Today, we lost our dog, Fred, who was a truly unique personality. His passing leaves a jagged, gaping hole in our lives.
Fred was born on an undetermined day in December 1998, but became part of our family in January 1999. My brother had been forbidden by my mother to have another dog after the previous one passed away. However, just two weeks later, my brother disappeared on a road trip to Jandowae and came hope with a tiny, chubby mini fox terrier puppy, sleeping in his cap. The cheeky little puppy had been chosen because he trotted up to my brother and starting chewing his fingers, and from that moment, he was whisked away from the life of a truckie's dog for which he had been earmarked. Mum threatened to send the puppy back from whence he came, but he soon melted her heart, and became firmly entrenched in our family.
I had nicknamed my brother Fred, which clearly annoyed him, because he anointed his new puppy "Fred" in the vain hope that I would stop calling him that. Thenceforth, in our family, we had "Big Fred" and "Little Fred".
Little Fred was mischievous from day one, chewing apart not one but two soft foam puppy beds in a matter of weeks, and flattening two stripey puppy balls. Mum was adamant that a dog's place was outside, and my two dogs had always lived in a kennel in the yard. However, it didn't take long for Fred to move from the back patio to the laundry and finally, into my brother's bed (literally).
Early on, Fred decided that commercial dog food was not for him (apart from some dry puppy food). Accordingly, for most of his life, Mum boiled up chicken legs for Fred's dinner, and members of the household took turns scraping the meat off the bone into his dish. Unlike many dogs, he never guzzled his food in one sitting (except for a couple of days after he came home from the boarding kennel, where they took his food away after a time), and instead preferred to graze at leisure. Fred would never deign to dig in the mud in the yard to bury odd tidbits - rather, he would daintily pat aside the top soil or bark in the garden bed, drop in the tidbit, then pat the soil or bark back over the top for later delectation. He also from time to time liked to hide his booty behind the lounge chairs, much to Mum's horror!
For treats, Fred loved pigs ears (dubbed a "copper thing" by my brother), liver treats and Schmackos beef straps, which we sadly often used as bribes rather than rewards. Fred was king of the household, with a very stubborn and determined streak, so once he set his mind to something undesirable, a bribe was often the only way to distract him. Of course, like all dogs, Fred coveted people food the most, and we were all guilty of indulging his taste for it from time to time. Fred used to bark at my mother and brother if they did not hurry up with the morsels that he considered to be his - apple cores, the end of a Hava Heart icecream on a stick, the box in which my mother's macadamia and mango cheesecake had been sitting, leftover vegetables and the dregs at the bottom of my brother's cup of Milo. Despite all of this, he was rather fussy, and would unhesitatingly turn up his nose at items which did not pass the "sniff" test.
As king of the household, Fred liked to challenge the queen, my mother, by sitting in her chair whenever he could. However, he was just as fond of all of the other lounges, particularly if there was someone that he could sit next to. My poor mother despaired of keeping the tapestry lounges she had waited so long for clean, as Fred would not only sit in them, but also rub himself against them and scratch at the seats to "nest".
Fred was always a fit dog, as he tirelessly raced around the house and yard, and entertained himself by playing "ball"; that is, he would drop a tennis ball off the lounge or onto the kitchen floor, then catch it as it bounced. Fred disliked getting his feet wet or getting dirty, so he often trotted along the garden paths instead of cutting cross-country through the yard.
Fred had some rather peculiar habits - he would bark at the curtain flapping in the kitchen window, at reflected sunlight on the loungeroom ceiling and at the teatowel when my brother was wiping up, and he would savagely attack the mop and the ironing board. If we were sitting outside on the back patio, he would annoy us by first wanting to come and join us, then go back inside within a short time, and then repeat these manoeuvres on continuous loop until we all went back in. Fred also had a habit of wanting to investigate the front yard numerous times each night, and having to be let out then in each time.
Despite his sometimes naughty behaviour, Fred had the most wonderful personality. He loved being with people, and he was always happy to be stroked and rubbed, especially on his belly. The first time I tickled Fred's belly, when he was just a tiny pup, he squealed with delight, his tiny eyes closed in sheer ecstasy. Unlike my previous dog, Fred adored being patted whenever he could, and he would nudge you with his wet nose or bat your hand with his paw to indicate where he wanted to be patted next. Fred was also happy to look into your eyes, something that many dogs find challenging and disconcerting.
