Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Greatest Dog Ever

This isn't the post I thought I'd be writing today, but it is the one in my heart. The one I need to write.

Thirteen years ago this month, Scott, who was my boyfriend at the time, called me up and told me he had a surprise for me.

I could not imagine what it might be. We had been dating about seven months at the time. The 1996 Summer Olympics had just ended, so it wasn't tickets to an Olympic event. The only thing I could think of was tickets to a show. I just had no idea.

So, I hopped in my car and drove over to his house. He led me up to his bedroom and there, sitting on a bath towel in the middle of his bed, was the cutest, sweetest, most adorable little floppy-eared puppy I had ever seen. He was tiny and black and tan and he had the cutest little pink tongue that was eager with the kisses.

Instantly, I fell in love.

We named him Cooper. Special Agent Dale Cooper, actually, after Kyle MacLachlan's character in Twin Peaks. Even as a six-week old pup, our Cooper had something of a sage and mysterious nature.

He came to live with me in my apartment which had just been burgled a few weeks prior and soon he was a fine guard dog without our having to train him at all. He also quickly learned to go outdoors to do his business and in my recollection only had a few indoor accidents.

The one place he lacked self-discipline, it seemed, was his love for chewing shoes and books. But, with a little tough love, he soon outgrew those habits and became, by our reckoning and that of others, one of the best behaved dogs you could ever hope for.

Cooper is an amazing dog. And he has been well-loved from the day Scott found him hanging around a neighbor's yard hoping to get in the fence to be with her two Basset hounds.

I credit him with saving my life on at least two occasions. Maybe more. The first time came when he was just one year old, a long and lanky pup whose ears had finally decided to stand up.

Scott and I had just moved in together. It was going to be our first night in our first home together, but Scott had been invited to a wedding in Baltimore that weekend. I spent a stormy Friday night unpacking boxes and setting up our bedroom. Around midnight, I was so tired, I went to bed with Cooper asleep on the bed beside me. I had just drifted off, it seemed, when Cooper began growling, deep in his belly, and awoke me. I then heard two male voices right under my bedroom window, discussing the best way to get into the house. Cooper began barking and I called 911. The two men were gone by the time police arrived, but I believe that's only thanks to my sweet and protective boy.

About two years later, he pulled me away from our mailbox just seconds before a drunk driver crashed into it, right at the spot where I would have been standing.

At 13 years old, he still barks when he sees someone walking down the street or a strange car in front of our house. And since the day they got old enough to throw a temper tantrum, Cooper has come to stand between me and a screaming crying boy as though he wants to protect me from them.

All of this, and really, Scott is his Alpha, his master. Scott who used to feed Cooper the crusts off his Pop-Tarts. Who made sure I indulged Cooper with pig ears and dog toys.

Still, I don't know that I have ever been loved as unconditionally as I have by Cooper. And my heart breaks as I see him changing and becoming less and less himself, day by day.

It began when he started having separation anxiety. And then he stopped coming to greet us when we came home. Soon, even rain showers were making him shake, cry, and follow me around the house the way the most severe thunderstorms once did.

On Friday, he wandered two doors down to a neighbor's house. When I went to shepherd him back home, he didn't recognize me and almost got hit by a car as he tried to run to the other side of the street to avoid me. As he trotted toward our house, he kept looking over his shoulder fearfully at the strange woman who was trying to get him.

A fair amount of reading has led me to conclude that he has Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. He has almost all of the symptoms. The worst, aside from his not recognizing briefly on Friday, has been his inability to sleep at night. It seems it has gotten worse the last few days, too.

I know that it is inevitable that he will die. He has already exceeded the life expectancy for a dog his size by about three years. And, for the most part, I'd say he has had a good life. Although, I keep reliving the moment when I knelt beside him at five a.m., in our foyer, the morning I went into labor with Brendan. My water had broken a few hours earlier and as we ran around the house making phone calls, packing last minute items into bags, loading things into the car, Cooper followed me and kept an eye on all that was happening. He knew something was up, if not what.

I knelt beside him and hugged him and I couldn't hold back my tears as I told him I was sorry that his life was about to change. I knew it would never be the same for him again.

But, the day we brought Brendan home and sat him down in his carrier in the living room, Cooper checked him out and added him to the pack. Moments later, when our orange tabby Mao walked over to check the baby out, Cooper instantly jumped up, barked and nudged the cat away with his nose.

Still, I go back and wish there had been enough of me to go around. To keep up the daily outdoor play time of throwing the tennis ball or a stick. I hope the walks, the tummy rubs, the special treats, the love the kids have shown him have made up for some of the joys in life he lost when the kids came into the picture.

I don't know how much time he will have left with us and us with him. I do hope I can make each of those days as great as possible and that in the moments when he recognizes us and his life that he knows he is, always has been, and will continue to be loved and known as the greatest dog ever.


Kel said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your dog. It sounds like he's had such a wonderful and full life of love and companionship.

ViolinMama said...

What a beautiful post about your incredible companion Cooper. I'm so, SO, very sorry about the changes he is going through. The mutual love shines through, and I mourn for you all as these things change. He is quite a dog, has such an amazing history, and reading it was an honor. Thank you for sharing Cooper with us.

I hope you have more time too, so more can be written. His story needs to continue.

Many blessings and hugs.

Wendy said...

This made me cry. I just had to put my dog down a few months ago and it was heartbreaking. Give Cooper a pat and a kiss for me, and I hope his remaining days are comfortable. *sniff*

Wendy said...

I'm so sorry about Cooper. I've been there too many times with both my "the greatest dog that ever lived" as well as the goofy, crazy, loving and completely chicken-poop dogs. You two were very lucky to have each other.

Courtney said...

Dawn, tears are streaming down my face as I write this. You know how much I love Cooper, too, and I 100% agree with you that he's the greatest dog ever (don't tell Bailey I said that!). He was the first customer at Camp Courtney for Coopers, which has now been renamed Camp Courtney for Canines. I love you both so much and am grieving along with you. I feel blessed to know him and I know he's been so blessed to have you, Scott, Brendan, Beckett, and Mao as his family.

Cranky Mommy said...

I'm sorry Dawn. I'm sure it's hard to watch Cooper deteriorate. But at least you understand what's going on with him and don't mistake it for bad behavior. He's lucky to have such a concerned doggy mom.