Alfie and I met on a cold February day during my senior year at Boca High. I was a volunteer at the Boca Raton Humane Society and he had been picked up along the Florida Turnpike, where his owner had simply dumped him.

His lineage was uncertain; I would certainly think some sheepdog, but also a smaller breed or two because he was only of medium size. Forty years later, I can still remember him: Bright eyes under a mop of hair, a constantly wagging tail, an endearing grin. He wore a faded collar with his name but no other ID.

He was confused and frightened when he first arrived, certainly understandable. But he had something else, some undefinable quality of resilience and optimism that allowed him in a surprisingly short time to adapt, to accept his new lot in life with grace and forbearance. Well, guess this is my new home. He was, quite simply, irresistible.

We had 70-80 kennels for the dogs and several rooms of gleaming stainless steel cages for the cats. In addition to keeping their quarters clean, my duties included feeding, grooming, helping out in the clinic, and…most importantly… serving as an advocate for my animals with potential adopters.

Because we had limited space, we had a strict policy on boarding: 60 days or euthanasia. The first time our veterinary technician Tom had told me to bring a dog back, I begged for another day or two. I was shocked by his reaction: “DAMN IT, Darryl,” he thundered. “Don’t say that!” He controlled himself; then, in a pained voice: “Do you know how hard this is on me?” My face burned. No, I guess I didn’t.

When I escorted guests, I would steer them first towards those dogs who were nearing their 60-day limit. I often felt like a used car salesman, extolling the virtues of a dog clearly not suited to their taste, sometimes almost pleading long after their eyes had drifted away. Although I played with them as much as I could, being cooped up 24×7 produced a lot of pent-up energy. I said a silent prayer every time I opened a kennel: Nothing put the kibosh on a potential adoption faster than a leaping, clawing, licking animal.

I played with Alfie far more often than the other dogs. I let him run free after hours, eliciting a cacophony of envious barking, howls and yips like a scene from a prison movie. I sometimes snuck scraps from home; while the other dogs got standard Humane Society chow, Alfie got a few pieces of rib eye as well. High School had its ups and downs and I’d sit with Alfie in his pen and have long discussions; I’m sure he understood me at some level because he never moved, never took his eyes off me, just listened with extraordinary attention.

I thought he’d be snatched up, but we had a lull in visitors and as February rolled into March, and then April Fool’s Day came and went, I began to grow alarmed. I became almost desperate, practically tugging on sleeves and imploring people to adopt this amazing creature.

Finally in mid-April, Tom cleared his throat uncomfortably. His expression said it all. “Darryl,” he said. “I’m sorry. You need to go get Alfie.” My stomach sank. I felt sick.

Feeling like the world’s biggest Judas, I walked down to his pen, my footsteps echoing hollowly in the concrete hallway. He was sitting, as always, right by the door of his kennel. He looked at me expectantly, tail swishing: What are we gonna do TODAY?

I vaguely remember lifting him on to the surgical table, holding him, hugging him, my sight blurred, as Tom used clippers to shave his leg and gently insert the needle. Alfie flinched, looked at me…hey, that kinda hurt…but I’ll go with you on this…

As the pentobarbital flowed in and Alfie’s breathing slowed, I watched the light in his eyes fade until it was gone, a distant candle quietly extinguished. Nobody spoke. In the silent, sterile clinic, it was just me and Tom and Alfie…who would go into the freezer and ultimately the on-site incinerator. I drove home that day feeling like something inside me had died with Alfie. I cursed the miserable bastard who had simply abandoned such an inexpressibly loving creature.

Do animals have souls? Will I ever see him again? I hope so. After all these years, I thought I would have forgotten him. But I haven’t. My only consolation is that the last thing that Alfie the unwanted dog knew as he slipped away was that at least one human loved him. Good boy, Alfie.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s