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Friday, 24 August 2012

Cooper....A Free Spirit! 2003-2012

Our dog Cooper had to be put down on August 16, 2012. He had cancer in both his chest and abdomen. He was struggling to breathe. We found out on a Monday night and by Thursday night he was gone. It broke my heart. I loved him dearly. We loved him dearly. He touched a lot of people in his short 9 year life. I feel so lucky to have known him. He was a free spirit and still curious and excited right up to the end. He was an amazing dog.

Gabriola Island, BC
 I had always wanted a dog but didn’t get one until I was 56. I kept putting it off for some reason. I would talk about the idea of getting a dog with my kids in the car from time to time and finally decided to go for it. My son Dean came up with the name Cooper and I liked it right away. Cooper had his name long before he was born. It was later that I came up with an explanation of his name. A Cooper is a barrel maker and scotch whiskey is kept in barrels and whiskey is similar in colour to what Cooper was.
I answered an ad in the Vancouver Sun newspaper. Dean and his twin sister Leah and I drove out to Chilliwack to see a recently born litter of golden retriever puppies. They were all out in a fenced yard in the back of a farmhouse. Some were taking a snooze while others ran about.  The breeder worked for a vet and this was a one- time only thing so it wasn’t a puppy mill. The puppies slept in a free standing garage at night which had a Franklin stove where the puppy poop was burned.
I was asked to pick out the puppy that I wanted. They all looked kind of the same to me. Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I simply asked for the biggest guy in the litter. We had to wait about another 6 weeks before taking possession of him.  “Possession” is a funny word.
Leah and I made the second trip out to Chilliwack to pick up Cooper. Dean was tied up with something else. It must have been nap time because Cooper slept in Leah’s lap all the way back to where we lived in Richmond, BC. We were getting kind of hungry and stopped off at a MacDonald’s in Cloverdale. I went in and got the food and Cooper remained in Leah’s lap. Such a peaceful little dog we thought. We were wrong about that.

