1. In August of 2002, our dalmatian Zack was put to sleep because of kidney failure. He was only three years old, and it was very sad. Being a dog family we knew we’d get another one, and put a deposit on a chocolate labrador pup that had just been born. It’d give us eight weeks to grieve. Halfway through that time I, twelve at the time, idly started searching the internet for dalmatian pups. Mum and I spent a few hours calling places trying to find one, until she finally said I could try one more place. This place had puppies, ready to leave that day. We left immediately. Thus I’ve always kind of held myself responsible for getting Malty. I’m the one who found him.
2. When we went to choose a puppy, we were astonished by how big his parents were. Zack had been slender and small, but these dogs were huge, muscly beasts. We went into the garden, to the shed where the pups were held, and opened the top half of the door. Eight or so adorable pups threw themself at us, but one hung back, watching us, not wanting to fight its way through the throng. That was the one we chose. The owner was heartbroken we’d chosen that one — she said that he was actually her favourite of this litter.
3. I cuddled the puppy on the way home. He was terrified of the car, whimpering and yowling, with his big yellow eyes wide. I stroked his ears and tried not to mind too much when he threw up on me. My parents and I were discussing names for our soon to be two dogs. The labrador was chocolate coloured and this dalmatian had dark brown spots rather than black. I commented that they were both chocolate dogs and we should give them chocolate names — Malteser and Minstrel, or Malty and Minnie for short. So I named him as well.
4. When we got Minnie a month or so later, she was so small she could sit in my palm. Malty, who looked like all dalmatian pups in that he had absurdly long legs that he couldn’t quite keep control of, towered over her but he was scared of her. They played together, they curled up to sleep together, they were trained together and generally worked well together.
5. Malty quickly established himself as the stupidest and wimpiest dog in the whole entire world. He whimpered and whined if anyone walked past the house. He cowered and howled at fireworks. Once him and the neighbour’s tiny grey kitten had a standoff — the kitten won. He shook with fear when you took him in the car or to the vet, and clouds of dalmatian hair (the most stubborn substance in all of the world, FYI) would fly off him when he was stressed. If you showed him a treat, showed him that you were putting a cup over the treat and then left him to try and find the treat, he had no idea. He loved the idea of fetch, but could never remember what he was supposed to do when he’d gone to pick it up. He loved cuddles and, even when fully grown, he would try and sit in your lap on the floor.
6. Despite this wimpy interior, he was quite an intimidating dog. He had a deep, loud bark that he was quite free about sharing whenever he thought someone was getting too close to our territory. He was tall, up to my waist, and hugely muscly. Once, someone came to our house and remarked “How many kids did you have before your dalmatian ate them all?” He was athletic and incredibly handsome. Watching him run through the fields near our house was one of my favourite things in the world.
7. No matter how he looked, he was the sweetest natured dog in the world. Genuinely, the sweetest. When my young nieces and nephews would pull on his ears, poke his eyes and tug on his tail, he would lie there for as long as he could before just getting up and walking away, making sure not to step on any toes. When I cried, he would come and sit next to me and lick my tears away, pushing his face into my body as hard as he could because he was panicking that something wasn’t right with me. Despite being so athletic and being able to run for hours without tiring, he loved nothing more than curling up at my feet whilst I was studying or lying next to me on the bed whilst I was reading. When, seven years into his life, I started dating a man who is allergic to dog hair it didn’t stop me having Malty on my bed, because cuddling Malty was one of my favourite things in the world. I’ve never, ever met a dog with a sweeter nature. He wasn’t naughty or strong-willed — any disobedience seemed to be just because he was so ridiculously stupid. He was once accused of biting a new postman on the bum, and when our regular postman heard about this he laughed for five minutes and ripped up the warning that had been put on our file, saying that there was nothing more unlikely.
8. He had a habit of coming up to you, sniffing your face energetically and then finishing with a giant exhale that covered us in dog snot. He loved licking my dad’s bald head and behind his ears. He wouldn’t sit properly on our cold kitchen tiles or outside — if we asked him to sit he’d hover, and you could practically see him thinking “But it’s cooooooold!” Even when he did sit down fully he never quite mastered how to sit properly, he’d always have one leg jutting out to the side. He didn’t chew — he literally inhaled his food and was immediately ready for more. He was terrible at catching food thrown to him. Whenever I took him for a walk I was simultaneously infuriated and impressed by the amount of times he would do absolutely enormous poos: at least three times per walk, and always in the middle of the path rather than in the long grass. He’d often lie on his back and “breakdance” to scratch it. He loved running through the river. He was always ready for a walk, and he accompanied mum and I on our runs. He was a a good dog. A really very good dog.
9. This time last year, he had several health scares. Nosebleeds and sneezing, which made the vets think he might have had a brain tumour, a period of shaking and shivering and whimpering in pain which made them think he may have had a trapped nerve in his neck which would require surgery. We thought that would be the end, but he pulled through. But he had arthritis, and we knew that arthritis in dalmatians is a bad sign. But he was on tablets and it seemed to be helping, so we had hope he’d last a little while longer.
10. Mum took him to the vets on Thursday because Malty wasn’t eating and wasn’t showing interest in things. He’d lost 9 kilos in not very much time at all. The vet scanned him and revealed a tumour in his stomach. It was inoperable. Malty was in pain and feeling constantly sick. My parents took the decision — the right decision — to have him put to sleep.
11. I wasn’t there, but this is what my mum said happened. The vet brought a blanket in and my mum got Malty to lie on it. They injected him with a little something and, with my mum holding his head and telling him he was a good boy and a veterinary nurse stroking his body, he fell asleep. Then the vet injected the rest of the needle’s contents into him and listened to his heart. It had stopped. He was gone.
Rest in peace, Malty boy. You were the stupidest and the loveliest dog I’d ever known. I miss you. I love you. I hope you’re having fun chasing rabbits in doggy heaven.