Every evening, Fred would race out to enthusiastically greet my mother at the front gate when she came home from work. When I came home to visit, I also received an enthusiastic greeting from Fred, and when he was young and strong, I often had tiny bruises on the top of my legs from where Fred had jumped up to say hello. In his eagerness, Fred took no heed of bare legs or stockings, so many a scratch and laddered stocking resulted from Fred's salutations. Fred also had a firm belief that when the shopping came home in plastic bags, there must be something for him, and he would mill around excitedly while the shopping was unpacked.
Fred learned to know the sound of my brother's car, and he would leap up to the door to await his master long before we knew that my brother was home. He hated it when my brother went out at night, and he would pace anxiously up and down or sit, ears pricked, at the front door until my brother returned. The two Freds slept together every night; in summer, Little Fred slept on top of the bed, and in winter, he burrowed underneath the sheets and blankets, and had to be physically cloughed out on frosty mornings. Both Freds would often snore, so I am have no idea how my poor Mum ever got any sleep in her room across the hall from them. Every Sunday morning, the two Freds would hop into my brother's car and go to the car sales to check out the new cars. Little Fred would eagerly await this trip each week, and bark impatiently if my brother dallied in heading off.
Like most dogs, Fred hated cats with a passion, and any cat who foolishly ventured into our yard soon left in a mad dash. Straying possums received the same sharp shrift. However, Fred was largely all bark and no bite, and he never harmed any of these foolhardy intruders.
Fred absolutely adored Christmas, as he knew that there would be presents for him to unwrap under the tree, and that he would share in our Christmas dinner of chicken, pork, turkey and ham. In the lead-up to Christmas, Fred would often poke his nose hopefully into the barrier fencing off the Christmas tree; the barrier was necessary to prevent him from getting into everything before the big day. He believed that every present must be for him, and would often stop unwrapping a present mid-way when the others were being handed out in the expectation that he was about to receive another. Fred had a detective's nose for latex toys, and they had to be well hidden to stop him from discovering them before Christmas. Here is a video of Fred's last Christmas, doing what he loved - unwrapping a present:
Last New Years Eve, Fred slept at the foot of my bed while he waited for my brother to return from New Year celebrations, and I enjoyed his company. However, he leapt up excitedly and went to bed with my brother on his return home.
Fred has been part of our lives for over 14 years, and he has been a constant during a period of continuous change for me. I have moved numerous times during that period, even spending 9 months overseas during Fred's fourth year, but Fred was always there, enthusiastically receiving me like an old friend whenever I returned home to visit. He became used to my comings and goings, but always dropped his tail, normally held so proudly aloft, to indicate his sadness when I left. That tail, which Mum called his "flag", would wag swiftly in delight whenever Fred was pleased, and Fred was pleased often.
Unfortunately, on Wednesday last week, I received the disturbing news that Little Fred had been in decline for a couple of days, and had been taken to the vet for treatment. Fred had stopped eating, and had become dehydrated and wobbly on his feet. We were hopeful at first when the vet indicated that he might have diabetes, and that there was a tablet available to treat him. However, there would be no such luck. Blood tests revealed that the cancer that had plagued Little Fred around two and a half years ago had returned, and this time, there would be no cure. After a couple of days on a drip, Little Fred returned home last Friday. Even then, we hoped that he may be with us for a few weeks more.
My mother warned me of the graveness of his illness, so I arranged to fly home for the weekend ahead of my planned Easter trip to see "my boy". I am glad that I did - on Saturday morning when I arrived home, it was clear to me that Fred was seriously ill. He was a shadow of the vibrant dog I had seen on the Australia Day weekend. He did not get up to greet me from where he was lying on the floor, although he managed to feebly wag his flag on recognising my voice. His flesh had seemed to melt away, and he was all skin and bone. Fred had to be carried up and down the stairs, and he could no longer jump up onto the furniture or walk very far. He was able to sit up beside me on the lounge for a cuddle, although his eyes had lost their sparkle and were deeply sad. By Sunday, Fred no longer responded to his name, and was confused when he was put down after being carried from place to place. It seemed all that he could do to breathe, and he tried to hide in the bushes when we took him outside. I knew that when I rubbed Fred's belly and said goodbye, it would be for the last time. Today, my brother made the decision to take him to the vet, and the little fella was given assistance to end his suffering. Fred now has a resting place in our back yard under one of the trees that he loved to rub against.
Fred was the most delightful dog, with personality plus. I am thankful that he chose to join our family and enrich our lives, and he holds a very special place in my heart. God bless you Fred.