Saturday, November 08, 2008

Alfred's last hurrah. Well as I write, my family dog, Alfred, will probably be dead. He had that fateful appointment with the vet at midday, and his grave has been redug under the lemon tree. Dad has apparently made him a coffin too. It breaks my heart to think of my dad in the garage making the dog's coffin.

Faithful readers of this blog might recall that Alfred dodged the reaper two years ago at age 13, and I wrote his o(bourg)ituary back then, filled with the small achievements of the suburban pet. Since then he has been the absolute darling of my parents' household: doted on and fiercely anthropomorphised by my mother, washed and groomed by my dad, and the faithful companion of my brother, in whose room he took to sleeping. He was always happiest around Matt: he'd follow him around the house and be anxious when he was staying overnight somewhere else.

He regained full control of his limbs after his canine stroke, although he was always creaky like an old person, finding it hard to get up and sit down, and with wonky balance. His continence was a bit shabby, too. But what ultimately did him in were those "old dog lumps" that I wrote about previously. We thought they were just benign cebaceous cysts until one in his neck got infected and refused to get better. Turned out they were cancerous.

Alfred had an operation to remove some of them, but at his age there was no point getting rid of them all, and in any case they grew back with a vengeance. However, Alf did get to celebrate his sweet sixteenth birthday smelling far better and being infinitely more pattable. As with many dogs, his ears have always been the nicest part to pat. Just a week or two ago, when that photo above was taken, I remember fondling his velvety ears, his eyes glazing with contentment.

Never the smartest of dogs (although my mother would bitterly contest this), Alf's ultimate virtue was his unflagging good temper. This is what made the decision to euthanase him so difficult: even when I last saw him on Sunday night he was happy, alert and apparently not in pain. I'm not sure what precipitated the decision to make today the day.

I decided not to be there for the funeral under the lemon tree. Mainly it was because I want to avoid the worst part: seeing my family really upset. But perhaps it's also because sentimentality about animals makes me squeamish and my defence against that is irony... but I don't want to ironise this gorgeous dog, so sincere in every dumb thing he ever did.

Still, I can't help thinking about the drifts of white fur that used to form little tumbleweeds in the house. Matt had an irritating habit of plucking loose tufts of fur from Alf's coat, and I used to joke that he should save them for stuffing cushions. Even after Alfred's death, reminders of him will still be everywhere, and I wonder how long my parents will take to vacuum. Or how long I'll take to wash the pants I was wearing on Sunday night as Alf leaned adoringly against my legs.

Right now I'm listening to 'The Lark Ascending' by Ralph Vaughan Williams, one of my favourite pieces of classical music, which was used to great effect in the movie The Year My Voice Broke. But its melancholy seems especially poignant today.

Okay, iTunes has now seen fit to segue into 'Mr Jones' by Counting Crows. Way to ruin my eulogy, iTunes.

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