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Goodbye, old friend

Harry

Harry

This morning, Tiffany and I took our dog, Harry, to the vet. He did not come home with us. We’d known this day was coming for awhile. Harry was 15 years old, and his health had declined in recent months. We’ve been preparing the girls for it, telling them how Harry was going to be with God. We made the appointment for today last week, after a checkup confirmed that his time was short. We told family and friends what was going on. We did what we could to make his last few days as happy as they could be, which mostly meant extra hugs and treats, including some filet mignon (!) that my sister-in-law brought for him yesterday. We knew it was coming. We told ourselves it was the right thing to do, and it was. It was still one of the hardest things we’ve ever done.

I did not grow up with pets. Other than a month of cat-sitting for an absent roommate one summer during college, I’d never had to care for an animal before January of 1997, when Harry came into my life. My buddy Matt, who had been my housemate for six years in Houston, had just moved to New York for a job, and I was somewhat at loose ends. My boss at the time, who was a devoted dog lover, had been trying to convince me to adopt a pooch. Whether by fate or by accident, a friend of hers found this furry stray on the street, and the two of them had been foster-caring for him. Both had two dogs of their own, so they wanted to find someone else to keep him. Mary Ann, my boss, worked me over for a week before I finally agreed to give it a try. I had no idea what I was doing. The first full day I had him, a Monday, I let him into the back yard of the house I was renting to do his business, and when I checked on him five minutes later, he was gone; apparently, there was a hole in the fence of which I’d been unaware. I took a quick look around, but saw no sign of him. I called Mary Ann in a bit of a panic, as I was already late for work, and she drove over to look for him as I headed to the office. She found him – he must have just been exploring, and came back – and I took him for walks instead of letting him into the yard after that.

I started dating Tiffany a few months later. She was charmed by Harry – she’ll tell you that she fell in love with him first – but couldn’t abide the fact that he had the run of the house, including the couches. So off to obedience school we went. It was clear that Harry had been through this before, and was basically humoring me. He managed to overcome my ignorance in these matters to pass the class. That didn’t stop him from hopping on the couch whenever we weren’t looking, mind you. One tip we got from the trainer was to put tinfoil on the couches as anti-dog devices. We preferred using tinfoil baking pans, since the air conditioning or ceiling fans would sometimes blow regular foil off the couch. The problem was that the pans didn’t quite cover the cushions sufficiently. Harry learned to nudge the pans aside enough to create dog-sized sleeping spots for himself. We always found it too funny to get upset about.

When we moved into the Heights later that year, the first house we lived in had a closet that Harry claimed as his space. We put his dog bed in there, and he’d retreat to it whenever he needed some quiet, or when there was a scary thunderstorm outside. Frequently, though, we’d come home to see that he’d dragged his dog bed out of the closet and into the middle of the floor in the next room. Always to about the same spot, too. This puzzled us until one winter day when, as Tiffany was standing over Harry on his bed in that spot on the floor, the heat kicked on, and she felt the warm air blowing down right on to where he was. Clearly, this was no ordinary dog.

We were a little worried when Tiffany was pregnant with Olivia that Harry would feel put out by the arrival of a human puppy. But he adjusted just fine, and was always protective of the girls. It probably helped that he learned early on that small children were even better food providers than big people, mostly because they were less squeamish about sharing what they were eating. When Olivia started on solid food, she would put her fingers into her mouth after taking a spoonful of cereal; this helped her learn how to swallow. When she took her fingers out of her mouth, she would hold her hand over the side of her high chair, and Harry would be right there to lick it clean. When she started eating Cheerios, Harry would station himself at her feet, knowing that a few of them would inevitably hit the ground. Olivia’s signal in those days that she was full would be to take whatever we’d put on the high chair tray, and toss it on the floor for Harry. We referred to it as his tribute; this occasionally made for some embarrassing moments at restaurants and other people’s houses, but everyone thought it was funny. Audrey did the same thing – when she started at the same preschool Olivia attended, one of her teachers asked if we had a dog. When we said yes, she said she could always tell, because kids in houses with dogs always dropped the last bit of their food on the floor.

Harry loved people, but he had not been socialized to other dogs, and at best tolerated them. He really hated anything with a rumbly diesel engine. Buses and garbage trucks were his sworn enemies. I’d be out walking with him when we’d hear one of them in the distance, and he’d freeze, on point. The noise would get louder, and he’d start running in tight little circles, and when the offending vehicle passed by, he’d just go ballistic. The first time my folks visited and took him for a walk on their own, we warned them about this, but nothing could adequately prepare them for it. One way I knew that he was starting to slow down was when he stopped barking at trucks and buses. It’s been long enough that when Tiffany read to Olivia a book called “Dog Heaven” (which I have not been able to bring myself to read), which talks about how in heaven dogs get to do things like chase squirrels and whatnot, Olivia said “But Mommy, Harry doesn’t chase things”. Well, he used to, it was just that he preferred things with wheels.

