The rich green scent of dairy cows wafted off the pasture and blew the bitter blue diesel smoke away from my face as I drove our tractor to dig a grave for Cooper. Sweat poured out and soaked my shirt with a toxic cocktail of shock, grief, anger, and guilt. Only a few hours had passed since Cooper was brutally murdered by my neighbor.
What if I had reacted more quickly? What if I hadn’t been so busy watching the new puppy? Had any aspect of the day gone just a little differently, Cooper would still be with us. Five days later, the guilty self-recriminations still loop relentlessly as my mind continues to replay the last few seconds of this beautiful dog’s life.
Cooper was the sweetest most innocent guy I’ve ever known and he joyously greeted every visitor to our house. When people came to fish in the pond, he always accompanied them and made sure they were doing it right. He even went ice fishing in the middle of winter. He was a Corgi mixed with some sort of hunting dog – maybe a Bassett Hound or Beagle. Whenever the tenant farmer came to drop off or pick up his cows, Cooper always helped load and unload the trailer. He was shaped like a fat sausage with short, stubby legs and his head was a little too big for his body. We often called him names like dork and shrimp but it didn’t seem to hurt his self-esteem a bit.
My wife always said that Cooper should wear a cape. He flew around the yard like Super Dog with a huge smile on his face and it was hard to believe those little legs could propel his chubby body so quickly and with such precision. When we gave him and Riley beef bones, they would go to separate sides of the yard to chew. Cooper would soon be slinking off with his signature Elmer Fudd swagger to bury his bone and then return to steal Riley’s.
When he slept in our bedroom, Cooper would throw the same little tantrum every night. He would get on his Sealy Posturpedic dog bed, roll around, and whine about having to sleep on the floor like a dog. Once we were sound asleep, he would quietly climb on our bed. If my stepdaughter was here, Coop would almost always sleep with her. She provided him with a pillow and blanket right next to her and I dreaded breaking the news to her most of all because of the deep bond that had developed between them.
Last year on Memorial Day weekend, only a few weeks after the passing of my English Shepherd, Birdie, some hunters we know stopped at our house with Coop in the front of their truck. They had found him wandering the woods on Armenia Mountain and brought him to their cabin for the night so he wouldn’t be devoured by the local coyotes. They said they were looking for the Animal Shelter, but that was total bullshit. They knew I would give him a home. My wife was in the shower so I took him upstairs on a leash to get her approval.
Who knew then what trouble he would be? We live on a two-mile dirt road with only four households on it. There is little traffic most of the year and we have over 1000 feet of fence surrounding our yard which we began shoring up immediately. The larger dogs can’t escape, but the system wasn’t designed for dwarves. We succeeded in securing the roadside fence but there were still places he could fit through on the pasture side.
Cooper never respected the fence and he was constantly escaping and running down the road. When I called for him to stop, he would turn around, look at me, and then make a mad dash for it. It was a game. As a jolly trickster, he loved all games. I would dutifully hop in the car to retrieve him and sometimes he would run a mile or more before he was out of breath. Then he would just hop in the back seat and ride home content that he had outsmarted me yet again. Over the last year, he had gotten better about the running but never gave it up entirely. Recently he had taken up woodchuck hunting and I was there for his first confirmed kill.
We tried a shock collar starting last fall, but he didn’t seem to care. Once he was running after something there was nothing that could make him stop. One night last winter, I chased him across a field of deep snow as he ripped across the frozen pond to see what the coyotes were making such a fuss about.
Cooper was a tire biter. He didn’t just chase cars; he went to the front and would try to herd the vehicle. On the few occasions when this happened, I was usually already out in the road trying to stop him. Invariably, the people would laugh, stop their cars, and wait for me to catch him. Sometimes they would even open their doors to hop out and pet him as he innately trusted all people. Our road isn’t really on the way to anywhere and people generally aren’t in a big hurry to get nowhere. Like almost all dogs, most people are decent.
