We got Hank—Sir Henry Rustbucket—late February 1991. He was 3 months old and already had big floppy feet, and when we first saw him he ran towards the Boy and grabbed the tail of his red tank top and wouldn’t let go. I think we all knew within 2 minutes that we’d found our dog.

Smart, sweet, goofy… Hank refused to be trained. He never learned to chase after a ball or a Frisbee and then bring it back—making us wonder where his “retriever” gene was—and getting him to heel was an exercise in frustration. He loved the water, though, and for the first 6 years we had him no water source was safe: his water bucket was a huge knee-high plastic tub, because anything less he would knock over just to knock it over (and sometimes we would find him stuck with his front legs in it). He happily chased the sprinkler when we watered the lawn, and lounged hot days away in his own plastic wading pool.

For the first 6 months we had him, Hank fed the neighborhood stray cats. A litter was born under our house, and every morning when we fed him, Hank would hang back and wait for the kittens to come out and eat, and only then would he eat.

When we moved to North Dakota, out of necessity he became an indoor dog. At first he missed the freedom of being in the yard where he could bark at everything in sight, but he quickly realized that being inside meant More Attention. If the Boy was in the living room, the Boy would touch him. Constantly. Watching TV, the Boy would put his foot on Hank, which is exactly what he wanted. That set the stage for the next 6 years—Hank craved attention, which to him meant Being Touched, and horrible people that we are, we caved. The Boy and the Spouse Thingy would keep a hand or a foot on him when in the living room. If no one else was around and I was in my office, Hank lounged beside my chair. Usually in a position that meant I would roll over his tail or foot when I backed up.

Hank was so much a member of this family, that vehicles were purchased with him in mind. We bought our first pickup truck to haul him comfortably from California to Texas; after we totaled it years later we bought a station wagon, and just before this last move, another pickup truck. His comfort was just as important as everyone else’s comfort, even if it meant giving up the spiffy Mazda in order to give him enough room to stretch on our moves.

Comfort was mostly what we had in mind this morning. Last night Hank’s breathing because very labored, and very noisy. Darth Vader with allergies and an asthma attack. He had refused food all day, but finally ate some hamburger and rice in late afternoon, and then 4 bites of a steak in the evening—and damn, that made him happy. Steak, one of his favorite foods.

But he was still breathing hard and obviously uncomfortable, and couldn’t get his back legs up underneath him in order to stand up. This morning, his breathing was even worse, and he needed help to get up, period. He would walk a few feet and then stop. So Spouse Thingy called the vet and we took him in late this morning. We both had hope, but realistically we both knew.

When we got there, we lifted Hank out of the back of the truck onto his feet, and he walked proudly all the way to the door, and once inside collapsed on the floor, too tired to move any further. And that was the last time he walked anywhere.

They went through the motions, weighing him and taking a history of what’s been going on with him since his last visit. The vet came in and poked and prodded, saying that she could feel one kidney was hard, and that she had a hunch he had cancer. Probably a mass on his spleen, though without x-rays and more blood tests she couldn’t be sure. The problem as we saw it, was that no matter what it was, because his liver was shot already, he couldn’t undergo surgery. She listed options, but it was with a “please don’t make me put him through this” look.

And we never would put him through more pain. It hurt like hell, but knowing that every option lead to the same inevitable conclusion, we had to let him go.

The doc sedated him first—and seeing how relaxed he because, I realized how uncomfortable he must have been these past few weeks. The pinched look left his face, he drifted off to La-La land, and set his head down. His breathing, while still fast and labored, eased up a touch. A few minutes later, when he was comfortable, she came back in to give him that last injection. It was quick; he stopped breathing before she finished. He went very quietly, and very peacefully.

As hard as it is, we know we did the right thing. And I keep thinking that Hank is up there at the Rainbow Bridge, finally able to run and jump, and see his momma-cat Dusty. But damn, we’re going to miss him. Seriously, completely miss him.

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