This post is long overdue. In May, our faithful science officer, Alfie went on to explore the greater wilds beyond this sprawling universe.
He’d been our constant companion as we crisscrossed the far reaches of America. Nearly twelve years prior, he joined our little family. You can say all the things – how he lived a good life or how special it was to have him, but none of it quite reconciles the emptiness nor settles the imaginary sounds so utterly, unmistakably his which still haunt our cozy home.
I’d originally started a story to memorialize him. A work of fiction about a man and his loyal companion travelling through an endless wilderness. I kept intending to finish it, maybe submit it somewhere. I maybe still will. But as the days turned into weeks and the words wouldn’t quite settle on the page, I stepped away.
To be sure, the story is pure fiction because it wouldn’t be a tale about a man and his dog but a dog and his lady.
He’d been diagnosed with cancer, a heart murmur, and even kidney failure over the previous year. In spite of it all he kept soldiering on, happy to be wherever we might. Our hikes turned into walks and then to slow meanderings where we did our best to avoid exposing him to even the slightest of inclines.
Those final days my wife made him meals fit for a canine king. She ordered special foods, administered his medications. He would’ve gladly served the crew until his fluttering heart burst, but we couldn’t let that happen.
Too many nosebleeds from the tumor in his sinuses. Twice too often a stumble and complete loss of mobility on the trail… That was how on Mother’s Day of all days, we decided to make the call to the vet.
Going places after that was difficult. The last four years on the road he’d only grown closer to us. Always exploring someplace new, we constantly were on the hunt for dog-friendly places and activities. The plastic bags crammed in all our jacket pockets – still there. The need to remember the leash. The extra water dish. Snacks that wouldn’t cause him to fumigate the car on long rides into the woods.
Our first attempt at an outing without him found us exploring Fort Ticonderoga on the border of New York and Vermont. The entire tour was weighed down by his absence. I snapped a picture of my wife standing at the peak of Mount Defiance overlooking the fort below and reeled when I went to review it. Her at the overlook gazing out across the pastoral perfection that is Vermont, Lake Champlain glistening against the foot of the star-shaped bastion, and all I could see was the empty space beside her.
So surreal. Wrong. I deleted the photo.
He’d been instantly drawn to her even the first day we met him. After a string of pets for our son, we’d decided to get a dog. For him. Hell, we still haven’t gotten him a dog. Even the days when I worked from home while she commuted to her job and our son was at school, it was her he’d wait by the door for.
We’d walk, sometimes a couple times a day. Arguably, I spent more time with him than anyone. But he’d mostly tolerate me. We had an agreement. A stubborn alliance.
The last four years though, he’d started to come to some realization that he needed to figure me out. He had to understand this other graying male in his den who also wrestled with wild eyebrow hairs and spouted random grumblings.
He’d sniff the places I stopped on a trail. If I examined anything, a rock, a tree, a bush, he’d be next in line. It’s how he became known as our science officer. An intense curiosity and, well, an overwhelming desire to chase down alien lifeforms.
He’d started to check on me too. Leave his lady’s lap and come to stand and stare as I reclined on the couch. Like he needed something. Peace, I think. But he’d never burden her with that. Never.
People are either dog people or they aren’t. With a raft of allergies, I didn’t ever figure I would have the chance to be one, but I’m glad I did. And Alfie was the type of dog even the non-dog people loved. He didn’t lick, he didn’t jump, he didn’t even bark unless you asked him to and even then it was a visible struggle for him to conjure one up – unless treats were involved.
To the little woodland things, he was an absolute terror. The noiseless hunter who stalked like a feline and never gave warning. When he got hold, he knew what to do. He didn’t leave this life an innocent. He knew the specter of death that hunts us all. A wisdom I think he tried to shield us from as his body gave out.
I suppose that’s the word I’d use to describe him: wise. Not particularly loyal and certainly not “man’s” best friend or any of the clichés. He humored us with obedience but always knew his true, wild nature and never turned away from it fully.
Maybe that’s what made him such a great dog for us. Wild enough to embark on our never ending adventure in his old age. Wise enough to know how much we needed him to look after us so that on the trail, he’d always stop and look back if ever he got too far ahead.
No need to worry about us. Go on ahead. Keep racing into the wilds. We’ll catch up soon enough.