I suppose we’ll get another dog some day. Olivia has been asking when we’ll get a puppy. I don’t know about that, but another rescue dog would be fine. I’ve often thought about the people who must have owned and loved Harry before we got him. I’ve tried to figure out how he came to be wandering the streets. He was housebroken, healthy, gentle and affectionate, so I can’t believe he was a behavior problem, and he was just too lovable to abandon for whatever reason. I guess he could have just gotten loose and wandered off – for the first year or so, I half-expected to hear from the people who’d had him before, that they must be out there looking for him. But if they did, they never found him. And if there is someone out there who is still grieving for their loss 13 years ago, all I can say is that we took good care of him, we loved him very much, and we grieve for him now. Goodbye, old friend.

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32 Comments

  1. Steve Reilley says:

    “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” — Roger Caras

  2. 'stina says:

    I’m so very, very sorry. As much as I try to prepare myself for the departure of a good fur-friend, it’s so hard to go through. He sounds like he was an awesome dog with endearing quirks. I know that there’s nothing that I can say that will make you feel any better, but I’m so glad that you have such fond and happy memories of him.

  3. Therese says:

    He sounds like a wonderful companion, and I’m heart-broken for your loss. But you gave him a lovely goodbye, and like your daughters did while he was with you, a fitting tribute. My deepest condolences for you, your wife and your girls.

  4. Amy says:

    I am so sorry for your loss, Chuck. I never got to meet Harry. But I almost felt like I knew him from the number of times you’ve talked or written about him. He was indeed a special dog. You guys were all lucky to be together.

    My condolences to you and your family.

  5. Cindy Joy says:

    Charles, I am so sorry for your loss. I know you have been expecting it for at least a year, but it is still so very hard. I see Harry as a real turning point for you, and he was a great companion for you and your family. He really was one of the sweetest dogs ever. If he could have been dander free, he would have been the perfect dog! I am still amused by the phone call that Tiffany got from her Mother when she left Olivia and Harry with your parents early on in Olivia’s solid food stage. Your MIL had to verify that, really, having Harry lick off her hand was part of her eating technique. She took a fair amount of reassurance that it was, in fact, the expected behavior. Good bye Harry! have fun chasing trucks in doggie Heaven.

  6. Sarah Weingarden says:

    I’ve grown up with pets all my life. My dad has a weakness for dachshunds so I grew up with two pure breds and one mix. Then we became THE family for stray cats. Now we’re back to dogs — two pure-bred dachshunds and a Cocker Spaniel. I feel for you and your family on your loss. Harry looks like such a sweet dog. I’m glad you found each other all those years ago.

    Oh, and the eight-year old in me wants to add that Harry is probably playing with my dogs — Crackers, Toastie, and Darla — and chasing my cats — Ketzel and Pookie. And eating very very well…

    My condolences to you and your family.

  7. Rob Humenik says:

    Charles,

    Our condolences to you and your family. I know how tough it can be to say good-bye to an old friend. Harry was a great dog. I’m sure he’s up there somewhere chasing F-150’s.

  8. Robert Kane says:

    Wow…so sad. The same thing happened to my dog of about the same age just before I moved to Houston. I don’t have any kids, so she was the closest thing I had. When it came time to take her to the vet, I made an appointment after her diagnosis was too severe but she passed away in her sleep the night before.

    I couldn’t believe how rapidly she went downhill. I still have pictures of her around my house and think about her all the time. I don’t see myself getting another, it’s too tough the feelings I had that last week and several weeks after.

    I still read your site daily, but this one got me choked up and I know how you feel…I’m sure it wasn’t an easy piece to write.

    Take Care

  9. Dennis Slate says:

    Charles,
    I went through this back in September with my Maggie. I have a lump in my throat reading this today. I send you a heartfelt condolence because I agree it is one of the hardest things in life to do; especially to such a good friend. I love the photo, and I still find myself digging Maggie’s out to remind me of my good friend.
    Y’all definitely did what was right for Harry, and as the adage goes, only time will heal this wound. I can vouch it gets better, but for now you have your girls to get you through the rough patch.

    Take care and thanks for sharing,
    Dennis

  10. Amerloc says:

    I’ve a hard time imagining a home without a dog. Our lab chases squirrels, barks at brown delivery trucks (and other diesels) and trees the occasional ‘possum. The Yorkies we’ve buried have been, for the most part, too fearless for their own good, even if they were excellent bed-warmers.

    My heart goes out to you, Tiffany, and the kids.

