My worries for Hank began in the midst of the heat of our hot, hot summer. He was always such an active pup… outrunning and walking all of his much younger actual “pup” brothers and sisters. He inhaled his food before we got it all into his bowl, would nudge us with his nose and with a toy in his mouth to indicate he wanted to play, and thoroughly enjoyed all of the six homes in which he lived – becoming a city dog when we lived in a 900 square foot apartment downtown, spelunking through the woods and the trees of his grandma & grandpa’s home at Buckeye Lake, and letting all of the neighborhood know which home was his as he stood guard the whole-day-long in the center of our bay windows. We still truly believe without hesitation that he was the smartest dog in the world – he could even tell time! EVERY night that we didn’t beat him to it, we’d find his paw on our leg. He’d paw at us two or three times before we’d finally think to look at the clock, see that it was within two minutes of 6:00pm, and therefore time for his dinner. That’s when I knew something was wrong. When he stopped pawing at us for dinner. When he stopped eating his breakfast. And when he found a new spot – at the edge of our dining room, and stopped following me at my feet.
People kept telling me it was the heat. Or his old age. Or that the toll of arthritis had begun. But during those summer nights of him not jumping into our bed, Jordan would hold me tight as I cried and cried… knowing deep within me, with certainty, that something was really wrong. Still… we followed every recommendation. He experienced being furminated for the first time, and returned to us with an A+ report for behavior – the girls didn’t want him to go! We laughed, although it didn’t surprise us a bit. Everyone who met Hank, loved Hank. We trimmed his toenails more frequently, starting adding Glucosimine to his daily routine, kept him out of the heat and turned our house to “freezing,” and even switched him to soft foods.
However, he continued to go through spurts of this sad cycle for a few days at a time, and then would perk our spirits by returning to acting himself for a day or two… before falling back down. It was as if he could tell we were worried, and didn’t want us to.
At the end of August we took him to the vet. Of course, he appeared to the vet then as being perky. He was checking out all of the smells of all the corners, and even ate the treat they offered him. We kept trying to explain that THIS wasn’t how he’s been. Lab work was taken, and anxiety was the determined diagnosis. Despite not being totally “sold,” I felt a weird sense of relief and jumped on board – totally succumbing to talking myself out of it being anything worse. We purchased new calming treats, fish oil, anxiety-reducing collars, new food, and a ramp to help him in and out of our cars.
There were a couple of days during which he threw up bile. I kept telling myself it was just the anxiety… he didn’t like me being back at school, and he didn’t want us to leave him home alone. But again, the way he’d return to his high spirited self for a few days at a time is what would
lift our spirits and keep us going.
The day we dropped him off at my father-in-law’s before heading to NYC was one of those days. We explained all of the new treats, the food, the medicine, and the ramp. He’d nibble at food here-and-there for him throughout the weekend, but overall Grandpa’s texts relayed what we already both knew. Something still wasn’t right.
The night we picked him up and brought him home, he started hacking and coughed up some blood. That triggered Jordan to make a phone call, to receive a second opinion.
On Tuesday afternoon of September 13th, we took him to Best Friends Animal Hospital and met the most wonderful vet in the world – Dr. Debbie Heidrich – who, while sitting at Hank’s side gave us the most devastating news with the most heartfelt understanding. She had been petting him, touching him all around, listening to our story and concerns with such a true desire to help that by the end of the questioning she knew him. She knew Hank, knew who he was – and felt the same concerns we did. She proceeded to take his temperature, which was elevated – and then took him back to obtain some x-rays. When she returned with the news, all of our hearts sunk. Even Hank’s. It was apparent that he had known something was bad, really bad – but had been trying so hard to keep it from us… and he felt the change in the air when we finally knew.
Hank’s lab reports showed severe anemia and extremely decreased red blood cells. His x-rays showed a pretty decent-sized kidney tumor that squashed and shrunk his organs, and had already metastasized to his lungs. Dr. Heidrich kindly explained our options, and the inevitable truth that our Hankster was going to start suffering soon. We just didn’t know how soon.
Wednesday was tough. Just knowing what had been unknown, and watching him lay so weak. Girlfriends from work talked me into trying to enjoy a short happy hour with them after school, and Jordan went out with our dog-loving neighborhood boys. I asked Jordan to bring me home some dinner, as I just didn’t feel like meeting up with them after I had gotten home. He returned with my salad, a fried chicken tenders basket, and fries… aka – way too much food! But much to our surprise, we found our Hankster at my side! Ready to finally eat! He ate all of the non-ketchup-tainted fries, and 3 chicken tenders! We were laughing in celebration! And then we watched our regular tv show of choice, while I laid beside him on the floor.
That night I fell apart, again. Jordan tried to get Hank to our bed, but he avoided at all cost. He even refused the ramp. Jordan told him he didn’t have a choice, because we selfishly needed some “Family Snuggle Time.” He scooped him up, set Hank beside me, and joined on Hank’s other side. With our boy in the middle, we clasped hands around him. And our skittish boy who always made it CLEAR he wasn’t a fan of “Family Snuggle Time” just laid there.
