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A Difficult Goodbye

Y’all… if you’re a dog lover then just go ahead and grab the tissues now because today I’m getting pretty vulnerable and letting my emotions out on the blog… I have always been one to write my emotions out particularly during hard times… it’s my way of coping… if you didn’t know this already about me then just sift through posts in my “personal” category on the blog and you’ll see that I’m pretty much an open book with sharing my heart to my fellow readers… mainly because this is a personal journal for me and my family but also for my friends and followers to know what’s going on in our lives.

I always strive for my social media posts and my blog to be uplifting, encouraging, or something to make you smile… But I also try to keep it real and be open with you. Because I know that many of my family, friends, and followers have met (or virtually met via Instagram) our furbaby Henry… I wanted to share with you some news. I also want this to be a journal entry for my now 9-month old son Michael so he can read this one day when he will understand it. But first, let me tell you a story…

My parents, who also live here in Richmond celebrated their 34th anniversary this past May 2017. Shortly after they got married, their wedding present to each other was to get a dog. The condo where they lived didn’t allow dogs but they didn’t care and got one anyway. Better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission, right? They went to a fair in Newport, Rhode Island and saw a bunch of precious little sheepdog puppies for sale… my parents said they looked like little baby polar bears (how could you resist that cuteness?!). They picked out their dog and they were told she’d be ready to go home with them in 4-weeks. They named her Ginger.

My mom always told me she was an awesome dog. At the time, it was before the leash law so Ginger would roam the neighborhoods, making new friends, and always found her way home. She knew everyone. Neighbors would pass and wave to Ginger that my parents didn’t even know. Ginger was 3 when my brother, Maury, was born. They were best buddies and would roll around and play together. Ginger was about 5 when I was born. I don’t remember much about Ginger… only from stories told and a handful of photographs. My parents said that it was a lot to have a dog at that time with two small children because it was a lot of dog hair to clean up (amen!) but all so worth it. One day Ginger was eating her food when I crawled up next to her and she made a sinister growl at me. Dad, right then, made the decision that she had to go. He didn’t want her to harm me or anyone else. My mom knew he was right and the neighbors understood. Mom reached out to a close friend whose parents were then empty-nesters, lived in Roanoke, VA, and had a lot of land. They welcomed Ginger into their lives and fell in love with her right away. They would send a card and sometimes a recent photo every year, but as one can imagine, those updates on Ginger probably hurt more than they helped because they missed her so. They lost a part of their family… Ginger was 5 when she left our home in Norfolk, VA. She lived 6 years with her new family — had an amazing, fulfilling life — and then died of cancer at age 11.

I promise there is a point to me telling you this sad story…

Y’all remember Jackie boy don’t you? Well he went to dog heaven at a time when Ryan and I were trying to get pregnant with our first child… our house felt so quiet when Jackson passed away… we needed to fill the void in our hearts. We found our Henry after some extensive research on labrador breeders (within driving distance). The breeder had an impressive background — breeding, raising, and training labradors that have won AKC hunt test competitions and field training. Henry’s pedigree is pristine. Both of his parents have excellent health records and a laundry list of medals from various hunting competitions (for instance…Henry’s great great grandfather was NFC NAFC Candlewood Super Tanker who won the AKC international competition as the very best dog in the whole world!). We took a road trip to Ridge, MD to scoop Henry up in June 2015 when he was only 8-weeks old and he instantly filled our home with joy!

From day one, it was an adventure having Henry join our family. He is most certainly a ball of energy — he loves to play, swim, and snuggle! Last Summer my family bought a river house on the Rappahannock — he loves it there! When Michael was born last October, it was an adjustment for Henry not getting all of our attention but he was a loving protector.

Roughly a year ago, we invested in a 2-week obedience training course with Holiday Barn Pet Resort. The training went well but we lacked being consistent with the training commands once we became distracted with a newborn. Earlier this year, we dropped him off in Partlow, VA for 6-weeks with Gun Dog Kennels for some more strategic obedience training — they came highly recommended from a family friend and they have 30+ years experience in training dogs. This training certainly calmed down Henry’s overall demeanor and his attentive listening skills improved.

