The dilemma of the lucky dog, Cooper

March 24, 2010

I’m an accidental dog owner. Cooper found me six months ago in the woods of my writer’s residency in Georgia, when he was a starving, matted stray. I didn’t adopt him because I wanted a dog. I adopted him because he needed a home, and I knew what would happen to him if I didn’t. The other artists called him Lucky.

Cooper's first winter

Now, six months later, I love him. Well, really I loved him as soon as we started driving home to New York from Georgia, when he stuck his head out the back window of the car and let the cold wind hit his face for so long that his eyes watered. Cooper’s a sweet dog.

But I’m preparing to move to D.C. And I can’t decide whether to bring him with me.

Do I want to bring him? Yes. But this problem is more complicated than what I want. Having Cooper in a city, while I’m working a full-time job and living (hopefully) by myself, would seriously cramp my lifestyle and my bank account. It might cramp Cooper’s, too. (His lifestyle, not his bank account — I haven’t become that kind of dog owner.)

My parents have offered to keep Cooper here in upstate New York. (I’ve been living with them for the last year while writing my book.) Their offer is mostly to help me, and I’d feel somewhat guilty leaving my responsibility with them, but that’s another story. Here, Cooper would have a big yard to play in, a house that he’s grown accustomed to and my parents, who love him almost as much as I do. This was my original plan when I brought Cooper home; I was hoping he’d become my parents’ dog, since their golden had died a few years earlier.

Coop in his favorite spot.

But Cooper hasn’t grown attached to my parents. He’s attached to me. He’s been at my hip since the day I first fed him at the artists’ residency. Apparently this is normal for rescued dogs, especially ones as old as Cooper; the vet guessed he’s at least 10. I’ve tried repeatedly to get him to bond with my parents. When I’m out, they try to lure him into the family room to watch television with them. But he just sleeps in my room, waiting for me to come home.

This dog has already been ditched (at least) once. I don’t want him to feel ditched again! Even if I leave him in my parents’ loving home. I keep imagining him waiting in my room for me after I’ve moved. Waiting… and waiting… and waiting…

But having Cooper in D.C. would be a big compromise for me. I won’t be working at home like I am now. I’d have to go home to take him out after work instead of going directly to the gym or happy hour. Journalism is not a nine-to-five job, which means I’d have to hire someone to take him out on days when I don’t leave work at a decent hour. (If I had a spouse to share this responsibility with, it might be easier. But it’s just me.) If I wanted to go away on a weekend, I’d have to find someone to take care of him.

It would also be expensive. I’m not talking about food or vet visits. I don’t believe in keeping a big dog in a tiny city apartment, so I’d need a place with a small backyard or a nearby park, which would be expensive. So expensive that I might have to get a roommate. And live far away from the city center, instead of the neighborhood of my choice. I’d need to bring my car — and pay for insurance and possibly a parking spot — instead of selling it, because you can’t transport a dog on the metro.

Essentially, I’d be giving up my me-focused lifestyle for my dog. Which is why I didn’t want a dog to begin with.

Of course, I also have to think about what’s good for Cooper. Is it better to leave him in this suburban neighborhood, not uproot him again, and risk him feeling like I abandoned him? Or should I bring him with me to a new place where he’ll always have to be on a leash but will have his “rescuer” at his side?

What might trump all of this is that I’m not sure I can bear to leave him. As inconvenient as it would be for me to have this dog in a city, I love him. Even as I’m typing this post, Cooper’s cracking me up, sticking his head into an empty bone box on the floor:

Cooper looking for leftovers.

So that’s my dilemma. What’s better for me? And what’s better for Cooper? Should I bring him or leave him?

Y’all have followed the Cooper story since the day I brought him home. What do you think?

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    25 Replies to “The dilemma of the lucky dog, Cooper”

    • Marta Szabo says:

      I think you have to work hard to find him a good new home. With people you know, or have some connection to, not strangers — I am so wary of giving animals to strangers, even if they seem nice. Cooper seems like an absolute angel, but it doesn’t work to take him with you if it’s not really in your heart of hearts what you want. I wish I could take him. I live in Woodstock, NY — is that anywhere near you? I could help you find him a good home if it is.

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Oh no — If I don’t bring him to D.C., my parents are going to keep him! They’d be heartbroken if I gave him away. He’s staying with one of us for sure.

    • Karen Walker says:

      This is a heart breaker either way, Alexis, and there’s no easy answer. Our dog, Buddy, is attached to both hubby and me. If one of us goes away for a few days, Buddy waits for the other to come home. But once he realizes that’s not happening, he adjusts and is just fine. Perhaps that will happen with Cooper if you leave him at your folks’ home. Maybe you can leave him there when you go to DC, get settled, etc. See how Cooper does. If he seems depressed and miserable after a couple of weeks, you can always bring him then.

