I had the name picked out decades before his pedigree was ever known by The American Kennel Club. Back in 1979, while I still lived in New York City, I began traveling to Montreal. The city charmed me from the first trip. It was an inexpensive foreign getaway, close enough for a long weekend. The Metro system was incredible, easy to maneuver, and so cheap. Each line was color-coded, with the beginning and final stops used to mark the direction in which to travel. My favorite on the map was HENRI BOURASSA. Quietly I mumbled the musical name over and over again as a wonderful pronunciation exercise, while hanging onto the pole near the train car’s door. I would roll my R’s and practice those open vowel sounds. Turns out it was the name of a native son–a 19th Century political figure.
“Such a wonderful sounding name”, I thought to myself. “Someday I’m gonna’ have a cute little dog, and give him that incredibly long French name.”
Nearly twenty years later, (while visiting Montreal ironically), David and I came upon a guy walking a pair of small dogs late one night on the way back to our hotel. They were these unusual looking pups with short-short hair and soulful dark eyes. When we asked him the breed he told us Shih Tzu, but that he kept them nearly shaved down because he wasn’t into the grooming thing. I had always connected the breed to the dog show image–a huge fussy topknot with a ridiculous bow, and a long silky coat brushing the ground. I never knew what cuteness lay buried underneath all that foofy-ness.
In 2008 we adopted a rescue cat. Once she became part of the family, we decided it was time to add the puppy to our household that I’d so longed for. I found an ad in the local paper for a litter of three Shih Tzus. There were two males and one female. The woman had owned the mother for about three years, I learned. She wasn’t a dog breeder. An elderly friend of hers had to move into assisted living, and couldn’t bring her male Shih Tzu with her. She took in the dog, meaning to find it a home. Both she and her female fell in love with him, so much so, that several months later…voilà…puppies!
We will never forget going to the kitchen door of the small house. We knocked on the glass and instantly watched mamma and her three balls of fluff rush to the door. The woman let us in, as David and I became engulfed in a furry commotion. The female pup was doing her best to be noticed, jumping up, yet barely reaching my shins. She and one of the males looked nearly identical to the mother, with red and white markings. The father was large, and charcoal colored. The other male looked much like him, and bigger than his siblings. His face was too dark to show off his lovely black eyes. This guy was untying David’s shoelaces as we chatted about the pups. The female’s small twin sat near my foot, cocking his head as if eavesdropping while I questioned the woman. A big calico cat even crawled out to greet us. The pups had been well-socialized, and loved momma cat too.
Although I had my heart set on a male, I still asked which of the three was the most affectionate. “Oh, this guy”, she motioned at the cutie looking up at me. “He’s a little lover”. I scooped him up, much to the chagrin of his twin sister, and totally melted at his warm softness that filled my hands. Once David finished re-tying his shoe for the umpteenth time, I handed the pup over to him. Of course we wanted to take all three, but we claimed this one. Early the following morning we returned to take tiny nine-week-old Henri Bourassa home.
We were determined to be modern pet parents. We’d studied all the current information on dog ownership in the new millennium for months before. We would crate Henri Bourassa at bedtime starting on day one–train him right from the start. On a trip to Petco the night before, we bought the best crate they offered. Our kitchen has ceramic tile, so he’d have free rein there while we were at work. We spent that entire first day playing with him, introducing Henri Bourassa to every corner of our home, until all of us were exhausted.
Coaxing him into the crate was not easy. He wanted to continue having a good time exploring his new surroundings. We got him inside, latched the little door, and left the light on in the pantry. Once we headed for the bedroom he began to yelp. He hadn’t found his voice to bark quite yet. We let this go on for maybe five minutes. Tugging at our hearts, I came out to the kitchen to attempt to quiet him.
His little rear end began feverishly wagging, happy to see me reappear. David came back minutes later. We decided to let him out of the crate, thinking he might crawl back in once we’d calmed him and left him on his own. Not so. He made it obvious that he wanted to hang with us. A wooden baby gate closed off the doorway to the tv room. When the two of us climbed over it in an attempt at a second trip to bed, he raced after us. He couldn’t jump more than a foot, so in seconds he repeated his yelping. Climbing like a monkey, Henri scaled the wooden fence, pulling his chubby body through the rungs after him. We laughed like crazy, looked at one another, and brought him to the bedroom. After about ten minutes more of puppy play time, we coaxed him to the foot of our bed where he soon passed out. There he slept every night of his life, together with us.
The following summer, a few months before his first birthday, we enrolled him in a puppy obedience class. It was very basic stuff, probably training us more than him. He was one of eighteen dogs. The class was held in a huge building also used to train dogs for agility trials. We were curious to see how Henri Bourassa would react to being with other dogs. Turned out David and I were far more interested in his classmates than he was. Their owners were another story. Henri was focused on winning over all the humans in the room, especially his teacher. Even at that first class it was easy to see he was one of her favorites.
