Jeff came into my life back in early 2000. I was 21 years old and had just moved out of the on-campus accommodation at Uni. I was temporarily camped at my high school friend Andrew's new place in an arrangement that was initially supposed to be "house-sitting" but ended up going on for about 10 months. Andrew and I went to the pound in Pearcedale because I wanted a dog. I had missed having an animal companion when I had lived on campus, and I had it in my head that now that I wasn't there, I needed a dog. What's more, I wanted a big one because tiny dogs were wrong, or something.
The pound was the usual forlorn saga; jam-packed full of animals who had no homes and I was frankly hopeless. I pretty much asked to take all of them for walks and did want to take all of them home. Andrew, on the other hand, wasn't too keen on having a 30 kilo rhino-cross in his new digs, so when we walked past a kennel and saw this little >2yo black and white number sitting quietly at the back looking all sad, he suggested that one. I was sold when we took said mutt for a short walk; he seemed very curious and a bit aloof and so I was intrigued. We picked the little bugger up a couple of days later after he had been fixed and had all his shots and he just curled up in my lap on the trip home as if he was just supposed to be there. It just clicked.
Jeffrey Houdini picked his own name. I have an extraordinarily bad habit of giving things stupid names and it pretty much started with Jeff. I had no idea what to call this critter and so I randomly started calling a bunch of names out to him until he seemed to respond to one and came running. Some of them were rude, some of them were ridiculous, but it was "Jeffrey" that pricked his ears and got him to come over. At the time, I was addicted to the film "The Sum of Us" so he was essentially named after one of the few Russell Crowe characters I actually liked. The "Houdini" part came later when Jamie and his dog Jess moved in and the two dogs together showed an aptitude for escaping and having excellent adventures. This rather undesirable attribute led to me having to pick him up from Northland one day after he had somehow managed to cross all six lanes of Bell Street safely, as well as me sending through photos of my drivers licence and him from a bus ride to Cambridge, UK so my dad could pick him up in from the pound after another escape effort in 2011. He truly was a master escapologist!
Jamie was also responsible for training Jeff up, and although Jeff had a predisposition to craziness (including getting so amped up he would end up running head-first into walls), he was very quick and eager to learn. This was something I wasn't expecting given the fact that he was already an adult dog, but his natural smarts worked a treat. His cunning also worked a treat, so folks had to watch the soft drinks, booze and BBQs when Jeff was around because if he could figure out how to pinch them, he would. His running leaps into my arms for hugs were always a treat, and his ability to keep properties rat-free with minimal carcasses lying around was second to none. When I moved out into a flat closer to Uni, Jamie, Andrew and Tanya became Jeff's main humans until I finally got a place with a yard. I used to visit fairly often, but one time I visited and forgot to go outside for Jeff pats. The result of this was him refusing food and sulking on his bed for two days. I learnt my lesson quick smart.
At one stage when I was living in Thornbury, Jeff had a girlfriend. He seemed to become besotted with my housemate Amy's staffy called Charlie. They used to razz eachother up good and proper, and when you took them for walks, Charlie would take great pleasure in lining Jeff up and bowling him over at lightning speed. The two of them seemed to bond, I think because they were both a little bit bratty. When Amy moved out and they were finally separated, Jeff pined so much that it was just unbearable. He escaped more than ever and his vocals would be all hoarse by the time I got home. And that's when Indi the Heeler came into our lives. I decided that Jeff needed some company and found Inds "free to a good home" in the Trading Post so took her on. Her previous owner had terminal cancer and was having great difficulty rehousing her due to the fact that she was spoilt rotten and a good 35kgs worth (I managed to slim her down to about 22 kilos). Inds was typical Heeler, so she became my protector velcro-dog. Jeff, on the other hand, was not just letting Inds come on in and steal his human and so he asserted his advanced years and bond with me and after 5 weeks of bluing to the point of driving me mad and thinking of ditching them both, they came steadfast companions. Indi was my scary guard dog, and Jeff was the "boss man".
Having dogs around me, particularly ones with an uncanny knack for working out when their human was down and were ready to nudge me out of it with their wet little noses, was just too wonderful to describe. As well as the happy, the silly, and the freakin' absurd, I remember both of them huddled around me when I was upset or had been crying. Indi would bark at me to make sure I was okay or put her head on my lap and stare upwards at my face. Jeff would paw my leg or even just sit guard in front of me, just in case. This natural sense they had to try and make things better will be sorely missed in any trials that may come up, but it was just inexplicable.
Indi passed away a year and a day before Jeff. She was younger (only 11.5), but her heart had been failing her for a while, and although I tried to keep her around for as long as possible, spending a fortune at the Vet in the meantime, in the end it was just too much for her and I had to make a tough decision. Jeff was different. He was getting older, that much was clearly visible, but apart from some "aging issues" he seemed to be fine. He was as sharp as ever, his unbreakable self-motivated routines were all intact and showing no signs of changing, and he still knew when to come up for cuddles. The heatwave ended up being too cruel for him, and although he never told me he was ill, blood tests showed severely depleted liver and kidney function as well as anaemia. Rehydrating him through a drip would have just made him sicker so again I was left making a tough decision. I was there with him in his final moments and he nuzzled into my hand before he went to sleep. When he passed away he was anywhere between 15-16 years old.
I miss Jeff terribly, and although it is getting easier, he's still left a void that is not easily replaced. I miss his triple doughie-turns and hind-leg stands that were an inevitable part of his feeding routine. I miss discussing politics with him and having him looking at me with his head tilted sidewards as if he totally got what I was on about and agreed that the ruling classes needed to be overthrown ASAP. I miss his elegant trot, as opposed to a normal walk, that occasionally I used to set to music because it fit so well. I miss playing with his natural mohawk, seeing if I could get it to stand up even higher. I hate going outside now because he's not there waiting for his pats and chats. I miss the ridiculous selfies I used to take with him, his keen ratting skills, and his inextricably bratty and cunning nature. But most of all, I miss my long-term animal companion with whom I shared so much of my life that him not being in it now is something I never thought would happen regardless of any realities of the situation. I am still coming to terms with not having the Houdini around and I miss him all the time.
RIP Jeffrey Houdini Liddle - here's to best mates xxoo