August is the month we get to welcome new full-time voices to the post calvin! Please welcome Cotter Koopman, who is taking over Carolyn Muyskens’ spot. Cotter graduated just this spring with a degree in computer science. He’s splitting his summer programming at Calvin’s Center for Social Research and interning at a marketing and design studio downtown. He also makes music with friends and with himself.
When I mention that I grew up with a corgi, it usually makes me want to clarify. She’s not like the Queen’s or the memes or the Instagram models.
Let me back up. Is it a universal and necessary experience to reach an adolescent age and become suddenly resolved to look after a living thing? At the right time, my parents took my brother Kai to pick out a black rabbit from the back of a barn. Her name was Shadow.
(When my time came, I received a hamster whom I named Checkers and then immediately lost interest in after realizing I’d have to clean his cage regularly. He escaped once, only to step directly into an unfortunately placed mousetrap and perish.)
My dad built Shadow a chicken wire enclosure in the backyard so that she could get some “environmental variety and exercise,” but probably just to keep her perfectly spherical rabbit poops out of the house. One rainy afternoon in October, the husky across the street broke his chain with clear intention. He followed his nose, leapt Shadow’s fence, and tore her in half. The dog’s owner came to our door and didn’t get to apologize before my mom knew what happened. Together, they cleaned up the scene and heaped Shadow into a shoebox. Kai didn’t know until he got back from his soccer game.
There was a funeral in our back woods. From our French doors, I watched my dad bring the shovel back to the shed. The next day, still red and weepy, my brother declared that he wanted “a pet that could defend itself.”
Somehow from that prerequisite, Kai fixed his eyes on a dachshund at the Kent County Animal Shelter. But once we went to make a whole family decision, it was gone. Underneath its empty kennel was a furry black caterpillar with satellite dish ears. Her name was Tessie. Since she was already a year old, we needed to call her something she’d respond to, but Kai thought the name was too girly. “‘Jessie’ could be a boy or a girl,” he said, and that was it. I was the one who earned the first kiss in the car ride back.
My mom worked from home while we were in school, so it didn’t take long for my brother’s rebound pet to imprint on her instead. Once she was grown, Jessie trained to be a “therapy dog,” going to hospitals and old folks’ homes, doing a service just by her presence. She excelled mostly due to her apathy, aloof to other dogs or to being petted. She doesn’t see anything except her mom. (Sometimes she still wears the very official-looking vest to get through buildings. It’s the only time she’s ever been dressed up.)
When my parents are gone, I do the rounds. My mom’s extensive instructions conclude each night with “Cookie Time.” Cookie Time begins by announcing to Jessie, “Cookie Time.” I take a chocolate chip cookie out of the stash, sit on our step stool, and alternate taking a bite and breaking off a bit for her. (I’m careful to eat all the chocolate bits myself.) She doesn’t drool or yip or hop around like a cartoon. The instructions affirm, “She will wait patiently.”
Outside Buckingham Palace, corgis were bred for utility. They’re cow-herding farm dogs—no tail to step on, low bodies that miss retaliating kicks, and singular loyalty. But like snub-nosed bulldogs designed to suffocate, corgis inevitably experience arthritis and spinal issues because of their adorable length to weight ratio. It doesn’t matter that we’ve kept table scraps to ourselves and fed her vitamins instead.
So she’s aging. She waddles so slowly and aimlessly on evening walks that it feels like you’re tricking her into moving forward. I swear her body’s just gotten doughier and wider while her head has stayed the same size. Her hearing is gone, and her sight is going. She’s a year past fifteen, her supposed lifespan cap. She’s dealt with infections, cysts, and seizures in the night. Any conversation with my mom includes a health update after I ask in a hospital voice, “So, how’s she doing?”
Some nights before bed she’ll still light up, zoom a loop around the living room and flop down in front of her bone. She’ll want you to toss it but wrestle you to keep it. Sometimes she’ll even nip at your hands like they were cattle heels. These rushes are like windows back to the puppy we picked up on a brisk November morning. As funny as she is, I think we really did take home “a pet that could defend itself” that day, but luckily, we’ve never had to find out. Then it’s Cookie Time, stretches, and bed. My mom asks me to pray that she sleeps through the night.
Edit: Jessie died peacefully at home two weeks after this piece was submitted to the post calvin.
Cotter graduated just this spring with a degree in computer science. He’s splitting his summer programming at Calvin’s Center for Social Research and interning at a marketing and design studio downtown. He also makes music with friends and with himself.