We used to say two things about Harper: 1. His favorite part of a walk was getting home, and 2. The only things that ever need fear him were flies and bowls of dog food. Both of those things certainly were true, but with his passing yesterday, I’m overwhelmed by a flood of other cherished memories that speak to his quality as a friend, companion and beloved family member.
Harper never ceased to entertain us, with his antics or laziness. He was like a divining rod for water. On hikes, or even neighborhood romps, he’d disappear mysteriously into the bush only to return moments later sopping wet and happy as a lark. That by itself isn’t so impressive (though we never tired of marveling at his superhero power to find water in a desert or tennis balls anywhere — we believed, in fact, that he could manifest them from thin air if the need arose). What was impressive, was that once he found water, he’d chug such a volume of water as to make a hippo blush. He truly could drink a fish under the table.
Glugging full of water, he’d carry on in that loping gait of big dogs. Fast forward 12 hours, morning time, rain falling, and Harper resolute that, “No, in fact, I will not be going outside to do ‘my business’ in this weather. Thank you very much.” Once the weather would clear, he’d lumber outside and prove that he was part camel in a past life by peeing for no less than 5 minutes. Then he’d look up, and I swear, say, “Ahhhhhhh. See, I told you I could hold it.”
He also possessed a remarkable tolerance for the antics of other dogs. Weighing in at nearly 100 lbs, plenty of dogs were eager to prove themselves against him. The dog logic seems to go something like this: “By default the largest dog is the alpha, unless I prove otherwise.” Harper could not have cared less. “Alpha-Shmalpha” seemed to be his M.O. We’ve caught no small number of dogs humping his back end and him with the most bored look on his face, or when he did get annoyed with it, a look of “Are you finished yet? I got tennis balls to harass.”
The only thing he wouldn’t tolerate of other dogs — taking from him. Be it stick, ball, or rawhide, he had Linus’s OCD when it came to “lovies,” and sharing was not a part of that obsession. Among humans, though, he was an passivist with no attachments. One could reach into a bowl of food and safely rummage around among the kibbles without worry of provoking him. Not that anyone would ever want to. He inhaled his food with such a voracity that he created micro meteorological events in the vacuum surrounding his bowl. One was liable to get sucked into a vortex. Plus, most people wanted as little exposure to his breath as possible.
Around children he was a dream — a furry jungle gym with a heart of gold and a gentle disposition. Unless of course we were going inside or outside. These two transitions so excited him that he would merrily plow through a child like a linebacker, perhaps not realizing that he outweighed toddlers 4:1. Yet, he clearly loved our two girls, and not just because they were prone to dropping food on the floor or feeding him copious treats. And that’s part of the beauty of dogs, their sense of loyalty to clan. Harper’s clan was everyone. (Except the mailman. My theory: Harper had a problem with the fact that this guy came to our porch everyday without ever actually coming inside to pet him. As a result, everyday, through rain, sleet, or snow, he expressed his beef with our mail carrier.)
Harper perfected the art of lazy. He could truly and contentedly do nothing for hours on end, assuming he was being petted or had just been fed. On backpacking trips, he’d break at every opportunity and shoulder his pack reluctantly (which he never really figured out the dimensions of and would always get stuck in the underbrush, bringing us the guilty joy of the Dog Folly). His magnum opus at lounging though, was around the fire. With the accuracy of NASA engineers, he’d determine the perfect spot for achieving maximum heat, just shy of actually burning his skin. He wasn’t so concerned about the fur. On more than one occasion we had to put out embers that landed on him and found his fur to be scalding. He’d look up, thankful it would seem, but also gloating just a bit. “Jealous, aren’t you?” I imagined him asking.
As we reflect on the unforeseeable turn of events yesterday and our sudden loss, we find ourselves thankful. First and foremost, that we had the joy of knowing him and sharing our lives with him. Courting. Marriage. Children. Travels. Through it all, Harper’s been a companion worthy of all the praise showered on dogs the world over. Secondly we’re so fortunate that both of our girls had a chance to meet, feed and play with him. He brought them the joy and giggles that only come in the relationship between kid and pup. Third, we are counting our lucky stars we spent last weekend at the beach with him, amused by his antics as he enjoyed the sand, the water and our romps through the woods. We never tired of seeing his inner puppy bust forth in the slow but enthusiastic sprints of an older dog high on life.
Fourth, in the last couple of years, he helped us train Quincey, the flat coat retriever puppy who is now well versed in bed lying, eating fallen food and securing human attention. Additionally, we are thankful today he didn’t suffer. He was the Harper we knew and loved even in the moments before he went into surgery. He looked so strong and happy, we convinced ourselves they wouldn’t find a metastasized cancer once they got in. Finally, we are thankful for the memories. He’s made us a better family by carving out a special place in our hearts for the kind of unconditional & all forgiving love that the best of dogs give. May we be half as good as the people he treated us to be.
In our minds we will always see him greeting us at the door, toy in mouth and giving us his signature full body wag. Our big lug of a dog, unconditionally loving and always happy to see us. Rest in peace Harper. We hope you find a never ending bowl of food, unlimited & relentless pets, and endless opportunities to get your feet wet & drink your fill.
We love you.