Remembering Hunter


The world lost a really great dog today. His name was Hunter. He was a gregarious, 13-year-old black lab and he was loved by all who knew him, except squirrels.

I met Hunter when he was just a few months old. His mother Danielle was my first roommate after college. I was moving to Washington, DC, to work for Scripps-Howard News Service and our mutual friend Meredith suggested we meet. Danielle’s rented townhouse in Arlington, Va., was my last stop on a long day of room-hunting.

I met Danielle and Hunter and, in spite of the fact that Danielle went to foul Miami (of Ohio) University, we all got along. Danielle and Hunter and I would go on to live as roommates for one year in Arlington and four years in Santa Monica. So I got to know Hunter pretty well.

I experienced the joy of watching Hunter grow up from a mouthy, all-paws-and-ears puppy into the well-behaved good boy that everyone loved. It always surprised his new friends to learn that he was a terror in his early years. Frankly, he was kind of a jerk.

Here is an incomplete list of things puppy Hunter chewed to crumbs in our townhouse: my computer cable, my video game system cable, Danielle’s shoes, the entire arm of a living room chair, the basement stairs, the entertainment center and person-sized holes in Danielle’s mattress.

When he was young, I used to take Hunter on walks. These walks mainly consisted of Hunter, straining against his leash, trying to rip my arm out of its socket. This is because he knew, somewhere in the world besides wherever we were at, there were squirrels. Danielle took him to obedience classes and eventually he calmed down to the point where he could be walked without our reenacting a Marmaduke cartoon.

A few episodes will forever live on in Hunter lore. One was the time I lost him. Hunter used to lounge outside in the small, fenced-in courtyard in front of our townhouse. One day I came home and swung the gate open. It usually swung itself shut, but not this time. Oppressed by the tyranny of unconditional love, three square meals a day and bountiful snacks, Hunter made his break for freedom. It was Danielle who discovered that Hunter was missing. We raced outside, my heart pounding. I felt about as bad as I ever have in my life. I had lost a dog.

We found Hunter five seconds later, two doors down. Given his shot at freedom, and a 20-minute head start, Hunter made it about 40 feet. We learned something about Hunter that day. We learned that Hunter was very lazy.

While we were living in Santa Monica, Danielle left town and asked me to watch Hunter for a few days. I wrote about the experience for Scripps-Howard.

If ever there was a composite of an average dog, it’s Hunter. Like most dogs, he has hit that stage in a canine’s life where it’s a big day when he gets out of bed. He reminds me of a world-weary gigolo who just wants to sit in his bathrobe all day contentedly smoking Pall Malls.

I fed and pooped him twice a day. We played. He slept when I slept. He played nice when other dogs visited. He never barked at the UPS guy.

Yes, Hunter was a good boy.

Things I will always remember about Hunter:

  • Hunter swiping a cupcake right out of Danielle’s hand at a birthday party
  • The bond every single member of my immediate family felt with Hunter
  • The on-again, off-again romance between Hunter and our dog Chloe
  • Hunter’s panting, which could be heard from three rooms away
  • The time Hunter was sprayed by a skunk and stank up the apartment for weeks
  • Hunter’s impressive elephantine defecations
  • The time Danielle took Hunter to a friend’s house and Hunter bolted past everyone and jumped in the pool
  • The time Hunter got Danielle and I out of a speeding ticket

Actually, that’s a good one. I’ll tell you the whole story. It was the weekend of my birthday and Hunter’s Uncle Mike’s birthday and we celebrated together by renting a beach house in Malibu. We invited our friends to stay the night. Danielle brought Hunter, who spent all day flopping around in the ocean. Now it was the next morning. I had gotten a ride to the party with Mike so the next day Danielle took me home.

Danielle was parked on the eastern edge of the Pacific Coast Highway pointing north. To get home, we needed to go south. So Danielle did what any Los Angeles driver would do in her situation: she made an illegal U-turn. Just as she did one of Malibu’s finest pulled right up behind up, flashed his lights and ordered us to pull over.

The police officer walked up to Danielle’s car, whose windows were open. Right as the police officer walked up, Hunter rested his head on the door, his nose sticking out of the car. The policeman stopped and looked at Hunter, took a step forward, stopped, looked at Hunter again, and then asked Danielle if she knew why she’d been pulled over. She said she did. The whole time, Hunter kept his head on the door, in that adorable way a dog will rest its head on your thigh and look at you like you invented dog biscuits.

The police officer told Danielle not to do it again. The he turned, looked on Hunter, rubbed his head and walked back to the car.

I think we said the words “good boy” to Hunter about 800 times on the drive back home.

There are more Hunter stories like that one from people all over the country who met him and fell in love with him. Danielle created a website so that we can all remember together. You can check it out here.

It’s funny. I’ve lost people before, but I never felt compelled to write about them. I think it’s because the grief is too personal. It’s my grief and it would be wrong to share it with strangers. I don’t feel that way about Hunter. I think that’s because dogs belong to everyone. Every time someone you know loses a dog, you get to remember your dog.

Hunter was one of those dogs—because he was a good boy—who reminds you of all the good dogs you have ever met.


Joe Donatelli
Joe Donatelli is a writer in Los Angeles
  • Pingback: Saying Goodbye « Celebrating Hunter Hartzell()

  • Nice post Joe.
    I did not know you all lived/met in Arlington.

    Yes, he will be soooooo missed. Completely unfair that dogs live such short lives. And just when they become perfect in every way – they die.
    I can only hope us humans tread that path.
    RIP Hunter.

  • Hi Janet,

    We lived in a great little townhouse (20 feet wide?) not far from the Ballston Metro stop. Thanks for the nice words.

  • Great piece Joe. I lost my “Hunter” last summer. Named Pete, a pound rescue who hung around for 14 years and loved and was loved every moment of those 14 years. Some dogs are like that. They don’t just move into your house, they move into your heart. I hope Pete introduces himself to Hunter where ever they are right now, I know they’ll be pals!

  • Sorry to hear about Pete. And thanks for the kind words, Paulo. It’s still very sad to think about.


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