OneOhFive and Counting

Using the telephone when you live in a country where you don’t speak the language is daunting.  You know each time that you’re going to look like an idiot.  You can’t resort to the pointing and grunting to make yourself understood that you do in person.  Instead, you’re left sounding like a moron; it’s inevitable.

Normally for me looking like a dork is not a problem.  Since that’s how I look frequently, I make the best of it.  I even enjoy it more often than not.  And those experiences often become my funniest stories.

But when you make an idiot out of yourself because you can’t communicate, it’s different.  If you can’t laugh with the person who witnessed it, well, it takes the fun out of it.  All you’re left with is feeling like a lonely idiot.

Knowing that humiliation would follow, each and every time I picked up the phone in when we lived in French-speaking Switzerland, my heart dropped to the bottom of my stomach while my pulse rate and blood pressure soared.  I was on my way to the Idiot Zone.

And that’s just how I felt when I picked up the phone to call dog breeders. We’d opted for a pure bred puppy because we had a little kid (Jacob was 6) and because my husband is a lawyer and thinks that he can research things and know what he’s getting into.  Yeah right.

Anyway, in early 1998 we needed a puppy.  I needed a puppy.  My son needed to grow up with a dog since he had no siblings and needed someone to talk to.  John got to choose the breed:  An English Springer Spaniel.

That morning as always, I looked at the phone with trepidation.   Shit, I thought.  I picked it up and dialed.

Bonjour.  Je m’appelle Elyse.  Vendez-vous les chiots?”  Hi.  My name is Elyse.  Do you sell puppies?  [Yes, I’m quite the French conversationalist.  In English you can’t shut me up.]

“Would you like to speak English?” said the woman on the other end of the line.

“Yes!!!!” I said with tears of relief/delight/I-don’t-have-to-sound-like-a-dope coming to my eyes.  I couldn’t believe my luck.  All I could think of was just how lucky I was to not have to try to negotiate in French.  Or German.  Or Italian.  Or Romanch.  Instead, on the other end of the phone was someone who spoke English!  A woman who could understand me and respond.  A woman with puppies!

“Very good.  I can speak English.  And I have puppies.  Can you visit them tomorrow?”


A plan was set.  We got directions and headed out the next morning to pick out a puppy!

All the puppies were in a room with some cushions and blankets on the floor.  The three of us made ourselves comfortable and started cuddling puppies.

Jacob picked up the puppy closest to him and put it in his lap the way Madame Carasco, the breeder, showed him, as the puppies were still quite young.  But another puppy waddled over to Jacob, pushed the first puppy off of Jacob’s lap and settled himself down for the long haul with my 7 year old son.  It was the only smart thing that dog has ever done.

“Look!  He loves me Mom!”

“He Loves Me, Mom!”

And then I asked the price.

Cooper is descended from a line of top show dogs that have been winning Swiss and other European competitions for generations, going back to Roman times, I’m pretty sure.  Cooper couldda been a contender.  But I’m not that kind of a girl (and we’re not that kind of a family).  His perfect physique, beautiful coloring and his full (not cut off) tail “showed” only to friends and family.  And he’s never whined once about lost glory.  What a guy!

But he loves me, Mom!

Today is Cooper’s 105th Birthday,  his 15th in human years.  He’s an old man now, a puppy no longer.  His joints are stiff, he can’t walk upstairs by himself these days, and is so blind that he only realizes we have entered or left a room by sniffing the air.

Cooper 3-9-13

You know, in hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t ask the price on the phone.  Because Cooper has been well worth every centime.


Filed under Conspicuous consumption, Cooper, Dogs, Family, Geneva Stories, Humor, Mental Health, Pets

92 responses to “OneOhFive and Counting

  1. Our dog is 2 1/2 years old and we’ve spent a little over $5k on his health problems. We’re about to get into a whole lot more as he’s having some groundbreaking stem cell therapy starting next week. He’s worth every cent to all of us – but particularly for my 9 year old son who is an only child and quite simply sees him as his ‘brother’. He came home from school a few months ago perturbed that his teacher wouldn’t let him list our dead Benson on his family tree! A dog is worth a thousand ‘meh’ relatives!

    • Wow — stem cell therapy? Please let me know how it works out. I’m fascinated by that stuff. Good luck with it.

      But you son is right — the dogs should be on the family tree. They are often all that keeps us from shortening the life spans of some of the humans on those trees!

