For the Love of Clarence

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez

By Noreen Hyde

Something had to be done about Clarence, and fast. He’d been boarding at the local kennel, The Loving Paws, and even though Clarence knew it well due to his twice-weekly doggie daycare sessions there, it still wasn’t a real home. And a real home is exactly what Professor Hamilton would have wanted for his beloved Great Dane, the one whose name Hamilton always added two simple words to whenever he spoke it:  good dog. He’d say things like, “have to take Clarence, good dog, to the vet’s today,” or “don’t you know, Clarence, good dog, could be the pet of a president!”

Clarence is the reason why I, along with the rest of the History Department of Lornen College, a quaint, small New England school, found myself gathered for an emergency Saturday meeting. It was a hastily-arranged assembly held to decide what was to be done about Clarence. Because something certainly had to be done about the dog, and fast, I thought again as I pictured Clarence at the kennel. Yes, it was quite luxurious, and he would have many walks, rub downs, and of course, his doggy daycare time, but the big guy simply needed a real home.

The Department Head, Professor Sloane, resident expert of the Renaissance, began the meeting as he began his classes: by restating the obvious. “We are gathered today due to the untimely death of our beloved colleague, Professor Jothrop Hamilton, whose sudden heart attack at the young age of forty-six has shocked and stunned all of us here at Lornen.” Sloane’s monotone reminded me what a dull lecturer he was in his classroom; the poor freshman students who had to bear him twice or thrice weekly. Luckily, as a senior, I knew the ins and outs of the school: which teachers to avoid at all cost, which ones gave easy A’s, which ones recycled the same exams year after year. I prided myself on these skills even more so than my history aptitude: it’s what got me on the Dean’s List semester after semester. And I desperately needed to make that list each year: my scholarship depended on it. Yes, unlike the majority of my classmates, I did not arrive at Lornen with a BMW, laptop computer, and a wallet full of credit cards that could be used at whim. Most of them arrived with a high school transcript filled with D’s, yet parents who could write checks in full for the steep tuition and fees. I was exactly the opposite: Lots of A’s but very few dollars.

The novelty of being the only student at a faculty meeting quickly wore off. I soon realized that these mysterious events where policies and decrees were made were rather bland. Sloane droned on about the many scholarly accomplishments that Professor Hamilton had achieved during his tenure, and then, finally, got to Clarence. “We all know Clarence, beloved pet and… apparently only family that dear Mr. Hamilton had,” he said with a forced smile. The small group nodded, for they all had attended the yearly summer soirées of Hamilton, those stiff, forced gatherings of faculty and students that were supposed to let us get to know one another better, and I had to stifle a chuckle recalling how his small yard had seemed literally swallowed up by the huge beast of a pet that seemed more horse-like than canine.  The stiff professors simply hadn’t known how to respond to Clarence when he greeted them each in turn, tail wagging like a propeller. I, on the other hand, fell in love with him instantly. I couldn’t get enough of the big beast, and even had occasionally concocted false academic questions that arose outside of office hours as an excuse to go to Hamilton’s house just to see Clarence. I, as a senior working on my thesis under the direction of Hamilton, was allowed to do this. And Hamilton had beamed like a new parent when I played with his friend. Sure, we had chatted a bit about American history, but I think we both knew the real reason for my visit.

Thankfully, Sloane’s monotone was interrupted by the intrusion of a stranger, a lovely woman in crisp navy and heels, who politely nodded to us all as she was introduced as Ms. Kessing, attorney representing the estate of the deceased. She was here, Sloane explained, to see that Clarence was placed appropriately, as that was of the utmost importance to her client, as stated in his will.

I noticed Professor Willis, new this year to Lornen, looked down at the table to avoid all eye contact when Sloane finally posed the question to the group: who among them could, or would, take Clarence? I had to stifle a guffaw as I saw her acting like the students do in class when they aren’t prepared and don’t want to be called on. Apparently Willis read my mind, for she then looked up and cried, “’With Billy, juggling daycare, and the rental we currently live in, I just can’t manage such a dog.” She paused while they all looked at her in turn, nodding, as she had the most legitimate excuse of them all. She then repeated, as if for emphasis that none needed, “such a large dog.” She seemed haughty and yes, even angry as she responded, and I was glad I, a senior, would never have to sit in one of her introductory classes. She apparently assumed, as the only female in the department, that the rest of us males expected her to perform this most traditional role of women: caring for helpless creatures.

I wondered if these scholars even realized that one of us must take the dog, or Clarence would find himself at the local shelter, presumably, up for adoption. Or, if he wasn’t adopted, as could be the fate of a four-year-old Great Dane, he might have to be put down. As Sloane had emphasized at the beginning of the meeting: Hamilton had Clarence and his work, and his heart belonged more to the former than the latter. I had only come because I, like Ms. Kessing, wanted to make sure Clarence was placed in a good home. I wanted to find out his fate. Now I quickly realized that a good home might mean me.

