When I was in sixth grade, I got it into my head that I wanted a basset hound. Down at the end of the dirt road where Ian and I liked to go exploring lived a family that had two basset hounds named Snoopy and Pepper. These were two of the sweetest and most docile pets, who’d lie around on the grass or mope around a little with their noses and ears to the ground, and I just loved the way they occasionally ran around on their wrinkled, short little legs. That year, I also met a basset hound who would escape from wherever he lived and come hang out on the playground at my school. Examining his collar, I noted one day that “Henry” was written on it in black magic marker. Not being one of the most original children, I decided when I got my basset hound, his name would be Henry.
I have no idea how I managed to convince my parents that I should have my very own dog, and that this dog should be a basset hound. We had never before bought an animal. Our pets had all been acquired either through friends whose cat had had yet another litter of kittens, friends who’d been given a dog they didn’t want, or the pound. All I know is that one day early that summer, we piled into the car with my father to go look at the litter of puppies. This was when we encountered one of the biggest and meanest basset hounds I’d ever seen (of course, I’d really only seen the three, I think, up until that point, but still): Henry’s mother. “Bitch” was an appropriate word for her. My father always said that should have been a warning to us, their dragging this growling and snarling animal into another room, so we could examine the puppies in the basket, and I could choose the one I wanted, but how were we to know that these adorable little puppies, waddling around and stepping on their ears, might inherit that nasty temper?
I picked out my Henry, the one that most resembled Pepper from down the street, with a few brown freckles on his white snout and a black back, and then we left with the promise he would be mine in just a few short weeks, once he’d been weaned from Demon Mama. Meanwhile, I prepared myself to be the best little caretaker that dog could ever want. I’d eavesdropped enough on adult conversation to know that all fathers’ (including my own) big joke about children having pets of their own was that the parents still did all the work. Nobody was going to be able to say that about me. This dog was going to be my responsibility, and he would be the model of obedience, as well as my best friend.
And I was a very good caretaker (even earning my father’s praise for my attentiveness to my duties). Once he arrived home, I set up his basket for him, carefully arranging old blankets and sheets in it, fed him his puppy chow, and took on with a vengeance the tough task of housebreaking him. In those days, when corporal punishment was still an accepted tool for raising children, let alone dogs, this meant swatting the poor little puppy with a rolled up newspaper every time he “had an accident” in the kitchen or on the front porch, the only two places he was allowed to be until he’d mastered the art of doing his business outside. Luckily, he seemed to get through this phase fairly quickly, as it broke my heart to have to use that newspaper. One could argue that this sort of “training” is what ruined Henry, and I might be tempted to agree, except all our other puppies throughout my childhood and teen years were all trained in exactly the same manner, and they all grew up to be sweet, happy dogs.
Henry was most definitely a case of Saddam-Hussein-like nature ruling over nurture. Despite all the love and attention I lavished on him that summer, it didn’t take too long for us to realize he was anything but sweet, cuddly, and docile. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a dog that didn’t get into more trouble than he did. He loved getting into the garbage so much, and it was so impossible to keep him out of it, that we got into the habit of putting the kitchen garbage pail up on top of the counters, not the most sanitary of practices, but better than having garbage strewn all over the kitchen floor.
Around the time we got Henry, Ian and I had begun to grow tired of our explorations on top of the garage roof, a relatively small building detached from the house. We’d graduated, much to my parents’ horror, to the roof of the house. The windows off of Ian’s bedroom led to the roof of the front porch, and we found we could easily detach the screens, climb out, wander around on it, and then boost ourselves up onto the main roof. Because my parents were horrified by this new game of ours, we’d gotten into the habit of only doing it when they weren’t home, which meant we were often racing back through windows when we spotted a car turning in at the top of the driveway, forgetting to replace the screens. And, of course, being kids, we didn’t always remember to shut the windows, either.
One day, we four kids had all been out together, and when Forsyth turned the car into the driveway, we noticed something walking around up on the porch roof. Closer inspection revealed that it was Henry. By now, we were all somewhat afraid of him, even I (who still adored him. After all, he was mine, and I wasn’t going to abandon him just because he was a little hot-headed). That sweet, sad, basset hound exterior was just a disguise for an evil entity. Even when we were trying to keep him from harming himself, he’d turn into Kujo. He once got hold of a bottle cap, but when Lindsay, afraid he might cut his tongue, tried to get it away from him, he chased her across the kitchen, and she had to resort to jumping up on the kitchen table to get away from him. Normally, one expects such stories to be told about truly fierce-looking dogs, dobermans, say. Imagine the humiliation of having to tell people we were all terrorized by a basset hound. I have forgotten how we finally managed to get him off the roof; probably it involved luring him with some sort of food, but we might have been better off just leaving him out there.
Forsyth was convinced Henry especially had it in for her, and I’m not inclined to disagree. For instance, we had these lovely shellacked sugar Easter eggs that had been made by a friend of my parents for each of us three girls at some point (obviously when we were extremely young, and Ian had not yet arrived on the scene). Each one had an opening at the end, covered with plastic, and when you looked inside, there was a little scene of bunnies and chicks. We’d set these decorations out in the middle of the dining room table, and that Easter Henry climbed up on the table and proceeded to eat all of Forsyth’s egg and to just sort of nibble at Lindsay’s and mine. It was no consolation to Forsyth that ours had also both been ruined. After all, hers was gone.
When Henry was two years old, my mother finally decided he was just too much. She wanted to find another home for him, one where he could maybe get the sort of attention our busy family had never really been able to give him. I was heartbroken. Despite all his faults, I still loved the dog. I finally gave in, though, when we found a family that had raised basset hounds and was looking for a stud for their female. The sad day arrived, and I couldn’t bare it, and told my mother to have them come pick him up while I was at school. I said my goodbyes that morning, expecting never to see him again.
When I got home from school the next day, there he was! It turned out he had spent all his time in his new home chasing and scaring the dog that was meant to be his mate, and his new family had decided they didn’t want him. My mother still remembers both the vindictive look in his face as she saw him staring at her through the window of their car the day they drove him up the driveway as well as the look of utter triumph as she spied him staring through the window, as they drove back down the driveway to deliver the dog they couldn’t wait to return. Had we been so stupid as to think we could get rid of him that easily?
Henry’s days were numbered, though. We moved to England not too long after that, and we couldn’t take him with us. He roomed with my aunt and uncle, but when he bit my uncle, they finally decided they’d had enough of him. We were told, my parents protecting us from death and destruction as they always did, that he’d gone off to live on a farm with a pack of basset hounds, where he was very happy. I imagine that pack of basset hounds was somewhere in doggy hell, where Henry’s tail become pointed, little horns grew on either side of his ears, and he learned to spit fire from the rooftops of houses.