He came to the program fairly well-behaved. Without any formalized training, he could sit, and understood down and come. My biggest concern was getting him to walk properly on a leash. Our problem, once we got further along in the class, was that our pooch was not food motivated. He wasn’t into doggie treats. The teacher had several different kinds in her many pockets. None of them seemed to work. She asked what did he like at home. I was almost afraid to tell her cheese was his snack of choice, but finally confessed. She suggested bringing tiny pieces to class. That made no difference either. But we worked with him and he learned most of his tasks.
The last class was an obstacle course sort of final exam. Watching some of the food-motivated dogs perform with their ‘persons’, I didn’t think Henri would make it through to the end. Not that he hadn’t learned most of what he needed to know, only that he was perfectly content to sit on the floor between the two of us and watch the other dogs entertain us. David led Henri through the course when it was our turn. I felt like a dad at his kid’s first T-Ball tournament. They managed to finish it all, certainly not in record time nor the best execution, but finished. I was so proud of both my guys that day. He was our little champ.
I can’t say when we began calling Henri Bourassa by his nicknames. We both started using “Mister B” far more than Henri. It suited him so well. He was a little Mister. And he seemed to respond to it, as though preferring Mister B to the long French version. Not too much later my special name for him was born…”Poochichi”. It naturally grew out of “Pooch”. Definitely a term of endearment, especially when he cuddled with me, because he hadn’t changed much from that precious puppy the lady called ‘the littler lover’.
We began our morning walk routine soon after his graduation. We walked a half mile every day unless it was pouring out, or there were four inches of snow on the ground. His short legs simply couldn’t maneuver through it. He would start out at full-speed, galloping all the way to the top of our hill. Then the decision was his. He could choose to go right (up the hill further), or left, (down and a more level path). I allowed him the choice every time. It was his walk, I was only following his lead. He had this engaging, self-assured attitude that reflected in his bouncy little gait. He attracted loads of attention, and together we got to meet neighbors I otherwise might never have known. Some of them had dogs; many were just animal lovers he charmed along the way. On weekends, if the two of us felt up for it, we’d add extra legs to our route. Our walks were super-special time that Mr. B and I shared–ours alone.
In hindsight, it was these walks he allowed me to take us on, that became the basis for our symbiotic relationship. Mr. B repaid me by becoming my shadow. He followed me everywhere. If I lounged in bed on weekends, he stayed too. If I moved from the tv room to the front porch, so did he. Saturdays were typically ours exclusively. Being in retail, David usually has to work, and so Henri trailed behind me everywhere, while I enjoyed the day at home either doing chores or relaxing. I chatted with him about everything, while he hung on to my every word–the consummate listener. He never grew tired of being around me.
Although he hated water, he even kept me company while I took one of my famous two-hour baths on the weekend. He would run into the bathroom the moment he heard me draw back the shower curtains and begin filling the tub. While I would start gathering my water-glass and iPad and phone, he would search for his favorite toy froggie, and plop it on the bath rug. Then he’d situate himself in front of the tub, and begin gnawing away on the grimy rubber thing. Once I eased myself into the warm bubbles, I’d snatch the frog and try to rub the dried drool off under the faucet. He patiently waited as I bathed froggie, but never took his eye off the toy until I handed it back to him. He spent time licking the toy from top to bottom, then usually passed out and slept till bath time was over.
As much as he enjoyed walking on the leash, he didn’t mind us picking him to carry him, especially if we were out shopping. We bought one of those doggie kangaroo carriers, but we both liked it better just tucking him into the crook of our arm. Mister B seemed to fit perfectly there. He snuggled comfortably and enjoyed the view, being eye level with all his possible admirers. He never got enough of being adored, and we loved showing him off.
I got into the habit of taking him to the office once or twice a month for an afternoon. He loved everybody there. He would make the rounds, going from desk to desk and guarding each colleagues workspace for a bit. Every time the door opened he’d rush to greet whoever it was. Once we got back to our work routine, boredom would set in, and Mister B would make this low little grumble sound at me, signaling he was now ready to get back in the car and go home. Often it would be hours before closing time. In that case I’d get him up in my lap and he’d hop onto the desk and nestle himself atop a pile of papers, watching me while I worked.
By far, his favorite place to be was the spot between David and me on the sofa in our tv room. We spend most of our time in this little room, watching tv, playing on our laptops, eating most meals or napping. If I came home first, Mr. B greeted me with squeals of delight, jumping until I picked him up to give hugs and get kisses. We’d climb onto the sofa, but after a few minutes he’d begin to stare out the window overlooking the driveway, watching for David’s car to pull up. When David got home first, he often said Mr. B had been waiting in the kitchen for me to come through the door. In any event, wedged between the two of us on the little love seat was where our pooch always wanted to be.
I could define our Henri Bourassa with one word: JOY (in all caps). I know this, especially now, because for the past six weeks all joy has been missing from my life. For eight years we had the beautiful gift of Mr. B in our little world. Selfishly, the only thing that would make me happy again, is to wake up tomorrow morning, and see him sleeping at the foot of our bed..
The beginnings of a memorial garden. It was his favorite area in the backyard to pee.