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by John Nov 15, 2006 08:23

Coco Spuds Sobel


(Unfortunately, all I have here in Sacramento are latter-day pictures of the dog)

Before my plane flight to Italy on Tuesday, Oct 24, I passed by my 16-year-old beagle to give him a goodbye and a pet on the head. It was a strange feeling and not much of an exchange – Coco had grown rather unresponsive and struggled with many basic functions. The goodbye was too brief. It was entirely disproportional to how much he means to me and in knowing he’d likely be gone by the time I flew back on November 11.

I remember walking into the breeder’s home with my parents, older brother, and two younger sisters in July of 1990. We had begged and pleaded our parents – specifically our allegedly allergic dad – for years to get us a dog. Certainly, a beagle would be the answer to summer boredom, empty afternoons, and, as a friend of mine once put it, living in a geriatric ghetto.

Almost immediately, my brother, Paul, took to a tubby, rambunctious beagle puppy. I followed suit. We chased the puppy around the house and under tables and chairs. After quite some time, I remember turning my attention to the other puppy in the litter. Spuds was a runt. He didn’t run around or play with any of the toys. He just kind of stood there. If I had any idea the type of hell he’d raise in the future, I wouldn’t have felt sorry for him. But at that moment, I did. I wasn’t conscious of the reasons behind my empathy, but looking back, as a shy, undersized, socially awkward kid, I was drawn to the shy, undersized, socially awkward beagle puppy. The family was soon convinced of Spuds’ merits as well; I suppose my parents thought the quiet dog would be better for their sanity.

Spuds would have no such nonsense. Spuds would be renamed Coco, and Coco would become an obnoxious, oversized, and life-of-the-party beagle. So much for dog and owner sharing characteristics.

Let me share some of his exploits.

Anyone with a beagle knows of the breed’s stubbornness. Coco took it to the next level – constantly straddling the line between plain stupidity and utter canine genius. We thought we had Coco-proofed the house. After a brief innocuous period, Coco proceeded to trash the house and violate all of the rules we had set forth. He dumped over garbage cans, chewed any pair of shoes possible, and destroyed beloved childhood toys and stuffed animals. He often sought refuge by army-crawling under the bed where he knew we’d have difficulty reaching him. And he wouldn’t stop when we found him. Though Coco was harmless around his food, prying your last pair of socks from his jaws was downright dangerous. I can’t count the number of times I literally had to pry that dog’s jaws apart to get him to let go of something. We would often come home to find garbage spread out all over the room and Coco delicately tearing pieces of tissue apart in the middle of the room (he would hold objects between his two front paws). He seemed downright angry and offended that you dare break up his fun.

He charmed his way past the no-Coco-on-the-furniture rule and, soon enough, each of the four kids wanted the dog sleeping on his or her bed every night. My father, with no allergic reaction in sight, fought a subdued, unsuccessful battle against Coco’s behaviors and our indulgence.

Of the six members of the family, the dog developed different strategies for dealing with each of us in an attempt to reach the food on the table. He would nudge and claw some and wait rather patiently for others. He also knew who was most inattentive; he wouldn’t just watch the food, he’d watch your eyes. When you looked away for a split second, a quick strike to your plate fetched him his bounty.

Chocolate can be deadly to dogs. Yet, when afforded the opportunity to select among a dozen donuts, Coco went after the chocolate donut and ate it. Luckily, the vet (who was by then intimately familiar with this four-legged disaster) told us the amount of chocolate wasn’t enough to be harmful. Our vet informed us that beagles had “iron stomachs,” and it certainly seemed true. The dog sought out and consumed such items as entire plates of pasta, an entire box of powdered donuts, chicken bones, and nearly anything he thought edible. He would even eat carrots. I remember laughing as he ate cupcake wrappers and the sheer horror (and humor) when he’d waddle back up the stairs from the laundry room, his stomach and sides enormous from gorging on his dog food (Coco would often surpass the Rubbermaid seal, and he didn’t know when to say when).

