A veterinarian’s best friend
My oldest child Emili just had to have him. He was brought into the clinic by an animal control officer because someone had found him and didn’t want him to be killed. He was about 2 months old at the time and was as cute as any dog I’d ever seen. Who would have thought that little Hank would grow up to be a hundred pounds?
I have no idea what breed he was—probably some sheepdog mix, because he had too many toes. He was white with black spots and a sweet raccoon face. He had those saggy top lips that become kind of endearing, and his eyes—oh, his eyes—they just poured emotion.
Emili was about 12 at the time, and she took good care of Hank as he grew and became a massive rascal. But in the end he was my dog. I don’t fully understand the human-animal bond, but I do know that a dog and a person can just have something that makes them buddies. And Hank and I had it.
As soon as Hank got big, he became an outside dog—the keeper of Brock Hill (where our house is) in Dawson County, Texas. He took naturally to his job as chief of security. He never strayed too far and never allowed a passing coyote or dog to feel welcome. If a snake wandered by, he would amble in, grab it by the tail and shake it so fiercely I thought he would surely shake his own head off. He’d been bitten by rattlesnakes so many times he didn’t even swell up after a bite.
One day I was working in the yard, about to bend down and grab a rake, when Hank came barking and growling straight at me. I was shocked—he’d never acted so aggressive. I quickly realized that a nearby bush was his focus. He pushed me out of the way and grabbed the 5-foot diamondback rattler (which hadn’t even rattled) by the tail and shook it until it had no head. That thing would have surely got me had Hank not been there to save me.
We talked a lot after that. Hank was about 2 years old at the time, and I was forever indebted to him. I told him over and over how thankful I was that he’d rescued me, but he seemed to think it was just his job and I shouldn’t even mention it anymore, so I eventually dropped it.
You see, I like to take walks. I wrote a book that was composed in my brain on the dusty county roads of West Texas. I never took one step of those walks without Hank next to me. I told him the stories that were rolling through my mind, out loud, and looked to him for guidance on their content. He would drop out a long tongue, point those caring eyes at me, and almost nod or shake his head in approval or rejection.
It was a long, slow process of bonding for him and me. We had an understanding: He took care of my emotions, I took care of his life. We never spoke much of it to each other; we just knew it. He was a constant presence in my world and I in his. We were friends, the best kind of friends, no big expectations.
It wasn’t long until I came to the natural conclusion that I needed him. I’d sit on the back porch after a long day at work when things went bad and tell him about it while I rubbed his big ears. He would listen, just listen, and change his expression at just the right moments to let me know he was concerned. I became so accustomed to it that it became ritual. Just Bo and Hank on the porch, dealing with life, unknowingly forming an important bond.
Many dogs came through the Brock house during those years. As a veterinarian, I always had transients on hand that needed a place to get started. Hank welcomed them but let them know immediately that he was the boss. Through all of the dogs that came and went, Hank was the constant. He was always my dog. No other dog could come to West Texas and get my attention away from him.
For 15 wonderful years, Hank and I held each other’s hearts. Our morning routine became habitual: I’d leave for work at 7 o’clock every morning, and he’d be sitting on the high point just west of our pond, surveying his kingdom.
Two days ago I headed out to see Hank lying in his usual spot. When I went to see why, I discovered he had passed on. Once I realized it, I just stood there and looked at him. He seemed peaceful and content. He’d died looking across his kingdom in the place he’d found the most happiness.
I found myself broken. I wish I would have told him more often how much I needed him. How much I still need him to listen and love me without condition. Social interaction with people is so complicated, but interaction with Hank was as simple as breathing.
If you’ve loved a dog, you know these feelings all too well. If you have not, you will most likely laugh me off as a sissy. But I don’t care. I salute you, Hank the mutt. You made a world of difference to one old veterinarian who sees animals every day, and you helped me see the world through the eyes of a dog. You were special, you were important and I’ll miss you. I’ll miss you so bad.