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.