Claire J Harris pays tribute to her greyhound Boots, a gentle soul and her pandemic companion.
Boots wasn’t supposed to be a pandemic pup. In March 2020, my partner and I signed up to foster a rescue greyhound, blissfully unaware the world was about to turn upside down. On the first day of this new thing called a “lockdown”, his trainer delivered him to our front door.
We called him Boots for the little shoes he had to wear to protect his paws, still soft from three years of life in a kennel. Boots had stopped racing once he figured out that if he just waited patiently, the prey would go all the way around the circular track and come back to him.
The novelty of a pandemic was as fresh as the sourdough my friends were baking. Meanwhile, we were learning to co-habit with a dog for the first time. Unused to living in a house, everything was new for Boots, and it took us until the end of the first lockdown to convince him that walks were actually fun.
By the time Melbourne’s Lockdown 2 rolled around, we knew we couldn’t part with Boots, and so the adoption became official. My partner’s iso project was to teach him tricks, the repertoire expanding as the weeks turned into months, until he could jump, spin and bark on command.
Allowed out of the house for just one hour a day, I spent mine with Boots exploring our 5km radius. In the blur of days, I looked forward to our sunset walk, which inched back later in the evening as we crossed into a new season.
Then Melbourne opened up and so did the border that had divided me and my NSW family for half a year. I plotted my escape back to my hometown of Sydney for Christmas and packed Boots into the car. He loved visiting new places, but I was the one who screamed with excitement when we crossed from Wodonga to Albury.
Having spent his new life in an apartment with two people, Boots was dazzled by the cacophony of siblings and niblings. For 24 tense yet joyful hours, I kept one eye on Boots casually sideswiping his long snoot across the splendid buffet, and the other refreshing the news feed on my phone as case numbers rose. When my five‑year‑old nephew cried out, I looked up to see him fleeing across the backyard, a sandwich raised above his head, with my greyhound in hot pursuit.
The next day brought a new border closure, and Boots and I were up at 6am making the long drive home. I watched the family Christmas via Zoom from self‑quarantine. Boots camped at the foot of my bed for 14 days and didn’t leave my side. We rang in the New Year together in that bedroom, the windows closed to shut out the noise of fireworks that made Boots tremble and me cry.
My long-term relationship didn’t survive that first year of the pandemic. Boots and I moved into a new place, with a new 5km radius and a garden. I said it seemed like a good place to spend the next lockdown. People told me I was being pessimistic.
The city roared back to life; Melburnians desperate to make up for the year lost. An air of optimism filled the streets, but Boots wasn’t happy with our re-emergence into the world. He developed separation anxiety and howled when I had to leave him at home alone.
For months, we were trapped in the house again while I trained him to be comfortable on his own; first for a minute, then five, all the way up to an hour. Friends agreed to meet us in cafes and beer gardens, and we were stuck inside Boots’ walking radius: 5 km.
He came everywhere with me, lying patiently on the floor of my therapist’s office while I admitted that just maybe the separation anxiety was mine as much as his.
Boots’ confidence grew. He started going to doggy day care, where the staff called him a gentle soul. Every morning, he gently poked his nose through the crack in my bedroom door to check if I was awake.
Suddenly, we were back in lockdown. At the daily press conferences, they said it would last a week, then two. Then they announced the numbers would never return to zero and we stopped watching. Then Boots began to fall.
The vet told me it could be anything from a pulled muscle to a brain tumour. We went to an animal hospital, a neurologist. The MRI found a growth on Boots’ brain that was already creeping down his neck.
A month later, Boots made it to his fifth birthday. The radius lifted and we went for a drive. He used to love exploring new places. Now he cowered in a seat corner and had to be lifted out. Then he refused to get in the car at all.
As Boots’ balance worsened, we crossed off the things that he could do. The walks got shorter and then turned into sits in the park over the road. The beer gardens and cafes opened but Boots couldn’t get to them anymore. He was falling more often, finding it harder to get up. On bad days, he walked sideways like a crab. I carried the weight of the decision like a stone around my neck. One night, Boots looked at me, whimpering softly, and I knew it was time.
My former partner and I cradled Boots in our arms as he died peacefully at home. In his final hours, we fed him treats. He still barked on cue, but his voice had been reduced to a squeak. He wagged his tail when the vet arrived. He always loved visitors.
Boots’ life with me marked the duration of one of the world’s longest lockdowns. And for the first time since the pandemic started, I can leave the house. Freely. Go anywhere I choose. But for the first time, I don’t want to.
All the memories of Boots are in here.
Claire J Harris is a film and television writer based in Melbourne. She blogs at clairejharris.com.
This article first appeared in The Big Issue Ed#658.