Henry and the Chicken

From Joanie:
I never wanted a dog.

Before you gasp in dismay, know that it’s not that I like cats better. Well, not just that.

It’s that growing up, we had an obnoxious golden retriever named Gus—he pooped in the neighbors yards, destroyed many a favorite toy, smelled terrible, and was all around the best dog in the world. I loved him.

And when he died, there was nary a dog to replace him.

Until we got Henry.

I said, Let’s get another cat. So, my family decided to get a dog. The cat and I were not pleased.

Now, I know the cat looks angry here. It wasn't just in adventurous posing with funny outfits where the cat looked angry. He pretty much looked like this all the time. So, appropriate for the arrival of Henry.
And my mom and younger sister went to get a dog, but instead brought home a bichon. The neighbors, who were allergic to pets of any kind, had a bichon, and highly recommended the dog to our family, known for our constant trumpeter swan-like nose blowing.

It is important here to note that bichons are bred for their cuteness factor, not for their intelligence. They are fluffy creatures who bark loudly (at anything and everything) but almost never bite. They’re actually quite ideal for children, or at least for a family with a habit of stepping on or tripping over anything in their way, including but not limited to their pets. I refer you again to the picture above of the angry cat.

The bichon we got was not registered as purebred, but, as the Mennonite lady we bought him from assured my mother, he was indeed. Because of this, and his proclivity to get into and roll around in trash, we nicknamed him our “junkyard bichon.” His lack of paperwork, which we thought was completely unnecessary, since he’d just be a companion dog and not a show dog, was no problem for us. In fact, it made him a discount dog.

I didn’t go with my mom and Kate to pick up our new pet out of a determination to deny his existence, as he was not Gus, nor was he a cat. And I missed the puppy farm.

That’s right, they got him from a puppy farm. Far from the horrors of puppy mills, this was a Mennonite-run farm that also bred puppies. I wasn’t there, so in my vivid imagination, I see bischons running free through fields, playing and jumping to their hearts content.

Mom, if you say “that’s not how it was” and crush my ridiculous illusion, I’m going to be really [expletive deleted] crushed.

Henry as a puppy.

They brought home our little dog, who the cat could probably eat, and, may have tried. Figaro, our beloved cat, in a panic that he was being replaced, started to became even crazier. He leapt about the house, scaling furniture and screen doors even more than he did as a kitten. He also took a great deal of time and effort and killed a huge bluejay, which he brought into the dining room as if to say, “this is where you eat the nice meals, right? You still love me, right? I brought you dinner! Cause I love you! Keep me! Not the dog!”

My mother was revolted, screaming at the cat for mussing up the dining room with that Disgusting Thing—not quite the reaction Figaro had in mind.

Meanwhile, we adjusted to the dog. He grew on me, mostly because he’s incredibly cuddly and has enormous eyes and always knows when to climb on your lap. He was there for me when I was on the couch with the chicken pox, comforted me when I broke up with my first boyfriend, and layed across my cold feet in the winter.

He also destroyed a pair of shoes and, after I’d left for college, peed in my room whenever I came home so that he could express his displeasure at my leaving.

We’d named him O. Henry after the author—not, as we told people over and over, the candy bar. Most people had never heard of O. Henry, let alone thought he was prominent enough to merit naming a dog after him.

As it turned out, “O.” frequently became expressed as “Ohhh!” because Henry had gotten into something. Like trash. Or whatever food was on the kitchen table. Or a neighbor’s dog’s poo.

There was simply nothing Henry would not eat.

We became accustomed to not leaving anything out on the kitchen table, which was new to us. Gus had never had the gall to eat from the table, and the cat, knowing better, preferred to be fed scraps under the table during meals. Part of his schtick was pretending he didn’t want to be hand fed tasty treats, which encouraged us to do it more. Henry would leap onto a kitchen chair and start stuffing himself while your back was turned.

As it happened one Sunday morning.

My mom set out a stick of butter—a whole, brand new, stick of butter. She turned back to the stove to flip some pancakes when…

“O. Henry!”

But it was too late. Henry had eaten the stick of butter. No end to my mother’s muttering and our irritation with the dog for that day. We left for church, leaving Henry in the kitchen, using baby gates to block his way into the rest of the house, so that if when he made a disgusting mess with his buttery poo, it was not on the carpet.

My sisters and I went to church with my mom. We came back from church, and my dad had spent the morning using his new rotisserie attachment for the gas grill to rotisserie two chickens. One for Sunday lunch with the grandparents, the second for dinner later in the week.

Ok, so it was really so he could play with his new toy for the grill, his other toy. This was a valid reason for skipping church. Apparently.

My dad, always prepared in advance, set out another stick of butter for lunch, and went outside to put the chickens on the rotisserie.

Of course, Henry ate the butter.

My mom was less than pleased.

Now, my dad only had one plate outside, and brought the chickens in one at a time. You see where this is going.

He brought it inside, and since 1) the dog was nowhere in sight, and had been allowed, despite buttery poop possibilities, to go into the living room for after-church naptime and 2) he was only going to be a minute to get the second chicken, HE LEFT THE CHICKEN ON THE KITCHEN TABLE.

A full minute later, my dad came inside to an empty plate.

In the dining room, under the dining room table was a fat dog.

And a chicken carcass.


He hid, knowing full well what he had just done.

We found out what happened while my dad yelled at the dog, trying to catch him from under the dining room chairs. But he dragged his bulging stomach over the delicate woodwork of the chairs so that he was just out of reach. It was amazing how quickly that dog could move, since his stomach was touching the floor.

We put him outside, away from the other chicken, since he obviously couldn’t be trusted.

A call to the vet let us know that the dog was not going to die from his eating disorder. He thought it was funny, but recommended we skip the dog’s dinner. And maybe breakfast the next morning, depending on how big his stomach still was.

Note: Henry still overeats, and was put on a diet by the vet years later. In his old age, he is permitted half a packet of low-sodium dog food at each of his meals. It takes him a whopping two seconds to inhale this, and he still begs for food and vacuums things that drop to the floor any chance he gets, despite increasing blindness and deafness. 
Old Henry. Not moving until the food package crinkles.

So my family ate the remaining chicken for lunch, with O. Henry looking forlorn into the dining room through the baby gate, dancing about uncomfortably as he waited in vain for us to take pity on him.

The cat, meanwhile, smiled as he enjoyed his chicken tidbits from under the table, which we each surreptitiously fed him, foolishly thinking we were the only person at the table to indulge the well-behaved pet.