As a puppy in Richmond, BC
My ex and I had split up several years before and we were doing the co-parenting thing. I rented a large house close to my kid’s high school and they would come back to my house each day before being driven to their mom’s place or some activity they were involved in. My office was also in the house and most weekdays I would meet the kids in the large park next to their school at close to 3 p.m. with their new puppy. It was quite evident from the start that they were more interested in showing him off than taking him for walks which was entirely OK with me. They also had a big cat (Zack) that they were very fond of at their mom’s house.
I really didn’t have much of a clue about having a dog. The stuff about not peeing etc. in the house was easy. It was the teething that was the problem. Cooper would chew on anything he could find including my bed cover and the furniture.  I tried leaving him in the bathroom when I went out but he chewed away all the rubber along the baseboard and scratched the door. I knew he was going to be a big dog so I went out and found the biggest kennel I could find before everything was in tatters.
Right from the start Cooper was a “puller”.  He was determined to get wherever we were going at a very fast speed. I started to get annoyed with some neighbours who repeatedly said “Who is walking who?” It didn’t take long to figure out that I had a very active dog on my hands with almost unlimited energy.
It didn’t seem like Cooper was a puppy for very long. I wish I had taken more pictures of him then. Like the time he spotted his image in a mirror and started barking. Or when he first saw the ocean and seemed frightened by the waves lapping up on the shore. I was totally wrong about that suspicion.
He started to sprout like a weed. It almost seemed like he was on steroids. He grew into one handsome dude and I kind of felt like his wingman. Or was it the other way around? Throughout his life he was well muscled and sleek. He got a lot of exercise. For his first few years he was taken for a walk at least twice a day, sometimes more.
I started taking him over to the huge park near my kid’s school early in the morning at about 6:30 a.m. when hardly anyone was around so he could run free off leash. It was here that he first discovered chasing birds, the kind of birds that that didn’t fly together but who zoomed in solo over the grass and the morning dew in search of worm or grub. He never got close to them but he didn’t quit until he was exhausted and out of energy.
One morning a young couple with a dog about the same size asked me if I was OK with them letting their dog off leash so it could run with Cooper. Their dog’s name was Princess. All was well for a short time until Cooper ran their dog into a fence. They weren’t very pleased about that.
Dogs only see in black and white and Cooper had a nasty habit of ingesting discarded Kleenexes if he spotted one. I always had to keep an eye out. Dogs can be a bit gross at times
We started to expand our horizons as to where he could be taken for a walk. We went down to the dike area in Richmond where they had an off leash area. At the time, he loved to race around with other dogs. On more than one occasion he somehow managed to find an oily pit which he rolled around in and I would then have to get him to go into the river to get most of the gunk off.
We discovered a great off- leash park out by the Vancouver International Airport.  Cooper was about 5 months old then. By this time he had a keen sense of where water was and would do anything to get into it. He was still about a month away from being neutered and I remember a couple of gay women chastising me that this procedure had not yet happened. It was only when I got home that I thought about whether their dogs were spaded. If so it wouldn’t have made any difference if Cooper tried to mate with their dogs.
I took Cooper into the vet to get neutered. I was told by some that this would quiet him down a bit. When I went to pick him up he wandered down the hall like a listing John Wayne. 20 minutes later I realized his personality hadn’t changed one iota.
As a novice with dogs two things quickly became evident about Cooper. He liked to pull when on his leash and in his exuberance he liked to jump up on people when greeting them. I enrolled us in a dog training class at a local pet store.  It was a really crappy atmosphere out in the parking lot with distractions and cigarette butts. In fact the trainer smoked while giving instructions. It was just a waste of time and money.
I owned a country place on Vancouver Island at a place called Fanny Bay. About twice a month we would go over there for the weekend.  On one of those weekends I stopped off at a drug store and picked up a bag of fruit candies and some disposable razors before catching the ferry. After we arrived I went to the car to retrieve those items only to discover that they had all been eaten by someone.  Sometime later, Cooper and I were out on a trail when we ran into some hikers. I told them about Cooper eating the razors. They then told me that they had spotted some blue plastic in some dog poop further back on the trail and now it made a lot of sense.
Cooper got me in trouble several times when he was younger. I remember the time I was spending the night at a girlfriend’s who lived near Kits Beach. Dogs weren’t allowed in her building so Cooper slept in the car. I awoke early and took him down to the beach in the dark. He jumped a guy in a suit who was carrying a cup of coffee. A passerby broke up the fight that was just about to start. That was a close one.
When Cooper was about two I decided to pack it in in Vancouver. I sold my business accounts and we moved to my place at Fanny Bay.  I was going to be semi-retired.  We lived there for two years as bachelors.  I was kind of a serial dater on the internet and over the years Cooper found himself in a number of strange houses. One time he took over an ailing Doberman’s toys and I could see him up on the host’s couch looking out the window when I went out for a smoke.  There are many other stories about how he interacted with these women but I will leave that to your imagination.
I’ve always been the type who liked to lie down on the couch while watching TV. At Fanny Bay we had a routine.  I would change positions on the couch from time to time. Cooper by this time had become well accustomed to sharing both the couch and my bed. All I had to say was “switch” and we would readjust where our territories were.
The whole setting at Fanny Bay was kind of idyllic. In the colder weather or when it snowed we were both safe and comfortable in our small house with a roaring fire. In warmer weather we investigated all of the close by trails. Cooper often swam in the ocean at the nearby oyster beach. He loved rolling on dead fish. Yuck! We would often drive over to Roswell Creek a few miles away where he would have a good swim.
I still had the problem with his pulling and jumping up on people. From time to time I would hear a shriek when we were out in the woods and Cooper was ahead of me. He was all about introducing himself by leaping up at them. One day I let him out of the car on a quiet road not seeing anyone around and the next thing I knew some old guy was beating him with a newspaper.
I’m not saying this was a good thing. I made one last attempt at getting Cooper out of his bad habits. I hired a guy who had a whole slew of border collies. He could direct them with hand signs from a hundred yards away. His solution to Cooper jumping up on people was to stick your knee in his chest. All well and good for me but how did I train complete strangers?
About once a month I would go over to Vancouver to visit my kids. Sometimes I would leave Cooper at a local kennel near Fanny Bay.  A few times I found it hard to recognize him when I picked him up. He had been rolling in the dirt with the other big dogs. When I would get him in the car he would be sitting in the front seat staring out the window as if he was making a statement that if we were such good pals why did you dump me with strangers?
In warmer weather I would often let Cooper lie by himself out on the front lawn. He tried to dig a few holes but for the most part he seemed to be content. Occasionally he would sneak off drawn by his curiosity through the woods behind us only to be returned by a neighbour.  I started to peek out the back window when I couldn’t spot him on the front lawn and attempted to stop him before he started to wander.
One day he went next door where they had an older big black dog. Somehow Cooper managed to get a big stick caught in his collar and I don’t know who was more grateful I decided to check on him.
My kids and their friends visited from time to time and Cooper always welcomed them into the pack. Over the years he always slept close to whoever was visiting, either in bed with them or on the floor beside the bed. He kept this habit to his final days.

