The Tale of Henry Walker
November is "Adopt a Senior Dog Month." I know this because my wonderful high school best friend texted to ask if I would put together a facebook post about my experience adopting a senior dog. She works for a veterinary office and thought Henry's story would be a good one to share. Of course I was completely flattered and set to writing the whole story straight away. Then I stopped and realized I had no idea what she was actually asking me for... turns out my mini-novella wasn't going to cut it for a facebook post so I had to chop it down to two paragraphs. But since I have a BLOG(!!!) I can write however much I want about my dog. In honor of Adopt a Senior Dog Month, I bring you the tale of Henry Junebug Roselee Walker.
When I first started looking to adopt a dog, I was at a crossroads in my life. I was in my mid-twenties, single, busy. I traveled a lot, I didn’t want to be tied down. And believe me when I say this last part... it was closer to a pathological need for freedom than anything else. A "let me quit my job and go on tour with a band, then move into a van down by the river" type of ennui. Full disclosure: I still suffer from that sometimes which is 100% why I want to run away and become a homesteader! On the other hand, I was seeking companionship and, I think, a reason to settle down a bit. Intrinsically I am a thoroughly responsible person. If I don't have things planned down to the letter I probably won't do them. The likelihood that I would have ever actually quit my life and run off to a van down by the river was very slim (you're welcome, ma!)
I knew that given my schedule and my pretty low level of being a functioning adult, I couldn't handle the commitment of a puppy. I spent a many hours browsing petfinder.com late into the night until one day I found her. There was not a lot of information… just one photo of a healthy looking hound mix with friendly eyes. The description was equally limited: “Medium sized red fox hound mix. Good with kids, cats, dogs." She was described as "a little underweight" but that she should be about 45 lbs. That was at the very top of the size limit that I was looking for, but she seemed so perfect that I didn't mind a slightly larger dog than I had originally planned on.
There was something in the photo of this dog that made me certain that she was the one. She checked all the boxes. The best part was that it said she was right here in Connecticut! I called the rescue, which turned out to be located in Indiana. Like many rescues organizations, they would pull dogs from kill shelters in the South, advertise them in New York and New England, and then drive the dogs to meet their prospective new owners every 2 weeks in sort of a wayward doggy caravan. This fact made me extremely nervous, especially since I lived with my friends Melissa and Mike and their dog Goblin at the time. Goblin has a lot of needs, and sometimes he didn't get along great with other dogs. Fortunately for me, Melissa was even more certain that I needed this dog than I was and she was completely set on making this arrangement work.
I paid the fee to cover her spay, transport and adoption, arranged the date of her delivery to a pet store in Stamford, and then I waited. My ma drove down with me on the day of the pick-up. She wasn’t crazy about the idea of me adopting a dog sight unseen. So many things could go wrong! It could be a terrible fit! And my lifestyle was so… A dog is so much responsibility! I promised her that the arrangement included a 2 week trial period. If it wasn’t a good fit I could send her back. In that moment sending her back was a completely reasonable idea. I was not going to be saddled with a dog that made my life hell. In fact, I had taken to referring to her as "Maybe Dog" in an attempt to keep the prospect of her impermanence at the front of my mind.
We waited in the back of the pet store, milling around in nervous excitement with the other families waiting to meet their tentative new family members. One by one dogs were led from the back and introduced to their people. And then it was my turn. Around the corner came an emaciated beige dog, every rib showing as she moved, her hip bones and shoulder blades rippling under her skin with each step she took. I fell to the floor in tears as they delivered her to me, wrapping my arms around her, forgetting everything I had ever learned about meeting a new dog. My ma and I sat on the floor with her for a long time crying while she leaned up against us, wagging her tail, letting us pet her and coo at her and tell her how she was the most beautiful, our hearts breaking for this poor thing. I knew in that moment that I wouldn’t send her back. No one would ever mistreat her again.
The petfinder ad said that the dog, Hazel (now Henry), was medium sized and about 5 years old. She was, in fact, 45 lbs when she got to me but the vet suggested that she should get up to about 65 to 70 lbs with proper diet. The vet also couldn’t fully judge her age because she was in such rough shape physically but figured she was probably somewhere closer to 7 years old. I don’t blame the rescue for downplaying her age and physical issues… a large, senior dog with visible fatty tumors, and significant muscle loss is going to be a lot more difficult to find a home for than a medium, five year old dog who is good with kids, cats and dogs. The good news is that the last part was the truth and Henry has been an absolute joy. From day one she has gone everywhere with me. She loves babies and children, she shares her food with doggy friends, she’s lovingly tolerant of the kitten we adopted two years ago.
When I first adopted Henry I cried all the time. The idea that someone could have mistreated her hurt me so deeply I didn’t know what to do. Sometimes she would look at me with such sad eyes and then I would think about the fact that I wasn’t always there for her and I would cry. I would obsess about the fact that we wouldn’t have enough time together because she was older. I’ve had Henry for five years now and I can say without hesitation that she has changed my life. Knowing that she needed me, that I made a promise to her that very first moment we met, gave me a new kind of purpose. First it was getting her healthy, then it was bringing out her personality, then it was going on every adventure we could together.
In the last year, her age has started to show. She sleeps a lot. It’s more difficult for her to stand up after she’s been laying down. The stairs are pretty scary and she’s unsure of her footing on most types of floor. Our walks are shorter. But she still faces every day with the exuberance she has always exhibited. Two years ago twenty people came to Henry’s 10th birthday, showering her with treats and toys. Twenty people who wanted to celebrate this sweet, funny old dog. I never for a minute thought she would make 10 years old. Now she’s halfway through 12 (as best we can estimate at least) and I’m starting the relax about her age and what the future will look like. We’ve been together for five years. She is 72 lbs, and the vet says she's as healthy as can be expected for a dog of her age. Once well trained, she is now the most spoiled queen of the house. Commands are more like suggestions and she gets to lick every plate when we're doing eating. We cook dinner together and Henry gets all the veggie scraps. We snooze on the couch. We like to sleep in late. This year she found her voice and now she barks at everything. She barks to tell me that she would like me to come downstairs. She lays on the couch and barks out the window. She barks when the cat has her pinned in the back of the kitchen. The seven pound cat. The 72 pound dog. She is tolerant and gentle and kind and has never, once, for even a second stopped wagging her tail.
Henry Walker is the best thing that has ever happened to me. When my life was adrift, she was a lifeline. I met Marcel a few months after I adopted Henry and I'm pretty sure that without her I wouldn't have been in a position to settle down into a relationship. I know for a fact that it was only after seeing how kind he was to her that I considered him a worthy partner. Now we're married and have a house. By the way, we 100% bought our house so that we could have a fenced in yard for Henry to play in. She didn't like apartment living. I honestly give adopting a dog credit for the direction in which my life has gone in the years since. Emotionally, adopting a senior dog isn't easy. I have struggled with the fact that she suffered before me, or that we won't have enough time together but unfortunately, there is never enough time with a special dog. That's the trade we have to make in order to have that kind of love in our lives. And even if I had only been able to have Henry for a short time, it would have been worth it.