I looked again at this small group of historians and remembered how much Prof. Hamilton had loved that dog. How we’d continue our work discussions on the short walk to his home to, as Hamilton said, “Give old Clarence, good dog, the treat of your company and throw his ball a few times.” His office came to hold more photographs of the dog than those of FDR and the Great Depression, Hamilton’s historical specialty.

Professor Willis’s excuse was quickly followed by the others: one had a spouse with allergies, one had cats – wouldn’t they be in danger from such a huge dog? Another had an elderly parent living with him, a parent with Alzheimer’s, who would be traumatized by the sheer size of the beast. The lawyer sighed as she nodded, lipstick-laced lips pursed in some unspoken comment or reflection of the heartlessness of the group.

An awkward silence filled the room as it became more and more obvious that no one was going to take Clarence. After several minutes of this tense quiet, I finally couldn’t take it any longer. Were they really this cold? This is the last connection to their supposed dear comrade, and this is how they act? Couldn’t one of them easily make a few sacrifices and do something? Apparently not, I realized, as the silence continued.

So I cleared my throat and declared, “I’ll take him.” Six pairs of eyes looked at me in a mixture of surprise and relief. Of course, of course, they seemed to all agree as they quickly nodded their approval; let the young one in the group take the dog. Boys and dogs go together. Professor Hamilton’s lawyer, however, wasn’t so easily convinced.

She grilled me with questions about housing, my daily schedule, my money situation, my plans during breaks, etc.  I pictured that orphaned dog in my mind and laid it all on the table. Yes, I had a decent apartment, ground level, and my landlady had actually met Clarence a few times when I dog-sat for Hamilton while he attended conferences. She adored him. So, no, I foresaw no problems there. Money, well, that was tight for me, a scholarship student, but I had my work-study library job and did some tutoring on the side, and I certainly would never let Clarence starve. Hours? Flexible, so I can be home a lot. And next year my plans included grad school if another scholarship panned out at the state university. It was my dream to continue studying American history, but my finances might decide otherwise. Hamilton, in fact, had just mailed a recommendation for me before his unfortunate heart failure. I felt strongly that I could work out similar arrangements next year, and yes, as a grad student I’d have flexible hours and would be home studying quite a bit. A partier I am not.

She then looked at me with eyes the color of a summer sky and asked, “As a busy, financially-strapped student with no responsibilities, why would you take on Clarence?”

I thought of Clarence, petting him, rubbing his huge belly, playing fetch with him, and especially how he’d always curl up at my feet when Hamilton and I sat to talk history. How relaxed I felt. How important I felt when Clarence looked at me with his huge dark eyes. Eyes full of, yes, love. “I guess, like Hamilton, I love that dog,” I finally answered quietly.

She seemed satisfied, and the relieved group began to pack up. Then the attorney cleared her throat, “Just one more thing. Jothrop Hamilton’s will clearly states that I am to find a true home for Clarence, someone who really loves the dog, and is not simply swayed by his substantial estate.” The five professors sat down, all eyes and ears now that money had been mentioned.

“Estate?” Sloane choked out. “What estate? Hamilton lived in a small rental house, only traveled for conferences, and still drove a 1998 Jeep!”

Ms. Kessing selected a sheet of paper from her files and read it. “Jothrop Hamilton, upon counsel’s finding of sufficient home for his beloved pet, bequeaths the entire sum of his estate to the caregiver of said pet, to be used for the care, maintenance, and happiness of Clarence. Additional sums are to be used at the discretion of the caregiver for personal use.”

Sloane couldn’t help himself. “What are we talking about? A few thousand?”

The lawyer checked her file for a moment, looked at me, and said, “Mr. Jones here is now the recipient of a trust worth over two million dollars.” She turned to me and handed me a pen so I could give her my information. I did so with a trembling hand, and she said, “Enjoy your new dog, Mr. Jones. I’ll be in touch soon.”

Oh, I will, I most certainly will. Good dog, Clarence, I thought as I ran the whole way to the kennel. Good dog.


Noreen Hyde is a high school English teacher who enjoys teaching and writing fiction. She also dabbles in poetry and has a self-published children’s book. She lives in New Hampshire with her family, which includes a beloved black lab and a rescue guinea pig.

The Plaid Horse inaugural $1250 Salute to the Dog Writing Contest honors man’s best friend and celebrates the emotional experience of sharing one’s life with a dog. We received a tremendous number of heartwarming, beautiful, and often funny stories about how much dogs impact our daily lives. To learn more about the 2020 contest, visit theplaidhorse.com/write.