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Alexei by William Blackall

Article by William Blackall ©.
Posted in the Magazine (Tell Your Own Story: , ).
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I found a lovely black six month old puppy with a curly tail and a white sock on his right paw in a cardboard box in the car park at the West Pier in Dun Laoghaire in July 2000. He belonged to the Travellers who had a caravan there and he was crying piteously. So I gave him a bone. Next day I persuaded the Travellers to set him free and every morning and afternoon from then on, there he would be waiting for me to arrive and he would jump up to the window of my car in delight at seeing me. The first time I took him for a walk, he yawned and yawned, for he wasn’t used to exercise, but soon he was running up and down the length of the pier chasing cars involved in building the marina.

I was on the verge of tears each time I had to leave him when I went home. I always left a bone and food for him. But it was me he wanted to see. I think he cried too each day when I left. Then on November 5, 2000, I drove through floods in a terrible storm to make sure that the Travellers were sheltering him – they weren’t! When I arrived at the car park, he was under a bush sheltering from the rain. I opened the car door and he jumped in. That is how our life together started.

A terrible tragedy occurred two months later when the Travellers’ caravan caught fire and a young girl and a dog perished.

Alexei was a nervous little fellow. He would cringe at the slightest sound; a spoon clattering on the kitchen floor, fireworks. And for the first four years of his life, he was plagued with tummy disorders. He would pass blood every six weeks or so until we discovered that he suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome – the result of his wretched puppyhood with the Travellers. Special food cured that. He was prone to accidents too. Every winter he regularly cut his paw needing stitches and antibiotics. Three times each year for three years. So I had to walk him with my pockets stuffed with bandages and ointment.

Alexei loved humans and had his special favourites.  Seeing one he would run towards that friend, then run back to me as if saying: “Hurry, look who’s here. Come on!!”

He knew each of them by name. For example, I’d say, “Look, there’s Aimee.” And he’d he look up, spot her and race towards her.

Alexei loved the chase, under the illusion that one day he would catch a fox. He never did! But you could hear him barking all over Killiney Hill.

My heart was always in my mouth when he was off chasing a fox – what condition would he be in when he returned, would he get entangled in the gorse and not be able to get back? And then when I was close to despair, he would appear, panting, his tongue hanging out! It was in his nature to chase, and he wanted to do so even on last afternoon of his life.

Alexei had near approaches with death, like the time when we were staying in a country mill cottage and he fell into a well just before I came out into the courtyard to hang washing and heard him in the nick of time and pulled him out. Or the time we were in the West and he raced across the bog in the darkness of a Connemara night. I shone the beam of a strong torch into the distance and blew his whistle and after what seemed like an eternity, back he came trembling and soaked – he had obviously fallen into a bog hole and had trouble getting out. He was so frightened, he slept in my arms all night and we returned to the safety of Dublin first thing the following morning.

My most endearing memory is his deep sigh of contentment when I patted and stroked him on the chest.

Alexei coped with his pain so well that we didn’t discover he had cancer until his last morning. I told his vet before his x-ray that if he was very bad and wouldn’t have a good quality of life, to let him go. I loved him too much to do otherwise.

In the last three months of his life, I told Malcolm Argyle, his vet who thought we were always devoted to each other, the bond between us was growing stronger and stronger. I realise now that it was that bond and our deep love and devotion for each other that helped him cope with the pain, for undoubtedly, I realise now, he was in pain.

I am very grateful to John Bainbridge for giving him an injection to relax him, thus allowing Alexei to enjoy his last day on this earth.

I feel greatly honoured, Alexei, that you  chose to live your life with me.

You know you will always have a place in my heart, my dear, dear friend as you are in the hearts of your many human friends in Killiney Hill.

(c) William Blackall

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William Blackall was born in Dublin, Ireland. After abandoning an unrewarding career in accountancy, he turned to writing. He has worked as a freelance journalist reporting on social issues, has had a number of short stories published and has appeared on television. His novel, Darkness/Light, is currently with a literary agent, the first of two completed works.