This past week, one good friend lost his dog and another had the dreadful task of trying to decide if the time was right to say goodbye to her 16-year-old dog. I’ve been there. Everyone has their own grieving and healing process and there is truly no “right” way. For me, it was helpful to pour out thoughts and feelings in the form of a letter (an ode to Cooper) to friends who knew what he meant to me. Here's the letter, dated November 13, 2008:
We said good bye to Cooper yesterday, losing him to lung cancer that gave us little time to prepare. I'm crushed. He’ll be missed in ways I can’t easily describe. It's hard for me to remember what everyday life was like without him in it. Still, I'm thankful for the 13 and a half years with him which, for a lab, is remarkable. He enjoyed a wonderful, rich life filled with many great people and experiences. And, he paid it all back to me and others closest to him just by being the dog and companion he was.
Take your basic, eager-to-please, food-motivated black lab, then, stretch his ears, loosen his face and mouth, droop his eyes and give him an ultra smooth, silky medium coat. Gentle, unflappable, and even-tempered to a point where he could have doubled for Eeyeore in his later years. That was Cooper. He drooled like nothing anyone had ever seen and sent his long "slingers," as we called them, sailing across the room when he shook.
During my bachelor years, friends joked about my four-legged "wing" man in a bear-huggable, 85-pound, black velvet package. Still, I attracted my wife, Jay, all on my own. She quickly accepted and loved us as a package deal, and Cooper fell for her with me. As the old saying goes, a way to a man's heart is through his stomach. My wife, the former chef, nabbed us both quickly. In the next year or two, we can tell our daughter Audrey how she spent her first five and a half months with Cooper and show the photos of her with her first pal.
Cooper came to work with me almost every day for the past 10 years and earned the "shelter spokesdog" title I gave him. We attended PHS/SPCA's black tie affairs, city council meetings and 11 consecutive Mutt Strutts. We made countless community presentations and hospital visits to cheer up patients. Of course, there were incidents. His gas-passing during our regularly televised cable tv show was not infrequent. I can think on my feet in front of a camera, but man, that was tough! And, once, when an elderly man we were visiting in a hospital knocked his evening set of pills off the nightstand, Cooper shot under the bed, thinking "treats for me." It's a mystery why he had no ill effects from the stool softener he hoovered.
We represented PHS/SPCA together for the last time eight weeks ago, speaking to a senior group at the San Carlos Masonic Hall. As usual, I began by giving Coop’s bio and asking the audience to guess his age. Guesses ranged from nine to four; ok, some audience members couldn’t see well, but still, it made me feel good. I told them he was 13 and a half years old, or, in his mid 90s in people years, that he was on meds for a thyroid condition, slowed by arthritis and required help getting in and out of the car. “Sounds like all of us,” joked a guest. An instant connection.
Cooper had many friends at work who asked about him and snuck him treats (of course I knew and didn't mind!). He had a doggie grandma, my Mom, always willing to dog sit and did so, gladly, countless times. She was with him the week before his final week and I can never repay her for caring for him during a scary, difficult time that snuck up on us. He had extended family and friends who always accepted him into their homes without minding the hair, had special treats waiting for him, bought him gifts, supported his Mutt Strutts, and took an interest in his life. He had wonderful vets; PHS/SPCA's Dr. Janowitz was with us at the end and was compassionate, gentle and reassuring. Cooper touched my life in ways I never imagined, which is why it hurts so much right now. He's gone, but he's everywhere I look at home, at work, in the car...
Of Coop's many adventures, one stands out now: a weekend trip to Soda Springs, CA, three Decembers ago when he was 10 and a half years old. He galloped after me and pounced on me with his full force each time I took a turn tubing down the slope behind our rented cabin. I treasure the photos from this outing.
What I've heard most from friends these past few days is that Cooper touched many lives and has really been “man’s best friend.” Truer words were never spoken.