Last Wednesday, Cooper had snuck out to hunt woodchucks and finally came back to one of the gates. I called him in but he wouldn’t come. I had our new Great Dane puppy on a leash and I had to take her and Riley inside and lock them in my office. I didn’t need three dogs out in the road. When I got back outside, Cooper had already dashed off to the field across the street. I walked down to get him and he wouldn’t come so I went back to the house to get truck keys as he almost always comes to me if I am in a vehicle. I glanced out the window and saw my neighbor driving down the road very slowly and Cooper appeared from nowhere nipping at the SUV’s front tires. The vehicle was moving so slowly that all the nasty old curmudgeon had to do was stop. At that point I was already in motion and heading out the door. I was only out of sight of the incident for a few seconds.
Once I got out of the gate though, I could see Cooper lying in the road and panic set in. He was rolling his head around as I called out to him and the old bastard’s vehicle was long gone. Coop’s eyes said it all to me. “Jeff, I really fucked up this time, but why didn’t you keep me safe?” The old shit had slowly run him over, dragged his body 25 feet down the road, and sped off. Cooper’s lovely life force blew away with the wind as I held him.
There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that this was malicious intent. He killed Cooper on purpose.
My neighbor is the sort of mean junkyard dog who only bites when your back is turned. He is always snooping in everyone’s business like a malevolent Gladys Kravitz and he is the type who drops a dime if he sees you doing some work on your property without a permit. A malicious gossip, I have never heard him say a kind word about anyone over the 35 years I have known him. We have done him and his family a number of favors related to their property but I can’t think of a single time they have ever reciprocated. A poisonous, greasy trail of bad karma lingers wherever he has been.
My experience with dogs is that they will always come and apologize for some bad deed, but my neighbor hasn’t been dog enough to knock at my door and explain himself. The difference between dogs and humans is that badly behaved dogs can generally be fixed — they almost always want to be good regardless of the abuse and maltreatment they may have suffered previously. While humans have the choice and the capacity, they rarely choose to become better people. This is why relationships with dogs are generally more rewarding than those with humans.
In his late 80’s, my neighbor will be meeting his maker before long and I suspect he will have a great deal to explain when that time comes. I hope an accounting for what he did to Cooper is at the top of the list. While my neighbor qualifies for several of the circles of hell, there surely must be a tenth circle for cruelty to animals.
Digging Cooper’s grave allowed me to take my mind off of the horrific chain of events for a little while. I am not the best front end loader operator and digging in the rocky, Pennsylvania soil is always a challenge. I decided to bury him next to Lucy, our Great Dane who passed away in 2016. Cooper never knew Lucy, but he loved all dogs, people, and he even tolerated cats. He is now part of the DNA of this land forever.
The laughter, joy, and happiness Cooper brought to our lives will be with us for the remainder of our days, but we are all still devastated. I can’t help but feel that my wife and stepdaughter both hold me responsible, and I can’t blame them if they do. It was my job to keep Cooper safe and I failed when he needed me most. It’s a painful addition to a long list of lifetime failures – the things I have gotten wrong — the failure to recognize what was important in real time rather than in retrospect.
While the guilt will fade over time, it will come back periodically and stab me in the heart with its cruel, razor sharp blades.
Birdie’s front leg was broken in two places when I found him on the side of a dirt road just three days after the 2008 election. I knew he was a sign of one sort or another — a guardian angel in the form of an English Shepherd.
I boosted him into the back seat of my car and took him directly to my vet. He had been abandoned; apparently part of the huge pet dumping that was one result of the 2008 financial crisis. When I brought him home, my wife immediately threatened divorce, but that saga wouldn’t really begin for another 18 months or so.
Empty car lots
Driving back and forth to Penn State with Birdie in the back seat, my son and I watched one manifestation of the financial crisis play out in slow motion. What were once numerous, prosperous car lots became spooky, empty, and deserted over the first two years of my son’s college experience. By the time he was a junior, almost every car dealer on the five-hour round trip had gone out of business. Remember ARRA, cash for clunkers, shovel-ready jobs, and other dubious programs of the time?
