My daughter gave me a plate for Christmas that has a black lab painted on it. “Doesn’t it look just like Hank?” she asked when I opened it. It has the same big square head and melting brown eyes, and even has white hairs painted on the chin. I use the plate as a coaster on my bedside table and when I look at that face I see in an instant how fast the years have flown.
Hank doesn’t look thirteen. His coat is still black, the only white showing is on his chin and belly. Up until a few months ago he could walk three and a half miles every day with Charlie and I, and when it wasn’t too hot we would jog. He started limping recently though, and I had to leave him home for a few days to rest. But I couldn’t bear the puzzled expression in his eyes when I didn’t clip on his leash as usual after Charlie’s, and so now I let him come with us most days, unable to deny him the pleasure of his gambol through the woods.
I joke that Hank has been the most loyal man in my life. He’s certainly been steadfast. In thirteen years, this gentle dog has survived double elbow surgery, a dozen seizures, the deaths of two other dogs, a chinchilla, a ferret, two parakeets, and a canary. He has lived through a three day high from eating a pan of pot brownies off the counter when I happened to be out of town, a cross-country move, the first child moving away, three more moves in three years, the second child moving away, a divorce, the last child moving away, and another move. He continues to tolerate an extremely bossy Corgi, a cat that uses him as a rubbing post, a havoc wreaking German Shepherd that visits periodically, and a rabbit that clings to him when I let him out of his cage, knowing as well as I that Hank is the kindest beast in the house.
When I look at Hank I don’t notice his age so much because his spirit overrides the marks of time. It’s like gazing into the eyes of someone you love. All you see is their soul. But when I look at that plate painted with Hank’s likeness, I wonder with a pang how long he will be with me.