Sunset Years

April 20, 2017: 
I took Coco out last night at my parents’ apartment in Queens. 

New York was once my dream city and now I work here. I am 23-years-old and I am in a good place right now. I have achieved things in my life that I always dreamed about as a kid. I am fulfilling career goals by working in television. I found a stable place to live in New Jersey with my boyfriend who loves to have as much fun as I do. I am maintaining relationships with friends and new acquaintances. 

Walking along the river and looking at the skyline of Manhattan, I felt like it represented my current state in life.

But I didn’t think about that for long. All I could do is look down at the pug. In that moment, all of the love that I had in my heart was focused on the small animal that sat patiently in her stroller. My thoughts cleared from my normally noisy mind. All that mattered was setting her gently on the grass, clipping on her leash, and meandering across the small patch that we found. Together, we slowly walked with the lights of the city guiding our way.


July 9, 2017:
I am filled with a heaviness in my heart.

The first thing that I thought when I got the news two nights ago was, “but I just want to hold her one more time.” I literally felt like I had been hit with a bag of bricks. I sunk to my knees and sat on the floor. My brother Grant couldn’t even say it either. “It’s done, now,” is all he could say over the phone. “It’s done now.”

My dad was the one that took her to the hospital. My mom and Grant are in Chicago this weekend. Mom was able to see my sister Lucy this weekend, too, down in Champaign. I haven’t seen Dad in Long Island City yet, but I will soon. It’s a very palpable sense of grieving between us, even though my family is physically apart.

I’m on the train from Jersey now, going to the apartment. It’s going to feel weird without her there.


The last time that I took her out was at the end of May, when I stayed with the whole family for the weekend. I saw her for the last time this past Tuesday, but at that point, Mom and Dad were doing everything for her.

The last picture I have of her is “looking” out on the balcony, to the river. She’s sitting upright, mouth open in a smile. It was the strongest she had looked in a long time.


August 2, 2017:
It’s been nearly a month now and I still am hurting from it. Not because I’m thinking of how she was at the end, but because I’m remembering her more clearly for who she was when she was younger.

Coco was the perfect dog, the dog that I dreamed about when I was little. The first thing that I ever looked up on a computer was “pug.” It was also near the beginning of Wikipedia, so back then, I basically memorized the whole article page. I memorized the different types of pugs, how much they weighed, how they interacted with other dogs, how they interacted with humans, how long they lived. I saved all the of the pictures from the article onto the family computer’s desktop.

This was when I was in elementary school. My fifth grade teacher also had a pug, so she received an onslaught of pug doodles. She thought I was trying to butter her up, convince her to give me better grades, but it’s just that I couldn’t think of much else. 

School aside, I had even started a comic book with my cousin. It was titled “Minnie and Wolfgang,” a series of adventures by a pug named Minnie (my character) and a wolf named Wolfgang (my cousin’s character). 

I can’t even begin to describe how many pug stuffed animals I had and all of their individual names. But at one point, I had that memorized.

Then when I was in sixth grade, my aunt and uncle got a pug. Now my wanting was palpable. There was an actual pug in the family and we didn’t have one yet!!

My dad found a breeder and, despite the creepy interactions between the grandma pug and the litter, we deemed him to be a respectable pug owner. (Grandma seemed to get a little too close to the puppies).

I initially wanted the runt of the litter, but after the first time we met the breeder, she was taken. The only other girl pug was available to be adopted. When it was time to pick her up, I remember walking in the tiny house, looking over a kiddie pool where the pug puppies were scampering about. They had speckled black flecks across their tan coats, running around and licking each other. Their tails wagged as fast as a heartbeat. My parents gave the breeder his money and one of the tiny puppies was now ours.

On the ride home, I came up with the name “Coco” because of her black flecks on her back. She looked like cocoa.

The name lended itself to a great deal of nicknames over the years, including “Coco Pug,” “Coco Dog,” and “Cococococo,” (in honor of the Foster’s Home character, “Coco”). She was officially named “Coco Dunderman,” born May 1st, 2004.

