Regarding Henry

Friday, December 12, 2008


Some of you may be lucky enough to have met my dog Henry, a purebred basset hound of immense character, advancing years, and lingering pungency. Henry has been with me almost the whole time I've been in Winnipeg, and will turn 10 years old in January. He even comes with me to work most days, and has been a joy, a frustration and a constant companion since I first picked him up from the kennel almost ten years ago.

Obviously Mr. Henry will not fit in my carry on bag, so my original hope was to take him to live with my sister and brother-in-law for the year while I was traveling. Also occupying that household is my 3 year-old niece who is a big fan of Henry Hound. They're definitely dog people, and they seemed amenable to the idea, so it looked like a great solution.

Here's the bad news: Mr Henry was recently diagnosed with an inoperable cancerous prostate tumor. It's an adenocarcinoma, which is apparently the more aggressive type. Palliative treatment is possible with radiation, but that would mean sending the dog the the vet college in Saskatoon for 3 weeks at a time, and would really only prolong the inevitable. I won't be doing that; he'll stay here with me in comfortable, familiar surroundings.

Now for the good news: someone seems to have forgotten to tell Henry that he's got terminal cancer, because he is almost completely his normal self. He's as active as he ever was (not very), he's snoozing 22½ hours a day, he's lapping up the love of his fan club at work, and he's savouring the fancy new canned dog food recommended by the vet, which I could hardly refuse him, could I?

When I pressed the vet for a timeline - "Weeks? Months? Years?" - he suggested that we're likely talking about months, though he also said Henry may surprise us.

And that's the dilemma. If Mr. Henry turns out to be a trooper he could be with us for a while yet, but at the same time I can't send him off to a new home when I know he's sick, and I know the inevitable is coming. It's not fair to the people I send him to ("Here's my dying dog, when the time comes, go ahead and do what needs to be done. Oops, gotta go - they're calling my flight! Bye!"). And of course it's certainly not fair to Henry. It's my responsibility to be there for him until the end, and maybe even for me to decide when that end should be. He may be gone before the snow melts, but if he hangs in there, my plans need to be flexible enough to accommodate that.

So I guess I'm saying that countdown timer over on the right may need to be adjusted. Maybe by a few weeks, or months, maybe more, maybe not at all; I don't really know. I do know that I will take this trip, and I know that I will do right by Henry. But it has to be Henry first, trip second.

In a strange way, the thought that Henry won't be there when I get home is one more thing pushing me to take this trip. I don't have a spouse or boyfriend or kids to leave behind, and I've prepared myself (I think) for giving up my house and my job. Henry is kind of the last really big thing that ties me to this place and this life.

And to end on an up-note, for those of you who've never seen Mr. Henry's famous helicopter impression, here's a taste:

2 Comments:

Gillian said...

Two difficult situations for you...having to delay your trip is difficult once you get your mind around going...and having a sick loved one is always difficult. You will go, and you'll feel better knowing that you did right by Henry.

Phonella said...

Marjorie Garber on Dog Love:

"Dog love is local love, passionate, often unmediated, virtually always reciprocated, fulfilling, manageable. Love for humans is harder. Human beauty and grace are fitfully encountered: a child grows up and grows away; a lover becomes familiar, known, imperfect, taken for granted. But dog love is not an evasion or a substitution. It calls upon the same range and depth of feelings that humans have for humans. Historically as well as in modern times it has often brought out the best in us."

I respect and admire your commitment to Henry Hound. It's a sad thing that our pets have such a short life expectancy compared to our own but as you know, while they're here they enrich our lives in so many ways.

And I'm definitely richer for having seen/heard that video, what a hoot! -- Henry's really a one-man-band :-)

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