Wednesday, September 13, 2006

What's it all about, Alfie? About an hour ago I got an email from my dad saying that our family dog, Alfred, is getting put down this afternoon. It would have been his fourteenth birthday on 1 October.

Alfred is a labrador/golden retriever cross. He is a really gorgeous dog and, like many of his breed, stupidly loyal and friendly. He has been much adored in our household, in an exasperated way, because we never trained or socialised him properly and he got crazy excited when he saw other dogs, and treated the cat's food as a special snack put out just for him.

Alf was originally my brother miT's dog, but lately my littlest brother Matt has been closest to him -- he'd sleep in Matt's room and it was Matt who would take him for walks. During my insane exercise kicks of the past, I used to take him on epic walks as far as North Balwyn and Box Hill. At the beginning of the walk Alf would pull at the lead and drag me behind him, but by the end I would be dragging him, and sometimes he'd just lie down on the nature strip and look at me imploringly.

He was also well known to local rangers because he would regularly escape from the back yard, which terrified and annoyed my mother because she was simultaneously afraid he would get run over and that she would have to fork out to get him back from the pound. He did this regularly at the beach -- once my mother found him happily socialising with the campers down by the foreshore -- but despite his breed, he was never that into swimming. This, I'm sorry to say, was because when he was quite young, Dad decided to teach him to swim by throwing him in a rockpool. We have photos of the exact moment Alf decided he disliked water.

However, Alf hasn't been in a mood to escape lately because he has been pretty sick in an old dog way -- creaky in the back legs, weird old-dog lumps growing on his head, and quick to feel the cold. (We made one of Dad's old jumpers into a hilarious dog-jumper for him.) Yesterday he collapsed and couldn't get up again -- or rather, he could after a lot of effort, but he falls down again after a few steps. Apparently it's nerve damage; some kind of a stroke. What gets me is that he's still happy and alert and isn't in any pain. It's not as if he is being "put out of his misery"; but as Dad reasons (and he's right), Alf weighs 45kg and there's no way we can lift him up and take him outside every time he needs to go to the toilet. Sadly there are no nursing homes for dogs.

I am slightly amazed at how upset I am, because I was not usually close to Alf; it's well documented that I am a cat person. Also, I'm aware of the body of literature saying that pet deaths are often belittled but ought to be taken seriously because people grieve over them like they would over people. I can't help but wonder if this is a preview of the way I will grieve over people I love when they die. But at the same time it seems quite callous and ludicrous to compare people's deaths to that of a dog. Even a well-loved dog. I think the worst thing will be seeing my family upset.

Alf is going to the vet at around 2:30pm today. The idea was that he would be put down then, and then Dad and Matt will bury him in the back yard under the lemon tree at around 5pm. The hole was pre-dug yesterday as soon as things looked bad. But as nobody could attend this funeral except Dad and Matt, and Dad doesn't want to bury him in the dark, and in a farcical twist my parents have to go to a play tonight for their MTC subscription, maybe Alf will live to see one or two more days.

I just re-read this and realised what a dreadful bourgie background I come from. Golden retriever; beach house; North Balwyn; MTC subscription. Alf really lived the dream, eh. Jesus fucking Christ.

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