It seems like yesterday that I piled an 87-pound red-nose pit bull mix named Cooper into my car and became an instant foster parent, but it’s been nearly a year. I wrote a series of chapters about Cooper last July, August and September, and I am touched by the number of people who still write to ask how he’s doing. I stay in contact with Cooper and his adoptive family, the Murphys in Half Moon Bay, and last week I got the chance to spend a few days with Cooper while the Murphys took a trip to look at colleges for his human brother, Jack, in Washington State.
I took Cooper as a Rocket Dog Rescue foster several months after he’d been abandoned by his owner, who didn’t even care enough to surrender him to San Francisco Animal Care and Control in person – she did it by fax. Every time I look at her signature on his paperwork I want to hunt her down and ask her how she could do something so cold. It’s bad enough to ditch an animal (pets should be a lifetime commitment), but to have someone else bring him to the shelter while you sit on your butt and fax in your consent is as cowardly as it gets.
After my first few days with Cooper, I realized he was a special dog with a lot of quirks, from sleeping under the covers to his strange obsession with the Chuck-it. I discovered the latter quite by accident when I took Cooper to the dog park for the first time. A petite woman with an equally petite poodle mix began loading a tennis ball in the Chuck-it and as she drew her arm back to launch it, I saw Cooper’s eyes grow beady and focused. He ran toward her and leaped in the air, grabbing the Chuck-it from behind and pulling the woman to the ground. I was mortified but right on his tail, screaming, “Cooper! No!” As I helped the amazingly understanding woman to her feet, Cooper had the Chuck-it in his mouth and was prancing around us in all his devilish glory, a spit wad three feet long wrapped around his nose. He had no interest in the ball, which lay on the ground next to the woman and her perplexed poodle. I explained that Cooper was my new foster dog as I chased him in circles trying to get the Chuck-it out of his huge, slobbery mouth. Twenty minutes later, I managed to wrestle it free. “Let me wash this off,” I said, leashing Cooper with one hand as he tried to grab the Chuck-it from my other. “That’s OK,” the woman said, so I reluctantly handed back her Chuck-it, slobber and all.
He displayed similar behavior at the beach, the only place Jazzy likes to play fetch. Not a fan of swimming, Cooper would wait onshore until Jazzy came out of the water, grab the ball from her and prance around us with that same devilish glee. I realized that chasing him only made things worse, so we would stare each other down like the duel scene from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Cooper in the role of Clint Eastwood, chomping on the ball instead of a cigar, spraying a mix of salt water and slobber with that signature three-foot spit wad wrapped around his nose. (The next beach outing I thought I would outsmart him by bringing two balls, but he was able to fit them both in his mouth.)
What a difference a year – and some training – makes. Now closer to 100 pounds, Cooper’s favorite toy is still the Chuck-it. But because someone finally took the time to teach him how to play, he now understands the concept; he spends hours chasing the ball instead of the launcher in the Murphy’s fenced two-acre field.
I experienced Cooper’s new manners firsthand while visiting the Murphys one afternoon with Jazzy, my friend Steve, and his dog, Blue (another former foster of mine, named in honor of her big sis, Jasmine Blue). We had a grand time playing fetch in Cooper’s field, and on the rare occasion that he didn’t get to the ball first, he was very gentlemanly, allowing the girls to have their turn as he waited for the next snap of the Chuck-it.
Later it began to rain, and his mom, Kris, invited us in for tea. Jazz and Blue were more than happy to snuggle on the dog beds beside us, but not Cooper – he had decided that this new game called “fetch” was the best thing since sliced steak.
“Come on, sweetie,” Kris called out, but despite her constant coaxing Cooper sat in front of the gate next to the Chuck-it, staring hopefully at us with those soulful brown eyes, rain dripping down his broad, square forehead and through that three-foot wad of slobber around his big pink nose.