Three and a half years after Tessie's death, my habitual and naive harassment of strangers with dogs was becoming too much for Love Chunks.
"Kath, come back here" he'd whisper, fingers gesturing, secret-cricket-fielding-style, at his side.
"No, I just wanna go over there and say hello to---"
"The local drug dealer who's just snatched that woman's phone as well as a wad of cash and handed her a small white bag and his pig dog is growling at her," he'd hiss, yanking me back.
The time I bailed up an old drunk at the end of the jetty to pat his mangy, stinking, one-eyed, three-legged, battle-scarred old bluey with her teats scraping down along the wooden planks, LC sighed to Sapphire and said, "It's time we got your Mum a dog."
To me, he sighed and said, "Go and wash your hands."
We'd already decided that it wasn't going to be a poncy, expensive breed either. Just healthy, friendly and in need of a family to love. The Sandy Creek Dog Sanctuary had been recommended to us from someone who had adopted a kelpie there nearly fourteen years earlier. Amber was by then deaf as a post and preferred to sleep propped up against the kennel due to increased stiffness but still ready for anything (after a warm up and a glucosamine dose of course).
Like a parent who warns their child to "Remember your manners and say 'thank you' to everything you get given" on the way to the extended family Christmas lunch, I tried to tell myself not to be too hopeful. This particular place took in strays, those who had been dumped out in the countryside and ones who were removed from their cruel owners before all the life and joy had been beaten out of them. It was likely that they'd have mostly breeds that were too big and energetic for the confines of a suburban back yard and a four year old girl (and 36 and 37 year old parents). Farmers regularly found their working dogs there.
The designated Saturday morning finally arrived and, like Christmas Eve in 1978, I had barely slept the night before. This time however, I wasn't unwrapping my first ever Sony Stereo system with plug-in singalong microphone, 'Chiquita' 45-single in aid of Unicef and a funky purple vinyl beanbag; I was ready to find our new family member. Surely it was time head off already: the other side of Gawler takes a while to get to, doesn't it?
Love Chunks sighed, then smiled and put down the newspaper. "Let's go," he said and if I'd owned a tail it would have whipped him in a frenzy of excitement and relief as I scurried past towards the car.
The ramshackle transportable house, overgrown garden and piles of old blankets and boxes revealed that the owner's true passion lay in looking after the dogs, not in making the next month's cover of Home Beautiful. Around the back was a fairly rough-hewn canteen window with a few stickers and official-looking qualifications on it to reassure anyone not taken in by the less-than-glamorous surroundings.
Grown dogs were in kennels on the left and puppies were on the right. I automatically stepped onto the right, even though older dogs were certainly going to be considered.
There she was. Tail wagging frantically, paws up against the bars, eyes bright and welcoming. "This one," I said.
"Hang on a tic," Love Chunks said, "Let's look at them all first."
We did. They were all beautiful. And deserving. And yet we came back to the first one. The keeper took her out of the kennel where she was shaking due to the cacophony of barking around her.
"This one," I said again.
"She's been in for less than a day," the lady said, looking down at the form, ".....and was handed in by the husband after his wife died. She's only six months old and he wants to move into a smaller unit. Her name is Caro."
We paid $80, donated some cans of food and lifted Caro, eagerly licking my hands and arms, into the back of the car.
"She's not a Caro, she's a Milly," Love Chunks announced, smiling at her through the rear vision mirror.
Sapphire and I agreed.
Milly sat in the far back of the station wagon, eager but silent. She had found her home at last.