Thursday Basset Blogging – Memorial Edition
St. Patrickâ€™s Day has a special meaning in our family. Weâ€™re not Irish (far from it), but when every St. Patrickâ€™s Day arrives we get a little sad and a little sorrowful (just like the Irishâ€¦but without the drinking) because it was on this day seven years ago that we had to have our first basset, Cooder, put down.
Hereâ€™s my Cooder story.
About eighteen years ago, I was in negotiations to take a job where I would be doing a considerable amount of traveling and so my wife said she wanted to get a dog to keep her company while I was away. Fine. We both grew up with dogs and it was inevitable that we would end up with one anyway. Now Iâ€™m a pure breed kind of guy, my parents bred hunting dogs and we had our share of Springer Spaniels, German Shorthaired Pointers, and Golden Retrievers, so we starting looking into what kind of a dog we wanted. For some reason, we initially looked at West Highland Terriers (also known as Westies) but, after sitting in a room with what appeared to be a heavily caffienated one, I said â€œno wayâ€. In an off-handed remark, I mentioned that maybe we should get something like a basset that didnâ€™t require too much action and was content to sleep while we were away at work..
Long storyâ€¦short dog. I was in Riverside when I received an urgent call from my wife. She had found a basset puppy, the last male of the litter, and she wanted me to see him before he was sold. I hurried back to San Diego and didnâ€™t even get to sit down before we headed out the door for the breederâ€™s house. There were three puppies left: two females and a slightly undersized male who had enormous ears. I had the impression that he was the runt of the litter which is why he was still around, but, damn, he was cute and snuggly, and so I told my wife, â€œLetâ€™s take himâ€ which it turned out was a forgone conclusion since she had already paid for him earlier in the day.
We called him Cooder. Now, if you remember, Cooder was supposed to be my wifeâ€™s dog and he liked her just fine, but he loved me. Wherever I was, there was Cooder. If I was sitting on the couch, he was sitting next to me. If I lay down, he lay down next to me with his head on my shoulder and minutes later he would be asleep, softly snoring in my ear. If my wife made his dinner, he wouldnâ€™t eat it. I would have to go pick up his bowl, take a spoon and stir it, and then he would eat. On walks he treated strangers with indifference. They could pet him and talk to him, but he would just look away until they were done. Only my parents could elicit a tail-wag from him. He made himself my dog without my ever asking.
Cooder was a climber. One post-Halloween, while we were gone, he pulled himself up onto a dining room chair, then onto the table, and knocked down Caseyâ€™s bag of Halloween candy. When I got home that afternoon there were ripped wrappers everywhere across the floor. Cooder was on the couch and, without even lifting his head, he gave me a few tail thumps.
â€œWhat did you do?â€
I walked over and pulled his lips back to find the hard candy that comes on Tootsie Roll Pops caked to his teeth. I spent the next half-hour picking it off. I know he probably should have died from all the candy and the chocolate, but he didnâ€™t even get sick, which is probably why he was able to eat an entire birthday cake some months later. His other trick (and outside of â€œsitâ€ he knew no other tricks) was to climb up on a dining room chair, cross the table, leap onto the bar, walk across the stove, and sit in the sink that had a window box above it so he could watch out the window for me to come home. I was always afraid he would somehow hit the garbage disposal switch and lose his tail.
We walked a lot. Cooder loved to walk. For a while, I had to be at work at six in the morning and we would go out for our morning walk at four in the morning. Thatâ€™s when I learned to love the absolute quiet and peacefulness of that hour. Even the drunks are in bed by then. It was just the sound of his nails on the sidewalk, the shuffle of my feet, and the little grunts he made when he pooped (I just had to mention that). On warm summer days we would walk the nine blocks to the beach and on the way home we would have to stop so he could lay on under a tree in someoneâ€™s yard and cool off. It always took twice as long to get home as it did to get to the beach.
Cooder gets sick. It started out as a lump on his right hip. At first we thought it was fatty tissue but it kept getting larger and then we knew what it would turn out to be. An operation and it was gone, but then another one showed up. Another operation and we thought we had it knocked. Then I started noticing the blood in his urine. Outwardly he seemed fine, but the bad stuff was working overtime inside of him. St. Patrickâ€™s Day 1998, I got up to take Cooder out and he couldnâ€™t stand up. I kept trying talk him into willing himself to get up, but he just couldnâ€™t do it. Then I pleaded, I begged. Then I hugged him to me and I cried. We knew then what we had to do and I picked Cooder up and carried him to the car for his last trip to the vet. The last thing I will ever remember about him was the look of bewilderment on his face. His mind was there, but his body was gone. Then, soon enough, so was he. My wife and I took the day off, and we walked down to the beach past all the bars where the St. Paddyâ€™s Day celebrations were in full swing. We talked about what a great dog he was and we talked about what we would tell Casey when we picked her up from school. But mostly we talked about us and how he had been there for most of our married life.
Every year, prior to Christmas, I climb up into what passes for an attic in our house to bring down the Christmas decorations. Sitting next to those boxes full of ornaments and lights and wrappings is a small lidded-box. Inside that box are Cooderâ€™s collar, tags, food bowl, and his last rawhide chew. And every year I pull them out and look at them and remember. Then I put them away for another year and remind myself to always keep them and to always remember the dog that I loved and who loved me. He was my friend.
So if youâ€™re going out tonight to heft a beer for St. Paddy, have one for Cooder. He would have ignored you, but you would have loved him anyway.