  2. Sweet – I love a good dog story. My oldest terrier is 14 and I treasure the time I have with her.

    • Is that Velcro? Best.Dog.Name.Ever.

      Cooper is sitting here licking his feet with less pleasant noises coming out of the other end. I’m sure he and Velcro would love each other.

      • Yes it is – she is still pretty active when she chooses to be – I had old friends here this week and they decided to remodel my bathroom (he’s a contractor) – it involved a lot of time in the crawl space – Velcro was down there hunting the whole time. She sometimes makes those noises too – when she naps, which is about 18 hours a day sometimes.

  3. A really sweet story, Elyse. Pets are priceless. It’s better not to ask how much they cost or how much the vet bill is, I just hand over the credit card while those big eyes look up at me.

  4. LOVE!!! Seriously just love this story. Love all your dog stories. He is a gorgeous dog–and I am grinning. Thank you.

    • Thanks, El! I’m actually trying to collect some of them into some sort of book of some sort (see, I have it all figured out!).

      And I finished Ripple — I loved it! My review just went up on Amazon. Well done!

  5. Val

    Lovely dog and, yes, you have to go for the one that wants to go with you! I don’t have pets as I have allergies, but the pet we had when I was a child and before my allergies were discovered, was a cocker spaniel. Spaniels are such special dogs.

  6. You had me at “Bonjour.” I live in Quebec, and every time someone says, “Would you prefer we speak in English?” I feel somewhat insulted but mostly relieved.
    That’s fine looking farty dog you have there.

    • Thanks, Ross. He’s an asshole, though ;)

      Isn’t that an enormous relief? But in Canada isn’t it a little bit more of a political insult?

      • Oh my, where to begin. We’re always walking on linguistic eggshells here, and there’s always a sort of negotiation regarding what language an anglophone and a francophone will speak in, especially upon first meeting. Generally the polite thing to do is to pick the second language of the person with a better grasp of that second language, if you see what I mean. So my French is so-so, the French person’s English is pretty good, we opt for English. The goal is ease of communication. If both are equally good/bad in their second language, it might bounce back and forth between the two (which can be fun). Things start to get ugly when the other person obstinately refuses to try, even if their second-language is fine, particularly if you suspect that they are doing so as some kind of political gesture.
        Whew! You asked!

        • When we were in Switzerland, I found it easier to ask folks if they were Canadian than if they were American. Canadians ere tired of being mistaken for war mongering Americans Americans didn’t take offense!

          Life should be easier than that, shouldn’t ‘t it?

        • You are quite correct – it is a political minefield here in Canada. I have had people working in Quebec refusing to speak to me in English even though I specifically requested an English speaking person (because my French is so bad). This happened a long time ago before internet banking etc. & the post office went on strike. I was in charge of paying over 600 people on the dew line in Canada. About 15 of them were Bank of Montreal customers & I was trying to arrange to get their pay cheques to these guys. I ended up making a complaint to the Bank president in order to get the service I needed.

  7. Aw. May Cooper live long in your hearts and have a few more years in your home–as long as he’s comfortable.

    What a great story!

  8. Pingback: Do not go by his innocent eyes!! | Being Arindam..

  9. Awww, Cooper LOOKS like an old man. Who’s a good boy?

  10. What a beautiful face! Isn’t it amazing how much more we would pay for our animal family members after the years have flown than we would have at the beginning? I recently lost my cat, Rascal, after surgeries and treatments that ran into the $1000’s. And he was worth every penny. Who would think that someone would pay that much for a pound kitty?

  11. And once again, I am wanting a dog. And in time, we’ll have one. For now, our living room/ den/ everything room is too littered with Legos and some other toys, to be safe for a dog (and I don’t want an outside dog). Last fall we got a guinea pig, who is loved on several times a day.

    Happy Birthday Cooper! He’s so beautiful!!

    • Thanks M2M — I understand. When my son was 1 year old we got a puppy and, well, it was nuts. You’re smart to wait. And it’ll be worth waiting for.

