This Side Up

Humphrey will steal your heart


I’m in love. His name is Humphrey.

Humphrey is oblivious to my attentions and that, in part, is what makes him so endearing. In fact, he’s oblivious to a lot of things. He’s learning, but there’s no question he doesn’t want to miss anything.

I knew my niece Laurel and her family got a dog and seeing they live in Washington, D.C., where yards are small and homes are scrunched together, I imagined a creature content with curling up beside the bed and spending hours not doing much of anything.

That’s not Humphrey.

He came along for the family gathering in upstate New York and set about to greet everyone with licks and a thorough sniff that would put the TSA to shame. Humphrey is less than a year old, not even a teenager in dog years. Yet, like a teenager, he is capable of doing some crazy and fearless things.

Humphrey is a yellow Lab, which explains his friendliness and good nature. For a Lab, he’s a bit small with a disproportionately large box-like head. Perhaps that indicates that he has some growing to do, although I always thought a puppy’s feet tell the tale. Humphrey’s paws are well sized for the rest of the model, including a perpetual motion tail and a slim frame that contradicts any suggestion that he’s a couch potato.

“Hey, Humphrey, good to meet you,” I said grabbing a handful of fur and skin that rolled in my hand. He knew his name. He gave me a quick glance – nothing can hold his attention too long other than food – that was promptly followed by a lick of my fingers. He wasn’t going to linger, pushing off to greet the next member of the extended family.

Quite by circumstance, or maybe he recognized a soft heart when he found one, Humphrey was back in a few minutes. I stroked him and then scratched his butt. He liked that, putting his front legs in my lap and ready to jump into the chair beside me. “Sit, Humphrey.”

He looked at me, not certain of what to do. “Sit,” I commanded. I got a look as if to say, “Why would you want me to do that; aren’t we having fun?”

He obeyed. Now he cocked his head, his eyes locked on me. But I didn’t have a treat, no reward.

He was up in barely three seconds, paws scrambling on the wood flooring and off to explore the rest of the house. He fit right into the madness, sliding between legs as family members arrived and hugged one another and gave him acknowledging pats and loving pulls of the tail. He had no restraint and, surprisingly, he didn’t set off to explore the yard or the woods beyond. Humphrey wanted to be with people and the action.

As things settled down that night, Laurel’s husband Bernie brought in the crate and set it up outside the kitchen as Humphrey watched. Bernie went out to the car to get the bedding as Humphrey followed. Now things were looking right. Bernie got on all fours and spread the bed inside the crate. Humphrey squeezed by him and flopped down. It was as if you flipped a switch. He was off for the night. Bernie closed and latched the crate door and draped a black towel over the top.

I was up first the following morning. The room was dark. I turned on a light and my laptop. Nothing emerged from the shrouded crate. I could see Humphrey curled inside.

I went to work, sifting through scores of emails as the morning chatter of birds increased and the trees outside took form. It was time for coffee and, as I moved by the crate, there came a rhythmic drumming of Humphrey’s tail. I pulled back the towel. He was looking at me, expectantly. I closed the kitchen door, to ensure he wouldn’t take off and rouse everyone, and opened the crate.

Humphrey shot out, jumping, tongue licking furiously. He gratefully accepted a brief butt rub and then went into high gear. The floor was checked for any scraps. He was rewarded with a couple of Cheerios and then he was back to me with a “Let’s go” look. There was no sitting, not this time.

I looked for a leash, thinking if I simply opened the door and let him out, he might come face to face with a porcupine, as happened with Binky several years ago. I opened a closet and Humphrey was thrilled with the section of clothesline I found. He tugged on it, figuring this was a new game. He pranced around the room when I let him have it.

Outside on his makeshift leash, I expected he would pull me to the nearest tree. But no, as soon as he was on the grass, he squatted. I was reminded he’s still a pup and hasn’t learned yet how to lift a leg. He hasn’t learned a lot.

Soon the house came to life; kids around the table; my father in his bathrobe and slippers, sipping coffee and spreading jam on his toast; everyone talking about what they planned for the day.

Bernie and his daughter Ellie were going fishing. She couldn’t wait to finish her cereal and get started. When Bernie was ready, so was Humphrey and the trio headed down to the lake.

I walked on the dock that rocked slightly and Humphrey followed with his legs wobbling and wearing a fearful face. He quickly had his balance and came to the end to look down into the water. Then he raced back to shore to check on the others and then back out to me.

Bernie dropped the line, with its red and white bobber and handed the rod to Ellie. We waited. The bobber drifted in until it almost hit the dock.

“Reel it in,” Bernie instructed.

Ellie followed directions and then handed the rod to her father while Humphrey watched intently.

Bernie put some muscle into the cast, sending the bobber and plastic worm flying. Then the water exploded. Humphrey was in pursuit, with his front legs splashing and his breath frantic. He didn’t know how to swim. He thrashed his forelegs to no avail. He was sinking. Was he going to make it? I was ready to plunge in but he was getting the hang of it. The rear legs came into play. For the first time since his jump, I saw his tail. Bernie reeled in the lure before Humphrey could reach it. Humphrey reversed direction and paddled to shore. A moment later, he was back at the end of the dock, dripping, ready to go again. Nothing could slow him down.

This time Bernie had a stick. So much for fishing, but this dog had surely caught my heart.


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