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Life Lessons My Puppy Brother Taught Me

It is So Hard to Say Goodbye


Last Saturday morning he was snuggled up next to me, just under my left arm, our bodies touching providing the comfort of being that close to another being without words, but the presence of each other is enough.  My puppy brother, his full name: Coco Johnson, Best Puppy Brother ever, had spent the night.   We did not know it would be our last sleepover.  Our mom called and told me she received the testing results from the veterinarian, and they were not good: kidney failure, diabetes, arthritis, among a couple of other issues. 

A little over a year ago Coco had surgery to manage his collapsing trachea.  Collapsing trachea is a common disease in middle-aged and older toy breed dogs and is the result of a weakening or defect of the cartilage surrounding the trachea.  He was never quite the same, but I sure was happy to have a little more time with him.  However, given the recent ailments, mom called to let me know she had made the decision to euthanize my puppy brother and I immediately burst into inconsolable tears as Coco licked my arm, sensing my upset and doing what he would often do to bring a sense of calm to those he loved.  I knew it was the right decision, but it did not make hearing it any easier. His quality of life had diminished and now that we knew the number of physical challenges he was facing, it was time.

puppy, life lessons, Dede Johsnon

Small in stature at eight pounds, but big in heart and personality was my puppy brother. He was loving, compassionate, stubborn, and funny. Yes, I am talking about a dog, but to me, he was so much more.  He was family and I loved him deeply. He changed me forever and for the better. He opened my heart in ways I did not know were possible. I went from rolling my eyes when I heard people say that animals are family to fully embracing this notion. I went from saying a dog licking me was a big no to, “Lay it on me, Coco.” In fact, we had a thing: I would say, “Kissy” and offer him my neck, and lick away he would bringing us both such joy. My friends know me to be a germaphobe, and that has not changed, but exceptions were made for the best puppy brother ever.  

Coco was my mom’s constant companion; they took care of each other. He was my Netflix and Chill and running errands buddy. He was there when I fell off my porch, it was only a couple of steps, but down I went and he was there he was checking on me, licking my hand, and letting me know I would be okay.  He was the epitome of unconditional love and I feel so blessed to have had 12 years with him. Time sure flies when you are having fun. 



Life Lessons from my Puppy Brother

A few of Coco’s life lessons include:

  1. Be bold in your love. Let the people you care about know that you care and that you are excited to hear from them and see them, every time.  Perhaps there will not be an opportunity for a next time. Life is fragile. On each occasion when I came to my mom’s, Coco would be waiting with his tail wagging, ears wiggling, and licks galore. When I left the room for a moment and returned, it was if he were seeing me for the first time all over again. All I am saying is the next man I am in a relationship with will need to exhibit similar qualities.
  1. Be adventurous, curious, and explore your environment. When out on walks; when visiting friends and family or a new park; or hell, when someone leaves the kitchen; go in there and see what you can discover. 
  1. Play hard. Before Coco got sick, he loved to play. Be it a squeak toy, a battery-powered ball that lights up, or an empty plastic water bottle—he would entertain himself or play with others.  Either way, he played with vigor.
  1. Rest is important. After Coco played, he would get his rest. Listen to your body and quiet your thoughts. It is okay to rest up, so you are ready for the next adventure be it planned or not.  
  1. Be supportive. When a loved one falls literally or figuratively, be there to lend a hand, sit quietly, or lick them if appropriate.  

puppy, grandmother,

On Monday, I spent a few hours in my 83-year-old mother’s home amid a global pandemic; Covid-19 be damned!  I was going to spend time with my puppy brother for his remaining hours on earth. We loved on him something fierce, wanting to confirm for him that he was loved and an important member of our family.  He died in my arms with our mom sitting next to us. We rubbed his back and behind his ears and gave him kisses through our N-95 masks. He went quietly and there was solace in knowing this little Yorkie with the big heart was no longer in pain.

 There’s a hole in my heart and I’m deeply saddened that Coco Johnson, Best Puppy Brother Ever, is no longer with us. But, I’m so grateful for the time I with him and so appreciative of the lessons he taught me.  

In these troubled times staying connected is vital for our mental and emotional health. Call, Zoom, text, send a card, or do whatever you can to let those who matter in your life know that you are enthusiastically thankful for their presence in your life, every time.  Do it now because this life is not a dress rehearsal!


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Dede Johnson
Dede Johnson
Dede Johnson is a middle school administrator by day and a hiking warrior by night. Well, not really by night because that could be dangerous, but you can find her out on a trail most weekends. She started hiking regularly about a year ago and began posting her stories on two Facebook hiking specific pages as a means of tracking her outings and sharing her love of the outdoors with fellow nature enthusiasts. She was surprised at the amount of positive feedback she received from her posts as many enjoy her positivity, humor and honesty. She believes that the joy is in the journey, both in life and on the hiking trail. She is grateful for the abundant beauty that can be found in the Pacific Northwest and will continue to live out loud with fervor, joy and her sense of humor firmly intact.