Sunday, November 17, 2013

Regarding Henry

How do you sum up a lifetime's worth of memories in a few paragraphs? The truth is you can't. No one can. It's impossible. But try I will.

The first time I met Henry was at my wife's friend's house. He was a young, gregarious Westie who was full of life and full of himself. His need for attention was surpassed only by his enormous personality. He was easily the center of attention in any room he happened to be.

A couple of years later, that very same friend of my wife decided to sell her house and move into an apartment. She asked us if we could take Henry in. Suffice to say, I had my doubts. My wife and I already had two cats and we feared there could be a conflict between both breeds. And then there was the fact that Henry had a reputation of, shall we say, having accidents. The last thing I needed was a 3-year old dog destroying our house.

I decided to give it a try though. After a week, my worst fears had been realized. Henry had managed to "mark" just about every nook and cranny of our home, including a pair of speakers I had in the den. I was at my wits end and was prepared to call it a night on the experiment, when he gave me that look - a look that virtually all dogs give, but which Westies particularly excel at - that said, "please don't kick me out, I want to stay, please, please!" One look at those eyes and I was hooked. I couldn't send him away.  He had nowhere else to go.

So my wife and I decided to keep him. By far, it was the best decision we ever made. Henry soon became an integral part of our every day lives and, over the next nine and a half years, blessed our home over and over. He had an indelible spirit and an unconditional love for people. Guests were greeted by a dog who slobbered them with affection and kisses. Around town, we were known, not as the Fegans, but as Henry's owners. Every where we went, all anybody wanted to talk about was how Henry was doing.

Henry loved long walks, especially in parks. The longer the better. All I needed to do was jiggle his leash or say "what would you like?" or "walkie poo" and he would go nuts. His favorite place to "hang out" was the backyard where he would often keep a watchful eye for unwelcomed squirrels. Whenever he saw one, he'd chase after them. And though he never managed to catch one, in my book he always got an "E" for effort. He had a particular affinity for my wife's tomato garden. Regardless of how high or thoroughly built the fence was, he'd always manage to find his way around it and nab himself a nice snack. It was better than a biscuit.

No matter what kind of trouble Henry got into, you couldn't stay mad at him for long. There was the time he buried one of his bones in the backyard and when he came back to the deck, his face looked like he had just finished a 12-hour shift in a coal mine. One time he thought it would be a good idea to roll around in what my wife and I thought was mud. Turns out it wasn't mud. It took us over an hour scrubbing him down in the sink to get the stench off him. Afterwards, he gave us one of those "what did I do?" looks. If only we'd had a camera at that moment.

And then there were those times when he woke us up in the middle of the night over something he heard outside the bedroom window. We would spend half the night trying to calm him down. The following morning he'd be two sheets to the wind, while we were sleep-deprived wrecks.

And then there were his legendary escape attempts from the backyard in his earlier years, some of which were successful. One time he made it all the way down the block and was in a neighbor's yard. It was times like those that made us grateful we didn't live on a busy street. Henry brought a whole new meaning to the term playing in traffic.

Having Henry around was like living with a perpetual 2-year old. Freud would've had a field day with him. He was pure id. Everywhere we went in the house, Henry would follow. If we went outside, he wanted to come; if we were in the den watching TV, he'd jump on the couch and hang with us; when we went to bed at night, he insisted on sleeping with us. He loved dolling out his love and affection for us in the form of what we called "hugs and kisses." It was as though there was an umbilical cord between us and him.

At no time was this more true than meal time. No matter what my wife and I were eating, he absolutely insisted on getting his fair share, which for Henry meant the lion's share. And Heaven forbid you ignored his "requests" for morsels, you'd never hear the end of it. He had a bark that went right through you. I swear he must've had a tape worm or something. No animal could've been that hungry.

Through the first eight and a half years with us, Henry was as healthy as a horse. The only time he ever needed medical attention, aside from his vaccinations, came after a scrum he had gotten into with our cat Puffin; an altercation that was decidedly lopsided in favor of the cat. After an emergency visit to the Vet for some repair work, Henry was good as new, though apparently no wiser for the wear. He continually needed to be reminded that some cats just don't like dogs, no matter how big a personality they might have, and Puffin was all too eager to give him an education.