Throughout the night we noticed him breathing so loudly and heavily and fast. And yet he still didn’t move. Jordan and I kept looking at each other. Not knowing what to say, or what to do. When Hank finally moved, it was to hurry downstairs – where he had a bloody-filled accident all over the floor. We were up – all three of us – the whole, long night. Knowing his suffering had begun, and that goodbye was coming sooner than any of us were ready for.
On Thursday morning – Jordan had already cleaned him up and scooped him back onto our bed – Hank didn’t follow me as I went downstairs to get ready. In those last several days, although he was no longer following me downstairs for the purpose of receiving his own breakfast… he had continued to follow me, sitting as my companion on the floor as I moved about. And although he had stopped eating it, I had continued to give him one of his treats before walking out the door. Thursday morning was different though. He laid there in bed. He just stayed. Jordan called off work to be there with him. To hug him and love him and be with him. But I couldn’t. It shattered my heart into pieces to leave my two boys that way. But I knew that if tomorrow was going to be the dreaded day, I couldn’t take today off too.
When I went upstairs to tell my boys goodbye, and offer Hank yet another refused treat…he lifted his head. In the most “Hank” way. And wagged his tail. As if to say “Bye Mom! Have a good day!” As if… as if to tell me that there was nothing at all for me to worry about.
In a state of complete disaster, fear, guilt, shame, and a whole lot of pain, I somehow drove myself to work. In the midst of the tears I realized I had forgotten my computer at home. I called Jordan, feeling horrible for even asking… but I was already running really late and I absolutely needed the materials on my computer….but I really really really really really didn’t want him to leave Hank home alone. He calmed me down and said he was on his way.
When he arrived, they arrived. I had been waiting in my car in the parking lot – when they both showed up. Jordan had scooped him up yet again, into the front seat. It was so good to see him in the front seat, even if I knew it’d be for the last time.
I made it through that day at work by God’s pure grace. He placed in my path that day so many dog lovers who hugged me tight, and allowed me to cry. And my students! They were so great. I praised God for them that day. They kept my mind busy, made me smile – even laugh, and they worked so so so very hard.
I received a call from Jordan; he started to cry as he explained that an appointment for Friday afternoon was in the process of being made, and he didn’t know if he’d be able to make it. To take him there, make that decision, and watch him go.
The drive home was so long. I could barely see through the tears, and I hit every stop light. I feel so bad for the young kid at McDonald’s as he asked me how I was, before looking up to see my face. I couldn’t lie and said “I’m sorry, this is for my dog. He’s dying and I just want him to eat.”
When I got home, my father-in-law and Jordan were sitting in the garage – with Hank laying on his bed between them. His head lifted and his tail went crazy. It was all he had. He always gave me all he had.
My husband’s so thoughtful, and so creative. I love that Hank got to spend his last day outside, his fur in the breeze. Once all the visitors had left, and it was just the three of us there in that garage – Jordan and I sitting on either side of him – he kept lifting his head to set it down on one of our legs, and then the other. He’d lift his head, look at Jordan, and then lay his head down on Jordan. And then lift his head, look at me, and then lay his head down on me. This happened over and over and over again. Gosh. He is so special. So very special. When we finally went inside that evening, Jordan had covered the couch with blankets and scooped him onto it explaining to the both of us – me and himself – that we were going to give him, Hank, a “normal night.” We turned on the tv as he laid between us, with our arms around him – as his breathing got faster… and faster.. and faster.
He couldn’t lay his head down. He couldn’t breathe. He was gasping for air. It became too hard to ignore. Too hard to focus on anything else. We kept telling him it was okay, to just rest. We shared the unspoken desire for him to just fall asleep peacefully, and to go without struggle. But he kept struggling. To the point that Jordan started crying. Hard. And begging him to stop. It killed him – to not be able to do anything. To know that his boy was scared, and didn’t know what was happening, and yet kept fighting the will to give up.
Jordan went outside to make some calls – to find out which animal hospitals were open that late. As soon as Jordan walked out the door, Hank laid his head down. With my hand on his head, he even closed his eyes for a few seconds. An undeniable and unexplainable strong, strong peace flooded my soul. That’s when I knew. He was living for Jordan. I went outside and told him what had happened. I explained to him that if he wanted Hank to rest, he simply needed to rest. He needed to tell Hank goodbye, and go up to bed, and allow Hank to rest by resting himself.
With a heart full of pain, and cheeks streamed with tears… Jordan did just that. I walked him upstairs and tucked him in bed, told him Hank was going to start breathing easier soon, and that I’d be back up with him in a few.
When I went back downstairs to be with Hank, he had moved or fallen down to the floor. He had made an accident, but I just told him it was okay. I started petting him and despite his continued gasping, his muscles relaxed. I laid beside him, with my hands holding his paws. I felt… it’s hard to explain. But I just…I wanted my boy to rest. I felt a God-given, serene courage and sense of peace. To just be there. To be there with him and lay calmly with him, just as he had with me so many times. I didn’t have any anxiety. I just wanted my boy to rest. I held his paws and told him it was okay. He lifted his head and laid it on my shoulder for a few minutes and it felt…it felt so good. Then he looked at me. He lifted his head and looked me straight in the eyes, as if he were asking “Are you sure it’s okay?” I held tight to his feet and told him it was by my silence. He took his last breath, became stiff, and fell over. And all I could do during those last agonal breaths was hold him. Hold him. Hold him. Until he was gone, and then I fell apart. And I keep wondering if the crying will ever stop.
