Three years ago my dog died and my life has never been the same since. If you’ve ever lost a pet that you loved more than life itself, then you can probably relate to the pain one feels of losing that pet when they pass.
Meet my dog Cooper Bryson Downey. Ok, technically he was my son’s dog, but I picked up my fair share of poop and dog toys, so I think I can claim him as mine as well. Cooper was an unplanned and impulse surprise adoption. My son and I had recently moved into a house that had a fenced backyard, which was the first time we had lived on a property that wasn’t an apartment rental since my son was a preschooler. There had already been many conversations about getting a dog. And many times I shut the idea down because we didn’t have a yard and our lifestyle was too busy to add a pet into the mix. Now one of my two strong reasons for a firm no was no longer the case.
One Saturday in winter, seven years back, I forced my son to go run errands with me. I seem to recall that running errands with his mom was not in the top 10 things my son had planned for his weekend. Ahh, the beauty of forced time together. Such wonderful, quality time as he pouts and stares at his cell phone while I try to probe for answers of what is going on in his high school life, thinking a bribe from Starbucks will be all it’s going to take to get my son to open up with any response that is more than a one-word answer. “Good.” “Fine.” “Ok.” “Stuff.” Moms of teenage boys, you should relate to this easily.
We’d pulled up to a strip mall style shopping area, as I needed to make a stop into Barnes & Noble and Ulta for things I’m certain I probably didn’t really need. Jakob, not wanting to go makeup or book shopping with me, announced he’d be over at the Petco looking at the fish. I remember thinking, whatever happens, we are not getting anymore fish. Just say no to the beta.
I will never forget the look on my son’s wide eyes as he raced to find me knee deep in eyeshadow selections or the flushed look of excitement that was beaming on his youthful face. “Mom!!! They are having pet adoptions today. I found the perfect dog for us. Mom, can we get him?!?!? PLEEASSSE?!?!?!” My immediate response was no. Absolutely not. He continued to plead and make his case to all of the reasons why it would be a good idea. I noted that there was a high possibility my son would follow in my footsteps as a sales person, as he also has the gift of being able to talk people into things. With a deep sigh, I agreed to come look. But we were ONLY looking.
It was love at first sight. Cooper was the most awkward looking little runt in the bunch. We were told his story was that he’d been found, in true dog-gangster style, roaming the streets of Yakima and was about six months old. That’s when I called for backup, as I sent his picture via text to my parents. I was only going to say yes if they would pitch in and help too. It was going to take a village. As a single working mom, running a city & lifestyle magazine, I knew adding one more thing to my daily to-do list was not a good idea. But, man, was this little guy cute and noticeably quiet. They didn’t think he’d get too much bigger and they claimed he was already potty trained. How hard could it be? And just like that, we became dog owners.
Over the years, Cooper, also known as the Coopster, went with us everywhere. And, he was anything BUT quiet. Man that dog had a bark on him. It was so shrill and so annoying. At the hint of even a pen drop, Cooper would race towards the front door barking like a maniac. Our neighbors hated us, hell sometimes I hated us. Cooper would sit, stay, and fetch, making him somewhat trainable, but we never were able to tame that ear piercing bark. I tried taking him with me to work a few times, but that always proved to be a bad idea.
Treating him like he was my baby, I got very caught up in the dog clothing and dog toy craze, thinking at least I’m not a crazy cat lady. To be honest, is there really that much of a difference? The answer is no, no there is not. When you become a full blown, crazed, animal lover the voice of reasonable decision making goes right out the dog door.
The outfits, the treats, the toys. I simply couldn’t get enough of it.
In August of 2015, my son and I experienced what we now refer to as “hell week”. Within a four day window, I had emergency heart surgery, Jakob was diagnosed with a severe case of Crohn’s Disease, for which there is currently no cure, and Cooper went to the emergency vet hospital because he was mimicking Jakob’s symptoms and had become quite lethargic. The three of us spent a few weeks cuddling up on the couches recovering and feeling grateful that at least we were all in it together. Time marched on, and within a few months things weren’t getting too much better. I had tripped at a gas station, wearing birkenstocks post yoga class, and fell backwards, cracking my head on the cement pole that keeps your car from hitting the gas pump. Due to the fact I was on blood thinners for my heart, it seemed like there was blood everywhere. Because I had blood all over my hands when I went to feel my head, I originally thought there was blood coming from there too. It ended up just being on my hands, thank goodness. Jakob and his friend McCabe raced me to the ER to find out I had a mild concussion, which resulted in short term memory loss for a period of time. I was instructed to go “screen free” for at least a week and to take it easy. Um, hello? Have you met me? Doing either of those things seemed impossible. Honestly, my memory has never been the same since. And on certain days, when the weather turns cold or blustery, I can feel tingling on the back of my head where the impact was made.
