18 years of Henry

I was just 24 years old in 2005, graduating from PT school, and I wanted to use one of my first paychecks to get myself a dog. I had always wanted a dog growing up but my dad thought dogs were outside pets, destined to live on farms and help with hunting. (Newsflash: my parents got their dog Lucie a month before we got Henry. They did not move to a farm or begin hunting in the process).

When my boyfriend Nate and I drove to Ashland, Missouri to choose a puppy from this Cockapoo litter, I remember a few things. Nate was so allergic to the farm cats that he had to wait outside of the barn. And I remember Henry, the smallish guy with a lot more white fur than his golden-colored siblings, coming over to me in a super chill way as his siblings were bouncing all over the place. He put his head in my hand, then promptly took a nap in my lap. He chose me on the spot and I was completely obsessed with this fluffy boy from day one. I was so incredibly happy to have a puppy to love on, care for, and to treat him like an actual human baby (practice makes perfect, I guess!). Many memories are a blur from this period in my life but the intense happiness of getting my puppy hasn't faded.

His puppy days were....interesting. Nate and I each lived with friends and we both worked full time. I'd come home on my lunch break to see Henry had escaped from his playpen I had set up in my bedroom. I wanted to see how he managed to accomplish such a feat, so I put him back in and he demonstrated his insane pull up skills. He lifted himself up and out of the gates by pulling his chin up and over the top, toppling over the other side and onto the floor. Little puppy was a determined dude. He chewed our shoes, chewed a lot of wooden furniture, and he loved to tear up any stuffed animals (of which there were plenty because we spoiled the heck out of our 'baby'.) I remember when he lost baby teeth and it was so horrifying to find those little needles around the house!

Henry escaped from the fenced-in back yard a few times. He was so incredibly fast as we chased him around the neighborhood, trying to entice him back home. I'm sure he thought it was a fun game we were all excited about playing it, but in reality we were super annoyed to chase this stinker around for what seemed like an hour. He was a naughty puppy and I love thinking back about that type of energy he once had. Many of our present day friends are getting puppies and I just smile and nod and remember those days (with rose colored glasses but also, no). 

When I think about the constant force of Henry throughout our lives, and how important he's been to us for major milestones, I first think about when Nate proposed to me in 2006. I knew a ring was coming and was just a *little* eager to get this show on freaking the road after dating for five years through college. Nate took Henry outside to pee and when they came back inside, Henry jumped up on my bed with a ribbon tied around his neck. I think Nate had to tell me to look closely at the ribbon, and there was my engagement ring, tied around a very proud Henry's neck. 

Every milestone after that moment crashes together in a blink as I look back over our many years with Henry. 

There was the move from St. Louis to Milwaukee, two days after our wedding. Henry rode in the U-haul, or maybe he was with me in my black Mazda Tribute. He always HATED riding in cars and would pant, face backwards in the back seat, and his breath would become so horrible that we could smell his anxiety from the drivers seat. I remember his first time (only time?) swimming in Lake Michigan, too. He was such a trooper with all of our activities for him. I know he went on runs with me, possibly up to 3 miles at a time, but I honestly barely remember any of those miles we logged together. He'd poop at the groomer or the vet nearly all of his life, no matter how long we lingered outside before his appointment. There was just something about those inside rugs that needed to experience Henry's nervous poop. 

All of Henry's dog friends flash into my mind: Sammy, Lucie, Bailey, Sampson, Riley. All of these dogs have gone before him. All of his friends are gone. There were actual dog birthday parties for this crew, complete with birthday hats and expensive dog treats. Henry really didn't mind all of the attention and he knew his spot in our life was as Top Alpha Dog. Oh, he was SO spoiled, you guys.

When we announced my pregnancy with Truman, we told the grandparents by putting a t-shirt on Henry that said 'I'm going to be a big brother, and you are going to be GRANDPARENTS!' He has always been an integral part of each milestone as we've grown our family. Because of course he was. Our best boy.

The day we brought Truman home from the hospital is a day I'll never forget. Not because we brought our first born baby home to begin our life as parents, but because of what our first-born fur baby did in response. Short version of the story is that he completely freaked out, lost his mind, and we did the same. Nate slept with Henry in a headlock in our bed. I slept on the couch with newborn Truman. Henry was yipping and whining all night long and Nate just kept squirting him with a water bottle with crazy eyes, saying 'I think it's working!' while Henry shook out approximately 12 ounces of water from his fur. 

With each subsequent baby we brought home from the hospital, Henry mellowed more and more. And in fact, he started to really enjoy the kids when he realized they all drop people food from their highchairs. Henry began a steady diet of goldfish crackers and puffs, and even graduated himself to stealing chocolate, pizza, and loaves of bread on the countertops. 'These little humans aren't so bad after all,' I could almost hear him say to me with those serious eyes. He definitely jumped up on our dining room table several times, proving that he was agile and very driven by people food and didn't care about our stupid rules.