There is a fantastic, lost picture of my siblings and I in the car right after we picked her up. I am wearing a pug t-shirt that I bought in Gulf Shores, my name airbrushed on the front. Lucy, Grant and I are sitting in a row with our new pug in my lap. At long last.

She had entered our life for good.

August 6, 2017:
It’s been a full month since Coco’s been gone. Although, if the story I am about to write ended differently, it would’ve been a lot longer of an absence.

The incident occurred when we decided to bring her to our family in Indiana for the first time. She sat in between Lucy and I. Grant sat in the backseat. Our usual places. She was surprisingly calm and contained during the car ride, the worst of her behavior being needy barking for Mom sitting up front. She always favored Lucy’s lap instead of my lap or her designated seat. Later in her life when we got a new car, she went to the back with Grant, the two travel buddies content on just relaxing. 

The problem arouse when we came to a rest stop. There was a grassy ditch alongside the highway that stretched out far and narrow. 

Lucy and I went to the bathroom first as Dad took her out. When we returned, we saw Mom with a panic in her eyes. 

“Coco just took off,” she said, as we walked closer to a group of onlookers near our car. “Dad and Grant started after her,” and then she left too. 

Lucy and I were shaken; we climbed into the car already crying. We closed the door and both sobbed in our seats. It was a foggy, hazy day, so we couldn’t see how far they had gone down the ditch. All we could do was look out at the cloudy day and cry.

“We lost our dog,” we said in between tears. “We lost Coco.”

It felt like an eternity before we saw them come back. Twenty minutes later, Dad was cradling Coco in his arms. Lucy and I began to cry out of relief.

Apparently, the ditch ended about a half mile away. Coco, with her abundant energy, ran the whole way to the end. She stopped, confused as to what to do, and one of the people from the rest stop who ran after her scooped her up in the knick of time.

We cried and hugged her the whole way to Indiana. She panted and whined for Mom, unfazed by the situation. 

Up until her last days, we always put a leash on her after that. 

October 5, 2017:
So, it’s been several months now. I have procrastinated with writing about her, not wanting to say goodbye.

But I need to say it. It may be rambling, but I must say it.

Goodbye, Coco. 

You were a member of the family. Not just a pet, not just a dog. You were our family. 

We’d always look at each other whenever it was the six of us all in a room, knowing that we all were here. It was a sense of home, completion, when everyone was sitting in the family room, watching a movie.

If Mom had made nachos, you’d be the first to reach for them. You’d jump up, perch your front paws on the edge of the coffee table and sniff intently. When you were a puppy, you quickly learned how to jump onto the chair and onto the table. Older, you were wiser. You learned the ways of begging. 

We’d always give you a stocking at Christmas and a special treat for you on your birthday. Boy, did you love your bacon. You’d get a bacon after we’d take you out, too.

I always complained about taking you out when I was younger, but the older we got, the less I complained. (You were adorable sitting in that stroller). Mom and Dad always teased me, mocked me saying, “oh, I always wanted a pug!!” I’d take you out immediately after, realizing my teenage angst.

It was the worst to take you out in the winter, I have to admit, because you’d take forever to poop. There were some nights when I think I waited a half hour. You’d be too busy sniffing the neighbor’s fence and jumping through the snow.

In those first, vibrant years, you’d yank hard on the leash if you saw another dog. Your strength was surprising; I’d have to hold you back as you did your half-bark-half-growl to the other doggie passerby. 

Even though I complained about taking you out to go potty, I never hesitated from a walk on a nice day. We’d normally just walk around the whole block. I’d talk to you as if you knew what I was saying. You were a friend to listen.

We only took you to the Dancing-in-the-Streets fest in our town’s little downtown once. You didn’t really have a lot of fun since it was too loud. But you always did love riding in the car. You could do it for hours and hours and hours. 

