March 17, 2015

In Loving Memory of My Dog Cooper

My Sweet Cooper

My heart feels both leaden and constricted, at once both insurmountably heavy and squeezed tight as a furious fist. My eyes, surrounded by swollen lids, burn. My head aches. My legs are antsy. My stomach churns. I am agitated, with flat affect. I can't concentrate. I can't sit still. I feel dissociated from my surroundings, except for the times when something triggers the wellspring of sadness that lives in my chest and the tears spill once again.

I know this is grief. I know this is normal. I know this will ease with time. I know that he was so sick and I know that he was suffering and I know that that is over now. I know that it would not have been right to try and keep him with me. I know he is better off now.

And I like all of the pictures people share with my imagination: Cooper with angel wings, Cooper running in a field with other dogs, Cooper getting ham sandwich shaped dog treats from God, Cooper crossing a rainbow bridge, Cooper young and healthy and pain-free. These are all gifts.

But those are thoughts in my head. My heart is not understanding the cerebral stuff very well right now.

I know that I sound so dramatic. I feel so dramatic. I am a soap opera version of myself. But I can't stop it. I feel like my eleven year old self when our family dog died...all bad poetry and melodramatic journal entries. But I remember more anger back then. Not now. Now it's just sadness. I am oozing sadness. So I will indulge myself for now, on this awful day when even the skies are crying. And I will talk about my sweet Cooper.

We had a rocky start to our relationship, my Cooper and I, which I regret and often chastise myself for. We adopted Cooper from an animal rescue organization in Akron, Ohio. They told us he was 2-3 years old, a stray with unknown history. He turned out to be 4-5 years old, according to our vet. They had called him Watkin because they didn't know his name or if he'd had one. Since he did not answer to Watkin, we renamed him Cooper and we brought him home with us.

He was crazy. And I was just three months post-loss of my beloved "first baby," a beagle-lab mix of doggie perfection, Jack. Cooper had tough shoes to fill. And I probably had no business adopting a new dog so soon after the long illness and traumatic loss of Jack. But I was lost without a dog in my house. So I convinced myself (and my husband) that it was time.

Cooper was sweet, but as I said, a bit crazy. We did obedience classes at the pet store and he responded well. He learned to heel and became my best ever walking partner. But he was still crazy. There were times that we considered taking him back to the rescue organization. But we didn't. We stuck with him. But bonding was a long time coming. First I had to get over the loss of Jack, then we had to wade through the addition of a new baby to our family. But finally things began to click. It may have been during our long evening walks when my dad was sick and my mom and I were on the phone for hours each night. I'm not sure, but it finally happened.

He still was crazy sometimes. He still gave us pause. ("That dog is weird," my husband would sometimes say.) But he became part of our family. I knew it for sure when we moved. He got loose in my parents' neighborhood when we arrived at their house for a mid-move visit. I thought he was gone forever and I was so distraught. I bargained with God as I drove the streets calling his name. I remember vividly that panicked feeling that he was gone. It was awful.

When he got sick last fall, I was prepared to do whatever it took to get him better (just as I had done with Jack). And we did. But it didn't work. Instead we got months of constant worry: Is he in pain? How bad is it? Is he about to pee on the floor? Is the medication helping? How much longer do we have? How bad will it get? How will we know when it's time? Is it time now?

And I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Because he was a gift.

Here's what I carry in my heart:
- His never-ending devotion. His willingness to always be by my side, regardless of my mood or how many nice (or not so nice) words I had tossed his way. In fact, his desire to not just be by my side, but to be in my lap. Always. He was plucky like that.
- His companionship. I like to be alone. But not completely alone. I cherish a silent companion, someone to share my space and bring warmth, but just be with me. I liked nothing more than to have him curled up beside me as I read, or laying at my feet as I wrote. But, most especially, I loved going for walks with him. I will cherish our walks forever.
- His soft snore. I know it sounds crazy, but I miss it. I'm having trouble falling asleep without it. The white noise of the fan is nice, but I miss my wheezy dog.
- His special way of sitting down in the middle of a room and then backing up until he ran into something, or preferably someone, he could lean against. The side of the couch would do, but he liked best to sit on your foot and lean against your leg (assuming your lap was unavailable, that is).
- His silky smooth hair. Running your hand along his sides, or his ears (oh, his soft, floppy ears!) was like petting a piece of heaven. God created this sensory experience to soften the hearts of men...and counteract the stink of dog breath. (Cooper had truly terrible breath.)
- His joy. (Oh the joy of a dog...second only to the joy of a child.) Laying in the grass in the sun sniffing the breeze. Greeting his family when they came home. Seeing Grandma or his buddy Brian. Getting treats. Eating carrot peels from the floor. Going for a walk. Being allowed up on the couch or bed. Getting love and attention.

So simple. So true. It makes me wonder how we humans have gone and mucked a lot of things up by complicating them so. Dogs, like my sweet Cooper, are here to remind us of what is really important. Joy and Love. Food and Rest. Fresh Air and Exercise. Companionship and a Pat on the Head. There really isn't that much to it.

Until next time, peace be with you. And go love your pet. Pet your dog. Give him a treat and take him for a walk and cherish what he brings to your life. You are lucky. I was too.

Me and My Boy

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