“My favourite animal friend is a little fellow I call Jethro”

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Earlier this month we celebrated our annual Animal Appreciation Week, inspired by the special impact pets, assistance animals and animals in nature have on the lives of people living with dementia.

Dennis Frost, who lives with frontotemporal dementia and is a Dementia Advocate and member of the Dementia Australia Advisory Committee, wrote the following piece. He is also a founding member of the Kiama Dementia Friendly Community.

"When most people think of their favourite animals, domestic pets come to mind – cats, dogs, budgies and similar. To me these domestic animals are hard work. You must look after them and they are a big commitment. Also we all know dogs have and need masters while cats need staff.

My favourite animals are part of my shared country. They are independent and because of this when they choose to share my world, they do it as equals not dependants.

Almost every day begins with a chorus of kookaburras announcing the morning’s first light and that it is time to get the day’s activities started. Often throughout the day one or two will perch on fences or power poles overlooking all that occurs in the neighbourhood, providing a comforting reassurance that all is well and right in the local world. This is emphasised when they begin their song.

Periodically, if I’m fortunate a burra and her joey might hop down our street, having ventured out of local bushland into town for a ‘day trip’. Burra is the local D’harawal word for a female kangaroo and burran is a male kangaroo. Any day that a burra stops and acknowledges your presence is a good day. I felt especially empowered a few years ago when I was on my way to Sydney to travel overseas to my first international conference, when I saw several kangaroos grazing on a low hill beside the highway just before we reached major urban areas. They all nodded as we drove by, as it to wish our journey well. Now whenever I travel around our state I am always on the lookout for and aware of their presence in the paddocks and bushland.

My favourite animal friend is a little fellow I call Jethro. Over the last few years he has appeared in late spring and hangs around for a couple of months until summer starts to wane. 

Many years ago, while I was still working, I decided to plant some strawberries in the back garden. They were coming along nicely and very near the point of first harvest when they stated to disappear. I thought the culprits were some birds, so I built a bird-wire enclosure to keep them out. It didn’t work. The next day all the strawberries were gone and I discovered a ‘tunnel’ through the mulch and under my clever enclosure. The true culprit was a lizard!

Sometime later I connected the crime with a large blue-tongue lizard that appeared to lay claim to our backyard. This little fellow became an increasingly frequent visitor to our backyard. He had a regular and systematic patrol of the garden area, then a few years ago he began sunning himself daily on a garden border adjacent to my shed.

By this stage I was no longer working and spent much of my time in my shed. One important thing I installed early on was a good music system. I enjoy good music and by its nature good music must be played loud. What I soon realised was that this blue-tongue (lizard) would come to the door of my shed to investigate the music. Over a couple of weeks, I experimented with observing his reaction to different music. It soon became apparent that he really liked much of my favourite music particularly groups like Jethro Tull, Uriah Heep, T Rex, Pink Floyd and Kraftwerk. I soon realised his favourite was Jethro Tull’s Aqualung, the poor old sod! This is how I named him, after his favourite musicians.

I rewarded his good taste by sharing a few strawberries with him and collecting the odd snail from the garden and arranging them around his regular sun warming spot.

This is Jethro at the door to my shed. No music was playing at this point so you can see him expressing his disappointment.

Now Jethro is not the only reptile who visits. Occasionally water dragons will venture up from the nearby creek. This is Boris.