While Henry is extremely smart and has a very loving/energetic personality… there were several instances where he had shown aggressive behavior… randomly growling at adults and had nipped at a few children. He never showed aggressive behavior towards myself, Ryan, or Michael… but we witnessed it happen during small crowd gatherings. Of course, we tried to correct his behavior to ensure he understood that behavior is unacceptable — but as new parents with a baby at home it made us uncomfortable.

We spoke with our trainer about this issue… He mentioned that while it is a rare and an unfortunate scenario with labradors showing this aggressive behavior… Henry is a very high-energy dog and now that he’s established this trait it is hard to break it. We feel that we had done all we could to correct his behavior… While it broke our hearts since we’ve invested in Henry (financially and emotionally)… we knew in our gut that we needed to find a more suitable home for Henry.

Several weeks ago, we reached out to Henry’s breeder to fill him in on what was going on. I knew it was a long shot but the thought of Henry returning home to his first fur-mother and the original family that raised him when he was born just warmed our hearts. I wanted to reach out to him first because of his love for dogs and knowing he comes in contact with people who have the same love for labradors as we do. The silver lining and truly the only thing making this a healing experience is that Henry’s breeder, without hesitation, was willing to take him in to foster him until he can find the perfect home for Henry.

This was such a very difficult decision to make as we are a huge dog-loving family… Henry truly means well and I honestly don’t think he would ever intentionally hurt someone… but with his occasional aggressive tendencies, as parents with a growing family of small children… we had to think of their safety first. We couldn’t take that chance. Keeping him around would’ve been selfish on our part and at the expense of our children (or someone else) potentially getting harmed. As much as we love our furbabies… our children come first. It is with a very heavy heart to let our friends and family know that yesterday we had to say goodbye to our furbaby Henry. It feels like we let go of one of our babies. We’ve lost a member of our family. The memory I have of Ginger is what Michael will have of Henry… silly stories and photographs to remember him by. We know that we did the right thing with Henry but sometimes the right thing isn’t always the easiest thing to do…

Henry had quite a fulfilling life with us. We spoiled him rotten. This past Friday, we took full advantage of our remaining time with him… we filled him with treats, had a family photo shoot, did a DIY stepping stone project, gave him a bath, made him a steak dinner, and had lots of snuggles! Yesterday morning, I packed up a bag for him with fresh tennis balls, treats, and a bone. We arrived and Henry was reunited with his fur-mom, Jackie, and fur-sister, Jodie. It was so comforting watching them play together. It was truly heart-wrenching to say goodbye and drive away. But knowing that Henry is now in an environment where he constantly can play, swim, hunt… do what he was truly born to do… makes our hearts so, so happy.

As a photographer… you know I had to bring this whole experience full circle, right? It’s real, raw life moments like these that make me treasure the gift of photography. We have many fun memories with Henry that we’ll always cherish. We’ll always be grateful for the joy he brought to our hearts and home… sure, he could be obnoxious at times but we still loved him. Over these last two years, we have countless photos of him growing alongside our family. He was part of our family, our story. I’m glad that Michael got to meet him even if they were pals for only a little while. Henry was there for us to lift our spirits after our furbaby hearts had been shattered from our experience with losing Jackson… he was there for us during infertility challenges… and he was there when we welcomed our first child into our home. I’m bitter that we only had him for 2 years… doesn’t seem like enough time… but he was brought into our lives for a reason, he touched our lives, and he will be greatly missed.

Since I did a slideshow of Jackson… it only seemed right to honor Henry in the same way (scroll down). Something for Michael to one day watch when he asks us to tell him another funny story about our goofball Henry. Something for our family to look back on to reminisce and smile. We love you Henry! Thank you for the memories sweet boy!

Photo credit for our family image at the top of the blog: Joanna Hartsook

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  • Henry's granddad - July 24, 2017 - 1:59 AM

    No dog was ever blessed with a better family. I’m so thankful he had you through the years that fit so well and now can be with his fur family when that is best.ReplyCancel