With a dog.
I first noticed him, raggedy, soaked and trotting by my studio, during the rains that hit Georgia starting my third week there. The Hambidge Center gets a lot of strays, Debbie, the office manager, told me. Every few days, I’d see the big red dog go by. Sometimes he’d stop near the trees in front of my studio and take a nap. One morning, I saw Ron, the maintenance guy, checking him for a collar. He didn’t have one.
“He’s been wandering around here for days,” I said. “Mind if I feed him? That means he might stick around.”
“Yeah, feed the poor guy,” Ron said. “His ribs are sticking out.”
Let me interject here with my pet history. My family always had a big dog when I was growing up — first a mutt, then a golden retriever. But I’ve been adamantly opposed to having a dog as an adult, at least until I have a family. I don’t want the responsibility. I want to go to happy hour after work, not home to feed the dog.
Back to the stray. He looked like a golden. He was friendly, like he’d been a pet. He inhaled the dog food I bought for him at Piggly Wiggly’s (behind a guy in fatigues who purchased smoked foul). And after he ate, probably the first time he’d had a real meal in at least a week, he lay there for the rest of the afternoon with his paws around his bowl.
Then the dog starts following me around. To dinner, waiting outside the Rock House while we ate, then following me home. Sleeping outside my studio. One morning, I ran to the gristmill, a mile and a half down the road, and when I turned around to jog back, I found him a few yards behind me, breathing hard, his tongue hanging halfway to the ground.
That was when I started thinking about taking him home.
I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to commit to a dog. But my parents lost their golden two years ago, and they’ve been thinking about getting another. Since I’m living with them, we could share the responsibility of taking care of this guy.
“What if he’s a lost pet?” I asked Debbie. “What if someone’s missing him?”
“He was dumped here,” she reassured me. “He’s an old dog. If you wanted to keep track of your dog, wouldn’t you put a collar on him?”
Over the next week, we picked all the burrs out of his fur and cut the matted mud from his hind legs. One of the other artists helped me give him a bath. (Boy, did he smell.) I bought him a collar, so he looked loved. Debbie and I took him to the vet. I fed him twice a day, and he started playing more, picking up sticks outside my studio, rolling on his back so I could rub his belly.
When I left Hambidge, I took him with me.
We’re calling him Cooper.
More: Here’s an UPDATE on Cooper.
And my dilemma, whether to bring Cooper with me to DC.