Cooper was a lumpy-headed, bug-eyed stink bomb of a basset hound we adopted from the Asheville Humane Society nine years ago. They said he was between 4 and 6 years old when we got him, and that a previous owner had left him tied up in the back yard for three weeks with no food.
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He had dropped to about 27 pounds, although a foster owner had beefed him up to about 45 pounds by the time we got him. So yes, he had some food issues from time to time, and he”d take your hand off if you offered a meat stick or a graham cracker.
The boy liked to eat. Sure, that occasionally extended to our other dogs” — shall we say — pre-digested leavings in the back yard. Hey, told you he was kind of a jerk.
You did not let Cooper give you a big lick after he”d been out in the yard for a while.
Still, when we decided on Aug. 29 to let Cooper go, bringing in the 4 Paws Farewell Mobile Hospice Clinic, we were all bawling like babies. We loved that big doofus more than I can adequately explain, or than probably makes sense.
Stinky from one end to the other
We used to joke that Cooper stank from one end to the other — terrible breath, congealed food and water stuck in his dewlap and ears, standard hound smell on his back and undercarriage, and the special occasional treat of what we delicately called “butt sauce” if you woke him from a particularly solid slumber.
Cooper was relentless in pursuit of food and would pull tricks like scratching at the door like he needed to go out, just to make you get up. Once you were up, he”d do the “food dance,” bouncing back and forth between front paws, make all kinds of trilling sounds while hopping into the kitchen.
In short, he would not leave you alone until he”d had at least three rounds of treats in the morning.
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When he was younger, he would whine incessantly to get in the bed and then nose his way under the covers before plopping down with his hind-end by your face. He made zero effort to control his gas at night.
Let me tell you, I woke up more than once thinking I was lost in a chemical warfare plant.
Sometimes he”d refuse to get out of the bed when you needed to make it. We called him “the bed boulder.”
“The Comfort Hound” (yes, another nickname) always had to lie on the softest material available, whether it was a stack of pillows or freshly raked mulch in a flower bed you didn”t want messed up.
An inveterate rabbit chaser, Cooper got himself trapped underneath the shed at least three times — to the point where I had to unscrew the lattice work — because he could force his way in but had no idea how to get out. First you”d hear a pitiful whine, then you”d see a big dirty nose sticking through the lattice, and you”d know the ding-dong had done it again.
He would also incessantly bark at the neighbor”s cat. Every day. Same cat. Same staccato machine gun bark. Did I mention this happened every day?
When inside, he would refuse to move from my recliner when I got home at night, as if he were the one who”d worked all day. He”d growl when you tried to move him.
His misadventures and attitude spawned numerous nicknames, ranging from “The Trailhound” and “The Appalachian Big Paw” to “The Jerk” and “The Dog that Nobody Likes” … to a couple I can”t repeat in a family newspaper.
We had a Cooper “voice,” in which we would say things we thought Cooper was thinking, a big, deep, dopey intonation that was perfect for relaying thoughts such as, “Uh, if you can”t finish those French fries, I”d be glad to wolf them down and then hurl them back up on the carpet you just steam cleaned.”
My older son, Jack, actually envisioned a Cooper-centric TV show titled, “The Dog that Nobody Likes,” with episode summaries such as, “In this episode, Cooper refuses to go outside until you”ve comfortably seated yourself, when he starts scratching at the door.” Or, “In this episode, Cooper tramples all the flowers in the garden while coming inside, even though it”s not the shortest route.”
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Playful and happy to the end
Lest you think Cooper truly was a total blockhead, allow me to explain. OK, he was a jerk, but he was also the happiest, goofiest pup with the most personality of any dog we”ve ever had.
He loved to play, even in his advanced years, leading to yet-another nickname: “The 85-year-old toddler.” Sometimes he”d come bombing out in the family room with a sock or our little dog”s toy and just start throwing it around with his mouth.
My boys are 23 and 21 now, but in their teen years, Cooper was always up for some play-wrestling. He usually opted to lie on his back and try to bite anything that came near him.
A real fighter he was not. In the only scrap I ever saw him get in, Cooper approached a considerably larger, mean-looking cur on the other side of a picket fence. Cooper was barking like a banshee, so the other dog promptly stuck his snout through the gap in fence slats and clamped down on Cooper”s ear, leaving two tooth marks Cooper would carry for life.
Stunned, Cooper yelped and flipped around, promptly lost his footing in some gravel and got his butt stuck in between two pickets. It was an invitation the other dog couldn”t refuse, and he clamped down on Coop”s rear end.
