I was ten years old when we got Coco. I was riding my bike back from the tennis courts near my house and intercepted my dad driving home in his truck. He rolled down the window and told me to come home and see what he had with him.
It was a scared little chocolate Lab puppy. We had talked about getting one, but I thought I didn’t want one (I had always been a cat person and had previously been scared of big dogs), but my dad, the duck hunter, wanted a retriever.
I remember sitting on the stairs in our kitchen as a family, brainstorming names, deciding on Coco, and taking her back to the master bathroom for a warm bath. I held her wrapped in a towel afterwards until she stopped shaking.
And ever since then it was love. We had always joked (though it wasn’t particularly funny) that my dad would have had a heart attack in the duck field if he didn’t get a dog to make retrieves. If you’ve ever been duck hunting, you know what I mean; walking through sticky mud up to your knees while wearing chest waders is difficult even for the spry. And she was the ultimate retriever. She could find ducks on the other side of a levee. She would leap into the air and catch with her mouth a duck that was taking off out of the water after being knocked down. She once even brought my dad a completely live, untouched pheasant that had played dead and she picked up with her soft mouth and delivered.
But what made her wonderful was that she was the best family pet anyone could ever ask for. She was mellow and devoted. She was protective of her family and barked at people at the door, only to lick and nuzzle them as soon as they were welcomed inside. If you ever tried to lay a blanket on the floor to sit or lie down, she would take your spot first so that you had to cuddle up next to her to have room. She would meet you at the door when you came home and wag her tail so hard, she would break stuff or almost hurt your leg with it. She loved to be loved, and loved to love as well. She was perfect.
And Coco had been through it all, too. She’s the only dog I know to have nine lives. From being bit by a poisonous spider, to swallowing a sewing needle and having it lodge in her pancreas, to getting a dose of the bad dog food that came out of China several years ago, we thought we were going to lose her on more than one occasion. But she always pulled through, much to our happiness and relief.
This weekend, we had to make the hardest decision any pet owner ever has to make. Coco had not been doing well (at all), and my parents knew it was time. Our veterinarian comforted us by saying that it is part of our stewardship to our best friends to look out for them, and if they are in pain or are terminally sick, we have to help them. I’m sure some of you have had to make a similar choice before, but this was my first time to lose a pet this way. It has been hard on everyone, especially since we cannot all be together to grieve as a family.
Fortunately I have friends here who love their pets like family just as my family and I do, and they have been here to comfort me after tearful phone conversations with my parents. There never will be another dog like Coco. I keep thinking of all the nicknames we had for her, the little crest on the top of her head that made her so pretty, and the way she would bump my hand in the morning with her nose to wake me up peacefully. I remember the time after we had her fixed when she was bored and tore up our linoleum kitchen floor down to the concrete slab in a two-foot-wide circle, prompting us to get a new tile floor. And the way she moved her eyebrows up and down to look at different people without turning her head. And how she loved nothing more to be around her family. She was the best dog in the world.