By Grace Cooper
Recommended listening while reading: All of Me by John Legend.
I THINK it was approximately four years ago—although at times it feels like 44 years—since I adopted a cute, scruffy little dog. The year before I’d lost my precious Cooper, the sweetest Cavalier King Charles spaniel. Only eight years into our love affair, his heart of pure gold gave out, breaking my heart in two. My children insisted that the best way to mend was to adopt another dog asap, and because my two children have huge hearts, they encouraged me to adopt a rescue dog.
The shelter was only two miles from where I’d gone to buy organic grass fed beef from Ron, a farmer friend. As we chatted over a cup of coffee, I checked my email. A dog called Bandit’s adorable mug shot popped up. I showed it to Ron.
“Look Ron,” I smiled, “he’s got markings on his face that look like a heart, and he’s smiling…it kind of resembles a snaggle-toothed sneer, but it’s sort of charming.”
“He’s cute, Grace, and he’s in a kill shelter. If he’s not adopted within a few days, it’s a death sentence for him. BTW, that shelter is only two miles from here and on your way home.”
The universe was conspiring.
I renamed Bandit JJ, short for Jesse James. Somehow I sensed the spirit of an outlaw, and let me tell you, my instincts were spot on. Very shortly after I brought him into my tidy, peaceful home, his true personality began to emerge. For instance, on our debut neighborhood walkabout, we approached a neighbor walking two huge mastiffs on leash. JJ tugged me in their direction, little tail wagging. The owner of the giant dogs greeted us, just as JJ gave an unexpected lunge, wrapping his front paws around one of the big boy’s neck and punctuated this aggressive move with a deep growl. The mastiff rolled over, exposing his belly in an act of submission, acquiescing to this 11-pound creature tethered to my leash.
A few seconds later my shocked neighbor muttered something about never having witnessed such a thing … I apologized profusely as I dragged my snarling little pet down a side street and back toward home.
Once we settled in, I decided this must have been an aberration, after all he was abandoned by a callous previous owner, left to die in a kill shelter, mouth full of rotting teeth (necessitating hundreds of dollars in doggie dental care), undernourished and obviously unloved. I’d soon change his life, I thought proudly.
The reality was somewhat different.
JJ turned out to be a “marker,” as in marking his territory both inside and outside my home with an ever ready stream of urine—everywhere—sneaking off whenever I turned my back to spray every inch of my beautiful home and furnishings. No amount of disciplinary redirection helped.
One day after reading Cesar Millan’s hail mary suggestions for marking, JJ and I visited the pet store to buy supplies. Warning: graphic descriptions to follow … .
According to ‘The Dog Whisperer,” I needed a cotton handkerchief that I’d soak with JJ’s urine and tie the saturated muffler around his neck. The theory was that he’d smell the soiled handkerchief and think he’d already marked that area.
While we waited in line to pay, some woman with a perfectly behaved golden retriever tapped me on the shoulder.
“Your dog just sprayed the display of dog treats,” she gasped with a horrified look on her face. “There are wipes over there so you can clean it up!”
Instead I opened the package of cotton hankies and used those to mop up the urine. She gasped! Then when I tied it around his neck, I thought she’d faint.
I paid for our purchases, and as we hurried towards the door a woman approached me.
“I saw what just happened, she explained. I had a terrier once. Good luck.”
“He was neutered too late” my vet explained. “He’s obviously not been socialized adequately.”
“Furthermore, he seems to have an anxiety disorder … probably was mistreated earlier in his life.”
The situation was coming into focus now. This adorable little Jorkie —Yorkie and Jack Russel mix—was trouble. I hired a trainer. She spent a total of four very expensive hours with JJ before she gave up on him.
“He’s unusually stubborn, passive aggressive, and manipulative,” was her excuse for abandoning me with this tiny monster.
He’s a pure alpha male terrier terrorist was my rueful conclusion.
My daughter was giving birth to her first child and asked me to be there for the blessed event. I managed to locate an overnight pet sitter who agreed to take JJ for the week I planned to be in Boston. Oliver was born, my daughter and son-in-law were over the moon, and the universe seemed to be smiling upon us. Then came the call from the petsitter.
Long saga short, she’d been walking several dogs along a woodland trail until a storm front cut short the outing. All the dogs loaded into her car, but as she drove away, JJ decided to take a flying leap out an open window. She saw his little body hit the ground hard, but he kept running. Not one to obey, shouting his name did no good. She called in a search team of fellow dog walkers who scoured the woods for hours during a pelting rainstorm punctuated by a violent microburst. Sobbing, she told me he was nowhere to be found.
