Today would have been my first pet’s thirteenth birthday. Although it was rare for an English Bulldog to live that long, his passing before his seventh birthday meant I have missed him so much these past seven years. For as long as I could remember, every birthday up until my eleventh, I wished for a dog when I blew out the candles. Until I was eleven, I pet every dog I could, cried after I left pet stores and shelters, and wished for the companionship that a dog could bring.
Then, May 2006 brought Cooper into my life and changed the way I cared for dogs. All the fish I tried so hard to keep alive were pale in comparison to him. He was this wrinkly mess that plopped himself down everywhere his little legs would take him. He loved peanut butter and carrots, although not together. When I had my tonsils removed, together, we ate banana popsicles and lounged around. He didn’t like going for walks, but he loved sunbathing in the Florida heat.
He posed for all my embarrassing photoshoots, dressed up with me for Halloween, dealt with my constant pulls for attention and desire to carry his 60-pound mass around the house and on to my bed. He loved the toys that made honking sounds; his carrot was his favorite, of course. He taught me responsibility, and he taught me loyalty. When I came home from school, he was there. When I propped him up on my wicker chest for training lessons, we stayed still for the treats. As I grew older, he was the best dog. All my friends loved him and his funny nuances.
During my senior year of high school, he became sick. My parents had left the two of us alone, and I found him in his crate seizing. I was scared, eighteen, trying to balance high school and college classes, and watching one of my best friends in pain. For a week, the two of us lived at veterinary offices. I missed classes. I cried in parking lots. I was scared he wouldn’t be okay. For a little time, he was, until he wasn’t. I blamed myself for his passing. I felt responsible for the week we were alone together. We spent nights sleeping together on my parent’s bed. The medicine was helping until it didn’t. My friends left him alone one night, and a seizure left him in an unstable state.
We took him to the doctor I found for him, and they tried to help, but they drugged him to the point he couldn’t move. I blamed myself for what the doctor did because I was the one who took him to the doctor. For a while, I teared up when I saw a bulldog on the street. I couldn’t get past the grief of losing my first little buddy. It took years for me to stop blaming myself, and still some days I get sad that our time was so short.
During those days, I realize he was more than just a pet. He was the best first dog I could have ever had. Cooper loved giving kisses and sneaking treats. He loved ear scratches and to be with his people. I now have this undying love for English Bulldogs because of him. I can’t help but smile when I see them on the street. I can’t help but give them all the love I wish I could have given Cooper these past seven years. Here is to always loving dogs in the same way that they unwaveringly love us.