In February 2015, David and Glenda Berman — that's my mom and dad — drove from New York to Connecticut to meet Cooper, a 13-month-old Great Dane. When they were introduced, 100-pound Cooper rushed over to give them an enthusiastic greeting, burying his head in their legs, leaning on them, and asking to be petted. My mom and dad fell in love, and Cooper took the two-hour drive back to their house, the place that would become his forever home.
During those first few weeks, my parents got to know Cooper. They went for walks in the snow, played together, and snuggled. (He’s a major snuggler.) But, in addition to those normal doggy behaviors, they noticed something else. Cooper was reluctant to leave their sides. If they left the room, he went with them. He took trip after trip to the kitchen, to the bathroom, to the laundry room. When they moved, he moved.
I didn’t believe the extent of it until I got the chance to meet him myself. I traveled back to New York to visit my family in May. For me and Coop, it was love at first sight. We played, we ran, we cuddled, and by the end of the first day, I found myself with a 115-pound shadow. As soon as I showed any sign of movement, his head perked up and he was ready to follow me. In the morning when he opened his eyes, he went directly to my room to wake me up. When I napped in the afternoon, he came with me, opting to sleep right next to the bed. And when I went out to dine with a friend, my parents distracted him so he wouldn’t see that I was leaving.
Now, when a small dog follows you everywhere, it’s not a big deal. But when a Great Dane follows you around, it’s not stealthy. Seeing how much he craved to be near people, I welcomed him wherever I went — even the bathroom. Still, I wondered: Why was he so reluctant to be alone? Did he not believe we’d come back?
If there's a hug going on, Cooper wants to be a part of it. (Photo: Ali Berman)
Thinking we knew the full story behind his upbringing, we all wrote it off as him being a little insecure. In just over a year he had experienced four different homes. After he left the breeder (his first home), Cooper went to live with a young woman who loved him very much. Unfortunately, they learned that while Cooper enjoys meeting other dogs on his walks, he has trouble living with other dogs. He got into fights with another pooch in the house and with great difficulty, the young woman sent Cooper to live with her uncle. As he also had animals at home, the problem repeated itself.
Cooper needed to live with a one-dog family. The uncle — who could easily have sold purebred Cooper for a handsome sum — instead decided to put him up for adoption to find the best family possible. My parents had been looking for a Great Dane to adopt, so they sent their references, along with pictures with their previous Great Dane who had died two years before, and a heartfelt message. They were chosen to be Cooper’s new and final family.
Because Cooper was loved and well treated in all of his homes, my parents thought the insecurity came from the many moves.
But that wasn’t the full story. Not even close.
In an email from the woman who originally took Cooper in, my mother learned the truth. Cooper had been born with the rest of his litter in the home of an Iowa breeder. One night, when the breeders were out bowling, their home caught on fire. Everything went up in flames. Cooper’s mother and siblings all tragically perished. Baby Cooper was found alone in the debris in the yard. In just one night, he had lost his entire family, suffering more trauma in an instant than most experience in a lifetime.
After the fire, the breeders had to rebuild their lives, so they put Cooper up for adoption. That’s when he started to move from house to house, finally finding his perfect match with my parents. Now, he starts out every day with a multi-mile walk, a nap in the office while my dad works, and then Cooper spends an hour or two playing with his friends in the dog park in the afternoon. If he’s not snoozing or walking, he’s out in garden with my mom soaking up the sun.
Just part of the story
When we rescue an animal, most of the time we never get to know their complete history. Why do some cry when their humans leave the house? Or some bark and growl at men who wear hats? Like people, animals remember the various difficulties and tragedies they have suffered. Those scars go through life with them, just like our own scars follow us. The only difference is they can’t tell us their fears, and we can’t explain to them that they are safe. The best we can do is show them they are loved and hope with enough repetition, they’ll get the message.
In an ideal world, every dog would only have good memories. Their first Frisbee catch or trip to the beach, their favorite person who knows how to pet the ears just right, and the safety of a single home where they will live their life right through to ripe old age. That’s not the case for every dog. Some need a little extra help from us as they learn to trust, move on from the past and accept that their new reality is the one they can count on.
With time, Cooper might just learn to keep snoozing while his mom or dad goes to get a cup of tea. Until then, we’ll all keep showing him that he’s loved, and that this home and this family are forever.