[Throwback Thursday — Originally published May 2014. RIP Coco, I will love you forever.]
When I was about 3-years-old, my parents informed me they were getting me a puppy.
The only thing I cared about was naming it Lassie. Male or female, Chihuahua or Great Dane, bald or fluffy: I was naming it Lassie.
(From what I’m told, Lassie was my favorite show, my favorite dog, my favorite living thing in the entire world. My grandfather often used to tease me and say, “Lassie is a boy!” to which I would get deeply offended and respond, “Lassie is a doah!” — pronounced ‘doe-uh’; for some reason that is how my toddler mouth spat out the word ‘girl’.)
My parents brought home an adorable brown and cream-colored German Shepherd/Lab mix. She was hyper and clumsy. I wrapped her up in my 101 Dalmatians sleeping bag and cuddled her on the living room floor. We played and wrestled; she pounced and nipped and I hugged and giggled.
(The photo to the right is of another dog, but she looked a lot like that.)
And then my parents said, “This is Lady.”
Lady?! She wasn’t a “Lassie dog” so they couldn’t name her Lassie. (I think my parents need to go back to elementary school and learn the difference between couldn’t and wouldn’t.) They were breed-discriminating.
I made a big fuss and eventually got over it. Kind of. I’m still a bit bitter, but I loved Lady nonetheless. We began the tumultuous process of growing up together.
And then, slowly, Lady started spending more time in “her room” (the laundry room), and less time in the house with us. She was my dog, but I was still too young to really contribute to taking care of her. I couldn’t be tasked with remembering to give her food or water; I couldn’t walk her; I couldn’t make sure she had no accidents or clean them up if she did. And I wasn’t the one who vacuumed up her shedding hair, mopped her tracked-in dirt, or cut her dagger-like nails.
And then my dad bought a big pen for outside, put a doghouse in it, and she spent most of her days out there. And still, I wasn’t the one who cleaned up her pile of waste in the corner. Her baths became less frequent.
And then she spent all of her days in the pen, and all of her nights in her room. I always went to the door to pet her or give her treats — to assure her she was still loved — but we drifted apart as I made friends and discovered the phone and internet and cable.
And then, when I was 16, Lady died.
If you haven’t figured it out, Lady was not my love at first sight story. Although I did love her dearly, and looking back I wish either I had the sense to take better care of her, or my parents had the sense to teach me. (I think it’s safe to say we can share the blame.)
After my one and only dog’s death, I used every aspect of the devastation to my advantage. I had moved to my mother’s about 2 years earlier, so my involvement was simply a phone call from my dad telling me the news (knowing him, it was probably weeks later — he didn’t tell me about my grandfather’s funeral until I had already missed it). But it did hit me pretty hard, and I played the part well. I had already convinced myself I was going to get another dog, I just had to convince my parents.
On a gorgeous August day I went to a party at a friend’s house. This was during my transition phase — I did everything I wasn’t supposed to but my parents were still in denial, so getting one of my older friends, or a friend’s drunk parent, to assure them via phone call that I was being a good girl was adequate. I arranged the call, told my mom I’d be home sometime the next day, and acted like a bad grown up: alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, and sex welcome.
I don’t remember much about that night. I do recall standing in the doorway of (I think) my friend’s brother’s room, watching all the party-goers lounge and jump on his mattress on the floor. I recall one friend hooking up with another. I recall passing out on the couch with my crush sitting on the floor leaning up against me, and waking up in the same way to him telling me he didn’t move for however long so I wouldn’t fall off.
I don’t remember getting back up and drinking more, but I did. I don’t remember my crush leaving before I mustered the courage to tell him I liked him, but he did. I don’t remember my friend having sex with her crush, but she did. I don’t remember falling asleep, for real this time, on the recliner in the living room.
But I do remember waking up there. And I do remember a little ball of fluff curled up next to me. I remember how it stretched and looked up at me with adoration when I pet it.
I remember telling my friend, “I love your dog!” and her responding, “Take her, we’re getting rid of her anyway.” I remember walking out of her house with the dog in my arms, meeting my mom several blocks away for a ride home, and saying “Look! I got a new dog to replace Lady!”
I don’t remember my mom’s exact response, but I seem to recall the only convincing she needed was meeting the ball of fluff.
Over the past 10 years, she, my father, my stepmother, even my grandparents, have all cherished this dog nearly as much as I do. (My stepfather, not so much, although she treasures him.)
Ironically, she also came with a name suitable for her, but not suitable for my desires. In the beginning I tried to change it to Riley, Milo, or Gizmo, but they never stuck. We’ve all made it our own in some way: my grandparents call her the “million dollar dog,” my father adds “puff” to the end, and for some reason I add “butt”. My son now runs around the house calling, “Coco-butt! Come here! Hi Coco-butt!” It’s adorable.
When I first got Coco, I didn’t get any information about her before bringing her home. And although I still hung out with that friend for at least a year after, I never asked for the important details.
I am under the impression that she was 6 years old when I got her, but she could have been a puppy for all I know. I tell people she’s 15 now, but I might be wrong. I tell people she’s half-Pomeranian/half-Chihuahua, but she might be only one or the other.
