My Friend Henry Lost His Dog. Will He Ever Love Again? By Dish Stanley

My Friend Henry Lost His Dog. Will He Ever Love Again? By Dish Stanley

. 11 min read

My friend Henry’s dog Hogan died.

It happened last week, the day after I returned from New Zealand. When I left, Henry had told me that Hogan wasn’t doing well so I sent him a text the day I got back.

”Hi, how’s Hogan? (I’m back from NZ.)” I wrote.

”Hogan passed away,” Henry responded. “It was his time.”

“I’m so sorry! When? You took such good care of him.“ I replied.

“Yesterday,” wrote Henry. (He’s taciturn. More on that later.)

“Oh gosh. Can I take you out to dinner tomorrow or Sunday?”

“Sure. Dinner Sunday.”

But let’s back up. Let me tell you about Henry and Hogan.

Henry and I are platonic friends but I originally met him last April through the online dating app Bumble. He is first rate. I mean absolutely first rate. He has all the character qualities you’d want in a romantic partner (or friend) (integrity, kindness, self-awareness, a good sense of humor - I could go on) and all the other traits that characteristically draw a long line of potential female romantic partners (he’s tall, wealthy and swears he’s a great cook). (I’m sorry to be so blunt but there’s no point to this whole exercise if I’m not going to be honest.)

Despite all that, inexplicably and unfortunately, I didn’t have romantic feelings toward Henry. “Would you consider a friendship?” I asked.

After a lengthy (pretty damn lengthy), awkward pause, he said. “Sure. You’re the most interesting person, male or female, I’ve met in years. Let’s try.”

“Thank you,” I said.

A couple weeks after Henry and I agreed to try to be friends, we were going out to dinner. He had made the reservations and called to tell me how to get there. “It’s tricky to find. It’s a tiny Italian place and the chef cooks straightforward red sauce Italian for five tables of two a few nights a week, and you‘re served whatever he is cooking. By the way, you eat everything, right? When you get off 95, you know how if you go left you see a small unmarked road? You go down that …”

”Ummm, yeah, this is not going to work out,” I laughed. “I mean, I do eat everything! But I get lost going to my own bathroom,” I admitted.

“Okay, right. Come to my house then. It’s easy to find, and I’ll drive.”

As he was letting me through the front door, Henry said “That’s Hogan on the floor. He’s 14 and having some issues getting around, so Tracy comes to do acupuncture treatments on him once a week. ”

Tracy administering acupuncture on Hogan. (And that’s not my leg.)

As we headed out to dinner, I pointed to something that looked like a super-duper high-tech mini bed, placed in front of the floor-to-ceiling window next to the front door. “Wow. Impressive. What’s that?” I asked.

”Henry likes to sit in front of that window in order to see what’s going on, so I had that bed installed for him. I put in an electrical outlet so it could be heated because it’s more comfortable for his arthritis.” 

I put my hand on it, and sure enough, it was ever-so-tenderly-warmed-up. I wish I had a picture of the bed for you, CRUSH Readers, but I’ll just say that it was lined with a soft pile and was so comfortable looking that I was tempted to skip out on the ”secret IYKYK Italian place” and crawl into Hogan’s bed right then and there.

Henry got Hogan when Hogan was two months old. He was named after the great golfer (and gentleman) Ben Hogan. Henry was a Portuguese Water Dog and, unlike any other dog I’ve ever met, instead of coming up to greet (and sniff) you when you entered his home, would stay seated and wag his tail sweetly. He just sort of expected you to go to him, but felt sheepish about it because he was raised with proper manners, so he would lower his nozzle while looking up at you. (It was due to his arthritis, I think, his whole coy thing.)

Here’s a better picture of Hogan.

Henry sent me this picture of him feeding Hogan sushi.

Henry lives by himself. His family lives in Virginia, where Henry grew up (and went to college and business school). Which (to generalize) might explain why Henry is so poised and well-mannered. (I can’t remember ever meeting a guy from Virginia who’s not a gentleman.)

Henry laughs warmly when you say something funny, and also cracks a low-key joke now and then. He listens carefully (he has three older sisters!), nods as he follows along, and responds in a deliberate, thoughtful way to everything you tell him, using the fewest possible words. His manner, even when he talks about Hogan, is stoic and unsentimental.