Dean at 16 (in red T-shirt) with his friends and Cooper at Fanny Bay, B.C.
Leah at 16 with Coop at Fanny Bay oyster beach.
At some point I came to realize that the Fanny Bay deal wasn’t going to work. People kept mostly to themselves in the area and there was no social life other than the occasional brief chat at the roadside while out for a dog walk. I loved everything about the area but it seemed like the kind of place to go before you die or go into a home.  Cooper and I had some more living to do.
I sold the property and we moved to Victoria. I certainly over paid for the place I rented but I was determined to have a sizable backyard for my dog. We soon discovered Elk Lake Park in Saanich.  We spent many long hours there. Once again Cooper discovered chasing birds.  He would run to exhaustion and it dawned on me that I had to cut his efforts short when one day he lay panting in the weeds totally spent.
A few months after arriving in Victoria I met Linda on the internet and she would become a big part of Cooper’s life in the years to come. A guy with a golden retriever couldn’t be all that bad I guess? Linda lived in Nanaimo and for over a year we would go back and forth to each other’s places.
Linda had been a life-long owner of dogs. Cooper and her bonded right away.  She knew things about animals that I didn’t.  My philosophy in bringing up children or taking care of a dog was rather simple. Enjoy life, investigate, have fun. Just don’t take too big of a risk or hurt yourself.

Playing with Linda Victoria, BC
 Linda was to share in the next 5-1/2 years of Cooper’s life. Over those years we hiked and travelled all over Vancouver Island. The place we always like the best was Florencia Beach in Pacific Rim National Park on the west coast of the island. In later years we would make a day trip of going there and be back home by sundown.
Florencia Beach BC

Florencia Beach BC

Florencia Beach BC
We took Cooper to lot of islands near to Vancouver Island. Salt Spring, Gabriola, Hornby, Denman, Sointula, Alert Bay, Quadra, and Cortez. We took him to Port McNeil, Telegraph Cove, Tofino, Banfield, Spider Lake, Rosewall Creek, and out to Bamfield when Linda went on The West Coast Trail. We watched Cooper surf at China Beach north of Victoria. We took him to the interior of BC and Invermere, up to Whistler, and back to his old stomping grounds in Vancouver. Cooper got around.
Tribune Bay, Hornby Island, BC.

Alert Bay, BC
I remember a particular hike we took him on up Rosewall Creek when Linda was practicing for The West Coast Trail. Unwisely we made our way through the bush up a steep grade hanging onto roots so we could get a clear view of a waterfall. It turned out to be very unsafe and I’ll never forget the look in Cooper’s eyes and his legs shaking. “Are you guys totally nuts?”

