Recently, we got a new puppy. It is my mom’s dog and not what this story is about.
In May, I had the first two weeks of life without a family dog. My family has always had dogs. They mesh well with us. This is probably because we are like dogs. But is this because we have always been around dogs? Or just because we hold common values?
Henry was the best dog.
But the first dog I remember was a poodle mix. She was black and chose our neighbor over us when we moved. This is understandable because six children between 12-2 are not as luxury friendly as a retired gentleman with liver treats. But I will never forgive her. We never had another female dog.
Henry was our last “family” dog. He grew up on our mini-farm with Rebel, the pig-vet cornering, sprinkler chasing Blue Heeler, and Bobby, the pig-like Border Collie and something-else-unfortunate, good-natured earth crawler.
Bobby got puny at a ripe old age and held out long enough to die in my arms a few hours after flying back from Ukraine several years ago (and you ask me why I’m morbid?!).
During my following trip to Ukraine, Rebel outlasted the vet’s prediction by half-a-car-chasing-decade and passed on to a place where biting duck heads has no consequences.
Henry was the lean and mean fighting machine (okay…he didn’t fight and he wasn’t mean, but he was lean and fast and the best that’s ever been). He was the only animal to make the move with us to suburbia. At age 12 or so, he was probably ready to retire from UPS alert and critter chasing, but for a fit boxer/lab, the change was probably as rough on him as it was to my mother-hubbard’s view-needing-soul.
Henry had already had a long journey with us, listening to at least all the females’ problems in the family, taking long walks as we got ready for Mount Saint Helen’s hikes, getting dragged to agility classes despite is laid-back sensitive personality, sitting up all night with me on my last day on the property, etc.
What was great about Henry (and about any dog that does not abandon you for your liver-treat-feeding neighbor), is their ability to listen without interrupting. Henry never interrupted. And he understood everything. (I’m sorry, but it’s true. He was very intuitive.) He never told me what I should do. He never even said it would be okay or that it wouldn’t be okay. He just looked at me and I knew that I was loved and would never be rejected as long as we both breathed on this mortal orb.
Well, we don’t both breath anymore. Henry got cancer. And, like you would expect, he never complained, he didn’t give up but went on with his loving life, he never told anyone their problems didn’t compare, he never blamed anyone for moving from country air or switching to cheaper dog food or not getting a $$$$ treatment. In fact, he didn’t have any important last things to wrap up because he had done them all as they reached his ears and his nose and his big, grubby paws. He had never turned his back on a loved one and he had never snubbed a stranger. He did not need to ask any apologizes because he had always met those who mattered to him with love (sometimes too much). When he had seen something to do (like chase a cat), he had done it to the utmost.
He didn’t need closure or a chaplain at his bedside. He had been who he was supposed to be and he had done what he was supposed to do. He had obeyed his Maker to the word. He had been named DOG and had acted and loved like a dog.
He had sat in the back of my stupid old Honda patiently, breathing in the air of the countryside on his car ride to the vet. Enjoying it, even though he couldn’t sit up. And he had not been angry or bitter at the lady in the vet office who made remarks about how pathetic his once powerful self seemed.
Even though his track records with vets was filled with anxiety, he had been the calm and collected one for my sake. And he laid down on the blanket and sat with me and tried to get up and lick my face whenever I sobbed. Which, of course, made me sob more. And then he didn’t want to kill the vet (like I did) when they put a muzzle on him to give him a relaxant. And he didn’t ask us what we were doing when they gave him another shot, he only moved his head from my lap and laid it where I couldn’t see and stopped being there for me.
Well, to make a tidy ending to my sob story that would have been something I would have shared wordlessly with Henry for some closure and now I have to make you endure it instead, I just want to say happy retirement Henry, from loving so hard, and I love you very much.
I’m not one of those people that thinks animals can be human or that they should be treated like children. (And when you are talking to me, you should interupt sometimes and tell me I am being an idiot!)
All of our dogs were outside dogs. Henry was a farm dog. He tromped through ice and he sacked out under trees in the heat. He was a dog. But he was just so much better at being a dog than I am at being a human.
He knew no pride.
And I guess that’s what I want to learn from him. And what mattered to me. That pride thing.
I want to look at people and listen and love them, even when what they say, in the grand scheme of existence, is stupid. To love them when they come after me with a PVC pipe and I don’t understand. To be freakishly loyal and cheerful, even when leaving could mean a much more comfortable (liver-filled?) life. To not know what bitterness means.
To be good at being human. And not freak out about the rest.
And, never to go to bed at night thinking about myself and all the things I did wrong or did right or how much of an idiot I am…trying to chase myself in a circle all over the map pride-filled-self-worth feelings. Henry knew what chasing your tail was. It was a joke and pretty soon you should stop and go chase a squirrel or a car or find someone to make happy.