It’s strange how much noise such a little dog could make.
The house has been surprisingly quiet since Tuesday. It's not his barking, really, or even the jingle of his tags. It's just that Hank had a way of reminding you he was there; he had to, if he wanted to keep his bigger, clumsier doggie sister from trampling all over him. He would growl if she was too excited and too close—a gambit which nearly always failed, because Sydney was always content to ignore him. He would grumble, too, anytime you disturbed him once he had made himself comfortable, because he demanded his own comfort over all else. If he wanted something, he would dance in place and chatter until he got your attention, and would continue to do so until you gave in. He was bossy that way.
Sometimes you don’t notice the soundtrack of your life until it runs out.
Hank wasn’t sick for long. Or—maybe—he was. I’ll never really know for sure. He had lung cancer, that much I do know, and it moved quickly once I got the diagnosis. But he had always had periodic asthma attacks, and so it’s hard to know when his breathing troubles shifted from something as benign as that to something more serious. I took him to the vet last Monday, after he had a rough weekend, and he stayed long enough for an x-ray. When I picked him up, the vet was cautious. “There have been some changes in the lungs,” was all she would say, because she wanted to consult with another vet before confirming her diagnosis.
I knew then she wouldn’t have good news.
When I spoke with her the next day, she told me she and her colleague were in agreement: it was lung cancer. She referred me to an oncologist, said there was a chance of pursuing chemo; the oncologist couldn’t fit us in until the following Wednesday.
Turns out, Hank didn’t have that much time. He got noticeably worse each day: he had less energy; he ate more slowly; his breathing grew more labored; lumps appeared across his whole body. I began thinking in days rather than weeks then, but I hoped, desperately, he would make it to the oncologist—I knew there was likely nothing to be done but to keep him comfortable, but I wanted, at least, to be able to do that much for him.
But by Tuesday morning, we had run out of time.
People always try to compliment me about how well-trained my dogs are—in one specific area, at least. It is true that my dogs have an incredible knack for going in their crates with the barest of signals from me; it’s a particular charm that helps hide how annoying they can be in other ways. If I closed my laptop, or changed clothes, or even just sat forward for too long, Hank and Sydney would disappear into their crates and wait for me to leave. But the truth is, I had nothing to do with that, beyond being a bit predictable. Sydney does it because Hank did it, and Hank did it because he watched, and because he listened.
He did it because he knew me.
I could tell something had changed when Hank didn’t care that I had gotten out of bed. Most days, Hank would pop up at the first sign of life from me, demanding his breakfast, forcing me to move even on the days I didn’t want to. Like me, though, Hank was not overly fond of mornings. It wasn’t unusual for him to be reluctant to get up if I woke up early, but on Tuesday I slept late. And Hank still didn’t stir.
He groaned, when I found him under the bedcovers and made him get up. When I put his food down, he simply stared at it; he only tried eating when he saw me watching, and even then only managed one or two pieces. For the dog who once dug multiple chocolate bars out of my roommate’s suitcase and ate them and their wrappers in their entirety, this was a seismic shift. Never in his life had Hank turned down food.
By the time he got to the couch, he was trembling and unable to catch his breath. He could barely even bring himself to lift his head, and he began to jump when I touched him, as if even his skin hurt.
He only had to make it one more day to see the oncologist, but I couldn’t ask any more of him than he had already given me.
The thing about Hank is that he had no shame. When Sydney does something wrong, it’s usually out of excitement. She might know it’s wrong, but she can’t help herself. Hank was different. I can’t tell you how many times I caught him about to do something bad, and chastised him, only to have him look back at me with an expression that was as close to a shrug as a dog could manage before he did it anyway. He knew it was something he shouldn’t be doing, but he wanted to do it, so that was all that mattered. It’s why I began to call him a sociopath, and why it was only ever half-joking.
All of which is to say, I wasn’t terribly surprised when he didn’t make his last moments easy on me. My friend Rebekah drove us to the vet’s office, and the change in location perked him up a bit. I think he was, ultimately, a little scared. I had left him for a few hours, after all, the first time he went to this vet, and this time the waiting room was busy and filled with distractions. Adrenaline is, as Vaughn would say, a hell of a drug, and by the time we got back into the exam room, he had found enough strength to stand, and enough strength to resist the sting of the injection. And so he had to be sedated first, and I spent a few long minutes with his head buried in the crook of my arm, waiting for him to relax.
In a way, it was a gift. One more small moment of Hank being himself before I had to say goodbye.
The day I moved into my house here in Atlanta, Hank escaped through the front door. He went running down the street, darting in front of a passing truck before meandering through my new neighbors’ yards.
I was furious, because he knew he shouldn’t be running away, and I was stressed, because the move had been hard enough without having to chase after my dog. But I was never truly, genuinely scared I would lose him, because he had done this sort of thing before, and I knew that, sooner or later, he would let me catch him. Every few feet, he would stop and look over his shoulder, checking to make sure I was still there. He wanted to explore, but he had no intention of leaving me behind.
Because that was the other thing about Hank.
He had no interest in going where I couldn’t follow.