Upon arriving at Rhonnie Miller’s farmhouse set on the rolling pastureland of Keefauver Road, guests are met with a gorgeous southern-style, wrap-around porch—and the world’s tallest breed of dog peering through the screen door.
“We were eating at Main Street back in the fall and it was nice out. And you know how close the seating is to the road?” Miller said, watching Henry, her 1-year-old Irish wolfhound sprawl out on the painted porch floor. “They got a fire call and the fire engine comes down Main Street, full sirens, lights, everything on. And he was laid out like this and literally picked his head up, said, ‘Okay,’ and put it back down.
“They’re gonna have to get a bigger bowl at Main Street,” Miller added, still watching Henry, who has his own Instagram account under the name “Wolfhound Henry”, during the wolfhound’s Herald & Tribune photoshoot. “He just kind of looks at it.”
The story is a testament to Henry’s laid-back nature as he stretches his lengthy legs out in front of the photographer who is aiming to capture Henry’s true height in a photo. This easy-going attitude was just part of what made Miller choose her long-legged best friend, a decision the potter and Jonesborough resident didn’t take lightly.
She carefully decided she wanted to house another wolfhound after owning two when her teenage sons were much younger and toddling around with two wolfhound puppies at their sides. She had lost one of the dogs to osteosarcoma, a cancer that is found in the cells that form bones and is common in Irish wolfhounds and the other to a freak accident with a pig’s ear—which she now advises every pet owner to steer clear of offering to his or her dog. Years later, she decided to hunt down her perfect wolfhound. But little did she know how much healing he would do in other’s lives as well as her own.
“We were planning to go back to get him when he was 10 weeks old and I got pneumonia and mono. I got put in the hospital for four days,” Miller recalled. “The breeder actually kept him an extra week. Then my husband went up and got him for me and brought him back. Truly, he helped me get better.
“On his AKC papers, he’s Henry the Healer instead of some fancy froufrou name. So I then knew I wanted to kind of give back with him.”
Now Henry is 7 feet long and his love for people is even bigger than he is. Henry is known for enjoying a stroll in downtown Jonesborough alongside his family, but now he is an officially licensed therapy dog ready to make folks in nursing homes and hospitals smile on even their darkest days.
“He’s not just meant to stay in the house,” Miller said. “It’s amazing to see the people, especially the ones at Brookdale at the memory care side. Instead of laying there, they light up when he goes.”
Henry may have a new job, but he still has an affinity for frolicking through cow pastures, trips to the beach, strolling along cobblestone streets, and galloping alongside farm trucks like the one that came crunching through the Miller’s gravel path leading up to their cattle behind their house.
Aside from living up to a wolfhound’s unofficial title of a gentle giant and serving as a therapy dog, Miller said that Henry can read people. He’s also been known to read how Miller herself is feeling. Miller said he can gauge the way in which he should behave, depending on who he’s around.
“We were at the beach this summer and he was rompin’ and playing and running like wild early one morning and there wasn’t hardly anyone on the beach,” Miller explained while watching Henry gallop through her spacious yard. “He and I had gone down to watch the sunrise and this couple brings out a set of twins just in their diapers. They’re probably 18 months old, just trying to run, barely walking good. They come waddling up to him and he immediately went from, ‘I’m having fun’ and just laid down. He lays down and those two toddlers climbed all over him. They were sticking their fingers in his eyes, his mouth, his nose. The parents were taking pictures and were amazed.
“That’s just one example. He just knows. He changes when we get to the nursing home and we’re around older people like my grandmother and then he’ll turn around and rough house with people he knows he can and be a total goofball. And he is goofy as all get out. And a klutz.”
Miller has always been a dog-lover and already owned what she thought was her favorite dog. But Henry not only helped her get better and has served as her four-legged best friend—he’s also been the dog that’s taken up the most room in her house and her heart.
“You know how you say you get the one dog in your life? I thought I already had that dog,” Miller explained. “She was a great rescue dog from a shelter when I was 16. Fabulous dog. I had to put her to sleep when she was like 17. And I thought I’d had my dog. But he’s got Kate topped.”
However, Wolfhound Henry isn’t just a well-known, beloved family dog who is the perfect companion for a spring-like Thursday afternoon on the farm. Miller believes her gentle giant is meant to make her smile, but to also be a light for the people with which he comes in contact.
“I’ve had other dogs in my life. I’ve had every animal from lizards to horses. And he was just different,” Miller said. “And I thought, not to sound crazy, but this is the dog’s purpose. He’s here to do something. So if I can help other people and he can, then that’s what it’s all about.”
— Marina Waters