My oldest daughter, Annika, is responsible for every animal we have except for our newest puppy Apollo. It was about two years after our first dog passed away when Annika started saying we needed another dog. I was totally against it. We had had Ella for about 11 years and I was enjoying not taking a dog out during the frigid winter months, or tracking a dog down whenever the kids decided she needed to be free and let her out of the house. I didn't have to clean up dog poop or pee from the floors and our cats were happier. But there was also something missing I couldn't put my finger on.
Annika started looking on Craig's List for dogs. We couldn't afford a new dog from the shelters and a pure breed was totally out of the question. One day, after weeks of searching, she came across a listing for a free dog. With my permission she emailed the contact person and we found out his name. Then we agreed we would meet at Kittery State Park and "just look" which we all know is the kiss of death.
The kids and I went. It seemed sketchy meeting a strange family in the woods to see their dog. We found a young family with 3 small kids and the fattest black lab I have ever seen in my life. He came wobbling up to us, huge sloppy smile on his face and literally fell at our feet and rolled over so the kids could scrub his tummy. He had a huge choke collar on him and was not fixed because the husband "couldn't bear to do that to him." Of course, we took him. There were no toys from his family, no blanket and barely any food. They didn't even say goodbye to him. As soon as they gave us his leash, they were gone. It took all 4 of us to get him into the back of my Sequoia. He managed to sit in the way back with Ajax and Shippen whereupon he immediately rolled off the seat and got stuck. He was too fat to get himself unstuck so we had to fold down the second seat before he could free himself. He was five years old.
The first year we had him was intense. He weighed 124 pounds and was completely untrained. He barked at everyone who came near him. When I took him for walks and people would come toward us, I would warn them that he would bark at them. He had a bark that came from somewhere deep inside of him. It was deep and loud. When we first brought him home, he could barely walk to the end of the driveway without lying down. I took him every week to training class. He loved going to class. He loved learning new things. His favorite exercise was playing with a plastic dumbbell. He liked to play hide and seek. I changed his diet from eating 9 cups of dog food a day to eating 3-4 cups twice a day. He lost 20 pounds in about 6 months and became a completely different dog. He was the love of my life.
The second summer we had him, we were up on Islesford. He loved sitting in the sun by the pumphouse. He would take himself out of the house and sit. This day, the hose was out from my parents watering their garden. He was in heaven just lying there with the yellow hose next to him. He kept looking at it as if it were going to sneak up on him.
The third summer he was there, he met my brothers' dogs, Mondoo and Leopold, for the first time. Leopold was a Norwich Terrier puppy visiting from North Carolina who instantly fell in love with Cooper. They played together every day. I'd never seen Cooper have so much fun, this huge 105 pound black lab and this little terrier who couldn't have weighed anymore than 15 pounds, racing all over the front yard. Cooper had been losing more weight this summer and he was a little wobbly, but he never ever let us know something was wrong.
In October 2018, two months later, on a Tuesday, the day went from great to horrible. He was fine when I left for work but by 5p Ajax called me to say something was very wrong with Cooper. He wouldn't get out of his crate to go outside. When I came home, there was no Cooper greeting me at the door. He looked at me from his crate and barely wagged his tail. I sat on the floor and coaxed him out. He pulled himself up with great effort and collapsed by my side. When Shippen came home ten minutes later, Cooper stood up to greet him and immediately fell over. My heart fell. With Shippen's help, he carried Cooper to the car and sat in the back with him while I drove to the emergency vet clinic. They immediately took him to the back where they took an x-ray and found a huge cancerous tumor under his rib cage. We never knew it was there. The tumor had ruptured and my big black boy was trying to tell me he was done.
George and I told Shippen it was up to him if he wanted to come in with us to say goodbye to Cooper or not. We would completely understand if he didn't want to but he did. This was his first time saying goodbye to one of our animals. The vet people rolled Cooper in on a gurney. He had his nose in the air, lying on his side when he came in. He looked right at me, those big brown eyes never leaving mine. He put his nose against my arm and sighed. I put my head to his, scratched him behind his ears and told him he was The Best Boy Ever and thanked him for becoming our dog. There was no struggle, he was ready. He was 8 when he died, three years after we got him. I miss you, Bud. Every day.