Sunday, April 17, 2022

An Old Man and His Dog - A Love Story

Would you like to see some photos of Walter? asks Mr.Hunt, who is as proud as a parent is of an adorable child. 

Dave Hunt, almost 83, and his pooch, Walter, practically seven, are early-morning fixtures outside Tailholt Coffee CO on Main Street in Rogue River, OR, a small town where a man and his 125-pound black and tan coonhound draw a lot of attention. 

The dog's name is Walter, and he is one lucky dog.

I’d noticed Mr. Hunt several times at his Main Street morning post, curious about him and his floppy-eared friend. Years ago, as a newspaper reporter, constantly scanning for a story, I wouldn’t have hesitated to approach him.

Decades later, as an ordinary nosy person? It took me a few months.

But one recent sunny morning, I parked my Suburu and made my way to the man and his dog, remembering how much most people enjoy positive attention. I patted the dog, smiled at the man, and inquired, “Do you have a few minutes to tell me about your furry friend?” "Sure!" he said, waving at a chair, "Have a seat!"

About everybody whose caffeine needs are fulfilled at Tailholt stops visiting Walter, the Tailholt Mascot, and Mr. Hunt.

I had no preconceptions about what, if any, story might emerge. But it didn't take long to think of it as a love story. It turns out that when the man and the dog “found” one another, each had a compelling need for someone to love and be loved by—a caring companion.

Later, Mr. Hunt’s landlady, Virginia, was delighted to help me unearth the tale’s beginning more than a decade ago.

She told me that Mr. Hunt moved from the Portland area to Rogue River in 2011 to be closer to family. He needed a rental, but there was a complication. It was considerable.

He’d arrived with his best girlfriend, Mona, a St. Bernard/boxer mix weighing 100 pounds.

Cautious landlords prohibit dogs, especially massive beasts, and for good reasons. But when Mr. Hunt called to inquire about the rental, he quickly disclosed he had a dog, and she was not “medium-sized.” 

"We paused a bit,” Virginia recalled. "We'd just fixed up the house, but we are dog-loving people ourselves and wanted to hear what he had to say."

And what did Mr. Hunt say? Only this:

Oh, don't worry about your house! Mona will spend most of her time on the couch!

"Right then, we knew he was our kind of person," Virginia said. "And he has been a wonderful tenant and friend through the years.” 

During the ensuing years, Mr. Hunt and Mona had a grand time making friends on their daily walks and coffee talks around town.

But as loving pet owners know well, a cherished dog’s life ends too soon. Mona died at age 13, just as her loving master, then in his late 70s, felt the aches and pains of his own decline.

"Mona was a tremendous dog," recalled Mr. Hunt. "I mourned her something terrible for months. I knew I couldn’t  live without a dog, but how could I ever replace her?"

Virginia recognized that Mr. Hunt was having a difficult time. Mourning, loneliness, and health issues were a dreadful combination.

But she and her daughter, who happens to be a local veterinarian, had their eyes peeled for a suitable companion dog for Mr. Hunt. 

Photo credit Mr. Hunt

   The  fabulous                 Walter 

    was poised

        to enter 

     Mr. Hunt's life!

Around the time that Mona ascended to dog heaven, the tall black and tan coonhound was being retired from his “job” as a show dog. He was between four and five years old and named Mr. Thorin, after a character in a Hobbit book. 

Virginia and her veterinarian daughter had put their heads together and determined that the show dog could be a good fit for Mr. Hunt. 

“Dave is used to having large dogs, and Walter had a great temperament and personality!” Virginia said.

So it was that soon-to-be-named Walter wagged his way into Mr. Hunt's life.

“Virginia and her husband, Paul, took me to meet the dog, and Walter came home with me the same evening,” recalls Mr. Hunt. 

Walter made it clear during his "homecoming" that he hated riding in a vehicle, something he’d often had to do for dog shows. The ride to Mr. Hunt’s home was his last time in a car!

Photo courtesy of Mr. Hunt

Walter required about a week to adapt to Mr. Hunt, who also had some adjustments. 

“The hardest part was getting Walter to understand that his bed was a double recliner, just like mine,” he said. “He was quiet and shy and wasn’t used to having someone urge him to get up on the furniture!”
Walter's double recliner is behind him, with Mr. Hunt's identical recliner along the adjacent wall. During my afternoon visit, the dog kept a close watch on his master, staring at him most of the time. 

While Walter and Mr. Hunt are best known for their early morning Tailholt presence, they also enjoy daily afternoon forays. Gas stations, Lil’ Pantry, the Dollar Store, and sometimes the Rogue River Pharmacy and Evergreen Bank are on their itinerary.

Sometimes, with Mr. Hunt's assistance, Walter has trained people at each stop to provide treats

Walter awaits a withdrawal from his biscuit account at Evergreen
bank in Rogue River, where  Mr. Hunt ensures he always has a balance.

The dog is Mr. Hunt's reason to get out of bed in the morning and away from the house at least twice a day, breathe fresh air, and have fun. 


            I accidentally caught Mr. Hunt on his motorized scooter 
with Walter towing him. All the places they
 visit in a day are within six blocks of home.

 “Walter is my link to other humans,” Mr. Hunt says. “He takes well to most people and is a conversation starter. He’s also a chick magnet.” (Wink, wink.)

But unpleasant realities loom on the horizon.

Walter will be seven in July. His breed’s lifespan is 9 to 13 years. Mr. Hunt will be 83 soon, but his lifespan could reach 100.

His daughter recently suggested that her father moves into assisted living housing, where he would be safe and all his needs addressed.

“No way!” exclaims Mr. Hunt, who went online (he’s quite the computer guy) to research the topic and found information supporting his independent stance. 

17 Signs It’s Time for Senior Assisted Living

But the reason for "no assisted living" that matters most? Dogs are not allowed.

“How could I live without that dog, and what would  Walter do without me?”   

Good question. 

Mr. Hunt was enthused that morning as we visited outside Tailholt Coffee CO: Dogs are a joy! They are such wonderful companions! 

Honestly, he was almost breathless as he leaned across the small table outside the coffee shop. 

Juicy jowls aside, this is a dog's "look of love."
Photo credit, Mr. Hunt

“Dogs look you in the eyes, and you know they love you,” he continued. "And you know you love them."

At a particular time in life, and in a festering world somehow hoping that "every little thing's, gonna be alright," What else matters but loving relationships? 

And loyal pets and their devoted humans create tender emotional bonds daily.

Mr. Hunt is delighted by this quote:

Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.—Anatole France

Here's a man with an awakened soul and the dog he loves.
Give em' a hand.