    And in an odd tangent, thanks for re-stirring my own memories; those were some damned fine dogs.

  11. Kristi says:

    Charles-

    I’m so sorry about Harry but what a lovely tribute to your dear pet and friend. I too have a dog. His name is Emmett and he is almost 13 years old. He’s been a wonderful family member. However, he only tolerates Christopher. But he has learned the food trick with the baby!

  12. becky says:

    What a heartfelt post Charles… my condolences to you and yours.

  13. trowaman says:

    I lost my Woodstock (beagle) last week. I’m at college and wasn’t home to tell him goodbye. I miss him.

    Sorry, Chuck. This stuff hurts, a lot, and I’m right there with ya.

  14. Joe White says:

    Chuck, I’m so sorry.

  15. MJSamuelson says:

    Very moving tribute to Harry. Good dogs like that are what makes people say dogs are man’s best friends, and I couldn’t agree with them more. I’m so sorry to hear you’ve lost him.

  16. John says:

    I’m so sorry, Charles… and yes, recognizing when it’s time is so much harder than you ever expect. Harry sounds like a real character. Thanks for sharing all those memories with us.

  17. Lonnie Allsbrooks says:

    Charles, As I started reading your good bye to Harry posting, I had tears of sadness for your lost and I laughed and smiled at the great memories you gained from Harry. 15 yrs. ago I was lucky to bring home Lucy, my Best Friend, from the SPCA and she has recently lost her eyesight and is experiencing other health problems. I just wanted to say my thoughts are with you and your family and Thank you for sharing these Great Memories about Harry, Heaven’s newest Angel!!!

  18. Gee Li says:

    A beautifully written tribute to man’s best friend. My condolences Charles.

  19. Bill Kelly says:

    “One reason a dog can be such a comfort when you’re feeling blue is that he doesn’t try to find out why.”-

    Sorry for your loss, Chuck. Hope the girls are taking it well.

    bk

  20. Jeb says:

    What a moving tribute.

    My condolences on your loss.

  21. Valerie says:

    My sympathies are with you are your family. The loss of a pet is so hard, and you’ve written a loving tribute here for him.

  22. mark says:

    First Beckham (Tbogg) and now this. My deepest sympathies at your loss.

  23. Robin Holzer says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Chuck. I hope that as time passes, your memories of Harry bring you more joy than sadness. Bob

  24. Randall says:

    RIP Harry

  25. Temple Houston says:

    You rescued Harry and gave him an opportunity to have a full life in a loving family. In return, he was a good dog, a friend and companion, who contributed greatly to the happiness in your life. May you never forget him.

  26. William Pate says:

    I know how hard this is, and especially how hard it is to make the decision for when the right time is.

    The best tribute I felt I could pay to my last dog — who I’d had since she was born — was to go to the shelter a couple months later and rescue another. I couldn’t save her, but I could save another.

    (Since then, my wife and I have rescued two others. That makes three. Plus two birds. We are a zoo.)

    I’m sorry to hear this. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  27. Jeff N. says:

    Deep sympathies from our family to all the Kuffners. I’m quite sure the first time I ever saw you, Charles, was when you were walking Harry in the neighborhood. Will miss seeing him, but hope to still see you.

  28. Patrick says:

    Charles,

    You were lucky to be welcomed into the realm of doggydom by such a good one as Harry. He was a friendly, laid-back sort that introduces you to the joy of canine companions. I’ve been through this before and I know it’s tough, but know one thing…tonight at our house a dog is going to get a pretty sweet treat. She won’t know exactly why she’s so lucky tonight but our own rapidly greying Cocoa will enjoy her treat in honor of Harry.

    My sympathies to you, Tiffany and the girls.

    Patrick

  29. Sue Davis says:

    It’s not fair that animals have such short life spans. I’ve always believed that life isn’t worth living without animals and so I have had more than my share of goodbys to my beloved friends. Most of mine have been strays and I applaud you for taking in Harry and planning to get another rescue dog sometime. I keep on my wall in my office the words of an epitaph found in a pet cemetary: “O, heaven will not ever heaven be unless my cats are there to welcome me.” My condolences to you and your family on your loss.

  30. Court Koenning says:

    The Rainbow Bridge Poem

    Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
    When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet
    goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special
    friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water
    and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

    All the animals that had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor.
    Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we
    remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy
    and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special
    to them, who had to be left behind.

    They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops
    and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body
    quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green
    grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

    You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet,
    you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy
    kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and
    you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from
    your life but never absent from your heart.

    Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….

    So sorry for your loss. So many of us understand your grief.

  31. My wish is that every dog is loved as well as yours.

  32. […] may have to do that this year in memory of Harry. Please participate if you can, or sponsor someone if you can’t. Thanks very […]

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