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Cooper the Mini Golden


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Janet had longed for a golden retriever ever since she was a little girl. Somehow, she just knew that a golden retriever was supposed to be by her side. When she and her husband bought their house, that was it. The time had come, it was time to welcome a golden into her family!

Their search began, and during a visit to meet available puppies, she couldn’t help but be drawn to the runt of the litter. He was only 9 weeks old and much tinier than a typical golden retriever puppy. They formed a bond in that moment, and she knew she couldn’t let him go. He was meant to be hers.

When it came to naming him, she already knew. She named him Cooper, inspired by one of her favorite cars, the Mini Cooper. The name couldn’t have been more perfect, considering he was indeed “mini” when it came to goldens. “Mini Cooper” became a very fitting nickname. A year later, Janet and her husband announced their pregnancy, and when their daughter was born, Cooper became a big brother. It was a job he took with pride. His new sister grew very attached to him, and they became best friends.

As a family, they did everything together—beach trips, walks, matching Christmas pajamas, family photos, even Halloween costumes. Cooper was part of all the family memories. “One of my favorite memories about Cooper is he learned how to open presents with his mouth and paw. He watched our Pommie do it once, and then he started doing it on his own. He would not eat the paper; he knew there was a gift in there. He got to open presents for all the holidays— he was just perfect.”

Holding Onto Hope

In May 2023, Cooper started to eat only his soft food, which was unusual. Janet thought perhaps he needed a dental cleaning and got him scheduled for the procedure with his doctor. Two days later, he had a dental cleaning and, per recovery instructions, was restricted to soft food for the next 10 days. But Cooper never gravitated back to his crunchy food, and Janet knew something was wrong.

Janet sought out a specialist and went in for diagnostic testing, including an X-ray and ultrasound. The results showed a mass on his right kidney, and a suspected mass on both his adrenal glands. The doctor assumed it was cancer, because it appeared in multiple areas. They did further testing including a CT scan and renal scintigraphy to see if both kidneys were functioning—the right kidney was not, but the left one was.

They decided to fight for Cooper and find an oncologist for a more in-depth look at his case. Surprisingly, veterinary specialists are difficult to find in Southern California, and getting an appointment usually comes with a long waiting period. Janet found an oncologist, but the soonest appointment they could get for Cooper was 3 weeks later. They were hopeful. At his appointment, it was confirmed—the cancer was everywhere. The oncologist advised against treatment, telling the family that chemotherapy and/or radiation would deplete Cooper’s quality of life and, at best, give him just an extra month.

“It was the ultimate heartbreak to go from hopeful to being crushed all at once,” says Janet. “We asked the oncologist, ‘What would you do if this was your dog?’ and he told us to give him the best months of his life.”

We realized in that moment that Cooper’s health and happiness came first.

Cooper’s Bucket List

Knowing they wanted to fill Cooper’s last months with love and joy, Janet created Cooper’s Bucket List. The list included all his favorite things, like going to the dog beach and chasing tennis balls. Lots of tennis balls!

Tennis balls were Cooper’s obsession, and he played fetch every day. He loved tennis balls so much that he could sniff one out just about anywhere. If they were in a cupboard or a drawer, he would paw at it until someone opened it and gave him the balls. Eventually, the only place to hide Cooper’s tennis balls when it wasn’t playtime was in the freezer. He couldn’t smell them up there!


“I came up with the idea of doing a ball drop for him, and getting as many balls as I could. I sent out a message to our friends and family, and we collected 549 tennis balls. We had three buckets full, and we threw them off the roof of our house all at once. It blew his mind; he was so excited! He stayed out there for hours, picking them up one by one. It was a very special day for him.”

On July 20, 2023, Cooper passed away at home, surrounded by his family, just nine days before his 7th birthday.

Coping with Grief

“It feels like it just happened, and it feels like no amount of time has made it easier—he just feels further away.”

Janet says the grief she carries for Cooper is heavy and difficult to manage. Reminders of him are everywhere, and memories seem to just flood in. She still makes reels of him, and to help her daughter cope with the loss of Cooper, she encourages her to write letters and cards to him and place them in his memorial doghouse, which they have on display.

She finds joy and comfort in the family’s other golden retriever, Belle, who was adopted one year before Cooper’s passing. And Janet says following @petlossdoctor on Instagram “has really helped me accept my grief and know it’s okay to be this broken. I think it’s important for people to know that no matter how much time passes, it’s okay to cry and feel emotional over them not being here.”


Honoring Cooper Today

On July 29th, Cooper’s birthday, Janet gathered all the balls from the ball drop and a photo of Cooper and took them to the beach. She found a spot in the sand to place the bucket, his photo and a sign that read, “In memory of Cooper, please take a ball and pass around some love.”

Janet said it was touching to see people taking the balls for their dogs, and it reminded her of the immense love Cooper brought to their lives and how grateful she was to have been his mom. She plans to do a memorial like this for Cooper every year.

This year, Janet and her family look forward to catching those “golden vibes” and feeling the collective hug from the Goldie Palooza™ community. And who knows? She might just bring a bucket of tennis balls in honor of Cooper.

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Alicia Bailey
Alicia Bailey
Alicia Bailey is a writer specializing in animal welfare topics and issues. Prior to writing full time she spent 13+ years working in rescue and animal sheltering, holding leadership roles in both. She has worked with numerous local and national non-profit organizations including Best Friends Animal Society, NKLA, The Palm Springs Animal Shelter, Coachella Valley Animal Campus, and many others. Alicia is mom to 3 uniquely abled dogs, including @LittleBoogieShoes & @Bust.A.Moves.


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