Henry David Prater
Steve wrote this mainly to entertain himself on 6 Jan 2008; it’s too good not to share.
I’m a great admirer of my dog Henry. We’re both plump little grey fellows, and we’re both a bit smarter than we look, but he’s miles ahead of me in positive attitude and clarity of purpose.
Henry, however, was born a dog. Right from the get-go, then, you knew he wasn’t going to be winning any Nobel prizes in physics, or writing the great American novel, or even getting a plaque for employee of the month at Walmart. Even among his own species, he doesn’t have the sort of pedigree that would lead one to expect much. He doesn’t have the long-legged, short-haired, lean and hungry look that seems to be the world-wide standard for feral dogs. Neither does he have the engineered beauty of the pure-bred show dog. He’s got short sturdy legs, a body like a 30-pound keg of nails, big floppy ears, scruffy coat, and a sparsely fringed tail that looks as if it were purchased in a thrift shop after it had served two or three lifetimes on other dogs. But what he has accomplished with his meager gifts makes me ashamed of the use I’ve made of mine.
He was a foundling fourteen years ago at a restaurant where a friend of my younger daughter worked. It was a Greek place as I recall – and I mean a place operated by people of Greek heritage who cook and served traditional Greek food. Not one of the thousands of restaurants operated by people of Greek heritage who serve Italian, French, Cajun, or southern (American) country food. Anyway, a dog soon to be named Henry showed up there one rainy night wet, alone, and injured. The very softhearted Mediterranean girl who found him got him patched up and asked her friend (and my daughter) Meghan if she knew anyone who would adopt him. Meghan knew her mother would take him in, so that’s who she went to. I didn’t think it such a great idea, but I didn’t object too much. Good thing, too. Turns out I was wrong.
He was accepted into the house as an auxiliary, sort of back-up dog, to an already resident – and perfectly adequate – primary dog by the name of Waldo. Henry’s veterinarian guessed that Henry was about two years old at the time of his adoption. Waldo was also a foundling, but his finder was the county animal control worker who picked him up wandering around in one of Charlotte’s seedier neighborhoods. “Nice Dog” was written on the animal control worker’s report sheet about Waldo’s capture. Good judge of canine character: that county employee. When Waldo was sprung from the pound to start his life of ease and comfort he was about nine months old, and it was several years later when Henry joined him. Whatever jealousy and territorialism that existed at first were quickly overcome and before very long Henry and Waldo not only got along but seemed to enjoy each other’s company. As soon as he became acquainted with his new accommodations, Henry immediately set about establishing himself as a professional pet with the sort dedication and work ethic that would make Amish carpenters look like slothful layabouts.
Henry and Waldo had about eleven years together before Waldo died in the early spring of 2007. For the first eight or so of those years, Waldo was the sergeant in charge of the canine contingent of the household; even though Henry was always the more conscientious about performing all his professional pet duties – greetings upon arrival, following from room to room, offering comfort and acceptance, barking at perceived threats, and generally making the world a more pleasant place for his humans. After his second knee surgery when he was about eleven years of age, Waldo essentially retired. Apart from barking at the postman when he pushed the mail through the slot in the front door, he abandoned his dog jobs; and, although he still insisted on and enjoyed his daily walks, he resigned himself mostly to napping and eating. Henry took up the slack. He assumed a leadership roll and, with an admirable buoyancy of spirit, saw to it that no household duties for which dogs were responsible were left unattended.
Not very long after Waldo died, a new dog – another rescue dog, of course – was added to the household. The new dog arrived with, and kept, the name “Jake.” Jake is mostly Shitzu and is a very athletic and energetic little 12-pounder with some very unfortunate dentition. His lower canine teeth are almost horizontal instead of the customary vertical and therefore nearly useless for biting anything. Jake and Henry have accommodated each other, but they are not close as were Waldo and Henry. A little more Cain and Abel than Moses and Aaron.
Henry is more than fifteen years old now. He lost his hearing a little more than a year ago. For years, when he and Waldo took their afternoon walks, Waldo was on lead and Henry was free to run untethered. Waldo, you see, had his own ideas about what was proper to investigate and where he should be allowed to roam. He would not always obey voice commands. Henry, however, would; and therefore he moved on his circuit of the neighborhood without the humiliating bonds of a leash. But then, after years of perfect response to voice commands, he began, it seemed, to ignore his humans. Even my directions about when to make a dash through the path of the oscillating lawn sprinklers went unheeded. A doorbell test proved it: the little guy was deaf. Clearly, he struggled with this new development. He began positioning himself in ways that prevented someone approaching undetected. He’d rest in the forest of dining room chair and table legs or sleep in nooks protected by furniture on two or three sides. Even deafness, though, hasn’t crushed the little guy’s lively spirit. He’s on a lead every day now, but still he struts around the neighborhood on his walks like a frat-boy cruising the student union – threatening the squirrels, greeting the humans and dogs, and holding his thrift shop tail high and proud.
Henry has been a healthy fellow his whole life until recently. He had a bout of pancreatitis during Thanksgiving week and spent two nights in the hospital. He was quite flattened by this disease and was clearly in pain. Some IV antibiotics had him feeling better pretty quickly and within two days after coming home, he was his old self again. Now just after New Years, he’s in for some more tests. He went in to have a little cough attended to, but his blood work showed more problems. Maybe Cushing’s disease. Except for the cough, he seems to feel okay, but there are some tests to make sure. We’ll see. There’s a lot longer view in both our rear view mirrors than through our windscreens, but I don’t think the little guy checks his mirrors much. Of course, tomorrow is not promised to anyone. Maybe he’ll outlive me; who knows? If he doesn’t, though, I’ll see that he’s buried in the front yard next to Waldo; they can both look for the mailman’s brazen approach to the door every day.
Whatever happens, it has been an honor to share living quarters and time on the planet with him. Well done, Mr. Henry. Very well done, indeed.
and this today, 23 Sep 2010
The paragraphs above were written almost 21 months ago. Henry did indeed have Cushing’s disease. He took medication for the Cushing’s and, calling again on his buoyant spirit, he soldiered on. A few months later he began having coughing attacks; diagnosed as congestive heart failure. He began taking medications for that, too; but the little guy was just wearing out. His walks were sometimes cancelled and often abbreviated and slowed to a short course of strolling and smelling, but he still relished the outings. He still did his best to gather up his age-distorted body into a proud young-dog posture when there was a human or another dog to greet. Toward the end he had much trouble keeping traction on smooth floors or negotiating even very short stairs, and he seemed to relish more than ever having his ears rubbed. His face took on a look of angelic sweetness. Donning his vestments, I guess.
He happily embraced his jobs, maintained a splendid attitude, loved and honored his people, lived quite a long time for his species, and had a good quality of life until his very last days. What creature – Canidae or Hominidae — could want more?
He will be missed.
Thanks to Cristi Brockway for the pictures of our guy.