      Do you have a job in DC?

    • julielomoe says:

      Hi, Alexis. I really feel for you in your dilemma, especially since I’ve owned two Goldens (I blogged about my second one, Lucky, just recently). But it sounds to me as if leaving him with your parents is the right call, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. I’m sure Cooper will adjust.

      My daughter recently adopted a “rescue dog,” an Australian shepherd/chow mix, and the rescuers really put us all through an exhaustive intake process. (I had to promise to come down and do grandma duty so he wouldn’t be alone so much.) By their standards, you probably wouldn’t qualify as a dog owner, because of the length of time you’d be away each day – and as a single woman in DC, you shouldn’t be housebound by a retriever. Also, they’re big dogs that need lots of exercise. And dogs are great for older “empty nesters” like your parents.

      I rest my case. But I’d love to meet Cooper and see you before you leave!

      Julie Lomoe’s Musings Mysterioso

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Thanks, Julie. The nice thing about Cooper is he’s an older dog, so he doesn’t need a ton of exercise. In fact, he can’t even go on runs with me — a mile is enough for him!

        • julielomoe says:

          In that case, since he’s an older dog, maybe I gave the wrong advice. Reading my response now as well as the others, I may have been too harsh. I think those who advise leaving him with your parents for now but keeping your options open for both you and Cooper are on the right track.

          My daughter’s new rescue dog is an eight-month-old puppy, so that’s a whole different scenario.

    • Michael Lee says:

      Hi Lexi,

      I have a dog named Cooper too! She’s the best money I’ve ever spent. Cooper could adjust to your lifestyle very quickly. Especially if he can get a morning walk.


    • Susy Hem says:

      Awww. That’s so hard, Lexi. You’ll make the right decision, and he’ll love you either way.

    • littlehousesouthernprairie says:

      Girl. Hang in there. I know this is hard (and have detailed my own dog rescue adventures on my blog too).

      First off, remember you have already SAVED THIS DOG’S LIFE and given him food and a home and love, which is more than he had and more than the MILLIONS of animals euthanized at shelters a year have. You get a jewel in your crown in heaven for this, absolutely.

      Some thoughts:

      As adorable and irreplaceable as I know you are, Cooper might well adjust to mom and dad as his source of love and snuggles.

      That said —

      I would leave him with the family for now, but find a place in DC that allows dogs. That way if Cooper is super duper sad — or you find your lifestyle actually allows the time and energy for a dog — you have set yourself up to bring him down. I have a friend who just moved to DC with a dog and she said finding an apartment was a bitch, but she did it.

      Maybe find a place that’s dog-friendly and near a dog park, too. You don’t know what your job situation will be like — maybe you’ll end up working from home a lot. Maybe once the book sells, you won’t be working for someone else at all. Maybe your new best friend in the apartment complex will also have a dog and you guys will swap walking duties to make it work with your schedules. Lotsa possibilities out there.

      But don’t stress about bringing him NOW, maybe just try to set things up so there could be a spot for him in the future. And if it doesn’t work out, it’s OK — he’s in great hands with the family and will live a happy life with them, promise!


      • littlehousesouthernprairie says:

        Oh and my friend who just moved with large dog lives in a small apt. in Adams Morgan, no roomies. She’s a poor grad student, too.

    • jessiecarty says:

      That’s a really hard call 🙁
      My sister had to make that decision when she moved away from home but ultimately I think she made the right call by leaving her dog with our parents. They have a bigger yard and the ability to really care for him instead of him being stuck in an apartment.

    • Peggy says:

      Lexi, I know you want to do the right thing for both you and Cooper, and there is no perfect solution here. My opinion is to bring Cooper with you to DC. Although my dog loves my husband, she is bonded to me, and that is a huge, huge thing. I believe Cooper will be happier knowing you are coming home to him at the end of the day. Losing his rescuer would be really difficult. As an older dog, he probably sleeps a lot of the day anyway, and it would be fine if you just hired someone to take him out mid-day. Your housing options may not be that limited, either. The editor of the magazine I write for owns a golden in NYC, and the dog is totally happy with walks and dog parks, etc. I know you’re a responsible dog owner and would take him on walks and outings. And, think of this: owning a dog is a great way to meet new people when you move! And finally, whatever you do, don’t watch that new movie, Hachiko.

    • Marianne says:

      I have no advice – I ran out of advice about anything apart from breathing (which I advise everyone to do, regularly) a long time ago – but I feel your deep concern in this post and I wanted to tell you how I admire the loving commitment you have to Cooper’s well-being. With that behind him I’m pretty confident he’ll be fine whatever you decide.

