He looked up at me with big sad eyes as I walked into the store one night. I didn’t know who he belonged to or what he was doing at the store, so I asked while I was checking out.
“He’s been here all day,” the cashier said. “Some woman put him out of the car this morning with that bowl and a ball. She took off and he’s been here ever since.”
On the way out the door, I stopped to visit him. He didn’t have a real tail, but he wagged a little stump of a tail at getting some attention. Another store employee told me that people had been petting the dog all day, but nobody was interested in taking him home.
As I was petting the dog and trying to figure out whether I could help him, a couple of other customers stopped to talk. They were both big animal lovers, they said, and they both expressed a willingness to help. Each said she knew someone who wanted a dog, but neither had a place to keep him that night.
I was confident that both women were serious and that one would come through with a home. I certainly didn’t need another dog. My then-wife and I already had two dogs and about four or five cats. We were full.
But I could keep him overnight — until one of them had made arrangements for a new home for him the next day. The two women joked about which one of them could call me first to make sure the other didn’t get the dog first. You know where this story is leading. I never heard from either of the women again.
Alex is an Australian cattle dog, sometimes known as a blue heeler. They are very smart, very energetic and very stubborn. Needless to say, this fellow ended up joining the zoo at my house.
Naming him was tough, so he went nameless for a few weeks. After trying out a lot of ideas for finding a name that fit, I stumbled onto a list of passengers from some of the early English ships to take settlers to Australia. I came across a young boy named Alex McElroy. In a nod to his breed’s Australian roots, this energetic fell0w now had a name.
When Melissa and I divorced, the hardest thing was splitting up the animals. Alex ended up going with her. I rarely see him, but still think about him, so in that respect, I suppose it’s a bit like human children in a divorce. Melissa and her new husband have taken great care of him over the years, but he’s old and frail, a mere shadow of the energetic young dog who I found.
Alex is 15 years old, which is rather old for a dog like him. He’s been blind for several years now, and his hearing is fading badly. At his annual checkup last year, he was 41 pounds. At this year’s checkup, he was down to 35 pounds. The vet thinks he’s lost a lot of muscle mass in his hindquarters and arthritis or some other type of inflammation has set it.
I got an email from Melissa about him Saturday. She’s worried and told me what had happened earlier in the day:
“He was fine this morning, but when I tried to get him to go outside about noon, he couldn’t get up. He was in tremendous pain. [The vet] gave me some anti-inflammatory meds last week, so I gave Alex one of them. He had great trouble going to sleep, and I had to lie down in the floor with him and stroke him until he dozed off. He then slept for almost three hours. When he woke up, it was dinner time, and he was hungry. We had to place a towel under him to hold up and take the weight off his back hips and ‘walk’ him to the kitchen. He managed to stand/sit and eat, but he was in pain.”
It’s clear that Alex is going downhill rapidly, so I don’t know how much longer he’ll be with us. If he’s still this way Monday, Melissa is taking him back to the vet to see what else she can do for him. She said:
“It’s extremely hard to watch him be in pain. He’s 15 years old, so he’s achieved a ripe old age, but I really don’t want to give him up. I guess we never do.”
I don’t know how much longer Alex has, but he’s had more than a dozen very good years with people who’ve loved him very much. His life took a dicey turn when someone dumped him at Winn-Dixie one day a long time ago. I don’t know why she dumped this little guy who we’ve loved so much.
I just know that her loss was our gain.
Update: Alex was tough enough to survive for almost two years after this story was written. He died on April 5, 2013. We will miss him.