Today, we put our oldest dog, Cooper, to sleep and this is a eulogy for a grumpy dog. Cooper was 16 years old. He’d been blind for quite a long time and it never seemed to bother him before. Lately, he’d been slowing down, limping, falling over on the newly unearthed, hardwood floors, and suffering from an unyielding parade of ear infections, one after another. We know it was time to say goodbye and let him leave this world with his dignity intact. Still, it was not an easy decision. “One more week, he’s bounced back before.” and “He’s just old. Old dogs limp.” have graced our lips more times than we can count.
When we rescued him from the shelter, he was a stray so matted you could barely tell he was a dog except for the infrequent thump of his tail on the concrete of his kennel. We knew our time with him would be limited. At nine years old, he was no spring chicken. Our lack of hesitancy despite his age seemed like a sign from the powers that be. The shelter staff was not as convinced. They tried to talk us out of it. “He’s a project dog”, they said. “He’s got food aggression and a dominant streak a mile wide”, they said. “You don’t want this one” , they said. And they were right about everything except that last one. We couldn’t leave his sweet face behind. He was ours before he was really ours. Cooper was just what we needed.
Cooper was a dog of many names. Technically, he was Cooper Frederick but he only heard that when he was in big trouble.We often called him Duder, Old Man Doo, Cooper Doo, Little Boy Blue, or Dude. He responded to each and every one of them. He was a happy dog but he didn’t like to be reminded he wasn’t human. He loved people and greeted everyone with his very friendly signature howl unless that person was a UPS man or a member of the United State Border Patrol. He didn’t share my affinity for a man in uniform.
He licked sunspots. He ate underwear. He climbed up on the kitchen table. He was easily bribed whenever cookies were concerned. He championed long, undisturbed naps and seemed to have some very exciting dreams. He snuggled babies. He obsessively licked our legs when we got out of the shower. And he never gave up his spot as co-pilot.
I don’t want to paint an untrue picture of him. In our seven years together we have forged a multitude of memories. Some of them abounding with laughter : watching him scale the fortress we had built to keep him in the kitchen. Others joy : seeing him lick our baby’s feet for the first time. Some shadowed by disbelief : going to buy a dog kennel only to return to find he had eaten an entire bag of Beggin Strips and littered the apartment with neon orange poop that never did come out of the carpet. Still others with uncertainty : the time he was attacked by another dog while we were camping and had to have his jaw reconstructed out of metal.
In his old age, Cooper was cantankerous. He was particular and he peed on the bathroom floor every single chance he got. There were times I was sure I could hear him snicker at my roar when I stepped in a nice fresh, warm puddle. But he loved a good car ride and never lost his fervor for a Wendy’s Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger, plain. Mostly, he has been our very favorite pain in the butt.
Cooper helped show me the reality of purpose, both his and mine. I’m not sure I believe that we are all put on this earth to do one specific thing, but I do think it we all have something to learn from and offer one another. Cooper taught me patience. Good lord, did I need a lot of patience with that little knucklehead. He also showed me there is more than one way to do anything if you look at it long enough.
Cooper lived without fear and worry. He lived each moment as it was occurring. My mom always says “don’t borrow tomorrow’s troubles” and its been something I’ve always struggled with. I have a hard time being present. When I am happy, I am concerned about how long that happiness can last. I hope seeing Cooper’s collar hanging by the front door will be a daily reminder of his ability to enjoy each second without being concerned about the next.
He also taught me how to take care of someone besides myself. He was the first of three precursors that prepared me for the arrival of my daughter, Harper (who I’m sure our dogs think is some strange, blonde furless puppy but they love her just the same). He needed me, more than I had been needed before. He had special health concerns and it wasn’t uncommon for me to stay up all night with him, making sure he was okay. When Harper was very young and I keep a vigil at her bedside just to be sure she was breathing, I found myself thinking of the dog that was curled underfoot and how we had spent many similar nights in each other’s company. I can hear the unadulterated scoffing from people everywhere. Mothers appalled at the idea an ill-behaved stray taught me the mothering ropes, sighing especially loudly. Surely they are not dog people and I’ not writing this for them. I’m not even writing this for Cooper. I’m writing this for me.
As always, regrets surface. I didn’t take enough pictures, especially before he got “old”. I didn’t stop to cuddle him enough without other distractions. I was too quick to anger when he knocked the trashcan over for the six hundredth time. Still, I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone who was or is still in love with a dog as I with Cooper. I’m not quite sure how I’ll sleep at night without his old man snores and snuffles drifting up from the foot of the bed. Let it suffice to say I am better for having been given the opportunity to love and learn from him. Sleep easy, Duder.