May God endow you with pain. Baba Farid, Sufi poet
JoAnne (wife/editor) “What are you writing about this month?”
Me “I thought I’d write about Cooper.”
JoAnne “You have already written at least three columns about him…”
Me “Do you know how many entire books have been written about Winston Churchill, Stephen Foster, and Sacajawea?”
JoAnne (a bit exasperated and recognizing she has again fallen into an exchange where logic is useless. Nevertheless she continues gamely) “They were famous people. Cooper is a dog.”
Me (exchanging a conspiratorial wink with the behemoth at my feet) “That,” I say, pausing for emphasis, “Is what he wants you to believe.”
* * * * * * * *
Cooper was a wedding present my daughter Rachael and son-in-law Daniel gave to each other almost eleven years ago. Cooper is an over-sized yellow Lab who comes across as an oafish, hale fellow well met, ready to ask about “the missus” and your golf game. A tail thumping Rotarian glad hander, who will grab your clothing and pull you to the ground to rub his belly. At dinner parties he settles down after the meet and greet and plays the perfect guest. Careful not to take the host’s favorite chair, he avoids politics and religion and does more listening than talking. He seems to blend into the woodwork. It is not until dessert is about to be served that the host realizes that an entire pumpkin pie that was on a high counter is missing.
Cooper is a trickster, perhaps in the coyote or Sufi tradition. He has been pulling stunts like this for more than a decade. Traveling with Daniel, he adjusts seamlessly to months of fast-paced downtown living in a Toronto high-rise. Charming the doorman, he is off, walking without a leash through the financial district. He could be just another securities trader concerned about the downturn in the China market. What gives him away is not that he is a dog, but that he is not on a cell phone. He knows that a cold wet nose to the back of a knee can redirect a chatting, oblivious business person and keep things moving.
Daniel and I believe Cooper is a prankster, far smarter than he appears. In repose he is a Zen-like cipher, a Rorschach test. We love to speculate on his past. He often acts the part of a tweedy, befuddled, long tenured classics professor oblivious to the toilet paper stuck to his foot. We are convinced this is just his cover. Was he C.I.A.? I am not sure where that rumor started. Did he prep at Hotchkiss and get recruited to be a helper dog before washing out? Was he once a companion to an elderly man who was finally unable to care for him? He gets very excited when he sees very senior citizens. He still pees like a racehorse in one spot as if he used to receive very few walks and had to make the most of every outing.
“Coopie” was already an old soul when Rachael and Daniel found him in a shelter in the San Fernando Valley. This would lend credence to him having been in The Company and then discarded. While all the other dogs barked and pleaded to be noticed, Cooper slept undisturbed as if he knew the kids were coming for him. He ambled off just hours before facing “the green mile.” He has been family ever since.
That is what is making his present condition so gut wrenching. Cooper is probably about fourteen and has led a full if circumspect life. His eyes are clear, and his appetite legendary. His back legs are now too weak to support him. After a few steps he likely tumbles over. He remains good natured and nonplussed by his worsening condition.
After fall his tail thumps loudly, signalling that poltergeists have again tripped him up. He rises with aid, his dignity and sense of humor intact. Doctors have ruled out hip dysplasia and arthritis. He baffled the neurologist; his X-rays, CAT scan, and MRI were unremarkable. He has received laser treatments, acupuncture, and is on more drugs than Michael Jackson. Cooper has a rear harness that allows us to take some of the weight off of his back end.
The veterinarians say he does not seem to be in pain. Still, it is like watching the once graceful Willie Mays attempt to play centerfield for the Mets at forty-two. No one wanted to cut the future Hall of Famer. If you squinted just right for a play, he was still the “Say Hey Kid.” Fans cheered mostly from relief every time he made it back to the bench alive. “Coopie” still takes great joy in eating and a good nap. He is “still in there” and we cannot let go.
When informed an injured athlete is “day to day,” Keith Olbermann will add, “Listen, we’re all day to day.”
Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer. This was an incredibly difficult story to share. For happier Cooper columns and others visit sanduponthewaters.net.