As I’ve told some friends, he’s breathing easily now. And selfishly we’re so relieved that we didn’t have to take him into that appointment – but that instead he & God took that into their own hands.
Our home feels so empty. A hollowness. Every single thing is different. This morning when I went to refill our water tank, I didn’t have his water bowl to fill too. In the mornings, he’s not there at my bedside – standing eagerly, waiting for our morning routine to start. Before we leave the house, there’s not a big hole-y, green blanket to lay over the couch. When I went upstairs to change my clothes, there weren’t any extra footsteps following at my heel. Every time a difference is realized. Every moment. I can’t hold back the tears that fall. He was my buddy. He wasn’t just THERE, in our home everyday. He was THERE, literally at my feet wherever I went. Right THERE, by my side.
But he’s breathing easily now. That’s what we keep telling each other. He’s happy. And healthy. And I’m happy for him.
Gosh. There will never ever be another Hank.
* * * * * * * *
Hank was the best that ever was. Jordan brought him “home” unannounced, with the help of his Nana, to his parents’ home when he was 19 – and we started dating when he was 20. Although he was Jordan’s dog, his companion – for nine years it was always the three of us. Jordan, Hank, and “Asheree” (that’s what Hank called me then). He kept Jordan company during our long-distance years, when I was away at college – and me company once we married, and Jordan worked his 24-48 hour shifts. Hank was who I came home to. Every single day. He ran errands with me. Painted canvases with me. Ate breakfasts with me. Bible journaled with me. Visited my parents with me. Spent every holiday with me. And rose to greet me with such excitement – even after those days of me leaving him home alone for way too long. Day in and day out. Jordan may not have always risen out of his chair to greet me, but Hank ALWAYS did. Up until his very last day. He even always tried his best to sit in the sun with me. Oh my gosh, that was the cutest – he’d want so badly to be where I was, so he’d come out and say “Mom, I want to be where YOU are” and then a few minutes later be like “Ah, Mom – I have GOT to go in.” He’d come in and out, in and out – until I’d eventually surrender my sunshine… or, more accurately, get tired of letting him in and out ;-)
He was with Jordan through all of his firsts. His first car, his first home, his first beer, his first girlfriend. And also, through all of our worsts – those were the times when Jordan would call for a “Family Snuggle Time” session. Hank took on the personality of his dad – I always said “If Jordan were a dog, he would be Hank to a tee – and if Hank were a dog, he’d be Jordan.” In that way, I’m so blessed – as Hank will always be a part of him, and therefore will ever be present as a part of us. I loved their relationship, and I love who they became individually – because of each other. I’m so lucky to have been loved by TWO of God’s greatest boys.
I struggle with onsets of anxiety and depression, and Hank… he was at my side through some really dark days, and many long long nights. I never had to explain myself to him; he understood. And despite not being able to talk, he always said the right thing. I’m beating myself up for not saying the right things to him during his one, dark night – and for not holding him in such a way that could take away his fear. Yet I’m hoping and praying that my silence and presence was able to grant him a fraction of the security that he always gave to me.
* * * * * *
Hankster Boy, as much as I yearn for you – please know that I truly am so happy for you. I’m sure you’ve found Nana – and a big long table full of hard-boiled eggs. I’m so glad you’re frolicking and jumping, and resting, and… breathing. Breathing, so easily. Thank you, buddy, for taking me in as your own because of your love for your dad. Thank you for your patience as I learned to be a “Dog Mom” – for your forgiveness, and your grace. For teaching me how to love, and be loved. For modeling such devotion, and loyalty, and strength, and determination. For being there with me, through so much. For your protection too – and the peace you spread, whenever you were by my side. For keeping each of us company, and making each of us laugh. For giving us your everything. Your absolute everything. You are so special. There will never, ever be another Hank. You’ve left a void. A hollowness in this home that will always be. I promise we’ll bring in another brethren of yours – and love him or her to absolute pieces. I will not hold back, because of the love that I’ve lost – but because of you, will love stronger. You truly are the best that ever was and ever will be. I love you so much. I miss you already. But for you, somehow, for you – I will make it through. Shine over us and through us, sweet sweet boy.
* * * * * *
To those of you who read this, thank you. It’s simply a part of my grieving, my therapy. Getting it out of my head, and out into words.
To those of you, friends and family, who have been there for us – we can’t thank you enough. I am beyond grateful for the community of dog-lovers in which we’ve found ourselves. Your true understanding – your specific love for Hank and recognition of how truly special he was – has brought us such comfort. I really don’t know how we would’ve made it – through the scary months of summer, the past few horribly awful days, and the days of longing ahead of us – without each of you. We recognize you as gifts from God. True blessings. And thank Him for you. Thank you so much. For being there for us, loving us, and loving our Hank.
* * * * * *