His parents, Constantine and Stavroula Venetis, echo his warm welcome but in a more restrained manner, bringing out a platter of pastries and handing out coffee in cups adorned with Henry’s baby pictures.
Henry, who just celebrated his second birthday, is, in Constantine’s words, “our best buddy.”
He is, adds Stavroula, “the joy of our life.”
He’s also a Wheaten terrier, fluffy and frolicsome as hell. But please don’t call him a dog.
He thinks he’s a person. Scratch that – he knows he’s a person.
Stavroula and Constantine met long before Henry arrived, but it’s not surprising that they easily added him to their family.
They had been thinking about getting a dog ever since they married in 2016. Indeed, they had had “the talk” many times.
“I kept saying, ‘We need a puppy, I want a puppy,’” Constantine says.
“I kept saying, ‘Dogs are a big responsibility; let’s hold off a few years,’” Stavroula says, forgetting to add that it was she, not he, who caved.
While they were waiting, they took an American Kennel Club quiz to see which breeds best suited them. Wheaten terriers made the top-five list.
“We had never heard of them,” Constantine says. “We Googled and thought they were adorable.”
As he says this, Henry looks at him lovingly and bats his lavishly long lashes.
Their pet quest went no further until Stavroula decided that a puppy would be the perfect present to celebrate Constantine’s birthday.
She bought Henry, who looked like a chocolate truffle, and put him in a tiny basket in the hallway of their apartment.
She tied a balloon to his paw and asked her husband to bring in the bag of groceries she left there.
By the time Constantine did so, which was all of three seconds later, Henry had already escaped his confinement and was sniffing his way around his new home.
“It was,” Constantine says as he and Henry cuddle on the couch, “a nice surprise.”
As far as Stavroula and Constantine, they met in a much more mundane manner.
Stavroula, who was born in Athens, Greece, arrived in Astoria when she was 7.
“My dad came here for work and moved back and met my mother, who is Greek and Italian,” she says. “He told her that we needed to go to New York City for a better future.”
In August 1991, that’s exactly what they did.
“One of my first memories is walking with my father on Steinway Street,” she says. “He had a pocket full of quarters so I got to ride the mechanical horses outside all the shops. I thought, ‘I can get used to this.’”
And she did – rapidly. With the help of a tutor, she learned English, and by the time she was in college, it was the subject she majored in. When she graduated, she began working for a taxi brokerage in Long Island City.
“I feel right at home there,” she says, adding that she’s pursuing life coaching on the side. “My dad drove a cab.”
While Stavroula was still in Athens, Constantine was on the move – and it was away from the place she would eventually come to.
Although he was born in Astoria, when he was 4 the family moved to Bayside.
“My father’s family is from Greece,” he says. “My mother is Hungarian, but she was born in Tel Aviv.”
After graduating from Queens College with a degree in media studies, the only thing Constantine knew that he wanted to do was live in Astoria, so he moved back.
As far as his career, he hadn’t a clue. While he was deciding what to do, he took a job in his godfather’s flower shop in Chelsea.
In July 2012, Stavroula and Constantine met at a birthday party at the Astoria restaurant Ovelia.
“I was attracted to her because she is beautiful and smart,” he says, gazing at her.
She says, “I thought he was cute; I liked his easy-going personality.”
They went on one date. Then they didn’t see each other for nearly a month.
“I was at a remote bed and breakfast on the Amalfi coast in Italy where my best friend was getting married,” she says. “Constantine and I had tried to reach out during my vacation, but we never got each other’s messages.”
He says, “I didn’t know if there would be a second date.”
Stavroula, too, thought that they were finished before they even started, but they became two in 2016. And then three in 2017.
It was the perfect time to get Henry, they say, because Constantine took a job with Ambros Banana Whiskey, a startup with more flexible hours that sometimes allows him to work from home.
Still, they worry that Henry is lonely. Recently, they set up a camera to see what he does when they’re not there.
“He cries for about 30 minutes after we leave,” Constantine says.
If they had a bigger apartment, they’d get Henry a sibling.
When Henry hears this, he puts his paw on Constantine’s cheek.
Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 22, 2019. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.
Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling