It was Labor Day 2007, my mother was in hospice, and my dog, Jupiter, a tiny, feisty, white Maltese was inadvertently confiscated by my father whom, after dog-sitting him for a weekend, had decided my tiny canine was his new lease on life. Despite feelings of extreme sadness over my father's new desire to keep Jupiter, I couldn't say no, given the intensity of our family circumstances as my mother lived out the final weeks of her life.
Nick, my husband, consoled me as I got back into our car, having left Jupiter at my parent's home. He said, "Let's get another dog...Right now." It seemed ridiculous and impulsive, but we did it anyway.
I searched online and quickly found an apricot colored, miniature poodle in need of adoption about a two hour drive away, in Pennsylvania. I made the trip there the next day. He was in an outdoor cage, down a dirt road, in the middle of the woods, at a humane society. I questioned how humane the society was given the conditions in which he was living. He was timid and shy, terrified and shaking. And very dirty. He was our Henry.
I drove back all those miles with him in the passenger seat of my car, as he leaned as far from me as he could get, shivering with eyes wide open. Those first few days he tried to stay awake and would fall asleep sitting up because he was too afraid to relax. But in no time, he was happy and accustomed to his new life with us. And he quickly became the best dog friend a person could have...
Just a few months ago, ten years after we met him, he left us. He had become very sick right after our fourth (and final!) baby, Andrew, was born last July. We spent months going back and forth to the vet, trying various medications, injections, and tests in an attempt to cure his ailment. But nothing seemed to work and it soon became clear that he wouldn't survive.
The last night he was with us, we gathered as a family around him and we all said aloud what we liked best about him. Afterwards, the children went to bed and I retreated downstairs, unwilling to look at Henry one last time. It was too much. But he felt differently and ran from Nick just as he was being taken out of the house. He found me. We held a long gaze. And it was as though he knew that it was our final goodbye, that he wouldn't be coming back from the vet this time.
Nick returned home a few hours later, devastated. I hadn't anticipated the heaviness of this loss. And in the weeks that followed I kept expecting him to still be with us. When the doorbell rang, I waited for his bark. When I sat to watch tv, I missed him on my lap. And I stopped taking walks through the park.
I've begun to think about the part he played in the decade he was with us. During those years, he sat with me as my mother died, as we struggled through two miscarriages, and three years of infertility that included four failed IVF procedures. He traveled with us. He attended every holiday. He was there to welcome each of our four babies home from the hospital. And he got to eat all the fallen table food as our babies became toddlers. Eventually, he was pulled on his leash by three of four children as we walked him around the block after school. He played fetch with them. He lay near them while they slept. And we all loved him dearly.
We will miss him. He was an integral part of our early marriage and growing family. And I can only pray to be as blessed to ever have a dog again as good as Henry.