Cooper and I just got back from our first Spring run and I’m feeling even more woobie-ish about him than usual, so thought I would finally sit down and write this post.
Back in January, I had the fabulous and uber-talented Leslie Plesser come over to take some official portraits of Cooper. (Don’t worry, Huck fans, he’ll have his moment once the fields turn green.) Throughout his life Cooper has had many excellent pictures taken by many excellent photographers, but as he’s getting older and starting to slow down, I was suddenly desperate to capture him before he was TOO old. He will be nine in June and though he can still pull like an ox on a walk or flail around like a maniac during backyard time, he is definitely sleeping a lot more than usual.
We have always called him Cooperpants because, of course, he wears furry pants. At some point we added the more formal “J” in the middle – Cooper J. Pants – for no good reason that I can remember. He is the first dog of my adulthood, adopted so soon after my ex and I bought our house in Berkeley that his father used to joke that we had bought the most expensive dog house of all time.
We did not set out to adopt a pitbull. In fact, we specifically said we would NOT adopt a pitbull, but when you’re searching for rescue dogs in the Bay Area you come across a lot of them. At the time, the Milo Foundation had a storefront on Solano Avenue in Albany, and we went there to “check it out.” Anyone who has ever been desperate to adopt a dog knows that it’s almost impossible to “check out” a room full of adoptable dogs. Cooper was in a cage all by himself, and he was the only one that was alert and looking for attention. We walked the entire perimeter of the shop trying to engage with other animals while he watched us, and when we got to him he chose us.
As a puppy, he was all white with just his brown splotches. His piggy spots did not come in until later, or maybe they were hiding under all the extra wrinkly skin. When we first brought him home he was very docile, and we thought we were the luckiest pitbull parents in the world! He loved everybody and all dogs and slept all the time and never destroyed anything. Turns out, he had kennel cough and was pretty sick. As soon as he got through his meds, he was much, much feistier.
For the first year or so of his life, we thought we had avoided the dog-reactive part of Cooper’s pitbull personality. He went to the dog park almost every day, first by himself and then with Huck, and had a bunch of best dog friends for chasing and wrestling. He wasn’t crazy about other dogs while walking on leash – in fact, he was TERRIBLE on a leash, period – but off-leash in a park he was awesome. The people at the park loved him and would seek him out for playtime with their dogs.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when that changed. There was the time he got into a tussle with an aggressive boxer who bit through his lip, and after that he was more cagey. There was the time someone brought their dog to the park wearing a cone of shame, and Cooper thought it was a toy, grabbing the poor dog by the cone and dragging him around. And then suddenly he got very angry with any barking dog, or any dog who got in his face to posture. Suddenly people were picking up their tiny dogs and carrying them away from him and giving us dirty looks and walking across the street to avoid us. We had to stop going to the dog park.
My heart sort of squeezes in my chest thinking about this change in him, and I’ve always wondered if there was something we could have done at that time to make him different. He went to puppy class – where he was so adorable in a sweater that the teacher had to ask that he stop wearing it, as the other people in class were having too much trouble focusing on their own dogs. We had a private trainer come to our house once to give us some tips. We had another private trainer teach us how to use a prong collar and correct him on walks, which worked for about three months before he decided the prong collar wasn’t very annoying.
For a couple of years, Cooper got infrequent walks and spent most of his life in the backyard. This was a terrible mistake on our part, and if you know someone will a pitbull who has been driven to this, please encourage him/her to figure it out. We basically made him a hermit, because taking him out was too hard.
This all turned around when we found a couple of dog walkers in Oakland who specialize in troublemakers like Cooper. (That particular business doesn’t exist anymore, but one half of the duo is still walking as Très Chien.) Suddenly, Cooper was walking eight miles a day with a giant pack of dogs. They would share Instagram pics of him smiling exhaustedly, surrounded by, like, chihuahuas. They put in the time to deal with his dog aggression and fears, and they basically gave him his life back. When we moved away, they both cried to see him go, and I cried to have to take him.