  12. I hope Cooper had a great day! What a sweet tribute to this beautiful soul. Now for the first time, we have a puppy living with us inside our home. He is only three months old. And I can’t tell you in words, how precious he is to all of us now. :)

  13. How nice your news ! Congratulations to Cooper, I m very happy to know he is still in life and liked from his family.
    Your report is very nice also, you write it very well . Are you ok we put it in my ” livre d or “?
    A big hug from Birmingham : crufts big dog show.
    I write you next week

  14. Aw, a boy and his best friend. You can’t put a price on that.
    Happy Birthday, Cooper.

  15. Look at it zis way. Amortized over 15 years, ‘e eez a true bargain. Bonne anniversaire, Cooper!

  16. cooper is a handsome boy. it seems like he picked you as well as you picking him. a match made in heaven.

    • He is a handsome guy. And sweet as can be.

      I do believe that the only smart our very sweet but not very smart dog ever did was to pick Jacob and us by extension. He’s been living high on the hog on those laurels ever since!

  17. I bet Cooper would tell just as loving a story about meeting you – “She could barely speak French! I knew right away she needed my help. And her son was so adorable…”

  18. Yeah, he looks as grumpy as I do. Although I read something recently that stated the whole 1 dog year = 7 human years isn’t exactly true. The contention was it was true for the first couple years but as the dog aged the equation changed. The proposed formula was human years, minus two, times four plus 21 (7 for the first three), So at 15, it’s 13×4 = 52, plus 21 – equals 73. I’d still be grumpy.

  19. Too choked up to comment.

  20. Awww….he looks like a sweetie, and they don’t really NEED to be smart, right? Congrats on your 105 year old….puppies are always a good idea in my book….

    • Thanks, Robin, he is a sweetie. Until Cooper, I’d always had smart dogs so it has been quite an adventure having one who is, well, not quite so bright. He’s had a really nice birthday — a lovely day and two walks at the park. What more can a dog want!

  21. twindaddy

    Happy birthday, Cooper!!

  22. I have a dog who’s getting pretty old. It break my heart when I go running with the younger dog and have to leave him behind. I wish I could explain.

  23. It’s amazing how pets worm their way into your heart and nothing else matters. He is one gorgous dog even at his age! A real heartbreaker!

    • Thanks Kate. He is quite a handsome devil, isn’t he. So handsome, in fact, that the girl dogs love him. He sired not one but two litters of puppies before he was old enough to be neutered. Both at his breeders, where he was boarded when we were overseas. She also raised Clumber spaniels which are notoriously hard to breed, apparently. Cooper sired a litter of “Clingers” when he was about 4.5 months old, and a litter of puppies with one of his sisters (the breeder’s husband confused two different dogs and thought he was putting Cooper in with the female who wasn’t in heat). Oops. He’s handsome AND a cad!

  24. Well damn…you know, now I’m going to have get my son a dog. Stupid, heartfelt story.

  25. What a great story. And talk about being a member of the family. Fifteen years–wow. Cooper has definitely earned his own blog post. :)

  26. What a great story. It reminded me of David Sedaris writing about trying to learn to survive in French (in Me Talk Pretty One Day). Cooper is beautiful. I’m glad you’ve gotten to enjoy him for so long.

    • I LOVED that book. It came out right when I came back from Switzerland. I have never laughed so hard as when he was writing “D’accord!” Oh, I have to re-read that book soon. Thanks for reminding me, Fork!

      Cooper is a special guy. He’s lying on the floor next to me, breathing heavily and farting. What’s not to love? ;)

  27. Some things you can’t put a price on. Although I’m sure part of you was thinking, “I’m sure a stray pound dog would love you just as much.”

    • I’m a big believer in pound dogs and strays. My husband was always concerned that we know the type of dog we were getting so we got purebreds. No child eating dogs for MY husband — even though Goliath, my psychotic, alcoholic German Shepherd who was part of the package when John married me, was sweet and loving to baby Jacob. So sweet that Goliath protected Jacob and wouldn’t ever even consider letting a babysitter into the house.

  28. A sweet story. Our pets become part of our family. My sister’s dog was a mastiff and he went blind. When I went to visit I use to sit in the yard with him to smoke. After he went blind I went out to smoke and he barked. I called Bull he reconized my voice and came and sat with me. I don’t know how old Bull was when he died.

    • Dogs just want to be with you. It is hard seeing them deteriorate. I love mastiffs — they are such sweet dogs. Our neighbor in Switzerland had two of them and they seemed totally ferocious but were actually cupcakes. It sounds like Bull was just like that!

  29. I sure hope Cooper has a wonderful birthday. Our puppies become members of the family – one that is 16 and the other who is only one. I’m sure they would Cooper two paws up today!