He had his medical limits though. Before his selection of the chocolate donut, Coco opened and ate a one-pound box of chocolate intended for a girlfriend. That required a stomach pumping. Oh, but it wasn’t the first stomach pumping. You see, in his early days, Coco decided to snack on a small, metal bottle of baby diaper rash ointment. He had retrieved it from the diaper bag. I remember the x-rays showing the little pieces in his stomach. By the end of his days, Coco amassed an x-ray collection to rival a linebacker. The baby deprived of the ointment was not a Sobel; it was a child my mom babysat. Yet, Gerald’s first word was ‘Coco.’

Coco outsmarted my father on two separate occasions. There was a seat on the sofa my father liked and my dog coveted. Should you get up from that seat, Coco would quickly take over. One morning, my father was reading the newspaper, and Coco had it in him to supplant my father. So he took a section of the newspaper, ran out of the room and, when my father gave chase, dropped the section and ran back to the seat. He employed a similar strategy to force my father to leave his breakfast unattended.

Coco failed obedience school, wouldn’t heel, never fetched (though he liked chasing objects), snatched a sparrow out of the air, and often caught flies by the window. He slept across your bed so your legs had no where to go (when he wasn’t sleeping on your pillow), became annoyed when you tried to move him, and once attempted to lie down on my head (since it was on the pillow). Coco ran out of the door constantly, made a break for it down a street in San Francisco, and generally jumped higher and farther than what should have been physically possible. He would swing open doors with his paw, bark at cats on command (though he failed to recognize our house cat as a cat), and disliked many old white men.

He knew when we were about to leave the house and would become increasingly anxious. We always put him in the lower portion of the house where he had access to the backyard by not the warmer, cozier main portion. He’d do his best to break hearts when we attempted to herd him downstairs and often employed the strategy of getting up, running to another spot or room, and lying down again. In his later years, we’d often leave him in the main portion if he looked settled in. Coco soon exploited this. I remember a time before church when Coco belated realized we were leaving. He sprang into action, ran across the room to his couch, made the quickest 180 possible, and wedged himself between the seat and back. He then looked directly at me to see if he’d got one by me.

He would get too excited if someone said the word ‘walk.’ So we then changed the code-phrase to ‘get the leash.’ He learned that too, so we were forced to change it to simply ‘w.’ That sometimes worked. He then learned to monitor your actions and anticipate a walk.

Coco took a lot of crap from the cat. She’d pick a fight with him, and I’d of course cheer for the dog to win the contest. One Christmas, we gave the cat a small plate of gourmet food. Coco sniffed it out, shoved her aside with his head, and inhaled the cat food. I laughed … a lot.

He often sat on the bench at the dinner table if he could worm his way up there, and when he delicately wanted your attention for the purpose of table scraps, he’d look at you and make audible exhaling noises – just enough to let you know he was there.

Coco had better standing in the neighborhood than any of us, was once fed an entire tray of meat because “he looked so sad” (my aunt), and in his autumn years, would occasionally knock over a garbage can for old times sake. (As a twelve year old dog, he still enjoyed the occasional destruction.) It was still annoying to clean up, but his actions seemed much more amusing to me.

Perhaps a sign of how much he meant to us, Coco had a dozen or so nicknames. Homer-dog, Fatty (accurate for several years), Ococ, and simply, as I came to call him, Buddy. My mother always referred to him as ‘Puppy.’

A couple months before Coco passed on, I was describing to my uncle his current condition (which was steadily worsening). My uncle said calmly, “Yeah, but he was a good dog …” I paused, thought for a second and said, “No he wasn’t!” Coco was a complete ass. He was selfish, destructive, dangerous, disobedient, and usually ungrateful. Like a diva, he didn’t want your attention so much as he wanted people to be around him for company. That said, he was always hilarious and, as my brother stated, taught me to do whatever the hell I wanted.

When Coco came home on that summer day in 1990, I was between the second and third grade at Village Elementary. With his reckless behavior, I wasn’t sure he’d outlive my high school days. I was almost certain he wouldn’t make it through my undergraduate college years, and I was absolutely positive his time would come during my graduate work. Well, just like the times he ate a pound of chocolate and bottle of baby ass ointment, Coco pulled through. However, time was short.

Sure enough, on Tuesday, November 7, my youngest sister informed me that Paul and my parents had put Coco to sleep the past Saturday – not a day too soon and not a day too late. As was the joke with my sister and her friend that trip to Italy, I took a long evening constitutional in Rome. I can’t remember the last time, or really any time, I’ve taken a walk by myself.

