“How old are your kids?” I’ve been asked on more than one occasion. Shame on me for feeling like I needed to explain that I don’t have kids but I have fur babies. I have the special kind of babies who will never grow up and discover their independence. I have babies who can’t make their own snack or take themselves to the bathroom even as teenagers. I have babies who can’t tell me what’s wrong. I have a 15 year-old in diapers, with a stroller, on four different medications, who can’t tell me if going to the beach is exactly what he wants to do or if that’s way too much to ask of him. I don’t know whether his cries indicate pain or if it’s dementia and the moans are more anxiety and confusion than physical pain.
When I decided to get a puppy in 2003, I had a friend working at the White House who told me how funny and spirited Barney Bush was. I did about five minutes of research (i.e. I looked at pictures of Barney) and decided I had to have a Scottish Terrier. This is back when you checked the classified ads. It took a little time, because Scotties aren’t super common, but eventually God lead me to Granite Falls, NC. There I fell in love at first sight with the most perfect creature I’ve ever seen. My life was never the same.
I knew Henry was special from the start, but he kept getting more handsome with age. His huge head kept growing and his personality grew to keep up with it. We went through multiple rounds of puppy training, and only with treats would Henry sit, shake, lay down and rollover. I thought he was genius on four legs. He never came when we called him, and he did everything on his own terms. I told one trainer I was afraid training would change Henry, and he assured me there was nothing that was gonna change Henry’s spirit. He was right. The vet told me I “better get control now or this dog would take over my home.” Henry did take over my home and my life, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
When I got Henry, I was fresh out of college working in corporate America and living with my best friend Kelli. God bless her, because Henry chewed countless numbers of her shoes. At our “Melrose Place” style apartment in Charlotte, Henry won the hearts of not only the residents but Willy the mailman. Willy used to leave letters addressed to Henry, and Henry baked Willy cookies. Though we were only at Eastover Ridge for three and a half years of Henry’s life, I would run into old neighbors many years later and they’d say, “Hey, aren’t you Henry’s mom?”
Henry had a best friend named Trevor. Trevor’s mom Sarah and I planned themed birthday parties for the boys. Henry was so mischievous at Trevor’s Batman party that I had to take him home and put him in time out. Henry and Trevor had countless pajama parties, where they actually wore PJs. Henry’s favorite place to stay was with his “other mother” (my mom) who loves him so dearly that she got her own Scottie.
When Shaun and I first got married and were living in a small condo, we decided Henry needed more space and a yard, so we bought the first house we looked at because it was on half an acre on a corner lot where Henry could see everything that happened. One year for his birthday, we took Henry to PetSmart to let him pick out toys and he selected a goldfish. Henry may be the only dog ever to have owned a pet fish. Then we decided Henry needed a sibling, so we took him back to PetSmart on adoption day, and he picked out Logan. We immediately loaded Logan up and brought him home and he assumed his supporting role as Henry’s sidekick.
Henry taught us to love Halloween, because we saw how much he enjoyed dressing up in his costumes and attending the neighborhood parade. And he loved Christmas with the passion only a Scottie can. I think it’s because we always told him Scotties were Christmas babies and kept buying things with “his” picture on them. He loved opening his presents.
When we decided to move to a Caribbean island, my first thought was will Henry be too hot. We saw how Henry was thriving there and how he surprisingly loved watersports, so we got a kayak, a paddleboard and a boat to take him on adventures.
We knew Henry’s life was extraordinary, so we started his Instagram account to share his adventures with others. On many occasions we’d be at the Rum Hut on Cruz Bay (Henry’s favorite spot) and tourists would say, “Oh my gosh, there’s scotch on a rock! I follow him on Instagram!” And they’d want their pictures taken with him. He always obliged; in fact, greeting tourists coming off day charter boats was one of his favorite hobbies.
When we heard a Category 5 hurricane was approaching and Henry was sick, our first thought was we have to get him off this island. Like millionaires (which, we are definitely not), we chartered a private jet to get Henry to the mainland.
When we decided to move to San Diego, I did numerous demos calculating the number of steps from multiple apartment doors to the outside area, trying to decide what would be manageable for Henry. God has given Shaun and me the physical strength to carry Henry up and down the stairs every single day.
At 15, Henry is still Henry. He does whatever he wants to do, and we celebrate it. If he tinkles on the floor, we kiss him while we clean it up. If he tinkles in his diaper, we tell him how amazing he is. When he poops inside, we say “good boy, now you don’t have to go outside.” We carry him and stroll him and try to decide at every moment what Henry needs. We pack snacks for trips around the block. We have our travel water bowl ready at all times. We wash and dry diapers constantly. It’s exhausting and an incredible honor, and we wouldn’t change a thing.
The hardest day of my life is approaching. Everyone says when it’s time, you’ll know. Several people have said there’s no such thing as deciding too early and that it’s worse to wait too long. Henry is a difficult case because he’s lived 15 healthy years. He doesn’t have a cancer or diabetes diagnosis. We see him play on the beach and interact with other dogs and with people. We see him eat and potty and we assure ourselves we have more time.
Then nighttime rolls around, and often he’s up pacing and crying, even with gabapentin, carprofen, alprazolam, and Rescue Remedy on board.
To see something you love the way we love Henry suffer is too much to bear. And it’s heart-wrenching and liberating at the same time to know you have the power to stop the suffering. But to rob Henry of a moment of happiness is something that I can’t seem to imagine. He’s the only living creature I know of who has never had a bad day. He is the definition of living life to the fullest.
Henry and I have lived in eight places together- seven with Shaun and six with Logan. We’ve played in the Atlantic Ocean up and down the Carolina coast. We’ve happy houred more than any other family I know while watching the sun set over the Caribbean Sea. We’ve taken an epic cross-country road trip. We’ve walked together along Pacific Coast beaches in southern California. And everywhere we’ve been, Henry has stolen the show. He has brought immeasurable joy into this world, and he makes my heart feel like it will explode. Henry has been the shining star of our family… it is Henry’s world and we all just live in it… and none of us would change a single thing.