Cosmo, a dear canine friend, left this Earth on June 14, 2010, deeply saddening those of us who knew and loved him. Cos was the kind of dog that easily found his way into the heart of anyone he deemed worthy of his company, which was mostly everyone. He was a great, big, lovable mutt. He was very special.
Most dogs are chosen by their owners at the pet shop, at the pound, or via private puppy transactions. Cosmo, on the other hand, actually chose his owner, R.D., showing up at the front door one evening back in the late 1990s. R.D. was between dogs at the time; thus, the situation was ripe for an ad hoc adoption. Cos was a youthful hound, but he unfortunately displayed evidence of prior abuse. R.D. has long pondered, but never really knew, whence Cosmo came and what were the circumstances of his early life and subsequent liberation.
R.D. cleaned him up, got him his shots and his flea and tick treatments, and began a man/dog relationship that far exceeded what the bearded, pony tailed, latter day hippie ever thought himself capable of enjoying. R.D., an industrial engineer and partner in an entrepreneurial venture, had recently retired from full-time work, which allowed plenty of time for bonding with Cosmo. The two were fast friends and traveling companions. R.D. took Cosmo with him on road trips to Virginia, Pennsylvania, and California, among many other places. When they were here in their hometown of Orlando they quickly grooved a routine. They had their daily, early morning walk around one of the scenic lakes close to home, where Cosmo made friends with other dogs and functioned as a babe magnet for R.D. They would play together in the back yard in the afternoon. Although R.D., a bachelor, lived alone, he was never lonely. Cosmo was always there keeping him company.
I met Cosmo back in 2003 when I had been hiking quite a bit in the aftermath of rehabilitation following hip replacement surgery. I invited R.D. to come hike with me. He asked if he could bring Cos. That was the start of Cosmo’s prolific hiking career, the beginning of fun times for the three of us, and eventually, for several others who joined the hiking group. He put a plethora of miles on those paw pads, not only in Florida, but also in the mountains of North Carolina and wherever else R.D. took him when a hiking opportunity arose.
Cosmo turned out to be a wonderful hiking companion. Whenever he gleaned that R.D. was loading him into the car for a hiking excursion he grew happily excited. When he saw me he knew it meant he would be hiking — and I was equally happy to see him. He loved it out there among the pines, oaks, and palmettos; the cypress swamps; the sandhills; and the pastures. Our hikes were always great fun for man and beast.
On any given hike Cosmo loved to get under my skin by walking in front of me and gradually slowing down. He wanted to set a slower pace, but I wouldn’t let him get away with it. I’d goose him in his vestigial, neutered testicles with my hiking stick and give him a playful but meanass “grrrrrrr” to speed him up, but his memory was short and he soon would fall in once again ahead of me, not to be denied the joy of hearing me complain behind him.
When I sometimes separated from the group, stopping to check something out or take a picture, and was out of visual contact Cosmo would frequently jog on back to where I was and give me a look that said, “What the hell are you doing back here when everyone else is up there?” Sometimes we all would stop to look for a Geocache or gaze at the scenery. If we dawdled too long, Cosmo would stand there giving us sad eyes and crying, exhorting us to get our asses in gear and resume the hike.
It seemed as if Cosmo was always wanting to go slower or faster. In other words, he was one of us, and he wanted to give us a hard time, just as we human members of the group did to each other while hiking.
I sometimes worried about the dog when he flirted with danger, for example, wading in rivers and creeks known to be infested with large alligators. He was oblivious to the danger. But somehow, Ol’ Gator Bait survived those dips, which now seem innocuous in retrospect. One particularly worrisome time was Cosmo’s foray into Florida quicksand — the black, gooey mud that sucks you in and doesn’t let you out. As Cos sank into the mud up to his hips, he gave us all the most confused and helpless look I ever saw. One of our party, a joker whose name will not be mentioned but who will probably read this, suggested that the hike was so strenuous and debilitating that Cosmo’s intent was to commit suicide in the quicksand. Fortunately, Cosmo’s attentive master was able to extricate him from the mire. (See photo at top for the muddied “after” picture.)
The Cos was a bit of a dog elitist in that he didn’t engage in much cross species fraternization. While we hiked through a cow pasture several years ago a hefty calf came bounding over to play with Cosmo, but the perturbed dog could only shoo the young bovine away with a warning growl. Another time we stopped next to a pasture where a friendly donkey was waiting by the fence for people to pet and feed it. I had read somewhere that dogs and donkeys are notorious for having antagonistic relationships, and this dog/donkey matchup was no exception. Cosmo’s wary look and “don’t screw with me” warning growl ended that friendship before it began.
Cosmo didn’t do any tricks and he didn’t play fetch. He regarded that kind of foolishness as puppy stuff. He had other, more serious responsibilities to discharge in keeping us foolish humans out of harm’s way. His only pseudo-trick was understanding that when R.D. said, “Have a seat,” it meant that he should sit and wait for a dog biscuit to be tossed within jaw snapping distance. When he was playing lead dog to our ragtag hiking group, he also seemed to understand that when I said “No, Cosmo. Wrong trail,” he should take the other trail; usually, he did.
Cos had a couple of unfathomable quirks. For example, on one of our early hikes R.D. brought along a machete to assist us in bushwhacking. As we made our way through the palmettos and vines, our canine friend laid low, creeping along perhaps 50 feet behind us and out of sight in the bushes. He was clearly uncomfortable with the machete, which as a result we did not bring to subsequent hikes. Also, Cosmo had a thing about not following us into sinkholes. On several occasions at different sinkholes the crybaby hung around the rim looking down at us and whining. However, Cos was mostly brave, even out of his element. He handled the Mt. Mitchell trail in North Carolina quite happily in spite of lots of granite rocks, unsure footing, and elevation changes of thousands of feet. He even had energy left when we reached the summit. I sure as hell didn’t.
Cosmo loved a hearty pat on the ribs and a little roughhousing headlock or an ear boxing. If he didn’t get the attention he wanted from me, he would rub his big head against my thigh and prod my hand with his big, cold nose, looking up at me as if to say, “C’mon, already! You know the routine!” Indeed, I did. I could never resist his affectionate solicitations.
And so it was that Cosmo became the hiking and Geocaching mutt that we will always remember. He was always ready for a hike, even through mid-2009, as his “man years” equivalent age eclipsed the ages of his sexagenarian owner and me by a considerable margin.
Later in life our canine buddy was hampered by various ailments, the most serious requiring surgery for some cancerous growths on his flank. After the surgical wound healed, he was right back out on the trail with us, conducting his important trailblazing, protection, and herding business as usual. But his face and his whiskers were growing whiter and other ailments started to creep in, slowly claiming his vitality. Eventually, Cosmo could not hike in the heat and his endurance withered. He could no longer manage the 12 mile hikes he had loved to share with us. He began to limp. R.D. took him to a holistic vet, a massage therapist, and an acupuncturist. They provided some temporary relief, but eventually, Cosmo even had to skip the morning walk around the lake that he loved so much, and hiking was completely out of the question. In the end, the beloved animal had trouble just standing up, and could take only a few steps when he did. Sadly, R.D. knew that the time had come for Cosmo’s suffering to end.
I’ve written eulogies before, but I’ve never written a paragraph that brought tears to my eyes and heaviness to my heart like the preceding one. Cosmo, you were loved by so many of us, and I’m happy that you are in a better place, gleefully hiking, chasing rabbits and armadillos, and taking that morning walk around the most beautiful lake ever. Rest in peace, old buddy. Perhaps one day when we meet again we can have some nice hikes together.