A little over a week ago our 11 year old yellow lab, our baby boy, passed away. We had done the typical thing. We got married, bought a house, and got a dog. I barely know how to be a married woman without Cooper in my life. He even carries my maiden name. Years ago friends got him a red collar that said "Coop Doggy Dog" on it and had the wrong phone number, two numbers were transposed, but we never thought to change it.
This photo on this layout was taken the day we took him home from the breeder. He's sitting on Steve's Carhart jacket in the passenger seat of his 1990 red Toyota pickup.
This layout was actually published on the cover of the September 2008 issue of Scrapbook Trends magazine. I'm sure it was his sweet face that landed the spot. :)
A few years after we got married we had Morgan, and Cooper didn't sleep in bed with me when Steve was at work as much anymore. When she was little, Morgan called him Poonie. I don't know why.
A few years later Payton came along. She couldn't call him Coop, which was his nickname, I guess. She'd call him Boop. Or even Poop.
A few years later we got two cats, siblings. Cooper liked to occasionally harass Oliver, the boy kitty, by chasing him around, but Coco, the girl kitty, was content to turn the tables on him, swishing her bushy tail in his face and trying to rub noses with him whenever they were inside together. He'd look at us with this pleading look, so annoyed with her. He'd let out a little growl, but she couldn't be swayed. She loved her big brother, and she wanted him to know it.
He's been on every camping trip with us. He liked to bark at the delivery man. It didn't matter if it was FedEx, USPS, UPS. He'd bark.
He loved shoes. He'd never chew on them. He just liked to carry them around. If you came over for a visit and took your shoes off, at some point Cooper would have relocated it somewhere else. For some reason, he favored my left flip flops. I have been out of the house more than once with mismatched shoes because it was all I could do to find a right and left shoe at the same time.
A couple of times we went out of town and he stayed with Steve's parents, Grandma and Grandpa. We used to laugh about how much he must love it there, upstairs in their TV room, the three of them napping. :) After all, at 9-11 years old, he was technically a little puppy Grandpa.
Last year he had some fat deposits. We called them "fat balls" and had them removed. The vet called us in to look at one of them. It looked like a breast implant. How that got on Cooper's left flank I don't know. It's really embarrassing when your dog has bigger breasts than you do. :) He had another one removed from the middle of his chest.
Earlier this year he started breathing funny. He had a bit of a wheeze. We took him to the vet and she did some x-rays and saw a mass around his heart. She wasn't sure what it was but the only other option was to send him to the University hospital in Portland for an MRI. When you have an 11 year old dog, an expensive test like that just isn't an option. We don't know if it was cancer, or another fat deposit. All we know is that it looked like it was hanging on and impossible to remove.
Being that he was my boy, my firstborn, that is an extremely difficult decision to make even though we knew we didn't want to spend that kind of money on a test. I know he's "just a dog" but no matter how you feel about it, your pets are so much more than that. They are dependent on you. They don't eat unless you feed them. They look to you for affection. They live to protect you. They are an open ear. They are your friend.
Cooper was Steve's hunting dog. In the early days before kids they had many fun adventures. As time went on the opportunities to get away together lessened, but Cooper's devotion never did. Nothing excited him like 8:30 am after Steve had been gone for a 48 hour shift. Cooper was in the puppy stage well into his 11th year, his excitement for "dad to be home" so palpable as he raced up and down the stairs and around the living room.
In the last month or two, it became obvious that we were losing our boy. In the last week or two, he didn't even want to do the stairs. It was becoming inevitable that a decision needed to be made, and I have to tell you, that is torture. He couldn't tell us how he was feeling. I was so worried that I'd make the wrong choice, that he was fine, just tired, but would be okay.
When I realized we were on borrowed time I was kicking myself, because it has been a while since we've had a family photo with the dog in it. I was worried it was too late. He was already looking different. He had lost a lot of weight and his shape was changing. But then my sister reminded me that when my Grandfather was failing with Alzheimers, even when it wasn't "Grandjack" anymore, we still treasure the photos we had taken with him. So even though Cooper didn't look like Cooper to me, we still needed to get in front of the camera. In a rush I had her come over and do it on a Friday night. The kids had a rough day and Cooper simply wasn't intersted in participating. He just wanted to lay down. Steve and I had to physically pick up his head at one point, but I'm so glad we had those photos to keep, as selfish as that is. Poor guy.
The following Monday he had an appointment with the vet at 4pm. I made it because I wanted her to look at him and let us know if there was anything obvious we could do for him. That morning Steve was at work and kept texting me about him. Cooper looked tired but he seemed fine. He was just laying around the yard as he had been.
At one point I went out to turn on a sprinkler. He was laying near the faucet and it was dripping a little. I told him he needed to move so he wouldn't eventually be sitting in a puddle and when he didn't, I went over and physically picked him up and moved him to a blanket nearby. I went inside and texted Steve that he should find someone to cover for him so he could go to the vet with us. I was worried there would be a decision to make. I guess I started to have that feeling. I then ichatted with some friends about him. I didn't want to say anything out loud about what I thought we'd have to do because it hurt too much to say it, but typing it out seemed to help. When we finished talking I wanted to sit with him a bit, so I went outside to check on him.
He was already gone.
That moment is almost overwhelming to even rethink. I was filled with sadness and pain, fear because I didn't know what to do about my girls, and also a huge sense of relief. There was a difficult decision pending at 4pm that I didn't want to make, and in one final, sweet gesture, my baby boy took that decision away from me as a final gift to our family, and did it in the most peaceful way he could have. There are parts of me that are so sad that I didn't know when I moved him to his blanket that it was going to be our last moment together. I would have told him what he meant to me right then if I had known it would be my last opportunity. But I'm so grateful for the gift he was to our family. I'm so glad we had 11.5 years with him.
Steve came home and we buried him in our backyard under a pear tree. The girls made little notes for him, Payton trimmed hers with deco scissors in the shape of a C, and laid them next to him. He looked like he always does when he is in a deep sleep, and we said goodbye, covered him, and put his red "Coop Doggy Dog" collar around the trunk of that tree where it will stay. The girls later filled his food and water bowls and put them out for him under the tree, "just in case".
We always know we are going to outlive our pets. To be honest, he was often a pain in the neck the last few years, digging through the garbage if he could get to it, eating cat food, adding yellow patches in my lawn. But now that he is gone he is missed so much. Little things like leaving the shop door open for him, latching the fence, watching him pace the yard as we pull into the driveway, the jingle of his collar and the sound of his nails tapping up the stairs onto the deck, that once annoying bark to let us know company has arrived. I'm going to miss it.
So with many words I say goodbye to an old friend, who's over the rainbow, wreaking havoc in Heaven's backyard. We are going to miss you. You took a big piece of our hearts with you when you left.
Love you sweet boy.
Cooper Ringo Fiero
2/6/01 - 7/30/12