Millions of people love dogs. So do I. I cannot claim to love them more or better – love between humans and pets is impossible to measure. I am a ferocious mama bear to my dog children, in the same way my sons will tell stories of how I was always poised to go to battle on their behalf.
There have been a handful of loving, furry characters in our family over the years. We know when the house is too quiet, when we are listening for paws pattering about or a bark at a passing truck, we know. It might be time to find another precious soul to love. I never thought of a new dog as a replacement for one who has passed. In my mind, we honor the memory of the pups who came before, and we pass along the growing love to those who come after.
I have long been a follower of North Shore Animal League on social media. Having previously adopted from them twice, I have always held them in high regard, with an immaculate facility, incredible volunteers and endless community outreach. I was following a story about overcrowded municipal shelters in California, specifically an abundance of small dogs who needed homes. Over 200 of these dogs were being transferred to New York. Transportation was being provided by Wings of Rescue, a 501c3 corporation whose mission is to move pets to places and conditions where they have a better chance of finding new homes. Two hundred small dogs were flown 3,000 miles to Long Island where NSAL was taking approximately half of them. I followed the story daily and when they announced the day that the first group of dogs were ready, having received health clearance, I was there waiting for the doors to open.
I wandered slowly through the facility, looking closely into the faces of these very hopeful dogs. Suddenly I spotted a scruffy little terrier dude. A woman was checking him out but he jumped off the bench and scooted away from her. Next to meet him was a lovely woman I had been chatting with. As soon as she held him, she began to cry; it was too soon after her pet had passed. Now he was facing me. He knew the assignment. He smiled at me, then kissed me. I looked into his amber eyes and said “stick with me kid, I’ll be your mommy.” It took hours to complete the adoption process. Finally at 6pm we were heading home. He didn’t have a name, only a number which made the start of this journey even more poignant.
The next few days were fun as we discovered everything he understood, and that he was trained, fun, loving, and we named him Cooper. Our vet estimated him to be about 2 years old. In an instant Cooper took ownership of my heart. I never loved a dog the way I have loved Cooper all these years.
Along with his little sister Molly who was rescued as a baby from a hoarding situation, we began our snowbird road trips between NY and Florida. Secured in their carseats, stopping off at pet friendly hotels, they were great traveling companions.
Sometime after COVID we noticed Cooper yelping a bit when jumping off the bed or sofa. Doc thought perhaps neck or back. They started medications I don’t remember, but that had to be changed many times. Winter 2023 in Florida, Cooper cried out in pain during the night. We tried to comfort him, but found ourselves helpless. We rushed to the emergency vet. Xrays were useless and we left with yet another vial of pills. Two days later we were at the primary vet, then to a veterinary neurologist. Time for an MRI. The doctor clearly explained the five possible scenarios, one of which was a disc issue he could repair while Cooper was under anesthesia, that was his expectation. They sent us home and we waited for a phone call. It was number 5 on the list. A large mass on his thyroid. The following week Cooper had surgery to remove the mass and half his thyroid. We brought him home and it was heartbreaking to see him this way, with hair shaved, a nasty incision with many stitches. I didn’t leave the house, determined to just love him and comfort him. I reminded him of how brave he was, just like when he flew on the plane.
About a week later we were approved to drive home. I sat in the back seat, wedged between my two dogs in their car seats for the entire trip from Florida to New York. Cooper handled it quite well considering his condition. Dogs are funny with their unique personalities and quirks. At home, Molly terrorizes everyone who walks by, drives by or delivers a package, yet in the car she’s a quiet little angel. Cooper who is Mr. Chill at home is extremely vocal in the car. He hates traffic, stopping for gas and flips out over the dreaded windshield wipers! To his credit, he has a coping mechanism. He turns around in his seat and just stares at the back of the seat. Quite impressive Coop!
Back in NY we received the pathology report. Not only was this an aggressive form of cancer, this was a secondary site. A veterinary oncologist reviewed the records, he sat on the floor with Cooper and was visibly upset when he said there was no solution, too fast, too aggressive, can’t stop it. He prescribed some meds which have helped other patients.
It is nearly six months on these meds and Cooper is hanging in there, surviving on love. Tumors continue to appear, some protruding and noticeable, others hiding under fur. He groans like an old man when he just can’t find a comfortable spot. One morning I woke up to find blood everywhere, a crime scene out of a TV show. The protruding tumor ruptured. Mommy now cleans it and changes bandages daily to avoid infection. He is comfortable. He goes on walks and sees all the neighborhood dogs, he feasts on the ground turkey I boil for him, and we talk. Well I talk and tell him he’s the love of my life. I remind him of his bravery and the day he picked me to be his mommy. When my mother was old and struggling with her health, she would say “I’m not done yet.” Cooper, you’re not done yet. We don’t know how much time is left, but we make every minute count.
During that thing called Covid, I turned my favorite hobby into a little business designing needlepoint. I decided to release some dog-themed designs in honor of Cooper. A portion of the sales will be donated to Wings of Rescue. Without them, what would have been?
A Note About Expenses
Yes, this has been insanely expensive. Yes, we have pet insurance. It must be noted that the overwhelming majority of Cooper’s medical claims were rejected because they were not submitted within 90 days. Nowhere on their app where you must submit claims, is there any mention of a deadline. Nothing I could find at the time, and nothing different just a few weeks ago.
Throughout this journey, I feel as if I am struggling to tread water. Our world has virtually stopped and we watch everything flash before us, but we are helpless and frozen and all we can do most days is just love our dog. (And I had my own surgery to recover from).
It has taken me a long time to finally sit down and write Cooper’s story, but it’s critically important that it be told. It is the story of an incredible dog, filled with love and devotion who fought hard for a good life. We have given him everything we could, and will forever thank him for the indelible marks he has left on our hearts. We are profoundly saddened by his suffering, but also without the adequate words to express to the insurance company for disregarding him, for failing him shamefully.