Then in November of 2015, Jakob was scheduled to have surgery to remove part of his damaged colon and intestines. We spent six, long days at Overlake Hospital while my parents took care of the Coopster. Four days into our hospital stay, my Dad called to say that Cooper wasn’t eating and was acting very lethargic again. We all assumed he was mimicking Jakob’s symptoms again and that the best thing to do would be to bring him back to my house, so he’d be there when Jakob got home from the hospital. My sister had flown in from NYC to stay home with Jakob and help us out, so that I would be able to return to work the following week. I desperately needed rest and help, as I had also been sleeping at the hospital, working remotely, or running to business meetings while others came to visit Jakob.
Cooper perked up the moment he saw Jakob and we all assumed he would bounce right back to normal. He was, after all, only four years old and still had so much life in him, including the life of that oh so shrill bark. (It really was pretty terrible.) That said, within 24 hours, Cooper started acting strange again and back we went to the ER Vet clinic. They filled him with fluids, similar to the time before in August, and sent us back home with a strong note of caution that if he didn’t improve or got worse, we needed to bring him right back.
Things were fine for several hours, until it took another turn. I found Cooper curled up in a corner of the living room and he had just thrown up poop, something I’d never seen him do in the four years we had owned him. Back to the Vet ER I went, this time leaving him there overnight to be carefully watched with an IV drip. The next morning, the vet called and said that surgery would be required. They had done x-rays and believed that a foreign object was lodged somewhere inside Cooper’s stomach.
Cooper had two real loves in his life, outside of the love he had for his humans. The first was his “love pillow”, his special pillow that he would hump on a daily basis, making anyone in the room very uncomfortable. The second, was his love of all things plastic. Cooper was obsessed with shredding toys apart to rip the dog squeaker out of each toy. They suspected it was a plastic squeaker that was lodged in his insides.
A few hours into the surgery, the vet called me to explain that yes in fact the object was a plastic squeaker and it had done quite a bit of internal damage. They could continue on with the surgery, but there was no guarantees it would save him or what his post-surgery quality of life would be. He would also likely have to be hospitalized for 2-3 weeks, assuming the surgery ended successfully. Our vet tab was already up to around $8,000 and I did not have pet insurance. Our other medical bills for our surgeries had already started coming in. I had no choice but to make the call to put him down. Adulting is so hard.
I remember that early afternoon, as I hung up the phone, hysterically sobbing to my family as we all piled in the car to go say our goodbyes. Something inside me broke in a way I’d never experienced before. Three years later, and I can still tear up thinking about this life-defining moment in time. Cooper Bryson Downey passed away on Monday, November 9th at 1:45pm in the afternoon.
This life event kicked off a series of events that ultimately change the course of our lives. A friend set up a Go Fund Me page asking our friends and family to donate to cover the vet bills of our dead dog. I had never heard of Go Fund Me at this point, I think it was a relatively new service at the time. Within 24 hours, nearly enough money was donated to pay off our vet bills. What a blessing to not have to experience debt over a dead dog. My heart swelled with gratitude that we have so many amazing people in our lives that would extend such generosity during such a difficult time. You truly learn which people in your life care about you when you go through struggles. It quickly defines who will really be there for you and which people will just give you lip service friendship.
Two life threatening surgeries, one concussion, and a dead dog is a lot to go through, especially when it all happens within a two month period of time. I would joke that our lives had become a country song, but it wasn’t really that funny. The passing of Cooper allowed me to truly mourn the experiences we had gone through. I wasn’t capable of grieving my surgery, my concussion, or Jakob’s surgery because if I did, I felt like it would make me weaker and I wouldn’t be able to stay strong for the both of us. Plus, our health issues are both lifetime illnesses that we will continue to battle for the rest of our lifetimes. Must. Stay. Strong.
The passing of Cooper was so final. I don’t have a lot of experience with death. I realize it’s a part of life that can’t be avoided. Although I’d had pets as a kid, I’d never had a bond with an animal like I did with Cooper, faults and all. Cooper taught me many things, but the most important things were unconditional love and loyalty. In the words of Queen Elizabeth II “Grief is the price we pay for love.” I loved deeply. I grieved deeply. Cooper, you will always be the dog of a lifetime for me. I think the hardest part of losing a dog you love isn’t having to say goodbye, although that was excruciatingly painful. It’s the way the world changes without them and the emptiness that’s left in your heart when they go way, that can’t really be filled by anything else.
May you bark with the angels Coopster! We’ll see you someday on other side of the rainbow.