After that, Cooper showed very little aggression toward other dogs. In fact, he was everybody”s buddy, human or canine.
We saw the decline coming
Cooper first hurt his back in the summer of 2020, playing with our little terrier-Chihuahua mix, Rudy. It was bad, and we weren”t sure he”d recover.
We limited his movement, put him on steroids and anti-inflammatories and Cooper slowly recovered. But the herniated disc left him with a funny walk where he swung his right rear leg out and around to maintain balance.
As a 5-year-old girl in the neighborhood once told us, “Your puppy walks like an old lady.”
Late this August my wife, Grace, and I came home about 9:30 on a Saturday night, and Cooper greeted us at the door as usual, barking with his tail wagging.
But he couldn”t stand up. He was dragging his rear end, and couldn”t move his left rear leg at all. I had to pick him up and carry him outside so he could go to the bathroom.
On Monday, I knew the vet would probably have bad news, but I loaded Cooper into his wagon and got him in the car. I”m not going to lie — I couldn”t even speak when I entered Fletcher Animal Hospital, where we”ve taken Cooper for years. They guided me back to an exam room.
I was expecting bad news, but I was still stunned when the vet said Cooper had no feeling in his left leg and foot, and he had fluid in his left lung and a heart murmur. In the previous back episode, steroids really helped with Cooper”s recovery, but that was not an option this time because of the lung issue, the vet said, and surgery was out of the question at his age.
He was only going to decline, the vet said. Any chance of recovery was very low.
For a few days, I carried Cooper around so he could go to the bathroom, eat and lie around on the porch. But at 64 pounds and built low to the ground, he was destroying my back.
My wife, Grace, our two sons and I all knew it wasn”t sustainable.
The vet gave us the number for 4 Paws, and we made an appointment for a Wednesday afternoon. That morning, Cooper took a few very wobbly steps, and I flushed with false hope, in part because he just seemed so happy still.
I called the vet again. A vet tech said old dogs will sometimes rally a bit, but Cooper was going to get worse, and it might get real ugly.
We decided to keep the appointment.
Cooper ate like a king beforehand — extra treats in the morning, some ham and cream cheese around noon, and then Jack grilled up a steak in the early afternoon and gave Cooper half.
Dr. Beth Marchitelli, a veterinarian with 4 Paws, came to our house late that afternoon, meeting us on the back porch, one of Cooper”s favorite spots for lounging. She could not have been kinder and reassured us we were making the right decision, the humane decision.
I”m not going to lie. It”s still a brutal decision.
You know in your head it”s the right thing to do, but your heart is screaming at you not to do it, to give him one more shot at a miracle recovery. Just one more chance.
The guilt is real, and so is the grief.
I distracted Coop with some whipped cream cheese, one of his favorites, and Dr. Beth, as she goes by, administered a sedative. Cooper drifted off to la-la land in his own dog bed, on his favorite blanket on his beloved back porch.
She gently administered the fatal dose, and the best dog ever had no more pain.
With Dr. Beth”s help, we removed a pee pad (of course Cooper went out with a poop), then wrapped him in a red, black and white blanket, all of us agreeing our white-faced old boy looked quite handsome and regal. Then we carried him to her car.
We opted for a cremation, one where you get your dog”s ashes back. I know it”s ridiculous in a way, and some will say a waste of money, but it felt right.
If you”re faced with this kind of decision, 4 Paws offers a wonderful service. It”s not cheap, with the euthanasia visit starting at $235, and ours ended up at $495 with the individual cremation.
But it saves your dog the trauma of a vet visit and allows them to die at home, which honestly, is what we”d all prefer. 4 Paws is very transparent and up-front about everything, as well as exceedingly kind, so if you think you”ll need this service you can find them at https://4pawsfarewell.com/veterinarians/.
I know we live in a world with much deeper problems and concerns than the demise of our goofy basset hound, but it”s hard to put into words how much joy, frustration, laughter, strange odors and unconditional love that boy gave us over nine years.
It”s hard not to see our own mortality in our dogs” frailty and demise, to measure our lives in the dogs we remember and love. Ironically, in a way we measure our lives in dog years.
I”m not a “dogs are my children” kind of guy, and the whole “Rainbow Bridge” concept seems a little hokey, but Cooper absolutely became part of our family. And I”ve got to believe heaven simply cannot exist without dogs like Cooper.
Rest easy, big fella. And please, try not to stink up heaven too much. We love you.
This is the opinion of John Boyle. Contact him at 828-232-5847 or jboyle