Everyone loved you when someone would come over to the house. And if we were ever holding a little band group party, we’d try to section you off sometimes, but you’d always manage to scamper down the stairs and join the fun.

You were always hilarious to hold. You squirmed after three seconds being off the ground. And you fit into our arms awkwardly like a honey baked ham.

In addition to the squirming, you also hated any form of dog clothing. Halloween costume? Forget about it. That’s why when I see some of the Doug the Pug posts, I get sad. Not because I miss you (I do), but because Doug probably squirmed just as much as you. We never really wanted to make you feel forced.

You were a little plump, but not a fat pug. You were stocky and muscular with a beautiful smooth coat. I’d always brag saying you could’ve been a pug in one of my calendars.

I’d sometimes draw cartoons of you during school.

You were one of those pugs that had a burst of energy once in a blue moon. The “pug sprint,” as some people call it. You’d do this in the family room, you’d do this when we’d go to the pond house in Indiana, jubilantly running in circles if you touched the slightest bit of water.

Annie the pug (my uncle and aunt’s pug) always loved seeing you, and the two of you would walk side by side the whole time that we’d stay in Indy. Sometimes the two of you would eat too much of each other’s food.

When you were both old and grey, you’d still be side by side, sleeping in your respective beds.

I think one of the hardest things to watch in those lost last few months was you walking slowly, limping in your step. 

I’m happy that I dog sat you during this past spring. Two separate weeks of time just with you. It was difficult the second time. You weren’t really okay. I remember taking you to the vet thinking, “God, please don’t let me be the one to have to do this.” 

When you did pass, one of the doorman asked about you. He hadn’t seen you for awhile. Everyone knew you from your doggy stroller. The kids that’d get in the elevator with us would be so excited that a puppy was in the stroller! You made people happy right until the end.

When I was in high school, I felt guilty about leaving you all day. But, as a pug, you seemed happy in your sleep. 

You’d sleep anywhere, often on top of the sofa cushions. The funniest is when you and Dad would sleep the same way on the couch, often in front of the TV playing a movie. 

It was just so nice to pet you. It was nice to see you smile, even though I knew it was just you panting. It was so animated, the way you’d look at people. And you’d wag your tail only if you were really happy, so it always felt special. You made us feel good.

If I ever came home from school distraught and crying, you always knew. You always knew if I was having a bad day.

I’d walk in the front door and set down my backpack, exhausted from the day. I needed to cry. I just needed a hug.

You’d pitter patter over and sit in front of me, and I’d sit down. You didn’t normally lick people (instead, you sneezed in people’s faces), but if I was sad, you’d lick my face. You’d let me hug you lightly and I’d cry into your fur. I would instantly feel better.

You lived in New York for about a year before you passed away. I got into the mindset of getting excited to visit my parents in Queens, thinking, “and I get to see Coco!” I still have those thoughts. 

Each person in the family had their own interaction with you. Everybody was different. Everybody was special. But you were forever Mom’s “baby.” 

I remember being worried at the end of high school about if you would pass on while I was in college. But I’m so happy we were able to have those last months with you in Queens. 

You were part of our home. You are the home in our hearts.

One my favorite last memories of you was one of the times that I took you out in Queens. There was sunset and the sky was a canvas filled with colors. It was breathtaking. I wheeled the stroller over to a patch of grass and sat you down. When you were old, you didn’t take long to go potty. But I always liked staying out there a little longer with you. 

I was looking at the Manhattan skyline across the river and you were sitting on the sidewalk. You seemed at peace, not whimpering, not panting. Just sitting and looking at the sunset. Well, most of your eyesight was gone at that point, but I knew that you could still see the different shades of light. 

I realized that you were in your sunset years, and in that moment, you seemed perfectly fine with it.

That moment brings me peace.

I think about when I was a kid and how I wanted a pug so badly. And you ended up being part of how we turned out as people.

Goodbye, Coco. Thank you. We love you.


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