To preface this entry, I’ll ask that you excuse me if I begin to ramble because I will assure the reader, I will proceed to make a point by the end of this, what promises to be lengthy, message.
I set out this morning, walking my dog Hank.
Hank hasn’t been with me long, he simply showed up one afternoon, roaming around in a nervous, zig-zag gait, towed in by another dog which soon magically disappeared. It quickly became apparent that Hank was old, and lost. He was also very hungry, which was soon remedied, but as I evaluated his situation, luckily prompted by the advice of another more compassionate soul, it became apparent that Hank’s other concerns were not going to be so easily addressed. He was clearly missing someone terribly – someone who had once occupied a very large part of his life. It also became apparent that Hank could not hear well.
I posted a photo of Hank along with a lost dog notice on Facebook, and asked all of my friends to share the notice in hopes that someone might be looking for their hound. I searched for pleas of a distraught owner on Craigs List, but after two weeks, neither platform provided results.
Soon it became clear that Hank had been accustomed to having a collar and leash, however when he showed up there was no collar. One evening when I opened my truck door to roll up the window, Hank instinctively proceeded to climb in. He was used to being taken along on rides, it seemed.
After much discussion, Alana and I soon concluded that the dog had been purposely abandoned. But why would anyone turn such a faithful companion out into the world? Unless the owner had died – and the person who had ‘inherited’ him soon found that the dog ‘wouldn’t listen’, was too energetic, and required too much of their time. So, not unlike the heartless soul who would abandon a box of kittens on the side of the road, they loaded Hank into the car, drove some distance before letting him out, and then simply pulled off, leaving the dog in the void of unknowns.
And so he started walking, trying to find his way back to something familiar.
A few days into his stay with us, I referred to him as Hank without giving it much thought. I’ve no idea, the name just seemed to fit, it came to me so naturally. Finally, after we’d both surmised that, if we surrendered him to a shelter, no one would adopt an old dog, and he would eventually be put down, I decided to delete the notice on Facebook and keep the old boy. Besides, he had already decided that I was his new purpose in life, and that he was mine.
This was a responsibility which I could not take lightly, yet seemed to take somewhat begrudgingly. Besides, it wasn’t as if I didn’t already have seven cats. How was I going to integrate this big dog into a household of cranky-ass felines?
Another point, is that this big boy thrived on attention – something that cats have determined that they can live without for the most part, with the exception of the occasional head-butt. Also, as lots of other musicians will attest, cats fit our lifestyles better – they’re quiet while you’re recording, and they don’t come over slobbering all over you while you’re half-way into a groove that you can never repeat in this lifetime.
But Hank was an indoor dog, being left outside made him unbearably nervous. So I erected a re-enforced screen door in between the kitchen and the laundry room, made him a bed, then set his food and water dishes. Through the door which opens to the outside from the laundry room, I led him inside to see how the he and the cats would interact. Hank seemed satisfied with the arrangement and seemed to realise that the laundry room was his space. The cats were a bit leery of the big animal which was now occupying the laundry room, and they sniffed at the screen door. Hank plopped himself down with his back against the screen and went to sleep. Cats continued to sniff and move cautiously around the door. This went on for a few days, but a couple of the females – Sissy and Popper – decided that they liked Hank, and slept beside him just on the other side of the door.
Oh, there was one other thing that, after a while we finally took note of – Hank never barked. Hank seemed to be so relieved that someone had taken him in, he was willing to accept anything that came with the deal, without voicing a complaint.
After a week or so of the division, the cats seemed to be at ease with Hank – with the exception of Spots, the most cranky 12 year-old girl, who paid him absolutely no attention. (The other cats never even bother Spots. She’s the matriarch of the household.) So, I decided to allow Hank inside to inspect the rest of the house. He trotted in, much to the astonishment of a few of the cats, slipping past them without even looking at them, almost as if he were trying to avoid alarming them. He sniffed about, lay down in the kitchen floor for a while, before eventually letting himself back into the laundry room, letting the screen door slam gently behind him. Alana and I looked at one another, stunned. Clearly the dog himself was taking a test run with the cats.
I finally began to wonder to myself if Hank hadn’t been some sort of support dog. He was extremely well behaved, intelligent, and wanted to be at my side irrespective of where I went throughout the house. He even insisted on accompanying me to the bathroom, dutifully lying down in the floor and waiting. It was but a few days before Alana voiced the very same observation. ‘Hank sticks to you like you are his responsibility.’ she said. I told her that I had come to the same conclusion. Even as I type this, he is lying on the floor beside my chair. For the first week or so, whenever I had to leave the house to attend to some business, Hank would sit in the kitchen floor and release a deep and mournful, almost eerie bay. It sounded as if he were miles away, and it sounded so lonely and sad. After I would return, he was overjoyed. ‘Every time you come home, it’s like Christmas for Hank.’ Alana mused.
It may be noted that the cats are completely at ease Hank now. Occasionally Misfit will even walk up to him and head-butt his snout. The diminutive Popper will often stand alongside him, as if she is every bit as big and powerful.
Hank has been well trained in another aspect as well. He will not relieve himself in the yard. It has come to a point that I have figured that he likes to take a good long walk very early in the morning, one which encompasses one and a half miles, and at a point half way through, he will relieve himself in the tall grass beside an old vacant grocery store. Then we head back home. If it is raining and we can’t take a walk – Hank doesn’t take a dump, so the walk is imperative.
Our morning walks are everything to Hank. They are the highlight of his day. For his life to have been filled with – who knows how many hopeless days and nights, there isn’t a single negative emotion that this old dog harbours. I watched him this morning as we walked – tail wagging, head held high. It was as if this were the very first time that we were ever going on this walk. He was drinking in every second of it and loving it. This same old walk.
“Hank,” I said, “you inspire me. I’m just walking along here as if we will be doing this forever and you’re taking it in as if we’ll never do it again.”
Then it hit me. What if it was the last time? I used to tell myself every time I’d climb the drive on my bike, “Enjoy it like it’s the last time.” But now, as hard as I try to remember – I can’t remember my last ride up the drive before the CFS knocked the wind out of me, but I never got to do it again.
Hank is old. He may not even have a year left. I should really be getting as much enjoyment out of these walks as he does. Because one day – it will be the last time.
I began thinking of my own mortality, and how things can change beyond one’s influence. I do lots of genealogy, and I’ve photographed scores of headstones of individuals whose time on this Earth easily fit within my own. It gives you pause to reflect. We take tomorrow for granted far more than we should. I imagined my dad lying awake at night, fully knowing that it had all been done, and that any moment he could lose grasp of life.
“Things never seem to go the way that we intend – life seems so different when it’s viewed from end to end.”
I penned these words during a moment of enlightened inspiration and included them in a song that I’d written about my son. I began thinking about him and how frustrated he sometimes felt regarding his mundane job and his life in general, how things weren’t running to suit him.
Then I considered how fortunate my dad would have felt a year ago – simply to be 33 and have the good health to enjoy doing anything again. And meanwhile there is my son, replaying scenes which he should have discarded of minutes after they occurred.
We own our thoughts – but negative thinking owns us. We can have goals and aspirations, but to have unrealistic expectations of ourselves is a different matter. Sometimes it’s good to work toward a goal, but if we aren’t enjoying now because all we can dwell on is later – we’re missing the boat.
I prefer Hank’s approach to life, and I’m going to try to be like him henceforth. I’m going to enjoy now – and I’m not even going to think about tomorrow.
Because this may very well be the last time.