A few months after I adopted Birdie, my mother was diagnosed with Melanoma. She was 79 but would probably have lived a few more years had she been diagnosed sooner. This was all happening during the debate over the Affordable Care Act. Maybe debate is the wrong word. It was more like a violent assault that has left us all with an incurable STD.
Our first protest
My mother passed away at home in the summer of 2009 and a few months later, my youngest daughter and I went to our first protest in Washington on September 12. I had never before been interested in attending such an event, but the arrogance, petulance and condescension on display at the White House made me determined to show my support for the resistance. It was exciting to peacefully demonstrate with hundreds of thousands other Americans. Unfortunately, that was one of the few peaceful protests of the last 8 years.
The ACA, and virtually everything else to come from the administration over the last 8 years have been disasters in every way. Problems that required careful engineering and a screwdriver to fix were instead addressed with jackhammers and explosives by dishonest, sleazy politicians with bad intent.
A triple bypass
In 2010, while the stitches that held my marriage together were rapidly dissolving, my father required a triple bypass. The outcome of that medical emergency was a great success. The whole family was home for the Thanksgiving holiday and at the hospital when my father woke up from an attempt to put in a stent. The doctor explained that he had to have surgery immediately, because he “might not survive a trip to the parking lot.” My father asked, “Can I think about it for a couple of weeks?” It was a 10 days before he was able to leave the hospital again, but he is still going strong at 87.
2011 ushered in a couple of horrific years of brutal divorce litigation that became a full-time job. There was even an additional year of litigation after the divorce was final! My children were all adults and vanished into the military and the divorce became final at the end of Obama’s first term.
My whole life had changed radically and catastrophically during Obama’s first term and would continue to change rapidly in the second, but Birdie was still watching over me.
At the end of the rainbow
I met my new wife just as my divorce was finalized and started working with her soon after the inauguration in 2013. I was instantly captivated and smitten. She is my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and the most valuable treasure on the planet. It was during that time that the truth about Benghazi began to emerge.
It is difficult for me not to associate the upheaval in my own life with what has happened in the political arena during the last eight years as new political outrages seemed to pop out before the last ones were finished. We are currently stuck with a high U6 unemployment rate of 9.20%, historically low GDP growth, and racial and cultural divisions that have been significantly exacerbated by the President. Instead of Hope and Change, we got an angry, bitter demagogue with the worst case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder ever seen.
My wife and I have been living in a bubble on the longest honeymoon ever during the last couple of years, so I have been less aware of the outrages coming out of Washington. However, I am optimistic about the next eight years in my personal life and I am at least hopeful about the next 8 years for the country.
Birdie is still with me, too. He is deaf, has cataracts, and his bladder is considerably weaker than it was just a few short years ago. He sleeps almost all the time now and snores loudly. He and I are both looking forward to getting off Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
Thank God these eight years are almost over! In spite of the good things that have happened to me personally, the negative impact of the last 8 years will haunt the country for years and maybe decades to come.
Goodbye to all that, good riddance and let’s hope the next 8 years are more fruitful for everyone.
At my first permanent duty station in the Army, I was assigned the task of putting on a training session for the large Military Intelligence Company I was assigned to. My platoon sergeant suggested I check out a training film for the event and I followed his advice.
I was all set. I had everything ready, did a short introduction, and started the film. A few minutes into the training, the film burned up in the projector and I was standing there like a doofus without a Plan B. I was counting on the film to take care of the training session and the technology let me down.
It was a humiliating experience that shaped the way I have approached work and life ever since. I was jeered and taunted by my colleagues for weeks – until some other unfortunate soul screwed up publicly and had to bear the brunt of everyone’s ridicule. The army isn’t a touchy feely environment and humiliation is a standard component of the training and behavior modification process.