So when I was at his home the night of the IYKYK Italian dinner and he went upstairs to grab something, I was surprised that Tracy (the acupuncturist) began to bubble over effusively about Henry. “Henry is one of the kindest men I’ve ever met,” she said. “I used to drive an hour each way when I worked for an alternative vet practice and I’m a single mom, so that was tough. Henry suggested I start my own business as a visiting acupuncturist, and then helped me with the company formation, fill out the filings and paperwork and showed me how to do my books. He explained what were deductible business expenses and how to file my taxes. I now have a better lifestyle, get to see my son’s games and make more money. Even after all that, he insists on paying in full for every appointment. Do you have a dog with any aches, by the way?”

We all know men who are deeply emotional but don’t gush (the way I do) about the people they love, their kids, their friends, their partners. Not even their dogs. My brother - who is as stoic a guy as you’ll ever meet (I think I may have mentioned that he was a Green Beret?) came home one day a few years ago to find that his black lab Ranger had died. My mother happened to be dropping off his daughter just then, and told me that he burst into tears, got down on the floor, laid next to Ranger and sobbed uncontrollably for a half hour. He didn’t get off the floor for another hour. I’d already heard this startling description from my mother by the time I talked with my brother, and all he said, in a muttering-under-your-breath-voice was “Yeah, he was 15. It was expected.” And I’m close to my brother.

In other words, you can’t be fooled by a man’s cool temperament where his dog is concerned.

Over the course of the summer, while I was away, Henry and I kept in touch through occasional texts, which always included a report on Hogan.

It turns out, in addition to the acupuncture, Henry had spent the last year driving 45 minutes each way every week to take Hogan to physical therapy.

Hogan being rolled into physical therapy

“Hogan’s very lucky,” I texted. “Is he feeling better?”

”Think so. I take him into my pool every day for water therapy exercises. They trained me on how to do it.”

Henry had signed a non-compete when his last company sold, and he has a lot of downtime until his next gig. Evidently, that downtime was being devoted to Hogan.

So when I returned from New Zealand and got Henry’s text that Hogan had passed away, I felt utterly awful for him. Heartbroken, really. I was glad that he agreed to go to dinner with me Sunday, three days after the loss.

As I was driving over to meet Henry for dinner I was listening to the psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb, the one with the excellent Dear Therapist column in The Atlantic and the author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. She was a guest on the podcast The Unspeakable with Meghan Daum. The episode is titled Is Dating A Lost Cause? so naturally it had caught my attention. It is - hand’s down! - the absolute best thing I’ve listened to on dating and forming relationships in today’s world, and I have listened to (and read) everything I can get my ears or eyes on. The episode got acutely relevant to me when Dr. Gottlieb waded into the narrow subject of dating widows [starting at 1:01:48]. She said:

“I tend to find that people who are widowed tend to be the best partners for people. Because they know how to love and be loved. They’re not talking about their crazy exes … and they have a perspective on life. They understand what are the small things and what are the big things.”

“Alleluia!“ I’m a widow! That means I’m good to date!

But immediately after the good news, she delivered some bad (really bad) news:

What’s interesting is that I see that people who start dating people who are widowed often feel very threatened by the love the person had for the spouse who died …

And just like that, “Fuck!“ I’m a widow! Nobody wants to date me?

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the idea that it’s scary dating widows. My friend Samuel told me a few months ago that he is wary of dating widows. The thing he noticed about husbands who die is that they become deified by everybody, most particularly their surviving spouses. “Let’s say he was a good guy in life,“ Samuel pointed out, “with death he becomes a great man. A great man without faults.”

I’m sure that Samuel is right about that, as I’ve been on enough dates with widows to have seen some of this firsthand. I won’t make you sit through the story about the prize-winning tomatoes the late wife of a previous (one-off!) date grew, like I had to, but it was a doozy. Yet, until I heard it from Dr. Gottlieb it somehow hadn’t occurred to me that it was a widespread phenomenon, or that it applied to me. That being loved and widowed was worse - from the perspective of a potential romantic partner - than losing love in other ways (like, perhaps, betrayal) and divorce.

