Henry is old now
Eleven years with this beautiful, damaged little dog
Dogs resemble their owners. Henry is stunning. A perfect aesthetic example of his breed, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, that thickly muscled squat cousin of the American Pit Bull. The sort of dog you meet after years of social media exposure and mumble to yourself that you thought he’d be taller.
I bought him in the summer of 2011. My girlfriend and I met the breeder in a parking lot in Bordentown, New Jersey. We were on the way to a weekend down the shore in Manasquan.
When we arrived he drew every swimsuited twentysomething within eyeshot. They crowded him, but he didn’t seem to mind. Later, a pile of corncobs captured his fancy. They made a ruckus on their way out.
Back home in the city his effect on passersby was no less pronounced. I couldn’t help but think that this was what it was like to be famous. Strangers stopping on the street to look at you, touch you, coo happy meaningless nonsense into your snout if you let them get close enough. Famous people were not immune to Henry’s charms and sometimes I got the idea that he commiserated with them, sharing an exhaustion with public adoration.
People at the actress model bar and cafe across the street offered me numbers for a casting agency that specialized in beautiful dogs.
We would sit outside. Henry in his own chair, aloof like he was hoping to catch the eye of someone a little cooler than me.
A punk rock legend and icon lived in the building around the corner. One day she was sitting on her stoop while Henry squatted to piss in the gutter. She took a hard drag on her ciggie and barked through the smoke, “Your dog pees like a girl!”
I was too star struck to say anything intelligent so I laughed and nodded while he finished, which took a long time.
I took him with me to New Orleans, we drove down together in a convertible silver mustang. I bought him a silk scarf and goggles for the trip and I wore a replica of Ryan Gosling’s bomber jacket in Drive.
A gaggle of young black girls catcalled us from the other lane as we entered the city but I think they were more interested in him than me.
My girlfriend (different, better one) met us a week later. That night a thunderstorm fell on the city, big and loud enough to shake the wood frame of the flop house we were staying in. Henry climbed into a chair to comfort himself, turning around and around on the seat until he climbed up the back and crashed down onto the floorboards as the next thunderclap struck.
The door hadn’t latched. It was a flophouse, after all. In his scurrying he nosed his way into the hall and was down the stairs before we’d noticed he was gone.
We ran out into the street calling after him. The water lapped around my calves, rising. A fast moving blur planed through the intersection a block away. Lightning flashed, leaving me with a permanent mental photograph of him halfway across, a ball of wet fear-deafened panic.
Lost dog posters and social media, fourteen hours, and a couple hundred dollars cash later we got him. He’d spent the night hiding beneath a trailer in the 9th Ward. His face was pocked with bloody red dots from where he’d been attacked by chickens.
The storm never left him.
The next time I visited the West Village dog park he pinned a Labrador and snarled. The Lab’s owner kicked Henry and then I made the man cry without hitting him, fear only. When it happened again to a different dog I stopped bringing Henry to the park.
My girlfriend and I moved in together, taking an apartment in far flung Bushwick.
Thunderstorm season came to New York while we were at brunch drinking pint mimosas. When we got home Henry had chewed through the kitchen wall clear through to our bedroom. Our landlords lived next door. They took it well because the man on the second floor was rent controlled and couldn’t be evicted, leaving us and the people on the ground floor as the only source of income in the building. The rent controlled neighbor spent his days drunk, lounging in a hammock that he’d strung between a couple of sidewalk trees that were barely thick enough to support him. He loved Henry. On sight he would giddily point and yell, “¡Perro de la muerte!”
July 4th in a Puerto Rican neighborhood is loud. We made it a tradition to stay home and watch him and take hallucinogens on our nation’s birthday.
When my girlfriend and I travelled the world we dropped him off with my mother in Montana. I taught my mom how to use the bridle-like contraption that we’d bought for him so that he couldn’t pull her into a snowbank.
To this day, she maintains that Henry was a perfect gentleman while we were gone but she’s my mother and of course she would say that.
Six years later, my girlfriend is my wife and we have a daughter and we’ve moved back to the West Village. Henry has small white hairs in his muzzle but people still ask me if he’s a puppy because he’s still beautiful. When I walk him I am quick on my feet. Any time another dog gets too close I wave and say, “Sorry, he’s a huge asshole,” smiling sheepishly, tugging Henry to the other side of the street before he notices the dog in question.
Most people laugh when I say that. They laugh because Henry is so good looking and because he hasn’t yet hurled himself at their Australian Shepherd. I’m bad with faces so I change my wording each time, that way people don’t think I’m giving them a canned line.
I know the truth about Henry. He’s strong and he’s angry but he’s not very good in a fight. Loud noises send him into an anxiety that won’t let up until he’s spent a couple hours standing in an empty bathtub, shaking. He is beautiful though, and even now his beauty causes people to look past his flaws.
At night I wonder if he’ll ever dare to growl at my daughter and I picture throwing him out the window.
I know it would happen differently. He’d make a threatening noise one day and I’d walk him to the vet full of doubt and I’d sit with him on a steel table and they’d poison him and then throw him on the pile of dead frozen dogs they have in the back and I would walk out the front door and go home and cry in front of his bed for three hours, picturing him at the landfill.
So far, he’s shown no signs of aggression toward Camille.
In all likelihood he will live until a thunderstorm finally sends enough cortisol through his system to stop his heart. I’ll come into the bathroom and find him in the tub. I’ll call a service to come and pick him up and I’ll carry him down the stairs to the street, wrapped in a blanket. He’ll end up at the same landfill.
In New York City if your dog dies, you can put it in a plastic bag clearly marked “DEAD DOG” and leave it on the sidewalk on Monday after 4pm and the garbage men will dispose of it.
People will send me their condolences. For six months afterward I’ll choke up every time I see a dog on the street.
Camille will look at old pictures and ask who the beautiful dog was. I’ll tell her it was Henry and I’ll lie and say that he loved her very much. At a party some years in the future she’ll mention that yes she once had a dog but he died when she was young, and no we never got another one. Her dad was really broken up over it. Sorry, what kind of dog did you say you had?