I don’t resent the fact that I was not there for his final moments. Given my attachment to him, I doubt I could have handled it. I’m glad my older brother was there to take charge. Taking Coco into the vet one final time was one of the things I feared most. In fact, I knew for years I wouldn’t be able to handle his final days. Moving to Sacramento moved me away from my dog, but, though selfish and petty, I knew leaving would almost ensure it wouldn’t be me. Coco’s final moments on earth were incredibly painful for those with him and, I hear, caused one of them to collapse. I don’t know how I would have fared. All six human members of my family knew this day was coming, we knew he was reaching the end, and, most importantly, we knew that one day, he’d be alive but gone and it’d be beneficial to let go. Moreover, he really hadn’t been the same dog for the past year. We had an entire year to prepare.

Despite this, I put aside machismo and say it still feels like a sledgehammer to the chest. He is simply irreplaceable. Anyone who knew Coco knows he was like no other dog. I think so much and so highly of him, I had started of late referring to other dogs as ‘Not Coco,’ because I feel they paled in comparison. It may sound like typical owner nonsense (if any of us truly owned that dog), but I’ll die swearing otherwise.

For over 16 years, no matter how wonderful or terrible the day, I could return to the home in Pittsburg and find Coco waiting to greet me briefly before completely ignoring me until I had food or he needed something. Jokes aside, it was a source of stability and a sense of comfort I enjoyed for two-thirds of my entire life. Like a phantom itch, several times in my first weekend home since his passing, I instinctively looked in the direction of his bed when walking through the front door, almost expecting to find him there. Yet, now the room is rearranged and his bed removed in an attempt to lessen our sadness.

This small tribute to Coco isn’t worthy of his importance. It’s going to be a strange Christmas this year. Without exaggeration, I can say he captured everyone’s attention for every family-and-friends gathering for his entire life. Some years, family life was rocky (though since much improved). But no matter how we felt about each other, Coco was always there to serve as the culmination of the family’s love and adoration. And at each gathering, we need only to watch the dog for a matter of minutes before his behaviors and actions would bring laughter and joy to the room. It will be insufficient this year to have him only in our memories. Without knowing, Coco kept the family together, helped me out of depression, and very literally gave everyone a reason to return home during the bad years. The Sobel’s bad years are behind them, and, in very large part, we have Coco to thank for our current togetherness.

I don’t remember if there was any debate some 16 years ago when I said we should pick Coco instead of his brother. Paul, who usually prevailed in such situations of selection, was strangely acquiescent. I claimed credit for picking Coco for his entire life. Now, at the time of his passing, I very humbly claim credit once again for picking the smartest, funniest, laziest, best-looking, and all-around greatest dog that ever lived.

He brought more joy to me, my family, and anyone within eyeshot than I could ever imagine or ever hope for. It was the best 16 years, and I love and miss Coco dearly. Coco Spuds Sobel: chooser of the chocolate donut, unwitting savior of the family.

Bye bye, buddy.


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This isn't funny but...

by Paul Nov 4, 2006 10:34

Today we had to put our dog to sleep. I'm writing this because he deserves it.

Everyone talks about how their dog is so smart and special, but never the less, I can guarantee my dog was cooler than your dog. My dog had the best poker face on the planet. My dog got more chicks than me. My dog will get on your bed in the middle of the night and then get mad at YOU for disturbing his sleep. My dog has been to the emergency room more times than a daredevil with attention deficit disorder, and not only did he live through all of them, but he'd make the same deadly (consumption of the entire 1 lb. box of chocolate) mistake again if you let him.

My dog had the best sense of comic timing without ever trying any harder than the effort it took him to steal your seat on the couch when you went to the bathroom; and the "What?" look on his face when you returned to find out you're not as smart as an animal.

He is, and will be remembered by everyone who ever met him. The entire neighborhood knows his name.

Neither John nor I would have half the hilarious thoughts we have without the constant inspiration from him. He taught me how to do whatever the hell I wanted, knowing that at some point after the fact you would see it his way and appreciate how funny it was. He was my idol, my inspiration to be entertaining without actually trying, and my oldest and best friend.

You fucking rock dog.
R.I.P. Coco: 1990 - 2006

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