Despite the sitter’s distress, I am ashamed to admit that I felt a bit of relief at this report. However, by 7am the next morning, I received a call from a man who explained that a dog wearing a tag with my phone number had limped into his fishing camp.
“I’ll bet you’re relieved,” he added. Hmmmm.
I thanked him, phoned the petsitter and changed my flight to head home.
JJ’s injuries were extensive, requiring surgery, a few days of intensive care, rehab and a serious outlay of cash. Once it became apparent that he’d survive, I bought an expensive pet insurance policy, gambling that JJ had a few more tricks left in his bag.
Yet JJ wasn’t without his charms. He was surprisingly affectionate, a warm lapdog and superb bedtime cuddler—as long as you didn’t disturb him once he chose his side of the bed.
He followed me everywhere, except for those times he was sneaking off to pee on my sofa or dig an escape route under my backyard fence. With tolerant good humor, my neighbors grew used to his high-pitched and insistent barking and even cheerfully joined search parties I organized on those dozen or so times he managed to escape my yard.
And then there was COVID—and a quarantine—and gradually I came to understand that JJ was the reason I got out of bed every morning those two long, lonely years. We walked miles every day. I baked him special meals of organic kibble and dog cookies for training treats. Reupholstering all my living room furniture became my creative Covid home project, thanks to JJ. Reluctantly I ultimately grew to tolerate, then appreciate this stubborn, messy, smelly, territorial little creature.
But then Covid vaccines were developed and distributed. The world gradually reopened. I started dating again. JJ did not approve.
One particularly memorable date with an unmemorable man ended abruptly one evening when JJ jumped into his lap. The next thing I heard was the man yelling that my dog had peed on his lap. Yes indeed he had.
JJ and I are now in a new home. For the past year I’ve been dating the man who renovated my beautiful new space. JJ has peed and pooped on his rugs, floors, patio, and most recently, in his bed. We’ve had spectacular arguments about this creature.
Back to the vet I went for suggestions. The doctor prescribed a sedative—for JJ not me—and advised me to try to think of JJ as a previously traumatized little creature who bonded to me as the only human he truly trusts. Then he suggested a trainer who uses positive reinforcements only. Next Saturday is our first class.
I feel ashamed of all the negativity I’ve experienced since adopting my little outlaw. Vowing to turn over a new leaf, I challenged my beau to try to make peace with JJ as well.
“But he growls at me whenever I sit near you and snaps at me when I try to pick him up,” he protested.
“He’s only got a few teeth left. It won’t hurt much when he bites you,” I reasoned.
The bottom line is this, I told my beau, “I’m a 68-year-old woman with a terrier terrorist who is likely to outlive us both. I made a commitment and can’t abandon him now. You can choose to walk away from our relationship any time you like, but if you stay, JJ is part of the package.
(Then I held my breath, crossed my fingers and said a prayer he’d choose us.)
I flew to Boston this morning. My beau dropped me at the airport and asked for last-minute feeding instructions for JJ. My two messy, sometimes smelly, territorial, über-competitive alpha males are going to try to bond. I’m hoping for an interspecies bromance, but I’ll settle for a peaceful truce if that’s all they can manage.
Addendum: JJ and my beau made it work this week. Champagne and roses are dandy now and then, but the guy who takes all of me? Could that be love?
—Grace Cooper (a nom de plume) left her long marriage a decade ago, and with it went all sense of her identity—but not for long. Now 68, she has begun chronicling her tales of looking for love in all the wrong places, and unexpectedly finding herself.
6 thoughts on “Late Dates #13: All of Me”
Thanks to Grace for the recounting of the financial impact and change in lifestyle that bringing a pet into your life can bring!
No good deed goes unpunished or will she figure out how to get and keep the upper hand with this little bundle of joy. I guess we stay tuned!
This is a great read, so heartwarming!
Don’t you love the sound of the French language? I do. The short answer is that people judge. They can’t help themselves. It’s mostly projection of their inner fears, faults, and resistance to change their own lives. Ask Prince Harry if you don’t believe me! I understand this issue and can handle the pushback, but I have grown children. They have not yet arrived at the conclusion that (ideally) with age comes wisdom and the courage to change what they can. My 37-year-old daughter just recently declared that divorcing her father was a brave thing. I think I might have died peacefully in that golden moment.
Thanks for having the courage to post your comment online!!
Story well told. Can’t help wondering why a woman having finally found herself uses a “ nom de plume .”
That might make another good story!