So Dr. Gottlieb was reiterating something I’d already heard from Samuel, and probably experienced firsthand even if I wasn’t aware of it. But then Dr. Gottlieb said this:

“But see, it’s not a competition … It’s so interesting because I think that widows are the best partners! And so many people avoid them … It’s not a competition! This is a different relationship. It’s a new relationship. You can love more than one person in your life and you can love them just as much! … [R]elationships with widows tend to be the happiest and the ones that really last …”

That was a rollercoaster in the course of just a few minutes. But, ultimately, there’s still hope for me. I guess.

As I listened to Dr. Gottlieb on my way over to have dinner with Henry it also occurred to me that Henry is now a widow. A dog widow.

Which put me into the proper mindset to be a good friend to Henry under the circumstances. Losing the companionship and unconditional love that Hogan threw off for 14 years, is a pretty big deal for all of us, but Henry lives alone and Hogan had clearly become an organizing principle to Henry’s life. So I decided, driving over, to do all the things that my friend Katie did for me when I saw her right after my husband died. She asked how I was doing. She listened. She gently asked an initial question about my late husband, to see whether I wanted to go there. (I did.) It’s a big thing, just showing up, when so many others don’t know what the right thing to do is and so do nothing. She acknowledged my grief, let me know she was comfortable hearing whatever I wanted to share.

It’s the kindest thing you can do when somebody is grieving - bear witness to it.

She also offered to go through my late husband’s things with me, when I was ready, and help me pack them up. That’s a meaningful, truly helpful, gesture.

When I sat down across from Henry at the restaurant, I asked him how he was doing. “Fine,” he said, unconvincingly. After some small talk, I gently asked about Hogan. “Tell me again where you got Hogan,” I said, even though I completely remembered from the first telling. This time, instead of the succinct version, Henry told me at length about how Hogan is the first dog he’s had since he was a kid, about all the research he did for a breed he wouldn’t be allergic to, the research on the breeder, the waiting for the litter, how he went through all the photo‘s of the other puppies that he swiped left on before swiping right on Hogan, the five hour drive each way to meet him, his first night at home, how he came up with the name …

I followed that up with more questions about Hogan. But one thing I never asked, and never wondered about, even though Henry had dedicated his whole heart to Hogan while he was alive, is whether Henry could ever love another dog again. I know he can. I believe that he will. I believe that loving Hogan through the arc of his life means that Henry has a fuller, more complete perspective on the whole business of loving dogs. And when he’s ready to love again, he knows it is worth it, despite the work and the loss. So he’ll appreciate it even more. It will be different. It will be with another dog with an entirely different personality with whom Henry will create an entirely different love story, no less significant, but who will take up, while he is in Henry’s life, Henry’s whole heart.

I know that love is not finite. That you don’t only get one. That our hearts have infinite room. That our hearts are dynamic, resilient, expansive.

And most of all, they‘re hungry.

On our way out of the restaurant I asked Henry what he was going to do with all of Hogan’s things - the dog beds, the blankets, the kibble, the toys. I offered to help pack them up. “Thanks,” he said, “That’s very kind but I already packed everything up.” He pointed to the back of his SUV. “I’m going to drop them off at the Big Dog Ranch Rescue tomorrow. They just got a large shipment of abandoned dogs in from Arkansas and they need things.”

“That’s great,” and then, gently planting a seed, “I have a close friend who got their wonderful dog Emma from Big Dog Ranch,” I said, even though I have no idea which shelter Emma came from.

After I got home from dinner with Henry, I got back on the dating app. Meaning, I started swiping through Big Dog Ranch’s list of dogs available for adoption. At some point I’m going to tell Henry about Hemingway. Hemingway is a Labrador Retriever mix who is “a true social butterfly” according to Big Dog Ranch. Which sounds perfect for Henry, who frankly could use a social butterfly. Because he might be taciturn and a little reserved, but Henry is very caring. And he has lots of room in his heart to love again.

Hemingway has “a heart as big as his playful spirit”

The Crush Letter
The Crush Letter is a weekly newsletter from Dish Stanley curating articles & intelligence on everything love & connection - friendship, romance, self-love, sex. If you’d like to take a look at some of our best stories go to Read Us. Want the Dish?


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