A Dog by Your Side or Still on Your Mind

Henry, my companion for almost 15 years.

The new issue of The Fretboard Journal, a magazine about guitars (and other string instruments) and the people who play them, build them, and restore them) came this week. Publisher Jason Verlinde’s “Opening Notes” article, which caught my attention first, ended with a paragraph I found to be worth quoting and one that got me thinking about my own dog. Verlinde said:

The Fretboard Journal [FJ] lost one of its two “shop” dogs on May 2, 2012. Henny was a retired racing greyhound who has been my constant companion through the entire FJ ride to date. He sat by my side for the last six years of FJ brainstorming, writing, late night proofreading, jam sessions and even for a couple of interviews. In short, he kept me sane. If you have a pooch, feel free to give them a pat for Henny.

There are few things in life more enjoyable than having a dog—one that is your long-time friend and companion, especially one that sits by your side or at your feet while you write and is there to take you for a walk in the middle of the day when the writing needs a rest and then again in early evening after a good day of putting just the right words and sentences on the page.

My friend was Henry, a liver-and-white Springer Spaniel we got as a puppy and cared for (both lovingly and medicinally) until he was almost 15. He had an incurable, but treatable, illness, discovered when he was two. But I never for a moment thought we shouldn’t give him the treatment he needed, even when doing so required enough special medicines and visits to the vet to (as we almost-jokingly say) pay for the new wing built on the animal hospital.

Henry was not well behaved. As a puppy, he destroyed three couches, a number of leather items and more shoes than we wanted to count. He could grab food from the table faster than you could catch his collar and hold him back. And when we brought our newborn daughter home from the hospital, he wasn’t sure if we had a new toy or a menacing intruder.

Henry, after one of his swims in Lake Michigan.

But I saw past that behavior—to the way he loved jumping into Lake Michigan and swimming out to retrieve a stick (and do so over and over again until he was too tired to walk home) and to the way he would “sneak” into the middle of a large mud puddle, which remained all summer around a leaking water fountain in the park, while eyeing us, as if to say, “I’m about to do something you’re not going to like, but it’ll feel so good to me.” Then slowly, while still looking our way, lie down in the wet, oozing mud.

Because of his illness, he had to go out more often than most dogs. But I never questioned his right to wake me nearly every morning at about two to go for a walk around the block in rainy springs, scorching summers, blustery falls, and freezing winters (when I would often have to remove my gloves to pull packed snow and road salt from the pads of his feet).

Now I sleep so soundly I hear little at night. But when Henry was around, I could hear him get up from his sleep on the first floor and start across the carpet toward the door. And I would be dressed and heading for the stairs before he had a need to bark for me.

After 15 years, I still miss him—a lot—and wish he were lying under my desk today as I write this post. Since he’s not here, I’ll just mentally give him a pat for Jason Verlinde’s dog, Henny.

Then later, I’ll take a slow walk around the block, wishing Henry were, once again, on his leash beside me.

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