a good home, one puppy. That was back in the day when dogs didn’t have breeds, they were just dogs. I’ll have to check the science but I’m fairly sure the first purebred dog wasn’t invented until sometime around 2005. Free to a good home – a long gone phrase from a better time, when dogs were dogs and not accessories, and could roam the streets and mate with whoever. It was great for biodiversity.
I was ten years old when we picked up Scrubby one morning in 1990 and took him from one good home to another. He had the body of a corgi, the head of an alsatian and the temperament of a terrier. His soft puppy fur would grow coarse and grey by the time he checked out of the world prematurely at age ten, just as the curtains came down on the 90s. There’ll be no deliberating over his demise, only to say that he had many good years left in him and it was beyond sad.

He got his name not from any unkind remark on his temperament or moral fibre, but from the wash-tub treatment dished out to him by my grandmother, who insisted that any mutt granted admission into her daughter’s house must first be scrubbed ferociously in what we can only imagine must have been something of a Hungarian tradition. Most of my grandmother’s strange ways we have put down to Hungarian tradition. (It will therefore be quite a let down if I ever go to Budapest and find the people there are normal.)
Srubby had a good life. He was largely autonomous during the day, taking himself for walks round the neighbourhood. It was against the rules (even back then), and he knew this, but I think he figured it was worth the telling off he’d get as he slunk sheepishly home in the evening under the gap in the gate. Sometimes he’d walk a kilometre to my sister’s primary school, where he’d be greeted as a welcome distraction and fussed over. My uncle would then be rung, and he’d turn up and take Scrubby for a long walk in the bush, which Scrubby must have taken as a reward. So there was never any real incentive for Scrubby to curb this epic bad behaviour.
Because we got Scrubby around the same time we got my little sister, he became my baby. A smelly baby who slept in my bed and went everywhere with me. Long hikes in the bush and the mountains were his favourite. He was immune to fatigue, in the way so many dogs are when you get them outside. A real treat was to go walking with my uncle’s dog, a blind kelpie named Kelpie. Because Kelpie lost his sight gradually he adjusted pretty well to the darkening world around him. The two dogs would trot up steep mountain tracks, Scrubby first and Kelpie sniffing behind in his tracks, sometimes stumbling but always forging on, encouraged by Scrubby. Good team, that one, and Kelpie’s demise will also not be dwelled on.
So I’m thinking, now that my son is the age I was when I got Scrubby, and now that I’ve finally fixed the gate, should we give a free dog a good home?
A mutt, please. A real dog – one that doesn’t have bichon, frise, or Maltese in the title. A retro dog. Or maybe just one exactly like Srubby.