Sunday, December 7, 2008

I miss the big dog.

This is a story about Henry.

How do you start a post about the coolest dog you've ever known? You just start writing. B.D.E. - Best Dog Ever arrived in November of 2000. We drove to the suburbs of Vancouver, BC to pick up the little man. At eight weeks Mr. Henry was sporting giant paws and an fearless attitude. We avoided US customs by putting him out in the open, he charmed his way across the border with a wag and a yip to the border agent.

Our first morning we spent exploring his new world at our Queen Anne rental house. Little dog grew fast. At one point he was gaining 10 pounds a month. 6 months? Must weigh 60 lbs. He topped out at 120 two years later.

Little Henry showed no fear.

Ahh, melty puppy eyes.

He would do unspeakable things to this plush beach ball...

We moved to Wedgwood and Henry adjusted immediately to his new surroundings. What was ours was his. Couch, bed, whatever. We were weak and he knew it!

Teenager Henry.

Then we did the unspeakable. The neutering. After this, there was less humping and growling, but he remained largely the same dog. Largely, pun intended.

H-dog in his natural habitat, on top of the humans.

Not much of a swimmer, but he didn't need to impress anyone either. They were impressed anyway and he seemed to know it.

Henry made himself at home literally wherever we went. And we took him everywhere.

Why sit on the ground when I can sit in this chair?

We never had to leash Henry when we were out camping or on the beach. He stayed close, stayed out of trouble.

Henry liked to sleep. After about age two, he really mellowed out and took it easy most of the time.
Then we really upset the balance with this little orange thing. Ginger wanted an orange dog. Seriously, so after endless hounding and pleading we brought one home from the shelter. Henry was mildly amused and put up with his new little sister for the most part. Lola was to be the auxillary dog, a back up. A back up I felt we didn't need at the time.

Henry liked to play rough, really rough. You'd get him going and he'd knock you over. He knocked me off my feet many times, the momentum was unstoppable - his head a steel battering ram.

Lola got bigger and started taking up more space. Henry tolerated this.

We moved again, to a bigger house - sort of ready made for two dogs. But Henry would only live here for a year.

Big old Henry probably grew too fast and like all large breeds, had a short life expectancy to begin with. It's a good thing he didn't know that. He lived life to the fullest. Yeah, he slept a lot, but most Bullmastiffs are like that. Henry's personality really came alive around people. He knew he was the center of attention and played it up. We'd take him everywhere we could and he'd make a big entrance, people would ooo and ahhh, and Henry would stand up just a little taller and make a bee-line for the person with food. There are really two kinds of people: Those who loved Henry and those who didn't. He could tell which was which and then gravitated to the people he could manipulate for food or fun.

There was a little bit more to the big dog than sleep, food and slobbering. He seemed to possess emotion more than other dogs. Lola, for instance, is 99% instinct. She reacts to things the way you expect dogs to react. Lola barks when the doorbell rings because that's what dogs do. Lola does dog stuff like get crazy anxious when you pull out the tennis ball. She's completely and totally a dog; she doesn't think, she just reacts to stimuli.

Maybe Henry was slightly more evolved? I like to think so. It's hard to describe, but I think Henry had more soul. Our interaction with Henry was different. We spoke to Henry like he was another person in the room. He was the sort of dog that did what you asked him to do not because he was particularly good at obedience school, but because he wanted to make you happy. When we said "Speak" he'd bark so loud you'd fall backwards. That made us laugh, and I think that made Henry happy. He would sit and listen to you talk, trying to process the information, trying to understand the words. He wanted to be in on whatever was going on around him.

He was always in a good mood. One summer we think he ate a yellow jacket or something and got stung on the inside of his mouth. Half of his face swelled up to the size of a softball. We were freaked out but Henry didn't really care much about the swelling; he was just totally pumped to go to the vet! Oh, how he loved those female vet techs that fawned over him and gave him treats. He loved our vet, Dr. Canfield, who commented on several occasions that Henry was one of the happiest dogs he'd ever seen.

Even in times of what must have been sheer agony he seemed happy. When he ran down the stairs to the boat, slipped on the dock and crashed down hard enough to break a piece of bone off the back of his elbow, he got up and jumped in the boat like nothing happend. Why so excited? Possibly anticipating a boat full of people that he could impress with this Henry-ness is my guess. It was only later when he was limping badly that we knew something was wrong. When we took him to the special, expensive, orthopedic vet (ka-ching!) he noticed the same thing. "Your dog is probably in a lot of pain right now, I'm surprised he's so happy." That was Henry.

It's been almost two years since we had to take Henry to the vet for the last time. It's impossible for most non-dog people to understand just how attached we were to this smelly creature. When we'd go somewhere without him it would take about 24 hours and we'd be talking about how much we missed Henry. He was a massive part of our lives for only six years. I still think about him every day and I miss him just as much.

He was like my best pal. He knew me. For awhile I had a boss I didn't like and he knew it. When boss man would try to talk or pet Henry he'd turn away, blow him off. It was awesome! He did what I couldn't do! I guess what I'm saying is Henry possessed some very human-like qualities that I just don't see in other dogs.

Below is a picture from Henry's last day. You can see that his rear legs are failing him. He has been having terrible heart trouble for a couple of months and none of the drugs in his cocktail seem effective. They're making it worse, actually, and Henry's rapid decline is now visually obvious. We're taking 1/4 length walks at 1/3rd the speed because that's all he can do. He's falling down the stairs, essentially fainting as his heart can't keep up, can't send enough blood to both his brain and his legs. He hasn't been able to wag his tail for a couple of months, but still says hi with his eyes. He can't lift his leg, or squat. He's having accidents - but he is still trying to stand proud and tall and at times he pulls it off. It's just heartbreaking to see this happen.

His decline was so rapid we weren't really prepared. The last day we spent walking slowly around a couple of parks, letting Henry go slow and sniff whatever for as long as he wanted. We bought him a steaming plate of fish and chips and let him have at it, the whole thing. (In the past this would have lead to unbearable flatulence, one of Henry's less glamorous traits. He didn't act much like a dog, but you can't escape your biology all the time...).

The trip to the vet was so unbearably awful I don't want to describe it or re-live it ever again. And in cruel irony, Henry was happy to be there because he still loved the vet! The vet is a place full of attention and treats. He pranced in like a young dog and flashed a Henry smile at the cute, young vet tech - and he received a treat. Just like old times.


  1. Gosh Mark. What a tearjerker. I'm so sorry Henry's gone.

  2. Oh goodness. So well-remembered. I was wondering what brought Lola around and where Henry went. Good to hear your words. So sad isn't it, that dogs are such a fleeting part of our lives? My dog is getting older and it may be awhile, or it may not. We try to enjoy the now with her:)


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