Walking our Faith: A eulogy for Henry (column)
Walking Our Faith
Henry was abandoned in the overnight box of an animal shelter in South Dakota, which is difficult to visualize because as a Newfoundland dog, he weighed 135 pounds when I adopted him and later grew to be 175 pounds.
It was the depths of our recent recession when Henry was dropped off with a broken leg. It’s my belief that his original family simply could not afford the vet bill, because other than his broken leg, it was evident from his gentle demeanor that Henry was well loved in his first three years of life.
Henry was rescued by the good people at Big Dogs Huge Paws and provided the necessary surgery to fix his leg. BDHP has rescued thousands of giant breed dogs, paid their vet bills and placed them in loving homes. Like many rescue organizations, they take the most difficult to place, the dogs like Henry, who have injuries, or are simply old or inconvenient. They are doing God’s work for God’s creatures.
On a cold winter’s morning early in 2011, Mom and I bundled into our car and drove to North Platte, Nebraska. The next morning, we met the BDHP transport. When Henry jumped out and I brought him into the hotel where we had spent the night, Mom remarked that I looked like I’d seen a ghost. In fact, I had never seen a dog as large as Henry.
We loaded Henry into our car and headed west toward Evergreen on I-70. I was certain that at any moment as we sped along at 75 miles an hour, this enormous dog would hurl himself into the front seat and we would die in a blaze of glory as I lost control of the vehicle.
We reached home late that evening, went straight to bed, and I spent a restless night listening to Henry roam the three levels of our house like an enormous black bear. The next morning, we were still alive, but I went to Mom’s bedroom and said, “I’m sorry, I had no idea he was so big.” Mom looked at me and then at Henry, who sat in the doorway watching us, and said, “Honey, Henry is home.”
And so he was. Over the next eight years, Henry was an anchor in my life. A stoic, compassionate, dependable old soul who greeted me with howls and bear hugs that often knocked me over.
In winter, Henry rolled in every pile of snow and gleefully ate the cold white stuff like it was cotton candy. Despite the Newfoundland dogs’ reputation as great swimmers, Henry never demonstrated such talent, though he excelled at immersing himself and emerging with a double-coat full of mud.
Henry loved car rides as most dogs do. He considered my moves from Evergreen to Whitefish to Breckenridge as adventures as long as he was by my side. A few days before he passed, Henry looked at me for a long minute and I believe he was saying goodbye.
The king has passed. Long live the king. Henry passed away this evening. He is the best dog in the entire universe. Noble, stoic, compassionate and wise. I kissed and held him as he fell asleep and told him I will love him forever. I am so grateful and honored that he was my dog and my heart.
I wrote those words on Wednesday evening beneath my favorite picture of Henry and posted it on Facebook. I’ve written about him several times here, most recently in, “Because this moment is all we have” (Aug. 3, 2018) after I received Henry’s diagnosis of cancer.
In the end, it wasn’t cancer that carried Henry away, but a condition called Laryngeal Paralysis. It’s a degenerative disease in which the airway is paralyzed. Imagine if you had to breathe through a straw — that’s what it was like for Henry after the slightest exertion. At the same time, his rear legs lost the ability to hold him. This disease is especially devastating because as it ravaged his body, Henry’s mind, spirit and heart remained intact until the very last moment.
I believe it’s no coincidence that God created animals first and us last. I believe God created these animals to be our companions when we are lonely, to love us when no one else will and to be the bearer of unconditional forgiveness and second chances when the world has given up on us. God created them to provide us examples of our better selves. Yes, I believe all good dogs go to Heaven. As Pope Francis said: “One day we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”
All of my Newfoundland dogs have been adopted from rescue organizations. When you consider adding an animal to your life, I hope you will consider adoption from an animal shelter or rescue organization. These groups do God’s work to help animals who have been abandoned for one reason or another and need safe and loving homes. What these animals provide in return is immeasurable love.
I find myself looking for Henry throughout the day. In the middle of the night I hear his bark. As I type these words, I glance out the window and see a smudge print of Henry’s nose, made as he waited for me to come home. And I cry without warning.
When I start to feel sorry for myself, I remember my vow to be grateful for all Henry has given me. My hope is that in the coming weeks or months I will find a meaningful way to honor Henry’s life. I’m sure that’s how he would like to be remembered, not in sadness but for the joy he brought me. He was a very good dog.
Suzanne Anderson lives in Breckenridge. Contact Suzanne at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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It was your typical ranch truck that stopped next to us — dirty, dented and hauling a horse trailer. Inside, silhouetted by the sun, were two cowboy hats and a gun rack.