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The dog that stole my father’s heart

If you think love triangles don’t play out in nursing homes, you might need a lesson in geometry, or in aging, or in how the human heart works.

For as long as it keeps ticking, and however strong the attachments it already has are, it’s capable of finding new things to adore.

Which brings us to this sordid tale — one that is also partly uplifting, and, if you want to be all technical about it, also partly shoplifting.

My dog Ace has always been No. 1 in the eyes of my father, a lifelong dog-lover.

My dad was able to quickly detect what a special beast Ace truly is. Watching them snuggle on his couch when we visited always made my insides glow.

For years now, the first thing my father asks when he calls has always been, “How’s Ace?” The first thing he asked me when he came out of a coma, that followed a heart attack, that followed some stomach surgery, was “How’s Ace?” When I visited him in Arizona a few months ago, without Ace, the first thing he asked was, “Where’s Ace?”

Since his lengthy hospitalization, my dad has mostly resided in a skilled nursing facility in Mesa, where, at one point, he was having physical therapy sessions with a dog named Henry, who belongs to one of the therapists. While those sessions are no longer part of his daily regimen, he still sees Henry — full name Henry Higgins — regularly, and apparently they’ve grown quite attached.

According to my sources, after dinner one night last week, my father rolled into the therapy gym unnoticed and snuck off with a photo of Henry that hangs there, planning on taking it back to his sparsely furnished room. It was reportedly his second attempt to steal the framed photo. After getting caught the first time, rolling along the hallway with the picture in his lap, he stuffed it under his shirt the second time.

I found this news upsetting — not because my father was engaging in larcenous behavior, but because I’ve done my best to keep Ace first and foremost in his mind. I’ve made sure his room had a “Travels with Ace” calendar. For his birthday, I sent him a sweatshirt with a giant photo of Ace emblazoned on the front. I’ve supplied him — even though my father’s not doing any traveling — with an Ace travel mug.

For some reason, whatever else he forgets, even temporarily, I want him to remember Ace eternally.

I realize it is petty jealousy, and that it’s likely limited to me. Ace, in all probability, wouldn’t mind a bit that my father has another dog to entertain, comfort, calm, console and warm him.

And in truth, I am far more grateful than I am jealous when it comes to Henry, who I got to meet when I visited, and who is pretty special and wonderful himself.

On my dad’s 89th birthday, Henry was there; Ace and I weren’t.

I can understand my dad being smitten with Henry, and I’m glad he is. Dogs and love, if you ask me, are among the top five reasons to go on living. (The other three are books, music and pizza.)

But I’ll admit to a little “that should be Ace” twinge every time I get a report of Dad and Henry bonding, or get sent a photo of the two of them cuddling in bed.

It makes me want to get Ace — not to mention myself — out there for another visit.

Once he was confronted — when he was noticed, after the second attempted theft, with a bulge under his Maui t-shirt — my father confessed and revealed his ill-gotten bootie.

No charges were filed.

And the framed photo of Henry, according to Henry’s owner, will be placed in a new location:

My father’s room.


Comment from SlimDoggy
Time April 22, 2013 at 11:35 am

What a great story. I can confess to having some of the same feelings about my dogs competing for my dad’s affection with my sister’s dogs. Luckily, I lived closer and he saw our guys more often…hmm was this perchance an offshoot of sibling rivalry? Who cares…they all made him happy.

Comment from Dale Hobbs
Time April 22, 2013 at 2:39 pm

I love this story! Dogs are certainly good company! Best Wishes to your Dad! Take care.

Comment from linda
Time April 22, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Hello I actually work with your father and this is touching 🙂 the photo does hang in his room I will now bring up ace I didn’t know this story and being a dog lover myself I will do whatever I can to keep ace in his memory 🙂

Comment from linda
Time April 22, 2013 at 3:54 pm

PS I was showing him a picture of my dog on my phone and he wanted to hang that in his room he is a wonderful caring man he makes us all smile

Comment from Dani
Time April 22, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Love this story.. And know it well. I am a CNA at this facility. : )

Comment from Pat DeWald
Time April 23, 2013 at 10:46 am

This one brought tears to my eyes. I was in the hospital for two months and missed my cat terribly. The resident priest (Catholic hospital) brought his Siamese in for a visit. It meant everything. And Linda, you rock!

Comment from Starla
Time April 23, 2013 at 11:31 am

I love this story! And I love hearing how kind your father’s caregivers & nurses are! Such a sweet story & it made my morning!

Comment from Jen Brighton
Time April 23, 2013 at 12:51 pm

As a therapy dog handler, this story warmed my heart. I just sent it to my local Pet Partners group so they, too, could share in the joy. I’ve recently focused more on working with children, but this tells me I need to return to some care center work, as well. Thank you!!

Comment from Sara Davis
Time May 5, 2013 at 2:32 am

I too work at Mission Palms and spend lots of time with your dad. He is a funny man and now knowing his history makes me appreciate him even more. He brings a smile to may face daily.

Comment from Dani
Time March 4, 2014 at 7:06 pm

Hello again. Since the last time I posted on this article, I’ve gotten to know Bill well, as I work double weekend shifts on both Saturday and Sunday. He happens to be one of the patients I care for every weekend. Everyone love Bill and he loves all of us. I can’t imagine going to work without him there. I always make sure to stop by his room to say goodnight and tell him I’ll see him next weekend. He is so special. I’ve said in the past that I’ll never get close to another patient again…. but…. here I go again. He is the best. His birthday is coming up and I’m happy it’s on the weekend so we can help make his day special. <3