You know how you have this image, when you get a dog, of him standing by your side, wagging his tail and jumping at your every command? Hank wasn’t that dog.
Jesse rescued him from the animal shelter. “It will be a great Christmas present for Mom.”
“Son,” we had perused over 30 dogs in 20 different holding pens, “Let’s get one of these pretty puppies over here; that one you’re holding is about half ugly.”
Jess would not be deterred. We named him Hank on the way home. He favored the legendary country singer. And he certainly looked “so lonesome he could cry.” We didn’t bother with a collar. Jess did pick up a Christmas bag so this whole thing would have the appearance of a legitimate gift. Hank, on cue, stuck his head out just as we handed him over. Cathy was hooked.
It is hard to believe that was 12 years ago. The boys were in college. I had no daughters-in-law. Rocky could still fight. My hair was almost dark. It was another millennium!
I repaired an old fence so Hank could have the backyard. I cleaned out the neglected dog pen that years before had housed a couple of pretty fair coon hounds. I worked hard to make him a good home. Hank wouldn’t go into the pen. He preferred my shed. We had our first “meeting of the minds.” “Listen dog, you are going to get in that pen. And like it! I’m in control here!” He wouldn’t come to me. And he was getting so quick I couldn’t catch him. Cathy made me cut a hole in the door of the shed so Hank could come and go at will.
The 20-ounce pup we brought home quickly grew into a 115-pound gorilla. I grabbed a stick and threw it across the yard. Hank didn’t move. I ran over on all fours, grabbed the stick in my mouth and ran back to the porch. Hank patted my head. He didn’t chase the stick. I must’ve showed him how a hundred times! He wasn’t interested. I tried rubber balls, Frisbees, dog bones and an old Ford hub cap. Hank didn’t fetch for nobody!
As soon as he got big enough I begged him to hop in the back of the truck so I could show him off. I had this picture of man and dog exploring the world together. Hank didn’t catch the vision. He wouldn’t get in the truck. Ever!
When I called him to supper he would amble over if he had a mind to. When he wandered toward the road, I would yell for him to come to me. He wouldn’t even acknowledge me by looking back. Twelve years, and he never came to me one time by voice command. Now, he might limp over if he had a sandspur in his paw or if he wanted his back scratched or if he thought I was holding a fried chicken wing. He was as independent as they come.
I don’t remember the first time he went running with me. It was his
idea. I was leaned up against the
house stretching when he appeared. He put his front paws up beside my hands and stretched with me. We did four miles the first day. He wasn’t even breathing hard. I was on my hands and knees trying to get a little air sucked back into my lungs. Hank didn’t make fun of me.
The next day, as I stretched, he hopped up beside me and off we went again. We did almost six miles. I was determined not to be outdone by a dog! The days stretched into weeks, the weeks into months, the months into years. That crazy Hank logged over 9,000 miles with me.
He was as faithful as the sun. And we talked as we ran. I learned that he could keep a secret. I’d tell him about those people at church and it never got back to them. We discussed the local football team, who could block and who wouldn’t. We got off on politics once or twice. And I was forever pointing out the terrible movies coming out of Hollywood. He heard about every girl I ever dated. And the big fight up at the Skyway Grill. I told him about my cross-eyed cousin and the uncle who plowed with a mule. If I got to talking too much or if he had heard that one before he’d drift over to the other side of the road.
It was our routine for most of the 11 adult years he spent with us. He never raised his voice or threw his considerable weight around. He was great around little kids. He wasn’t sick hardly any and he demanded very little from anyone. I only saw him mad one time. He still wouldn’t wear a collar, get in the truck, go to the dog pen or come when I called. But he earned our respect, admiration and love the old-fashioned way. He just hung in there day after day.
Hank stopped running with me about six months ago. Age caught up with him. I would take him walking and we reminisced over the miles we had put in. As was our custom, I did most of the talking. But it was still special just to be out and about. He would lag behind sometimes or turn off from our usual path just to let me know he was still the boss.
Hank died last week. He laid down in his favorite spot in the sun and didn’t get up. He didn’t whimper, complain or cause a fuss. He went out like he lived; on his own terms. Cathy called Jess. “Mom, he was a lucky dog. You and Dad gave him the best.”
What a thoughtful comment. But I figure we were the lucky ones. And I understand nothing lasts forever and life moves on. It was a good run for both of us.
I’m not depressed or warped out or headed for psychiatric care. I am just wondering who I’m going to talk to now about them people down at the church...