Farewell to Alfie, a great Sheltie companion

I guess most people think that the companion dog in their lives is pretty special, if not the best ever. But without doubt we were very very fortunate to have Alfie. He was a Shetland Sheepdog - chosen because they are intelligent, loyal, easily trained, great family dogs - and we had no prior dog experience. He was with us for 14 years and died just last week.

Alfie the Sheltie keeping a characteristic eye on everything at Island Bay beach, as the sun was setting.

Alfie the Sheltie keeping a characteristic eye on everything at Island Bay beach, as the sun was setting.

The close bond that developed between our human ancestors and the wolf ancestors of the modern dog had benefits for both sides. Dogs can work for us - we benefit from the amazing sensitivity of their noses and ears, their alertness and their drives to perform particular tasks. Alfie showed his herding dog genes in his watchfulness - scanning the environment, barking to alert us to the arrival of potential predators, and in his actual herding habits - lacking sheep he would confuse retrieving dogs by following them, watching them collect the object they were after, and then ensuring they returned to the person who threw it for them. Some retrieving dogs clearly thought that he was after their stick or ball - no, he was not interested in that, he just wanted to make sure they went where they were meant to go.

The so-called “nonworking” breeds also work wonders for us. We have responsibilities to care for them, and in turn they offer a degree of acceptance and apparent non-judgement which can be in stark contrast to many of the damaging human to human interactions that are on show all around us. Living with a dog means being able to learn about their ways of reacting and being. Maybe we also find a bit of humility - we humans behave as if we are superior to other animals, but being close to other species helps us to gain perspective about the complexity of life and relationships that other species enjoy.

Most of all, he was fun, friendly, smart, energetic, upbeat, determined, protective of our cats, interested in the world, and apparently happy to see us every time. (He was also very generous in shedding his floof.) What a gift to have had him in our lives!