I’m not sure how this possibly false information made it into my head, but I assume it had to come from somewhere so I believe it. But it doesn’t really matter; she’s my baby regardless of the specifics.
In the beginning, Coco had no hair on her butt. Something about a skin condition or an allergy to fleas or her previous dog-mates picking on her. She was also pretty timid. I used to wrap her up in a towel and carry her along to the boardwalk with me.
My friends have no gray area when it comes to Coco; they either love her or hate her. Actually, most of them hate her. I think it’s because she’s a small, fluffy purse-dog (like the kind Paris Hilton would have) and our rebel group culture defied the popular and cutesy. They still call her a rat-dog. Having no hair on her butt didn’t help things.
So Coco had a rough few years. My teenage friends tortured her. Maybe it was also to get a rise out of me, but one threatened to cook her, another repeatedly tried to set her on fire, and another almost drowned her a few times. All these years later, she remembers these friends and on the rare occasion they come over, she hides with her tail between her legs.
But she’s always loved me. My mom has commented that she’s never seen such an instant, intense connection between human and canine. She sleeps curled up next to me, she is always at my heels, she spends her days waiting for the chance to jump into my lap. When I’m out of her sight she barks. A few times, the friend who gave her to me came to spend the night. Coco stayed attached to me and acted like her previous owner never existed. We were obviously meant to be.
We will have been together for 10 years in August. I don’t remember the actual date I got her and I never knew her birthday, so I made one up based on completely random information:
- We came together in August.
- My favorite band is the Backstreet Boys.
- Howie Dorough is one of the Backstreet Boys.
- His birthday is August 22nd.
So, we celebrate Coco’s birthday on August 22nd, which also doubles as our anniversary. We always do something special. I feel like she deserves the very best for sticking by me for so long.
We’ve been through a lot of rough times together. She dealt with even more than my crappy friends. Like being lugged between my parents’ houses, being locked inside while I was out partying. Moving more than anyone probably should. Crappy houses and apartments. A million other animals I just had to have, but could never keep. Boyfriends and girlfriends — her “Daddy” was always switching faces. Breakups and hookups. Addiction. Not being let out and then getting yelled at for pottying inside.
Several times I ran out of living-space options and had to move in with a parent or to a non-animal-friendly apartment. Coco was sent to stay with my grandparents, or my cousin, or a friend. A few times she had sleepovers with different people every night for a week until I could find someone who was willing to take her “until I became more stable,” which always took months, at least.
And every time I got her back. And every time she came home, she was just as excited. Out of everything in my life, she is my stability. Not only has she not left me, but she’s happy with me. She’s happy to deal with my nonsense.
She even puts up with the countless dog clothes I make her wear. Pajamas and jackets and coats and hoodies and Halloween costumes and sweaters. Anything I can find, she wears with no complaints. And rocks it. Even the occasional hat.
She licks every one of my plates clean. When I’m in a good mood, she still plays like a puppy. When I’m feeling low, she’ll sleep with me all day. She is more than my dog. She is my best friend and my first child.
When my first human child was born, things changed slightly. Coco was not a protective dog, but a jealous dog. She simply couldn’t understand why she wasn’t the primary focus of my attention anymore. Who is this tiny human stealing Momma’s love? Why is he so much better than me?
As time went on, Holden started wanting to play with her. Babies play violently, if you didn’t know. So he grabbed her hair and smashed his toys into her head and chased her around when she obviously did not want to be bothered. For a few months, she spent most of her time hiding under various pieces of furniture. The only good thing to come from this new addition, in her eyes, was the surplus of food on the floor. And the couch. And in pockets. And down my shirt. And everywhere else.
Although Coco wasn’t fond of Holden at first, he certainly adored her. His second word was her name. His eyes light up when she’s around. So, after a bit of learning from each other, they got better. Coco learned to live with Holden, and Holden learned how to not break Coco’s neck.
Now they’re a team. Holden takes Coco for walks and gives her treats when they come back inside. If I try to keep her in my room (because she has a history of going potty inside), he simply won’t have it and lets her out when I’m not looking. She initiates playtime with him. It’s all very exciting, indeed.
I’m pretty sure they even have secret meetings to decide on the best ways they can join together to drive me insane.
I know people get deeply offended when others treat animals like humans. But the truth is, Coco is a part of my family. I am not her master; she is not my pet. She is my other child. And I love both my children the same (in different ways, but the same amount). And that works for us, because we all share the love we give.
Throughout our journey, I have frequently held Coco close and whispered, “It’s us against the world.” And it was, for a while. Now we have helpers; we’ve extended our pack and fortified our stronghold.
What started off as a hungover escapade turned into a solid relationship. We’re both still learning and growing together. (As a matter of fact, Coco seems to understand that this time it’s serious, because she has had very few potty accidents since I got her back after our last separation.)
And, at least for now, even with her hearing and sight fading and her hair turning gray and the tumor growing on her belly, there’s no end in sight. We’re forever, even after that last breath comes.