There are photos of me as a baby in my paddle pool and Sam was standing next to it, keeping watch.
He was a good dog. Our next one, not so much.
His name was Toby and he was a cross between a whippet and a silky terrier. Apparently the whippet was the mum, which conjures up some interesting mental pictures. As it turns out this was not a good cross. He was very naughty and liked to bite people.
As a teenager it was always a chore to walk Toby, but I’d use it as an excuse to detour past the house of the boy I liked, in the hope he would be outside playing basketball. Then I would have to pray that if he came over to say hi Toby wouldn’t bite him. You can’t shoot hoops with a flesh wound after all.
When I had my own children it was important to me that they too grew up with a dog. If we could find the right one, I wanted to adopt from the Animal Welfare League.
The right one came in the shape of a liver-spotted dalmatian with a heart-shaped nose. When I saw his photo I immediately made a phone call and arranged a meeting.
He was about one year old, almost fully grown but not fully toilet trained. When we brought him home his first order of business was on my favourite rug.
We named him Henley after our local beach. It was the perfect name. Except when you stood on the beach and called out for him it may have appeared to strangers that you had a strange compulsion to loudly declare your location to the world.
He was happiest at the beach. He would smile as he ran along it and loved a swim. He also loved to eat the stinky marine animals that washed up on the shore. Actually he loved to eat anything he found on the beach and we would often find him drooling in front of a couple trying to enjoy a romantic meal of fish and chips.
He was well-known at Henley Beach. Often I’d walk him and people would greet him by name. Children pointed with delight at his distinctive brown spots.
Henley had a great sense of empathy. He could always tell which member of the family needed him the most and could be found on their bed.
He loved Covid lockdown. He had our constant companionship. When we were doing home workouts he’d plant himself on a yoga mat and refuse to move, his version of a downward dog.
Henley was smart, but not street-smart. A couple of times he escaped out of the front gate and navigated himself to the beach. Near misses.
Maybe that’s where he was headed the final time he snuck out of the gate.
He was hit by a car outside our house and didn’t survive.
Luckily we didn’t see it. But telling our three girls what had happened was the hardest and saddest thing I’ve ever done.
They adored that dog. But I know they never took him for granted. Every day they sat on the couch with him, hugged him and told him what a good boy he was.
It’s only been a couple of weeks and the pain hasn’t gone away. I keep thinking I hear his nails clipping the floor and his paws scratching at the door. I get home and look for him to greet me with a wagging tail. He was always excited to see me even if the kids didn’t lift their eyes from their devices when I got home.
When there are leftovers on our plates we look for the greedy boy who was never far away from food. When we walk along the beach we search for his spots in the sand dunes.
He lived a happy life and was so loved. We take comfort in that. And lessons in loss are tough, but they are a by-product of love.
We will get another dog some day. But there will only ever be one Henley.
Rest in Peace our beautiful boy.