My first inclination was to blame my platoon sergeant for not mentoring me on how to do the training, but I quickly came to the realization that I owned it.
Here’s what I learned from that experience and four years in the Army:
Always have contingency plans; Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. The more the better. Things rarely work out the way you expect them to so be prepared for Plan A to fail so you can jump right into Plan B.
Accomplish the mission. Do whatever it takes to get the job done.
Take ownership. If you screw up, fess up. Immediately. Don’t blame anyone but yourself for your failure. Blame is never productive; finding solutions is.
Always do the best possible work you can whether the work is mopping the floor, cleaning your weapon, or developing plans for a major operation.
Make your boots sparkle, keep your uniform pressed, and keep your hair cut short. Appearance matters.
The next time I was tasked with a training presentation, I sat down and read the Army Field Manual on training. Yes – the army has a manual for everything. I spent several evenings putting together the presentation, making flip charts, studying the material, and practicing my presentation. Instead of jeers, I got compliments and questions on how I did such a great job.
Jeffrey Morgan is President of e-volve Information Technology Services, LLC and has provided transformational business and technology services to County and Municipal Governments, Small to Large Businesses, and Non-Profits since 1993.
The passing of a dog has always marked defining moments in my life. If you have dogs, you probably know what I mean. Dogs become an integral part of your life and family and they are there for all the big moments.
Winnie, the family dog
We got Winnie (the Pooh) just after my third baby was born in 1993. We had recently moved to my family’s Northeast Pennsylvania farm from Austin. Yellow labs are great farm dogs and wonderful for a young family and Winnie was a perfect fit. When my youngest daughter Emmy was learning to walk, she and Winnie would slide down the stairs together rather than risk walking them. Emmy was always a daredevil and she’s now assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group.
Apparently, Winnie didn’t like the sound of gunshots so she wasn’t trainable as a working retriever but I don’t hunt, so it all worked out. She was always up for a long hike regardless of the weather and her whole body wagged when she was especially happy. She never got on the furniture when anyone was home, but would immediately hop on a couch for a good snooze once everyone was gone.
When Winnie stopped going for walks with me, I knew the end was near. She had gone hiking with me for over a decade and got to the point where she would just give me a sad look as I was walking down the road.
Winnie lived for 13 years and her passing marked the end of my children’s youth. Although she is buried on the west side of our pond, she still walks with me when I hike the woods.
Cosmo, the Hipster Doofus
In 1999, Emmy and I drove down to Poughkeepsie to pick up the puppy we would name Cosmo. Emmy was in Kindergarten but insisted on skipping school to assist with the selection. Cosmo turned out to be a two hundred pound giant doofus at his peak.
Cosmo loved butter and would steal it from the counter at every opportunity. I would find butter wrappers all over the house. He knew he was in for a treat if I was preparing for a bake sale and he would quietly wait for me to leave the kitchen unattended. His head was chest-high to me, so anything on the counter was an easy reach.
Cosmo’s passing marked the end of home life for my children as they started attending college. He lived to be 8 and is buried next to another pond where he liked to go woodchuck hunting even though he rarely ever got one. I thought he was a goner a year earlier and I had the local backhoe guy dig him a grave. Cosmo snapped back and there was a big empty hole in the ground for a year before he finally went to rest there forever.
Colby, the Warrior Princess
Once you have a Great Dane, word gets around. We got a call from a local animal shelter and they asked if we were interested in another Great Dane. My fearless Emmy and I went to meet her and we instantly fell in love. Colby was so ferocious that the Shelter Board President was housing her in her own barn because the shelter workers were afraid of her. Nevertheless, we were confident in our ability to bring her into the family. She was some kind of mix – obviously part Great Dane, but also mixed with something with a huge chest, enormous wolf like teeth, and terrifying yellow eyes right out of a Hollywood horror movie.
Colby immediately took charge as the Chief Security Officer. It was months before my father was allowed to enter the house unsupervised even though he lives across the street. She managed every aspect of the household and enforced all the rules.