I remember experiencing sadness like I'd never known before, when we went through my miscarriage between Truman and Cece in 2011. Coming home from the heartbreaking ultrasound, I sat on the floor and just sobbed. Nate was consoling me of course, but I won't ever forget my fluffy white dog who sensed my pain. He walked over to me and cuddled up on my lap while I cried, similar to what he did as a puppy in that barn when he chose me. He's always been my constant friend and to say that we will miss him is a severe understatement. My heart is breaking again just thinking about this next chapter without our Henry.

All of our passwords still contain his name. The sound of his nails clicking on our hardwood floors won't be another constant in the soundtrack of our lives. His puppy attacks, his yodeling, chasing the kids around the house and barking, his love for playing fetch for about 3 throws before he was over it.....all of these memories spill out of my brain. It's also been so long since *that* Henry lived with us; the energetic, younger version hasn't been with us in years. 

I don't remember when he stopped jumping up on our couches and our bed. I don't remember the last time he stole food right out of a kids' hand. I don't remember the last walk we took together, or when he last barked at a stranger.

Looking back at photos helps put the last 18 years in perspective. He used to make eye contact with us for photos. He used to hear us when we said his name. He used to get so excited when he'd hear our car pull into the driveway and would greet us with a wagging tail. He used to take walks and runs with us, and would bark at leaves that blew past our house. He was always so skittish around guys and would tuck his tail when a new person came to our house. 

None of this happens now. Henry is just sort of existing, because he's still here physically but he's a shell of a dog at this point. He can't see because of full cataracts. He can't hear us say his name. He can still smell but it's not anything like it used to be, so when we drop food he doesn't pounce on it and needs to be guided to his loot. He's falling down our stairs, and peeing on the landing nearly every night. I remember him being so embarrassed if he had an accident 5+ years ago. And now, we don't even think he knows when he's going. There's been so much pee and poop lately and I hate myself for getting frustrated as we clean it up, yet again. 

When I try to pet him he will allow that for a few seconds but then he usually pulls away and gets back to pacing around each room of our house. He walks right into us and into the walls sometimes. He will stare at the back door for no reason at all. He sleeps probably 20 hours a day, getting up to move from his bed in our room to the kids' bathroom floor mat. Pacing, pacing, pacing. He doesn't quite know what to do with himself anymore. I realize these are all signs that he's no longer living his best life but it's killing me to even type this out right now.

In June of 2022, Henry had a big scare that we think was a major seizure from a brain tumor. We really thought that was it for our guy. But he pulled through and has been living on borrowed time for the last year and a half. Looking back at photos tells the story of our best boy, steadily declining ever since that summer. And still, he isn't making it easy on us to decide when enough is enough. (THIS IS SO HARD, how do people do this??).

In my mind, any obvious red flags would be a no brainer to let him go. If he's in pain, we will say goodbye. If he stops eating, we will say goodbye. If he can't walk, or get up and down our stairs anymore, we will say goodbye. But none of these obvious red flags have happened. And yet, all of the yellow flags are waving hard at us. He's here but he's not. He is so so old and so so tired. 

We are worried about something happening to make our goodbye more traumatic and stressful than it needs to be. What if one of these falls down the stairs means a broken leg? What if his 'stable' tumor on this thigh busts open? What if he has another seizure? What if he goes into a crisis when we are out of town and our sweet dog sitter, or my in-laws, have to handle it? If he stops eating, or is in serious pain, will that make things easier for us to decide or somehow much harder? I don't want to be selfish keeping him around because we are avoiding the inevitable. But it's just so hard. 

Talking to Nate about all of this, he said that if he is 126 years old and this is his quality of life, he wouldn't want to live anymore either. (I guess we should add that to his will?) But what more could we ask for in our dog? He's had a wonderful life. He's been our best dog, our only dog, and more special to us than we could have predicted back in 2005. He's been our constant. Our companion. He's lived 18 wonderful years with us. I'm so sad to let him go. He can never be replaced, so please don't ask if we are getting another dog--I cannot go there mentally right now.

The average life expectancy of a Cockapoo is 12-15 years. He's given us 18.5 because he's a freaking wonder. The kids all wanted him to break the Guiness Book of World Records, which I'm told is 22 years (not a chance). I wish we could have another 18 with this guy, but I do feel like he's already gone in a way. I've been a wreck ever since we made the decision, in case you can't tell.

Telling the kids our plan for the at-home vet to come to the house was another awful experience. They are all so sad to say goodbye. We've never done this before and it's already excruciating to begin the grieving process. I hate this. 

But I love you, Henry. Thank you for giving us these memories, and all of these years with you as our number one. There will never be another dog like you. 


On April 6th, with sunshine streaming through the windows of our home, and surrounded by all of his favorite people, we said goodbye to our best boy. It was peaceful and heartbreaking. It was time but it was so incredibly difficult to let him go. The kids, Nate, Tony, Lois and I all gave him so many hugs and kisses before sending him over that rainbow bridge to run and play again. 


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