Linda and I have lived together for 4 years in a small community just north of Nanaimo called Lantzville.  I kind of gave up the leader of the pack thing a bit to her. She was more of stickler about Cooper having a restraint thing attached to his collar where as I would usually not use it. I was used to his pulling.
We had the good luck of having trails through the forest only minutes away from our front door. We spent hours on those trails with Coop. We also had to try to dissuade him from searching for rabbit poop or as we called it “the buffet”. At the end of one of the trails was a blackberry patch and Cooper learned how to gingerly help himself to berries among the lower thorns. He knew where the small creeks were on the trails were. We were rarely successful in getting him home dry.
Finding Cooper a place to swim was always a priority in warmer weather. Up the hill from our place is a marsh with lily pads and croaking frogs and down the hill there is the ocean and a pebbled beach.
Cooper came with us on our trip back east earlier this summer. He drove with me across Canada to Ontario. He ran around the countryside In Saskatchewan and swam in Lake Superior. He stayed at my brother’s place near Guelph, Ontario in the country for about 2 weeks out of the 5 week trip.
We then headed back to the west coast and BC across the US. At times the temperature reached as high as 105 degrees. We made sure Cooper always had plenty of ice water. He swam in Lake Michigan, went with us to visit the American Pickers warehouse on the shores of the Mississippi in Leclaire, Iowa, he swam in an alpine lake in Yellowstone National Park.

Alpine lake in Yellowstone National Park
A few days after we got home Cooper was feeling kind of listless. He lost his appetite. The he perked up only to become listless again. We thought that it might just be the heat or maybe fatigue from the long trip. He still came on his daily hike but he seemed to have slowed down a bit. We thought that maybe he was just getting older. After all, he was 63 in human years.
My son Dean came over for a visit for a few days and about 2 weeks later my daughter Leah came over for 4 days. We took Cooper out to Pacific Rim National Park. We had no idea that it would be Cooper’s last visit. This time he didn’t race around like he usually did. You could tell he wanted to. My kids got to see Cooper one last time.
We had noticed that aside from Cooper slowing down that his stomach was starting to swell. We thought that maybe he had been drinking too much water in compensating for the heat or he picked up some kind of a stomach bug on his cross-country trip. We took him into the vet on Monday morning. After having a look at Cooper and feeling his body the vet suggested x-rays and then asked us to come into the examining room to tell us the news. I had to go outside and cry and Linda joined me in the car to do the same. It was as if a large part of our life was about to be removed.
Leah was still here and we still had to tell her. We had a spontaneous group hug and a further cry. Leah went home on the ferry the next day but got to say goodbye to her pal.

Leah and Cooper
We took Cooper down to the beach in Lantzville on Tuesday night for one last swim. It was a special time. Linda started to feed him whatever he wanted. It reminded me of a prisoner choosing his last meal.

Last swim Lantzville, BC

Last day at the beach Lantzville, BC

I think Linda and I were both stunned. We wanted to keep him with us as long as we could. I took Cooper for one last short walk while she was at work. The hours in his life were getting shorter.
We agreed on Thursday that the time had come. I don’t think Cooper had a clue about what was about to happen and that is a good thing. He was alert and curious right till the end. Breathing was becoming too difficult for him.
We will miss him. As the days go by it gets better. We got his ashes back a few days ago and sometime in September we will once again take him back out to Florencia Beach and cast his ashes to the wind. They will fly away like the free spirit Cooper always was.
I’ll miss the way he placed his head on my knee when he wanted something.
I’ll miss people asking if they could pat him as they did countless times.
I’ll miss him disappearing in the distance as he chased a high flying bird along the beach.
I’ll miss hearing his footsteps.
I’ll miss his love of fun.
I’ll miss the way he shared himself with strangers and those that knew him.
I’ll miss being greeted at the door when I come home.
I’ll miss just knowing him.
 Goodbye Cooper. Goodbye Coop. Goodbye Mr. C.