Sunday, October 25, 2015

Henry's 10

Henry Keller Rodriguez aka HKR, the Henster and on occasion, Smooth Operator, is 10 years old. That might not be much of a milestone for the average dog, but it’s a big one for Henry. Some might even call it a miracle.

You see, Henry came into an uncertain world without the ability to hear, was lost (and thankfully found) at just two months old, had four surgeries before he was two, and five homes before he was one. 

No one really knows how Henry came to be on the side of Highway 101 in Soledad on December 20, 2005. Around dusk that evening, a kind passerby saw a dirty Dalmatian puppy at the edge of the freeway; he was covered in his own poo, the result of dehydration, starvation and a prolapsed rectum. That unknown angel of a man picked him up and drove him to the most logical place he could think of, the Soledad Fire Department. There, firemen bundled the sick puppy in blankets and couriered him “in style” over to a Salinas emergency clinic.  

Baby Henry, courtesy of Dr. Kerrin Hoban, Harbor Vet
The veterinarian on duty that night was Dr. Kerrin Hoban, a Santa Cruz-based vet who was working her one shift a week at that particular clinic. She took one look at Henry and saw a tiny little “loverboy.” Not yet named, Dr. Hoban estimated Henry was two months old. She was determined to save him, and boy did she!

The first of Henry’s four surgeries was to repair his prolapsed rectum and get everything back to functioning normally. He cleaned up nicely and with proper nutrition began to grow into a handsome young dog. Dr. Hoban tested Henry’s hearing and discovered he was 100% deaf; she set about teaching him sign language. She named him Henry Keller – a play on words of course – Henry, for short. She even fancied keeping him, but Dr. Hoban also rescues horses, and she grew concerned for Henry’s wellbeing on account of his inability to hear. 

Baby Henry, courtesy of foster mom Kristy Lugert
A succession of temporary foster homes followed including one with another deaf Dalmatian and a fairly long-term one with an adventurous woman and sailor name Kristy Lugert. Kristy fell in love with Henry but for reasons beyond her control couldn’t keep him.

October 30, 2006: Henry had just turned one year old and our sweet old girl Lucky had crossed the Rainbow Bridge in September at the age of 17. I can still remember the phone call on that date like it was yesterday. It was from our veterinarian’s office. Were we ready to add another dog to our family? Did we want to come down and meet a deaf male Dalmatian puppy? “What? I - don’t - know,” I thought. I must have said yes because the next thing I know we were taking Henry for a test walk.

Henry Keller, October 30, 2005
The test walk turned into a test slumber party, and three days later we were the owners of a 1-year-old deaf male Dalmatian.

1-year-old Henry with his first stuffie (didn't last long)
Over the course of the next nine years, Henry has went about proving that he had a reason to live. He’s changed our lives in many ways - some taking some getting used to - given us generous doses of appreciation, makes us laugh hardily, and he's changed us for the better.

3-year-old Henry, at Santa Cruz Dog Beach
It is Henry Keller that can be credited for each and every dollar that is donated to local animal causes through his store “The Honorable Dalmatian.” His mom just works there. I guess that's Henry’s way of showing his gratitude.

At ten, Henry’s had his share of some of the more common Dalmatian issues: bladder stones at 18 months old, prompting education on the proper diet for a Dalmatian, the deafness (one in ten Dalmatians are born 100% deaf and 30% have some hearing abnormalities), and when he was eight, he was diagnosed with Wobblers Syndrome. 

A happy sleeping Henry Keller
Wobblers Syndrome (most common in the Doberman and Great Dane breeds) is really just a catch-all term for any kind of disc compression along the spinal column that interferes with the nerve sensations that send information from the brain to the hind end. For Henry, the signals are diminished and he tends to “wobble” when he walks. He also has neck pain when he turns it certain ways and he takes medication to manage it.

Henry Keller Rodriguez is a truly special dog, at least to his mom and dad, his veterinarian and to the nonprofit organizations The Honorable Dalmatian donates to.