A persistent cough, though, caught our attention in the autumn of 2012. At first, it didn't seem very serious. The Vet gave Henry some meds that seemed to work a bit. But the problem never completely abated, so we decided to have an X-ray taken. It revealed a mass in one of his lungs. A follow-up visit with a specialist showed that the mass was a cancerous tumor.

The tumor was small enough so that it was operable, so my wife and I made the decision to have it removed. On December 26, Henry went in for the operation. All went well. The tumor was completely removed and our little guy, after a couple, three weeks of convalescence, was back to his old jovial self.

While the specialist was guarded in his prognosis - he initially gave Henry about a year - we were hopeful that he could make a full recovery. We elected not to have him undergo chemotherapy, partly because of the side-effects, but mainly because there was no conclusive medical evidence that such treatments would prevent future tumors from occurring.

Throughout the spring and summer we brought Henry in for checkups. Each time he received a clean bill of health. We were starting to believe that he had dodged a bullet. He would be one of the lucky ones who defied the odds.

Then in September we noticed he was off his dog food. The only food that seemed to appeal to him was people food and even that he wasn't eating much of. On September 28, I brought him down to the Vet to have him examined. There was a swelling in his abdomen and an X-ray revealed a massive tumor the size of an orange.

Henry needed emergency surgery to have the tumor removed. Without it, he had days, if not hours, to live. Like the last operation, Henry made a speedy recovery, but this time our hope that he was going to beat this thing was dashed. It was no longer a question of if but when he would succumb to cancer. Another follow up visit to the specialist a few weeks later showed multiple tumors throughout his abdomen. The Vet gave him one to two months to live.

My wife and I were devastated. We committed ourselves to making sure that whatever days Henry had left would be as memorable and joyous as possible. That very same weekend, we took him to one of his favorite parks - Garvies Point - for a nice, long walk. It was an unseasonably mild afternoon and he was in his glory.

But the moment was as fleeting as it was memorable. Within 24 hours of that afternoon walk, Henry began experiencing pain. He started shaking and panting. The Vet gave us some medication to lessen his symptoms. Initially, it worked, but soon the pain began to win out. Over the next week and a half, my wife and I did our best to get him to take his meds while also trying to get him to eat some food. The latter proved a lesson in futility.

He had his good days, like last Sunday, when his former owner came over to spend some time with him. He was so happy to see her. It did wonders for his spirits and ours as well. Even in his pain, he had nothing but unconditional love for his family and loved ones. But that would prove to be the last good day he would have. In our hearts we knew the end was near.

On Thursday evening, November 14, my wife and I decided we had seen enough. We brought Henry down to the Vet to end his suffering. It was, by far, the most difficult, gut-wrenching decision I have ever been a part of, but in the end, my wife and I both knew we were doing the right thing. We had to put Henry's needs ahead of ours, no matter how painful it was to us.

That night was the longest night of our lives. We were grief stricken beyond words. While Henry was finally at peace, all we had was our anguish. Anyone who has ever lost a dog knows how painful this moment is. The house felt empty. I looked for him everywhere. His leash, his bowl, his bed were right where they had been earlier that day. Part of me was in disbelief over what had happened. I couldn't conceive of a life without Henry in it, and now I was face to face with a staggering reality: he was gone and he wasn't coming back.

Over the next couple of days, my wife and I spent as much time out of the house as possible. It was the only way we could keep our wits about us. It will take quite some time before we get over this loss. While it is comforting that we still have two cats to keep us company, it's just not the same thing. Cats may own the house but dogs run it. Every time we came home, Henry was there to greet us. About the only time our cats "greet" us is when they're hungry.

As the both of us continue to mourn our beloved and faithful companion, we are comforted by the knowledge that one day we will be reunited with him in Paradise. For now, he is in a much better place. A place where there are plenty of doggies and kitties to play with, the squirrels aren't quite as fast and where cherry tomatoes are bountiful and ripe.

1 comment:

David Marsilia said...

Wonderful tribute! Filled with the energizing contradictions that fuel our most heartfelt loves...