I miss my dog.
Cooper was always, always happy to see me come home. Actually, he wasn’t just happy, he was excited. Barking, jumping, running around like he hadn’t seen me for months.
Sometimes I ignored him. I was tired. Stressed. Distracted. I’d even shout at him to stop barking (oh the irony!) because it upset my (then) wife or my 3 year old daughter. Other times I’d spend a cursory 5 seconds to at least give him a pat and say ‘hey mate’. Occasionally I’d actually play with him, wrestle and run around the yard with no regard for the time or whatever else I should have been doing.
Those occasions were rare.
In mid-2015 Cooper developed an aggressive sarcoma on his front leg. The vet successfully removed it in surgery but within 3 months it was re-growing. The prognosis wasn’t terrible in that the cancer hadn’t metastasised but Cooper would, at some stage, lose the use of his leg. Alternatively, if the tumour ruptured he’d either face amputation or we’d be faced with the decision to euthanase.
It was around the time of Cooper’s first surgery that my wife and I also separated. Those were some of the toughest times of my life. I questioned everything. I faced losing my canine pal, was coming to terms with my family breaking up, leaving the house I’d designed and put so much work into and dealing with the stigma of being a divorcee and single dad.
Fast forward a year and I’ve met a wonderful woman, moved to another town, started working through the financial settlement and getting into a new rhythm with business. I’m relishing the time I do have with my daughter and I’ve made some great new friends.
Sadly, in the past 4 weeks, I also said goodbye to my mate, Cooper.
As I look back over the time since his initial surgery, I’m incredibly grateful that I took stock of my behaviours. When my wife and I split we shared our house for a while until I found somewhere else to go. When I’d come home from work I no longer ignored my mate but instead, savoured every opportunity to be with him. I knew he’d be gone soon and I didn’t want to waste the moments I had. I also made more of an effort to be present with my daughter. Whether that was to watch an ant crawling along the ground or read a third story as she sweetly pleaded for “one more daddy?”
Through all the emotional upheaval, grief, anger, fear and everything else in the past year or so, Cooper was a constant in my life.
He never seemed distracted when I was around, always bringing his old tennis ball to drop at my feet expectantly. He always had time for me, no matter what he was in the middle of, whether that was laying in the sun, gazing longingly at the neighbour’s chooks through the fence or chewing a bone (I must admit, he seemed reluctant to leave that juicy treat sometimes!). Cooper didn’t project his issues onto me, never shunned me for another and always, always said yes to my offer of a cuddle and a scratch.
As I look at his picture on my desktop, I’m reminded of how present he always was. Even after his tumour ruptured and I made the decision to end his suffering before it began, he seemed to know the end was approaching. There was no fear, no anxiety. Just a peaceful acceptance that whatever was coming was somehow meant to be. As I held him in my arms in his final moments, my mate looked into my eyes one last time. I vowed to do my best to take on his calm acceptance of life and what comes our way. Although I’ve shed many tears of grief over his passing, I still smile when I think of the shoes he destroyed and the possums he chased in the middle of the night.
While there have been many, many articles written about pets, mindfulness, acceptance and what we as humans can learn from our furry friends, I don’t think we can be reminded too often of how self absorbed we have become.
Here’s 3 lessons I learned from Cooper that I try and remind myself of each day.
- Stop. Take a minute. Pat your dog. Play with your kids. Chat to your neighbour. These are the memories we’ll be left with in our final moments. The to-do lists and the paperwork will always be there, unlike the ones we love.
- Look. When was the last time you looked into the eyes of those around you? I mean really looked? Be sure to connect with the people in your life. Make eye contact (trust me, this has been difficult for me over the years!), smile with your eyes, look into people (and pets!). There’s more to see than just a figure. A customer. A fellow human. See the stories around you. Look for the beauty in everything, even the simple and seemingly mundane.
- Listen. Sure we could all be less distracted and that’s important. What I’m talking about is truly listening. We all want to be heard in life and when you give others that opportunity, magical things happen. People open up, speak more honestly, share more personally. From your drycleaner to your bank manager or your boss, be sure to turn on your ears, tune in and hear what people are saying to you. Don’t be fooled by the words they use. Sometimes it’s what is unsaid, the silence between the sentences, that is the most telling.
Of course there are many more lessons than these but I try and focus on just these few each day. Cooper really did have more to offer than his kind eyes and playful heart. I’m sure our pets are sent to us as guides for the time they’re with us. Perhaps we should be on the other end of the leash sometimes…see you soon mate.