2007 – 2019
I’ve been wanting to do another post about Henry, but as he got older he seemed to become more settled in his ways. He’d spend even more time napping, resting and sleeping with quiet abandon. And did I mention his hours of bed rest? He was getting old, alright. The brown hair circling his eyes had become speckled with white and frankly, his eyes looked, well, tired.
I don’t remember when he began to slow down on his walks, or when he started to avoid climbing the stairs at bedtime. I’d try carrying him but after pulling a muscle, what few I have, carrying him proved troublesome. So most nights he just slept downstairs on the couch, in his usual spot, or in his dog bed, with full view of all those coming and going through the front door. And by all, I mean me.
This past week, I noticed for the first time a loss of appetite. Also, he firmly resisted going for a walk. Friday night it was obvious to me that I had to call the vet first thing in the morning. Which I did.
Our appointment was for 10:45 a.m. We waited half an hour to be called. In the meantime, other people who were there with their own sick dogs and cats, came over, one by one, to pay their respects to Henry. They petted him and whispered sweet nothings into his ear.
What did they know that I didn’t? What did they see in him on this morning?
Dr. Cooper thought it might be his heart. After all, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels tend to suffer from heart ailments. But a stethoscope proved otherwise.
“Heart beat is normal,” she said.
Sigh of relief. But then she asked me to leave him for about an hour so she could run some tests.
I left, returning in precisely one hour. And then I waited in the waiting area, with Oliver in tow. Fifteen minutes later, in an examining room, I saw the ex-ray on the laptop. Was that Henry’s? Frankly, if it was, it didn’t matter as I could not decipher it.
While I stared at the ex-ray in a state of absolute confusion, Dr. Cooper came in and proceeded to hit me with the proverbial two by four.
“Henry has an enlarged tumor on his spleen that has been growing for months. Cancer, 90 percent malignant and he is bleeding internally. We could do surgery to remove it but in two months it will be back and worse, and, honestly, he’s in a lot of pain as it is.”
I gasped. Not ready to hear this kind of news. Choking back tears, I knew I didn’t have to ask if there was another option. But I did. And she confirmed my worst fears. What no dog owner/lover ever wants to hear.
So this is how a sunny Saturday turned into Henry’s last day. I spent the next hour of Henry’s last day in one of the exam rooms, with Oliver in tow. The doctor had given me a box of tissues and I went through the box pretty fast, blowing my nose and wiping the flood of tears.
She brought in Henry. He looked tired, beat, which wasn’t surprising given his low red blood cell count. Extremely low. Uncannily, severely low. Henry was running on empty. Which made me cry all the more, kicking myself for not seeing it sooner, for not knowing about the tumor which had been growing inside him. For months.
Luckily, my son happened to be visiting from Texas and was staying at my house. I called him and told him to get a Lyft or Uber and make his way to the vet’s office mighty fast.
“Time to say goodbye” was what I remember saying through my tears.
I was remembering how much Henry adored Josh. There was a time, just after college, that Josh lived with us and Henry spent all his time with him. Thick as thieves. In fact, it was a blessing that Josh was visiting for Henry was able to spend his last night sleeping in Josh’s bed and then lounging on the floor of Josh’s room on a heap of Josh’s dirty laundry. That must have been bliss for Henry.
Once Josh arrived, Dr. Cooper gave us a few minutes alone with Henry in the examination room. She then came in with a technician and explained the process. My mind was numb, in a state of shock, so I only half listened. All the time, Henry lay on a blanket on the floor. It was a cheap blanket, decked in pictures of foxes and owls. Would they use the same blanket to wrap him up and cart him away, I wondered?
I stroked his head over and over, and continued to stroke it even after he was gone. “That’s it,” said Dr. Cooper.
I cried all over again.
“Run, Henry, Run,” I whispered to my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, as I stroked his still-warm body for the last time.
For I was remembering one day, not too long ago, in spring, when I exclaimed those very words. It was a day like any other. I had returned from work and greeted the dogs in my usual way.
“Hello Buddies! Let’s go outside!”
I opened the door to let Henry and Oliver into the patio, not realizing that the patio gate was wide open. In a flash, Henry bolted outside, without his leash, and ran off.
He ran with all the passion of his youth. He ran like he was chasing the wind. He ran like there was no tomorrow. He ran for old times’ sake and he ran for dear life.
And all the while I ran behind him, bewildered, chasing after my spirited boy. And it reminded me of the Forrest Gump film, when Forrest starts running and everyone is shouting, “Run Forrest, run!” So I shouted, “Run, Henry, run!”
I don’t know where Henry got the sudden burst of energy that day. I hadn’t seen him run like that in years. But ran he did, and he ran with unfettered joy.
I imagine that somewhere up there, beyond the mountains, beyond the clouds and beyond the stars and the moon, Henry is running again. And this time, he’s running free.
For more stories about Henry, check out this page.