So, we celebrate Henry’s 10 years on Planet Earth and we wish for many happy, healthy days ahead.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Love in the news: newspaper man shares his heart with readers

It's not everyday the newspaper prints a story that touches your heart. This one will. Written by a reporter who can clearly share his heart with his pen, this obituary reads better than any Valentine ever has or ever will, in our book.

Reprinted with the author's permission. Mr. Rubenstein's beautiful piece of writing originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on May 10, 2015.

A Labrador who had better things to do than retrieve 

by Steve Rubenstein

Tioga, a yellow Labrador retriever, was 13 years old. And she was a good dog.

In the newspaper racket you write a lot of obituaries about lowlifes who don’t deserve one. Here’s an obituary about someone who does.

Tioga, 13, died the other day. She was a good dog.

She was good at everything a dog is good at, and she liked the work. She liked Fort Funston at sunrise, especially going down the steep trail to the beach and seeing whether anyone had left behind anything promising. She liked the Pacific Ocean up to a point, which was somewhere between her ankles and her haunches. She knew how to swim, but she was smart enough not to do it in the Pacific Ocean. She was a smart dog, so what she was doing with the likes of me is anyone’s guess.

Being a good dog does not mean she did not do bad things. One of them was to roll on dead seagulls. Just when you think you understand dogs, they do something to remind you that you don’t. After a while, my car smelled a lot like dead seagulls, which tended to cut down on the free rides that friends asked me to give them.

She was a retriever, but she usually had something better to do than retrieve. Every morning, The Chronicle would hit the doorstep, and every morning the two of us would go downstairs. One of us would retrieve The Chronicle, and it wouldn’t be her. Maybe she was smart enough, unlike her owner, to have nothing to do with newspapers.

Early most mornings, before first light, we used to slip into Miraloma Park, which is around the corner from our house in San Francisco. There are two signs on the gate at Miraloma Park — one of them says dogs aren’t allowed, and the other one says dogs must be on a leash. Tioga chose to read the second sign, and that was good enough for me, but while we were sniffing around we did keep a weather eye out, in case we needed to beat a hasty retreat on our six legs.

Now that Tioga isn’t around, she can’t get in trouble for having her cover blown. We reporters are supposed to protect our sources. The law can’t touch her now and neither can anyone else, and that’s too bad, because she was worth touching, especially the spot behind her right ear.

She was a yellow Labrador retriever. People were always asking whether she was golden. Owners of yellow Labrador retrievers get asked that a lot. A golden retriever and a yellow Labrador retriever are different kinds of retrievers. But, to answer the question, yes, she was golden. Especially her heart. She knew when something was bothering her housemates, and she would take the time to lie down at that person’s feet and make the problem with the stupid teacher or the stupid boyfriend or the stupid editor go away. She didn’t do it because there was a biscuit in it for her, although usually there was.

She liked driving around with car windows open. People prefer the windows closed and dogs prefer the windows open, and in this matter, as in everything else of importance, dogs are correct. An open window lets things in, and a closed one shuts them out. Dogs have things figured right. I learned a lot more from her than she ever learned from me.

She liked people, although she did bark at some of them, like the trash collector, who was always showing up on Wednesday mornings to take all that wonderful stuff away. (The bark was just part of the job description. Her nature permitted nothing involving teeth.)

She liked cheddar cheese, Lake Merced, tennis balls, bananas and the sound of a harmonica. She liked the last bite of a sandwich from the Safeway deli, and she liked the last rays of a sunset at Ocean Beach, and she liked the last days of her life, even if she didn’t understand why things had stopped working. Or maybe she did. Dogs understand some things better than humans, and they keep their own counsel.

She died at the vet’s office. The vet said that maybe it was her time. My wife said maybe it was, and I said maybe it was, too. It seems like such a reasonable way to settle things, unlike the system they have for humans. Dogs have things figured out, all right. First the thing about the open windows, and now this.

Tioga was a good dog. If she could see the way her housemates are now, she would know what to do about it. She never got the important stuff wrong.

Steve Rubenstein is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail:
Thank you Susan for bringing this article to our attention.