I've never felt such a strong bond with a dog before. If you could have a soul mate in a dog, that was Hank. We hated being separated, both of us. The bond started at birth and by the time he was 12 weeks old and I was trying to decide which pups to keep I knew he had to stay. I remember standing in my kitchen agonizing over the decision because my head told me to keep one of his better built brothers instead; and then Hank looked up with me with his ears plastered to his head and all the love in the world in his eyes and I burst into tears and said, "I just can't let you go!"
Hank initially lived out in the dog yard with his siblings but as a yearling he frequently seemed to have a sore shoulder. As I often do with injured dogs, I brought him in the house to recover where it was warm. I remember the first night I let him spend in the house he was so incredibly well-behaved for a yearling dog that I joked he was thinking, "Oh BOY, I finally get to be inside with mommy, I'm gonna be the bestest boy so I can stay in here!"
After feeding time in the yard I would generally (in those days) let the dogs loose again off their tieouts and Hank would quite often sneak past me when I opened the gate and run to the door to be let in. He would turn to me and silently plead to come inside with that 'ears plastered to the head, love gazing from his eyes' look which soon became known as The Hanky Face. I rarely could say no to The Hanky Face. By 2 years of age I stopped trying to pretend he was a regular yard dog; he had become a full time house dog.
Hank was a driven, hard worker in harness despite having a somewhat awkward gait at times. He competed in quite a few races with me including the Beargrease Marathon and the Can-Am 250. By age 7 however he was struggling to keep up with the high-end speed of the race team. He would still train up with the team all fall but generally would train with either friend's teams or puppy/older teams in winter. He came to almost every race regardless of whether he ran it because frankly, he came everywhere with me. If I tried to leave him behind he would pull The Hanky Face on me, and if I actually managed to steel myself against that face he would pout and not even look at my kennel helper when she came to feed and care for the dogs here.
He was a regular traveler down to visit my family and was absolutely wonderful with my niece Kenley from birth. He would follow her around like he was her personal babysitter and as she grew older his patience and tolerance for being played with by a toddler was amazing to watch. Kenley adored Hanky and the feeling was mutual.
Nothing quite comes close to the bond he had with me however. Early in his life I knew I could trust that bond with him off leash; he became one of my favorite dogs to hike with and, later, just take walks up the road or trail with. He ran off once when I was visiting my family at Easter and was in the shower - he and Kadee hopped my mom's fence to presumably go after the many rabbits that roamed that neighborhood, and I truly believe he just couldn't figure out how to get back to my mom's house. After a few hours of my panicked searching Hank showed back up at the house on his own with a look on his face that clearly said, "MOMMY OMG OMG OMG I couldn't FIND YOU I was running around FOR HOURS and I couldn't find my way back WHERE WERE YOU????"
I have long dreaded the day I would lose Hank and I'm not sure my heart will ever mend from this. I'm eternally grateful I had 14.5 years with him but it still wasn't enough. Hank, you are my heartsong, you are my world, and I can only hope and pray that our souls will find each other again soon.