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Cute is a word reserved for babies ... and puppies. “Isn’t he just cute?”, Or, “Gee, it’s so cute and cuddly.” Both infants and pups have something about them that draw the word out of us. I’m not sure I’ve heard kittens labelled cute, although I could be wrong, me not being a cat person. Anyhow, my son called up the other day after returning home from work. “Hi dad,” he said, and followed that with, “Aren’t you so cute?” That knocked me for a six, firstly because I cannot ever recall being called cute, not even by my parents (who may have used the word behind my back, when I was a tiny bundle of joy, as I hope I was to them.)

But no, apart from that, I’ve never been anywhere proximate with ‘cute’, so it came as a surprise. But only for two nanoseconds. In that time, I realised that his first sentence “Hi dad” was indeed addressed to me, but his second was certainly not. He was addressing his newfound friend — a stray pup — that had followed him up the drive to his home and was demanding his attention. His third sentence was: “I’m in a bit of a pickle, dad.” At first, I thought he may have lost his job, what with redundancies becoming as common as apples. But he proceeded to tell me about the pup that had literally dogged his tracks home from the bus stop and was refusing all attempts to find its way home, wherever home was. “What should I do?” asked my son. “I cannot leave it outside, it’s already quite dark and it’s so tiny, and so ... cute. I’ll send you a pic.”

Which he did.

I saw this ball of woolly black hair gazing into the camera, head aslant, as though it were auditioning for a role. No indeed, you cannot leave it out, I agreed. So it was decided that he’d give it a home for the night, make his old, no-longer-used quilt into a cosy bed (winter being around) and offer it a saucer of milk. In the morning, it was decided that I’d drive over to his place and take it to the nearest vet who, we felt, might be able to take it off our hands and find it a place somewhere. It’s funny, I remember thinking, how a perfectly ordinary day can suddenly be disrupted by a ‘situation’ that comes out of the blue.

I also remember thinking how nice it would be if stray and lost puppies could talk. Twice my son took it back to the front gate in the hope it would start making its way home, so he could follow it, see that it was safe, and hand it back. Twice it refused attempts to ‘see it off’. It followed him back inside. The thing is, it was probably afraid of the dark and, seeing it had found a kind human, had decided to stick with the present rather than venture back out.

Anyhow, an hour passed. I called the house and was told the pup was “enjoying himself”, sniffing his way around the rooms and always ending up at the fridge door, where he probably sniffed more food possibilities. Another hour went by then my phone lit up. “It’s all been sorted,” said my son. Two little children and their dad had knocked on his door, inquiring if he’d seen a runaway pup!

On being asked to describe it they did so accurately. In the midst of which description, the little runaway turned up at the front door himself! Turns out they are my son’s neighbours, three doors down. My son, who is himself adopted, told me later: “I doubt I could have given it away if the real owners hadn’t showed up.”

Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.