Friday, January 18, 2019

Hank The Wonder Dog

July 2010 ~ January 2019

Everyone who met Hank loved Hank.

I remember when we got him. Our wonderful black Lab, Coal, given to us by my nephew, Josh, had recently died of old age, the next one, a wandering Pointer named Billy, had gotten himself run over, and Caleb insisted that this time we get a "man's man" kinda dog, a German Shepherd.

I scoured the paper and found an ad for a litter, called, and said I'd be there later that day. Picking my mom up from the hospital after a procedure, I told her we had to take a bit of a drive to look at puppies. She was thrilled.

We arrived at the owner's place and I was immediately put off. I hadn't realized when I spoke to the seller that it was this rundown place I'd often seen from the highway when I'd drive out to my Dad's farm while in my early 20s. It used to be a farm, but had long been sectioned off into a small island because of the new, split highway. All those years ago, upwards of 40 now, I'd observed they had a bunch of snarling, growling, barking German Shepherds tied with heavy thick chains to their houses, that hadn't changed. Mom and I hesitated before getting out of the car, but figured we'd come all this way, so might as well at least take a look. We approached the house warily, keeping an eye on the vicious dogs and their chains, pretty sure we'd be torn to shreds if one of them broke free or we got too close.

The grizzled homeowner led us to a spot in the middle of his "lawn" where there were five very timid pups under a make-shift shelter, it was clear they'd had virtually no socialization. It was also clear they weren't yet 8 weeks old, likely closer to 6. There was no mother with them, probably because she'd have chawed a leg or arm off us, or maybe because the owner had already completely weaned them, we didn't bother asking.

Common sense indicated we should leave, but just as I was about to mention that to Mom, a cute little fella slowly and cautiously made his way the five or six feet to where we were crouching and... I dropped the $250 into the owner's hand and Mom grinningly snuggled him all the way home, to the delight of her five granddaughters and grandson, the latter exceedingly pleased with the arrival of his much anticipated "manly-man" pup.

When Caleb chose the name, Hank, we all groaned.

Hank ~ 6 Months Old

Hank never did live up to his expected manly-man status. He was a total wimp. An endearing wimp, but a wimp nonetheless.

We discovered just how pathetic he was one night when Bethany was retrieving a roast from a freezer we keep out in the shed. It was pitch black and she heard heavy footsteps approaching from the road on our gravel laneway, instinctively looking to Hank to sound an alarm and protect her if needs be.

He was long gone.

Hiding around the corner of the barn, having abandoned her entirely to the axe murderer who turned out to be Uncle Jimmy.

Another time, a couple of strangers sauntered up our laneway and I wondered where Hank was, nary a warning whimper had escaped his lips. I watched the intruders walk past the house and toward the barn, veering right at the heifer barn toward the milk house. And there was Hank. On the left side of the heifer barn, stealthily peeking around the corner at the possible-robbers' receding backs. They didn't even know he existed.

Then there was the time he actually manned-up and cornered a coon by the barn. Caleb was so proud of his boy! Hank was barking, the coon was hissing and growling, and Caleb, figuring he might need a bit of help in dispatching the critter, went to grab the .22. Upon his return, he found Hank lying on his back in front of the raging coon, belly exposed, wriggling and happily grovelling and drooling, like a puppy inviting another to play. Caleb wondered if he should shoot the coon or Hank, hence his deserved "Hank the Wonder Dog" moniker.

More recently, I looked out the kitchen window and saw a stray dog sniffing around, injudiciously wondering where Hank was and why he hadn't at least barked. Hope springs eternal, they say. Found him... plastered against the house door at the top of the verandah steps, ten or so feet from the interloper... trembling uncontrollably.

If you wore sandals or flip flops to the farm, you probably still have scars from having rocks dropped on your toes.

If you wore wide-necked boots, you inevitably limped away before taking them off and dumping them out.

If you were around when Jehovah's Witnesses pulled in, you'd have had a bit of a chuckle as they sat in their car contemplating whether or not it was safe to get out... while Hank quivered on the porch, hoping they hadn't seen him. He'd probably have just taken their Watchtower tract and deposited it in someone's boot, but we never told them that.

The only time you'd hear him bark was when someone started up a motorized vehicle, which happens a lot on a farm, or when he took a notion to tell the horses off. They and the tractors just ignored him. 

During the summer months, Caleb would tie Hank out at night with the meat chickens to keep predators away, but we all know it was the inane CBC commentary on the radio that actually did the trick.

Hank was great with children. He never played over them, always submissively below, slithering up on his belly and tucking his head under their armpits when they played in the snow. We didn't have to worry he'd harm them, he knew his place, bottom of the pecking order, here to love and be loved. He wouldn't have protected them either, he was no Rin Tin Tin, couldn't even act the part of a hero, too much of a chicken to confront anyone or anything, but it's ok, we kept an eye on the kids and he just did his thing, stayed close and dropped rocks on their toes or in their boots.

A little over a week ago, we noticed he was trembling a different kind of tremble, not a fearful tremble, or a cold tremble, which is another thing about Hank... he loved the cold and resented being confined to the barn on days and nights when it was 20 or 30 below. Open the door a smidge and he'd bolt, much preferring to lie under the frigid sun in front of the heifer barn door or tuck away from the wind in his insulated dog house on the verandah. Anyway, we noticed this tremble, it seemed to wax and wane. We'd also noticed he had a sore ear and had had the vet check it out when he was here doing herd health a week and a half ago, but it seemed fine that day. Then we noticed a lump on his head between his ears.

A week ago yesterday, so last Wednesday, Paul and Blessing took him to the vet, they did blood work, biopsied the lump, everything looked fine, except his protein levels were down. He never was a big eater, but we prepared special food to entice him to eat more.

We thought maybe he'd been kicked by a cow or had a gate or something fall on his head, it's happened before, he could be a bit of a klutz.  Like the time a hunter came by to drop off a deer and his wife, like everyone Hank met, was persuaded to throw him a stick.  Hank leapt in the air in all of his athletic glory, missed the stick, but managed to land on it, impaling his groin.  We had to call an assistant vet off the hockey rink to meet us at the clinic to take a look at him, relieved to discover the deep, gaping hole wasn't anywhere near his vital organs, just under the skin, creating the most amazing tunnel.  Hank healed quickly and without too much discomfort.

On Friday, he didn't look so good again and the lump seemed bigger. Paul and Blessing took him back to the vet, they scanned the lump, did another biopsy, abnormal cells were found this time. It could've been something, can't remember the name, which can be handled with steroids, we tried that.

This morning, Cherish came in after barn chores and told us Dad had called the vet, he was coming to put Hank down. Ross agreed with Paul, said he looked bad, much worse than just a few days ago. That's when he told us Hank was his favourite dog. Maybe he tells all his farm clients that about their dogs, but I doubt it. Ross loved Hank. Everyone who met him did.

I guess that's why I've taken the time to tell Hank's story, he endeared himself to a lot of people over the eight and a half years of his life.  He really wasn't anything overly special, just a dog, a wimpy, rock-obsessed, farm dog.

Caleb says I'm becoming like my mom in my old age, overly sentimental about animals, says I used to be much more sensible. I have no idea what he's talking about.

Besides, I'm pretty sure that wasn't a wet snowflake on Caleb's cheek today.

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."

~ James 1:17

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