Farewell James Fenimore Cooper

We met at the airport. The soulful eyes, the happy face, and a few buckets of drool. Maureen and I had arrived to pick up our new bloodhound shortly after I had major shoulder surgery. James Fenimore Cooper, as he would be named later that day, was from the beginning a force of nature. Our first contact with him was the long sad howl we could hear at the back of the Shipping Receivables Department at Bradley International Airport.

The staff at the Shipping Department admitted they had taken him out of the crate he was shipped in because he was crying. They entertained him with a couple of tuna sandwiches and a tennis ball. He had just been put back into the crate when we arrived. He was already howling the deep mournful hound dog bawl that only one of these soulful beasts can produce.

Cooper, a nickname that was used from early on, was shy from the beginning. He was a little clumsy in the early days….his gigantic paws looked like snowshoes at the bottom of each leg. He would look at you with his head tilted down, wrinkles and furrows pulled by gravity nearly covering his eyes and upper nose. From the start I knew he would be special. On the hour and a half journey home from the airport he cuddled in my lap. One of my arms was in a sling on which he propped his head.

On the first night he cried. He missed his Mom and litter mates. I gathered him up in a blanket and held him to my face. I cupped my hand over his nose and around my mouth. I breathed directly into his nose. This was to imprint my scent into his memory. He looked at me when I did this and when I pulled him away from my face he was actually smiling. A smile that he would carry with him for the rest of his life. I still remember the sweet smell of his puppy breath.

I had a lot of time off from work at that time because I was recuperating from surgery. We took long walks in the woods. He would stop and smell every single item until he was satisfied he recognized every scent particle on its surface. This would make walks long and lingering events but I wanted him to be comfortable in this environment. A place he would flourish in for much of his life.

We took daily treks. Each time we journeyed into different areas of the forest to the south of our homestead. At the outset when he was still a small puppy I would be pointing out things to him: scat, tracks, rabbit chewed bark on a shrum but within two weeks he would be pointing out things to me; many that could not be seen and only smelled by his amazing scenting ability. I learned to read his abilities which greatly helped me in my life long search to know the forest well. He was the perfect partner for this aging ecologist.

Cooper grew fast. He weighed 50 pounds at 5 months old and 100 pounds at a year. By two and a half years old he was full grown at 29” at the shoulder and 140 pounds. He loved running the woods as we wandered on nearly a daily basis.. He could navigate thick brush, roaring streams, and steep ledges. He was immensely powerful. But more than anything he was sensitive and loving. At the end of a morning in the back country he would always get into my lap when I sat on our couch. A 140 pound lap dog is more than cozy. He would do this for the remainder of his life.

James Fenimore Cooper had a few odd habits. He would always greet you when you came in the door by first howling for about five minutes and then by grabbing his ball, a shoe, or a sock and prancing around hoping you’d chase him to get it out of his mouth. He also was a prankster and liked to play jokes on his human companions. For instance, he would hide items that he knew I used everyday and then when he figured out that I was about to give up looking he would appear with them in his mouth, often dropping it at my feet. This would always be followed by a bloodhound smile. If you haven’t see a bloodhound smile you are really missing something. It will make you laugh until you cry.

When Cooper was about a year and a half old we adopted another female bloodhound puppy. He was very glad to have bloodhound company. They were best friends for life. She was his constant companion. He was in charge. But they loved each other deeply. My one regret is that they did not have puppies together.

Cooper came from “man trailing” stock which emphasized ground scenting. Adia came from hunting stock and was mainly an air scenter. Together they were the perfect bloodhound scenting pair. They both loved to work the woods. Cooper could work off leash, his ground scenting kept him close. Adia on the other hand could pick up a scent miles away and would often take off to parts unknown. That one bad habit resulted in her working the woods on a leash attached to me.

Somewhere along the line James Fenimore Cooper took up looking for lost dogs. I think it began with a singular request but our willingness to do this was some how communicated well beyond our community. Looking for a lost dog is not like looking for a lost person. Lost people typically can be found within 5 miles of their starting point. Lost dogs can travel scores of miles. We both learned the art of tracking dogs. Reading tracks for gait and speed would tell us a lot. Pacing ourselves would keep us on the trail for hours. Our constant company with each other would always keep us going.

We were not always successful. We found more dogs that had perished then were alive. But even then the humans who were pals with these dogs were grateful to know what happened to them. Once we trailed a dog for hours and many miles only to find it a quarter mile from its house. After running full circle it’s leash had caught on a tree stump. The good news is that the dog was alive and very happy to see us. The bad news is that as soon as I untangled the leash it ran off again. We thought it might head straight home and that’s where we found it. Cooper was always happy to do his job. He was a dog with a mission.

James Fenimore Cooper loved my wife as much as he loved me. He would always greet her with a huge sloppy kiss, you know, the kind that spreads a slime drool over your entire hand or face. I’m convinced he thought Maureen was his Mom and I was his Dad. I spent hours doing one way conversations with me explaining to him why we did not have long floppy ears, a black bulbous nose, and sad eyes. I don’t think he ever quite understood.

Without a doubt he was incredibly gentle and I used to joke that if someone ever broke into our house when no humans were home the greatest danger the felon would face was getting licked to death. I was wrong about that. One day while walking both dogs a very larger golden retriever appeared out of nowhere, literally jumping out of the bushes, and grabbed Adia by the back of the neck. She froze but Cooper surprisingly sprang into action knocking the golden retriever down on the ground and immediately grabbing it by the throat with his huge canine teeth. I had to pry his teeth out of the retrievers fur and as soon as I did the dog ran off. Cooper took everything in stride first smelling Adia’s wounds and then licking my hand as if to say he had our backs. From that day on I knew that this gentle soul was a capable defender.

In the last third of his life Cooper met our son’s new basset hound Ignatius Reilly. Cooper taught Iggy all things hound. Showing Ignatius Reilly the ropes was one of his greatest joys. Now Iggy helps to take care of our aging female bloodhound Adia. Cooper’s efforts reaped great rewards.

The years passed and we had hundreds of adventures. At age 11 he finally started to slow down. He liked laying around and getting patted on the belly. He was enjoying life but I sensed he was in pain. A series of veterinarian visits made him temporarily more comfortable. Within six months he could no longer stand up and we knew it was time. I may have waited a little too long in my efforts to extend his life. In the end he looked at me and told me it was OK.

He passed a few days after my 66th birthday, almost like he had hung on just to give me one last birthday that we could share. He died with the dignity that was always part of his character and now his soul runs through the trees in the forest to the south of our homestead.

He will always be remembered for who he was. A loyal partner, a prankster who made us laugh, a mentor in the wilds, and the best true blue friend that we could ever have.

And so I say this. Farewell my dear James Fenimore Cooper. You will always remain in my heart. A best friend and constant companion you made me immensely happy. I will long miss you sitting with me on the couch. I will long miss your sloppy kisses. I will miss our woodland adventures. I will remember you for the rest of my days with great affection and utmost respect. You left with a piece of my heart. I hope you hold it close to your own. We sometimes think we can hear you baying in the distance on the forested hill to the south of our homestead. Happy hounding! We will meet again!

Originally written for the Heath Herald in March of 2018.

It took me 6 months after Cooper’s passing before I could write this story about James Fenimore Cooper.  Ironically just as I am about to publish this at Wildramblings.com my other beloved bloodhound passed yesterday.  More on that in a while when I have recovered from her passing.  Things are beyond difficult these days.

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