I used to play tug of war with her and had to buy a six-foot rope for our game. She was a big cheater and didn’t like to lose. She was also a flawless judge of human character. She especially disliked Sons of Anarchy-looking people; a big belly, tattoos, and long, greasy hair always raised her hackles. She didn’t take much stock in sales people either. If she disapproved of someone, you could rest assured he was a scoundrel. My vet later informed me that she had a couple of .22 rounds in her from her former life – wherever and whatever that was.
Colby’s passing in 2009 coincided with my mother’s diagnosis of terminal melanoma.
Lucy, the Prison Dog
Lucy had been arrested multiple times and a local police department, a client of mine, called me in 2006 to see if I wanted her. Apparently her owner had gotten a girlfriend who didn’t like dogs. He would just leave Lucy alone in his apartment while shacking up with the girlfriend. Lucy was a consummate escape artist and was once too often found wandering the streets of the small upstate New York town.
In my opinion, Lucy was a better deal than the girlfriend. Who doesn’t love Great Danes? You can always find another girlfriend, but Lucy is one-of-a-kind – all love and not a mean bone in her body.
Lucy was a “manic whipper” and when we did the official adoption from the pound, her tail was shredded from whacking the concrete walls in her tiny prison cell. Our vet suggested that her tail be docked but I researched it on the Internet and found a great solution. We wrapped and taped pipe insulation on her tail until it completely healed. She was with us through the kids’ teen years, college, and going out in the world to make their own way. She has her own futon in my office and is sleeping there as I write this.
Birdie, the Guardian Angel Divorce Dog
I found Birdie on the side of the road with a broken leg just three days after the 2008 national election. I immediately understood he was a sign of one sort or another and that the universe had sent him for a reason. My mother was of Irish descent and my father Ukrainian, so I understand signs. The universe is always sending messages and we just have to listen to them. I got him in the back seat of my car and took him right to the vet.
When I took Birdie home, my wife immediately threatened divorce, which came soon enough anyway. He is the most expensive dog I have ever owned and his leg was broken in two places. I declined the special surgery to insert a pin in his bone and opted for a simple cast. He limps a little and looks like he needs a cane but he turns into a Jedi Knight if he spots a woodchuck. My new wife calls him Yoda.
A Born Heeler
Soon after I brought Birdie home from the vet, he spotted a couple of cows in the barnyard and went tearing off after them in his cast. He is a natural heeler and had them all pinned in a corner in a few seconds. I spent months looking for a home for him. I even stopped at the local drug task force dirty site (also a client of mine) and tried to place him with one of the undercover guys. They all loved him but no one would take the plunge. He’s been mine ever since.
Birdie always rode with me to Penn State and St. Bonaventure University to pickup and drop off my two older children. And he stuck with me through 30 gruesome months of divorce litigation.
Time to Go
Birdie is doing well but Lucy is 12 now and I am waiting for the vet to come and euthanize her. My neighbor was generous enough to come over this morning and dig a grave with the tractor. Lucy was still chasing cars last Wednesday, but she has really gone downhill since then and is clearly in a lot of pain. Twelve is really old for a Great Dane but she’s been a trooper to the end. Her hips are shot and her eyes are asking me to stop the pain. I am always the last one to make the call for euthanasia, but I know that heartbreaking look all too well.
There have been a lot of other animals: Spanky and Delilah (goats). Sir Jiggles and Guinevere (Guinea Pigs), several horses, quite a few cats (Pepe, Bobi, Sisi, Sara, Mako and Drako) and lots of cows. But dogs become a part of a family in a way that other animals don’t. They get under your skin and inside you. They become guardians, therapists, hiking companions and so much more. There is never judgement, just unconditional love and affection.
I’m not really sure what watershed event Lucy’s passing will represent to me since I am only able to understand these things clearly in retrospect. I am hoping Birdie will be around for a few more years.
My wife and I have been talking about a St. Bernadoodle, but I think I will hold out for a sign.