All the vet techs cried at his last appointment, too. Cooper inspires love everywhere he goes.
Four months after we moved to Minneapolis, Cooper had to have knee surgery on his back left leg. He’s now got a metal plate and some pins in there, and though he’s still able to run like the wind next to his dog walker’s bike, he has a lopsided sit and sometimes in the evening struggles to stand.
He hates the cold winters here. Luckily, he doesn’t seem to mind wearing sweaters, which make him even more adorable than usual. Sometimes he refuses to go outside to pee, and will hold it for as long as possible. When he’s done his business he runs to the back door and barks to be let back in, the exact opposite from the summer when he barks to get you to play with him. He loves the snow, though, and spins and spins and rolls in it.
Cooper is my social butterfly. He loves having visitors and generously doles out kisses to anyone who is willing to receive them. I cannot tell you how many times people come over assuming Huck will be their favorite – after all, he’s a cuddly breed people are familiar with – but within moments they have fallen head over heels for Cooper. Huck, who couldn’t care less about any people who aren’t his people, typically goes and sleeps upstairs while Cooper soaks up all the attention.
Claire is more attached to Huck now, I think because she had to work to get him to like her. She feels proud that she overcame his craziness, and goes out of her way to show how much he likes and trusts her now. It’s totally awesome that they have such a good relationship, but poor Cooper has loved her since the beginning and gets left in the dust sometimes. He’s the one who will let her put him in clothes or sunglasses. He’s the one who wanted to get into her old bed at reading time. He’s the one who kissed her face and let her know it would be okay to have us in her life.
My little nugget is getting old. You would never tell him by watching him run or play chase or look up at you with this smile. Huck is getting white in his muzzle, but Cooper doesn’t have that telltale sign, so it’s easy to pretend he’s still just a puppy.
Except he’s stopped sleeping upstairs with us most nights, preferring to stay in his spot in the living room. He only braves the stairs when there’s a storm (he hates thunder), he wants to make sure we get out of bed and let him out, or he wants to watch us get dressed to see if we’re putting on running clothes.
He’s been diagnosed with arthritis and is in a supplement trial at the University of Minnesota. As part of the trial he’s wearing an activity monitor, which shows he has INTENSE bursts of energy with his dog walker, after which he barely moves for hours. We joke about him being the laziest dog ever, but he’s a worn out little Gus after his morning run, and he sleeps the entire time we’re at work. Sometimes, when we get home, he’s so stiff that we have to lift his back end up and walk him outside to pee. I’ve already started investigating doggy wheels for him, in case his backend gives out completely.
I have always felt like Cooper is my spirit animal. We’re both short-tempered and prone to outbursts, but willing to give anyone a shot at becoming our friend. We’re both good for short sprints and struggle with long distances. We both get our feelings hurt easily. He is scared of loud noises and strange noises and…any noises…and I get jumpy when I’m home alone.
When he stopped sleeping in our room it broke my heart. For weeks I tried to coax him up the stairs, and once or twice made Joel carry him. I have started getting in his bed with him for a bit each night to scratch his ears and rub his belly and kiss his face while he licks my hands and grunts like a little gorilla. He grunts a lot more now, sitting, standing, rolling over, getting pets. Sometimes I call him Grunterson.
I know you’re not supposed to have favorite children, but I’ve always been closer to him than Huck, who withholds his affection and then demands it, who pouts and acts out. Cooper has always loved me unconditionally – even when I cut his nails too short and make them bleed, or drop him at the vet to have his leg cut open, or give him baths that he hates. When Joel isn’t home he comes upstairs a bit more often, and I’ll let him get in bed and snuggle like the old days. (Before we came here, both dogs slept with me every night.) He turns around three times and curls against the back of my knees and snores so loud that sometimes it’s hard to sleep.
I don’t mind, though. I starting to realize I won’t get to have him forever, and so like these beautiful portraits I’m trying to save every grunt and snore and sigh from my amazing best canine friend, Cooper J. Pants.