Feral cats no match for Digger
The rangers were astounded at his skill and I only ever saw one huge feral cat give him any sort of trouble. He came out of that with two stripped ears and a few scratches.
HIS mother was a whippet/foxy cross. A process of elimination found the sire to be a rough collie (Lassie type) and he was given to me by a friend on Anzac Day, 1972.
We called him Digger but the lineage was a concern - what the hell would he grow into?
Digger saw this cat coming down and thought it was another dead one. He leapt at it and caught it in the air and they tumbled to the ground - and then the fight began.
As it turned out he was a loveable pup, full of fun and games, and quickly established himself as a pretty good watchdog from a young age. We lived a long way from town and being only newlyweds far away from home, a watchdog was good value.
Digger followed me everywhere. He would even climb up on the tractor. He loved the Land Rover front seat and always looked disappointed not to be allowed in the car.
There was no more fun for a big pup than chasing a ball or stick and he loved it. No matter what I threw, he would chase it and that's how he one day became a working dog.
I had some cattle to move but at about 12 or 14 months of age, he only knew that if he chased them he was in trouble so I threw a rock behind them and off he went. When he saw the cattle move and me not yell, he thought it was a good idea to give them a hurry up, and we yarded the mob much quicker than ever before and he received all the credit. Good boy!
The next time I wanted him to move some cattle, I pretended to throw a rock and off he went, noticed the cattle, seemed to remember he was rewarded last time he did this and again, the cattle were yarded in record time. It worked on sheep too, and he was suddenly "king of the ring" and all I had to do then was point.
The part of Tasmania where we lived then had a mutton bird - short-tailed shearwater - rookery, which was a sanctuary. Big fat eggs and greasy young mutton birds attracted three things - snakes, feral cats and poachers. Digger learnt to chase all three.
The Tasmanian tiger snake is black and just as dangerous as the mainland one but bigger and not as aggressive. But there were hundreds of them around the rookery.
The first time I saw Digger attack one of these snakes I was horrified and tried to call him off. All he did was stop and look at me while the snake reared up ready to strike.
No, I soon learnt not to call him and he killed dozens of them. I always knew one would get him in the end but I couldn't stop him. He was addicted to killing them.
Then there were the feral cats. The place was crawling with them, so much so the National Parks and Wildlife rangers, who were regular visitors during the season, supplied me with boxes of shotgun shells to help eradicate them.
Digger would watch with delight as I shot one after the other out of trees. He soon learnt to follow their flight, catch them in the air and give them a good chewing. But then came the day I saw a cat and didn't have the gun.
Something you learn about cats is that when they're in a tree, all you need do to get them out is to throw a stone or stick into the tree and hit a few branches. The cat takes flight and leaps to the ground, sometimes from 10-12m up.
Well, Digger saw this cat coming down and thought it was another dead one. He leapt at it and caught it in the air and they tumbled to the ground - and then the fight began.
The cat came off second-best. This dog was good, and he wanted more and so I saved the shotgun shells for something else. The rangers were astounded at his skill and I only ever saw one huge feral cat give him any sort of trouble. He came out of that with two stripped ears and a few scratches.
He soon found out that Tasmanian wallabies and pademelons were just like feral cats but faster. He caught one this day and I still shudder at the sound of breaking ribs that followed. The next one he caught was larger and he paid the price. From then on he was more circumspect, which was much more to my liking.
Spotlighting rabbits was good fun too, and Digger would follow along behind the 4WD waiting to be fed some innards, and then learned the rabbits would appear in the light.
One night, I had a rabbit lined up and was about to shoot when Digger jumped out of the darkness and grabbed this rabbit by the head. He soon got better and I would leave the rifle at home and still get heaps of rabbits, sometimes seeing the sun come up while skinning them.
He was a crossed-up mongrel but one of the cleverest dogs I ever saw. He didn't make it to old age; I don't think he was ever meant to. But here it is, 40 years later, and I still remember him fondly and treasure the photos I have of him.
Almost everyone has a dog. Sheep dogs, cattle dogs, dogs for security, no-good dogs or just pets and they all have a story. This is one of John Skinner's. But we want to hear from you too. Send your dog stories to Toni at the Bush Telegraph or email email@example.com.