Nahla’s tail wags furiously as she leads us through the Rathdowne Village restaurant strip. Only a few months old, full of bravado, she is oblivious to everything but our destination, the Carlton North Veterinary Clinic.
The others have already arrived pups in tow. It’s a mixed bag of breeds. A roly-poly Shar Pei straight from a toilet paper commercial. A black Doberman/Labrador cross, boisterous and proud. A gentle little ragdoll Cavoodle and a Miniature Schnauzer with his hipster beard. Hyperactive and naughty, Nahla is the brown sheep of the group. Every fibre of her being strains to leap at anyone and everything. Apparently it’s a common trait in chocolate Labrador pups.
Tonight is the end of six-weeks of Puppy Pre-School and a hush falls over the room when the dog trainer (‘The Colonel’) enters. Everyone dutifully bends down, scoops up their pups and marches upstairs. She talks for the best part of an hour, attempting to instruct us on the protocols and etiquette of responsible dog ownership. Not a lot sinks in; everyone’s too busy gushing over the puppies.
Realising that nobody is listening, The Colonel finally relents and gives the signal that everyone has been waiting for. ‘Puppy play’ is about to begin. Leads are unclipped, tails wag furiously then the puppies leap into the centre of the room. Bums are sniffed, snouts are licked and puppy wrestles break out left, right and centre. The room brims with boisterous energy, slobber and lolling tongues. We stand back and watch the carnage unfold. The cares and worries of the day fade away. Only laughter remains.
An edited version of this piece was published in The Sunday Age on 26 April 2014. Read it online.