Sixty Legs

Most people when they walk, walk with two legs, but if you have a dog you walk with six.

Today was the funeral for a man that many in our little dog walking community knew. After the surprisingly and relatively cool start to summer, the Western Australian weather decided to wake up today and pulled a showstopping 42 degrees out of its bag to ensure that those who had chosen to wear black felt the full effect of its force.

I had offered to drive three others from the park down to the cemetery where the funeral was being held. At 9.30, I pulled up to our meeting point, my car stripped of anti-Lucy shedding protection to reveal reasonably clean seats and we set off together.

This was the second funeral I have attended that was for a member of our little club, united through our pets. The first was for a lovely man who used to walk in the park even though he did not own a dog. He loved dogs, though so got to know all the dog walkers too. His widow was there today, three and a half years after saying goodbye to her own husband, to pay her respects to a man whose dog they had also looked after.

There were ten of us dog walkers altogether who made the journey down. Among our numbers were two elderly ladies who lost their spaniels through old age shortly after I arrived in the area, but like many dog owners, continued to come to the park every morning. They have since adopted another dog, but with decreasing mobility, they had told me that they though it would be unlikely they would be able to come. I offered to write a message in a condolence book, if there was one, but they appeared at the entrance twenty minutes before the service was due to be held.

There is a beautiful tradition at Karrakatta cemetery that the mourners follow the funeral hearse from the gates to the chapel for the service. It is simple ritual, accompanying the person to his or her final resting place in the chapel, but a powerful one. Unfortunately for these two ladies it was also an impossible one as the walk was too long for one of them.

A couple of us set about trying to find out if there was a courtesy bus. The courtesy bus is a mythical service that everyone talks about but nobody ever seems to have experienced. We asked the lady from the funeral company, but she did not know if one was being provided.

‘Sometimes they have them, sometimes they do not,’ was her response.

We went into the  cemetery office. The young girl there told us the mythical bus was up to the funeral directors to organise, but they could lend us wheelchairs. I went outside to test the feeling about wheelchairs. The ladies were horrified, but at the end of the day, if they wanted to get to the chapel, then that was going to be the only way to do it. One of them had a walking aid, so lent that to the other and I got a wheelchair for her.

We ended up setting off ahead of the party, to ensure we made it in time. It was a walk of a couple of hundred metres, but having walked with my elderly parents, I know just how long that can take. We got to the chapel and were able to wait and watch the procession pass us by, then join it for the last few metres.

The chapel was packed and I counted ten of us from the park – sixty legs – although when I thought about it afterwards, sixty may have been wrong. That figure was based on the idea that a person with a dog has six legs, while our little group comprised variations of this: one person with two dogs (10), two people with two dogs (12), one person with one dog (6), two people with one dog (8).

I did a quick tally: two sixes, two tens, two eights and a twelve. Sixty legs. I was right, but also wrong, because I did not count the four legs of one dog, the dog who had dragged his owner to the park six times a day, every day which is why we all knew him so well.

My apologies, Rufus: sixty four legs.

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