Cooper was our first family dog. I remember how excited I was when my parents finally folded and said yes to a dog. My brother and I were harassing them for about a decade until they agreed it was time to bring home an adorable little brown puppy. Cooper was a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. I remember people always assuming he was a chocolate lab, but any Chessie owner will be quick to correct you. Not because they are offended, but because they are drastically different dogs, with drastically different temperaments. That breed is not for the faint of heart and they require rigorous training due to their stubbornness. Sometimes you have to rationalize their bad behavior by saying something like, “I swear he never does this,” when in fact, he always does that. Chessie’s are tough, resilient, and hard headed creatures. Cooper would swim in ice water ponds in the winter time and cry when we told him it was time to go home. He would spend most of his days outside exploring the woods, smelling all the smells nature had to offer. He was infamously known for having an orange ball in his mouth at all times, somewhat like a pacifier, to soothe him when his brain was not being stimulated. Cooper would run into a burning building to retrieve that ball, drop it at your feet, and wait for you to throw it back into the burning building. Through and through, he was a rugged dog.
The reason I bring up his toughness is because Cooper had been dealing with a chronic autoimmune disease that was attacking his lower GI tract. For the last few years he had been in immense pain every time he had to use the bathroom. Most days, he would be scared to even go outside because he knew he would have to endure significant pain. If you saw what he was going through, you would be surprised he made it this long.
I am telling you this is because I have been mentally preparing for this day for years, yet for some reason, it still hurts as if it was a sudden surprise. When you lose your first pet, memories rush your mind. You reminisce all that they observed. Coop watched me turn from a child into a man. He saw me graduate high school and college. He saw me fall in love and endure heartbreak. He saw me sad, tired, angry, and happy. My life went through ups and downs before Cooper, and it will go through ups and downs after him, but the moments in between, he provided a level of emotional support that I truly can’t put into words effectively.
People get annoyed with their dog. They are hyper when you are tired, they bark when you want to sleep, and they chew things they shouldn’t. But in moments like these, that is not what you remember. You remember what they looked like when they first learned to swim, the way they rested their head on the warm radiator in the winter, or the snarling smile the Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are famous for.
Your first dog teaches you responsibility, how to be patient, and most importantly what unconditional love feels like. Many people are attached to their pets and treat them like family because they are the only ones who don’t need to speak your language to understand what’s going on. In fact, they don’t even need to know the problem to show you the support you require. It’s just built into their DNA.
So today is a bittersweet day. While I know he can finally be pain free, I know that I will not be. I will be going through a tough time, and he won’t be there to support me like he has been for the last 12 years. He will never greet me at the door again with that orange ball in his mouth, he won’t be laying next to the fire when I am watching a movie, and he won’t provide the comfort I need to deal with his passing. But the memories that I have with him will last forever. Cooper was an important part of my life and there will never be a dog like him. But if you already lost your first family dog, and understand what I am going through, just know that Cooper is in doggie heaven trying to steal their favorite toy away from them right now. And for that, “I swear he never does this.”