    • Oh I love your dog stories — more, more! And yes, they’d be pals. But truthfully, Cooper loves every other dog on the planet. He doesn’t understand aggressive dogs and wants to go back and play with dogs that have hauled off and attacked him. He is not the brightest bulb but absolutely the sweetest!

  30. Happy Birthday Cooper you handsome guy! The photo of your son with Cooper is adorable….does he miss him while he’s at school?

  31. Adorable photos. “He loves me, Mom.” and it’s obvious you love him. Daughter and SIL lost Zena girl, a beautiful black lab, last summer right before GS2 was born. It won’t be long before GS2 will need a puppy…well maybe a couple of years from now.
    We had a beautiful English cocker, with black and white markings, Leakey, pronounced La-key…she was the best.

    • It’s so awful when they go — although I will always think that we treat our pets better than ourselves by easing them out of pain and illness.

      As someone who (stupidly) got Charlie when Jacob was 1 year old, I understand the need to wait. It was challenging chasing two toddlers!

      And spaniels are great dogs as you well know, Georgette. Cooper and Leakey will be meeting up, and possibly before you and I get to!

  32. Love dogs, we lost our girl two years ago aged 49 in dog years to Cushings. My younger son was really affacted and has begged us not to acquire another pet. I really miss having a dog around. They are the best. Happy birthday to Cooper.

    • OH how sad — Cooper was tested for Cushings, but that’s one of the only things he doesn’t have.

      Have you tried pet sitting to ease your son in slowly? Jacob isn’t really a dog person, but for me this is a non-negotiable. Family = dog.

      As a kid I was completely traumatized by the death of our dog Tip when I was 9 and a few years later when we lost our two dogs, Okie and Patrick. My father always went out immediately and got a new puppy, thinking that none of us could resist a puppy. I always tried to (“I’m NOT gonna love you like I did _____). But I always fell, no matter how hard I fought it. I always will. But I always feel guilty loving the next one. Heck, I even feel guilty telling the story of one dog while another is in the room!

  33. Amortized over fifteen years, e eez quite ze bargain.

  34. I lost my beloved Bandit about 18 months ago. He was an elderly gent also with poor eyesight & stiff legs, but he was my best friend & I miss him dearly!

    • A few months ago the NY Times had an article about how it is much harder in many many ways to lose a pet than a parent — because they are with you so much and are so devoted and unselfish. I’m know you miss Bandit — even when you get a new dog they take a different place in your heart where others have been. Nobody loves you like your dog.

  35. I have a mutt just a bit older than Cooper. It is sad when our friends grow old. Cooper is beautiful still!

    • Thanks, Val. He is a handsome guy, even with all his fat lumps and other bumps and yucky things. And he is as sweet a dog as I’ve ever known.

      I’ve always been a mutt person — our dogs always came from someone in the area who had puppies and that never means purebred. I hope your Muttley is going strong.

      • She is deaf, her hips are nearly gone. She sleeps most of the day now. She doesn’t eat enough to keep her strength so I have to supplement her. Her teeth are almost gone. I help her up and down the stairs, she wants to be with me in my office, I want her here. I miss her already.

        • That’s just where we are with Cooper. John carries him up and down the stairs. He can only walk for about 20 minutes at the park, and never up hill. We’ve been expecting the worst for three years now. Sooner or later it will happen, but still, it’s agonizing seeing him — but he isn’t in pain and still eats and loves us. What can we do but help him. Sigh.

  36. cortney

    Happy birthday, Cooper! That is one stately face. It sounds like he’s had quite a life with you & your family. I’d bet if he could tell us, he’s glad you didn’t ask the price, either!

    (And a year and a half into my own Geneva experience, I do believe “Would you like to speak English?” are the sweetest words in all the language.)

    • Thanks Cortney. I think that the one smart thing he did was to suck up big time to Jacob — if he hadn’t John and I would have run screaming from the room when we heard the number. You know how expensive stuff is in Switzerland? Yeah, you know we paid a bundle!

      And I know you’re there with me in understanding how the fact that I could communicate with the woman on the phone erased every single other thought from my head. It was such a relieve.

      But actually, when my french improved (although it never got good) I got annoyed with people switching to English — hey, I’m trying here! Ultimately I got to where I could get it out well enough in French. You will too!

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