    • Rebeca says:

      Okay, Lexie, here are my thoughts: As a freelancer who lived in NYC in a small apartment I had at one point TWO dogs. A JRT and a Labrador retriever. Believe me they adjust to living in a small spaces (in fact the JRT went from a large flat with a backyard in San Francisco to a small 27 foot sailboat with two other small dogs in NY Harbor. Did he adjust? He had the time of his life running around deck and dropping his ball in the water for me to fetch it for him!)

      When I lived in NYC with the mutts, I had a dog walker. And you can find someone who is not all that expensive. The dogwalker for me was more essential than the Starbucks treats so I gave those up (also lost some weight). And every time I came home, from my miserable freelance job (it was onsite) it was a joy to be greeted by my animal-children. People always worry about the me time, but I still managed to do things and have time for myself. As far as romance, if the guy didn’t like my “kids” then he wasn’t the one for me.

      If you live in the city, you can find plenty of dog-runs, and you’ll also meet other people as well. Dogs are the best ice-breakers.

      My dogs live in the country now, and I think to a certain degree it’s not as much fun for them as it was in the city. I have three now (and we live in a small cottage) and they only socialize with themselves. I can’t let the JRT or the beagle of leash because of traffic (I live near the Hamptons and people drive like idiots) and hunters. When I lived in NYC, I had a large fenced in dog run and my guys got to play with other dogs.

      In my opinion, bring Cooper with you. He’s had a tough life and He WILL feel abandoned if you leave him behind.

    • Alexis Grant says:

      Thanks, everybody, for such thoughtful advice. It helps to hear from people who have been there! I’ll probably be re-reading these comments over the next few weeks as I make a decision. I’ll keep you posted!

    • You know, you could always give it a two-month trial, and if it doesn’t work, you can take him back to your parents.

      Good luck, Alexis! It must be a heartbreaking decision!

    • Freya says:

      Hi Alexis,

      I am most probably saying what everyone here is. Leave him with your parents.

      It will be tough; I have two dogs (a mutt and a smooth-wire dachshund) and leaving them even for a few days makes me feel so incomplete. But sometimes its the tough ones that are best for all, is the lesson I’ve learned 🙂

      Leaving him with your parents also means you will be seeing him off and on. He’ll settle over time with them and love it when you come over.


    • Mary Knudson says:

      I appreciate your deep feelings for this dog. I think the important thing to him is to be with you. If you don’t have to go to DC, you may reconsider and live near your parents where they could help you care for Cooper if you take a job outside your home and yet you would always come home to him at night. The family I bought my house from years ago left their dog with me because they were going to England and it was heartbreaking to watch him stare at the door waiting for them to return. By the time they came back to visit, he had died.

      There are plenty of dogs in DC and an option for you would be to live in a nearby suburb of DC and take the metro to work. The metro connects a number of DC suburbs to the city. Living right in DC is not cheaper than living in a suburb.

      I hope you find a way to stay with Cooper because it’s obvious he considers you his soul mate.

      All best,


    • Mom and Dad says:

      Hey Lex,

      This is Saturday morning. We took Cooper on our 2.2 mile walk this morning and he was very happy! Last night he laid in the family room and cuddled with both of us. He’s laying next to us at the computer right now. He barks at one of us when he needs anything – or just wants a treat. He has adapted very well and you only left 3 days ago. I don’t think you need to worry about him adjusting to us or his home for the past 7 months. You’re young and should be able to enjoy yourself on your newest adventure. Besides, we like having him around too! You can always come home to visit Cooper (and us).
      Love you.

    • simonemarie says:

      Difficult decision. If it were me, I would probably find to make it work, and just bring him. But that may be selfish on my part.

      I can relate, as I am a sort of accidental dog owner (I now have a dog because my live-in boyfriend brought him with him.) I love him. I cannot imagine living without him. When my boyfriend’s out of town, I love coming home to him. And I can imagine, as you’ll be living alone, you will too.

      If I move back to NYC this summer, we’ll be taking him with us, which is a little crazy, because’s a 75 lbs pit bull. But I’m not sure we could do it without the two of us. I hadn’t thought about it, but it must be a lot harder alone.

      I’d say, keep an open mind in your apartment search, see what you can drum up. If you find a pretty ideal situation, bring him along. If it doesn’t work out, you can bring him back to your parents, and eventually, he will get used to them. Even wounded dogs are incredibly adaptable.

      Good luck with this all. I know what a tough decision this is. (He’s adorable, by the way.)

    • Rebeca says:

      What a great comment from your mom and dad! I’m a believer of the worst case scenario i.e., can’t find a dog-friendly apartment, work long hours and petcare is expensive, etc. I always have plans B through Z. Now you know that Plan B works. Coop is with M&D and he’s happy. I would still try to take him with you, but worst case scenario….

    • elizabeth hall says:

      I think you should take him with you and do what you said in the story take him and let him on a leash and put up with the barking, though you will not be allowed to moan because it against the law. And that was a fantastic story well done hope to ear from you soon.

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