Cole’s Legacy

On June 13, 2009, Coleman, as he was known then, was surrendered to the Neenah Animal Shelter. I was fortuitously the manager of the shelter at that time and just happened to take the call from the woman asking if she could surrender him. Somehow I had the foresight to alert the shelter staff on duty that day that I wanted to handle this surrender personally, something that was highly unusual given the demands of my schedule. Something not completely understood within me told me I needed to be involved in this one for some reason. When the woman from the phone call arrived with Cole, I guided her to a picnic table outside so we could do the intake paperwork in a quiet place. Cole, just 9-months old, was such a good boy and sat patiently as we went through all the questions. What kind of food does he eat? How much? What toys does he like? Is he current on his vaccinations? Who is his vet? Is he afraid of anything? Has he ever bitten anyone? Does he do well with kids? Cats? Is he crate trained? Is he housebroken? Soon, we had finished all the questions and after signing away her rights, I took Cole as she walked to her car. He was so alert, happy, comfortable, and calm. I carried him into the front door of the shelter and something within me, between the picnic table and walking through that door, flipped and as soon as everyone inside the shelter turned to look at me, in a true Lion King-like fashion, I held Cole up and said: look who’s coming home with me! It was that simple. I didn’t think about it at all, I just did it. Something inside of me just knew: this is my dog. 

Cole pooped out on my desk at the shelter after a long day of work.

The shelter vet tech, Kelly,  helped me get him ready to take home. Having not thought ahead, I had exactly zero supplies for a dog at home. So I grabbed a few things to tide me over until I could get my own. A crate, food and water dishes, a collar and leash and some dog food. Kelly, who was also a friend, came home with me to help get him situated. We took our shoes off just inside the front door and started setting up his things. Cole was turned loose to explore and upon coming to Kelly’s shoes, smelling very much like a bunch of animals from the shelter, promptly peed on them. I was horrified and thought, oh no, what did I get myself into? Luckily Kelly explained why he did that and that after I got him neutered, he wouldn’t do that anymore. The very next day, I made an appointment with the local vet to have the procedure done and sure enough, that was the end of that behavior. Cole didn’t want to eat food out of the dish that first day but when I hand fed him kibble pieces one by one, he was on board. That was something that would follow him throughout his life, whenever he was in a new place. He never would be the kind of dog to eat on command, he prefered to graze here and there throughout the day, on his own schedule, unless it was people food. That was a whole different story and he seemed to be a bottomless pit in that department. I was concerned about what he would do when meeting my cat but much to my surprise, he was such a gentleman. He was curious but not in an overbearing way. He was good at giving her the space she wanted and it didn’t take long for them to become good friends. At night, not knowing what he would do unattended, I put him in a crate. I think that lasted maybe a few nights before I brought him into my bed to sleep. He stayed by my side the whole night. We never had to use the crate again and thus began our cherished sleep routine and the daily morning struggle for me to get out of bed as he was so snuggly in the mornings. 

Our morning snuggle ritual that may have made me late on more than one occasion. I do not have a single regret for spending those precious moments with him.

Seeing as I was working 60+ hours a week at the shelter, I brought Cole with me everyday. He would hang out with me in my office and follow me around when I went into some of the other areas of the shelter. Often, people coming to the shelter looking for their new pet would excitedly ask if Cole was available to adopt and I would have to nervously laugh and say, no, he already has a forever home. Some days were more difficult. The shelter dogs barking in the kennels next door would set him off and most of the day, I would be fighting with him to not bark back. That never seemed to get us anywhere. Nonetheless, he was my buddy. I took him everywhere with me that I could. He would get super excited in the car and would bounce around constantly from the back seat to the front seat, looking out one window then the other. Sometimes he would jump up in the back window and make the craziest but cutest little face. You could tell he was just taking it all in. Everything was new and exciting and amazing to him! He was overwhelmed in the best possible way. When I felt comfortable that he wouldn’t jump out of the car, I would roll down the window a bit so he could stick his head out. When he did this in the driver’s side back seat, I could see his face in the side mirror, eyes bulged out, ears flapping, and a look of pure joy as he took in all the smells and all the sights.  

My favorite view on any road trip was this one right here.

My time at the shelter came to an end just a couple months later. Cole and I moved from Oshkosh to Verona after that. Being back in the Madison area, we got to spend more time together with my friends. I quickly learned how personable and adaptable he was. He loved everyone he met: men, women, children, dogs, cats, and just about everything and everyone else in between. As long as we were together, he was a happy dog. We lived in Verona for a few months before moving to Madison for about six more months. Then I decided it was time to move to the west coast. He did great in the car over those three very long days of driving. He would alternate from sleeping to looking out the window. He enjoyed our bathroom breaks and getting to smell all the new smells and leave his mark wherever we stopped. The funniest moment of the trip came when the Jane’s Addiction song, Been Caught Stealing, came on the radio. The dogs barking in the beginning of that song sent Cole into a tailspin of barking to defend our car from imaginary dogs. I don’t know if I ever laughed so hard before that moment in my life. Cole found lots of ways in the years to come to make me laugh like that. Our time in Seattle was short but he adjusted well to urban life. We made friends with the dogs at the dog park and enjoyed walking around and exploring the city while we were there.

Cole’s first major co-pilot job while moving to Seattle

Before we knew it, we were driving back across the country to Wisconsin, where I went through a few temporary jobs before landing a full-time work-from-home job. Cole and I enjoyed almost 3-years together every day. He would rotate between sitting on my lap, laying in his bed on my desk, and playing with his toys and my cat, and keeping an eye on things outside. When I wasn’t working, we’d go to the dog park, hang out with friends, and eventually, start hiking and camping. We’d visit my parents and sometimes go out on their boat or sit around a campfire. I’d host gatherings at my apartment and Cole was a wonderful host, greeting everyone and making sure he left no one out. He was always the star wherever we went. Strangers would regularly stop to gush over him. Kids would always run up and ask if they could pet him. If we saw another dog on our walk, Cole wanted nothing more than to say hello. Everyone was a new friend to be made. 

Cole making new friends while out on a hike.

One of those new friends was my co-worker. She would watch Cole for me occasionally when I was unable to take him with me somewhere. She saw quickly how special he was and really fell in love with him. I asked her to detail her thoughts about that and this is what she shared.

“I first fell in love with Cole the first time I met him at your apartment at Lincoln Ridge when you also had a kitty who eventually went to live with your ex, I think.  Cole was everything!  ADORABLE, friendly and playful, yet calm, too.  He knew how to read a situation, a person, another dog, and he could behave in a way that would make the other feel comfortable or happy.

I was soooo lucky to be able to dog sit for Cole when you took trips where you couldn’t take him. I wanted him so bad.  Do you remember me asking if I could have him?  Then when my hopes were dashed, I asked if I could have him if you met an untimely end.  You said I had to get in line behind a few others.  Drat!

I would have been his dog sitter no matter what, but I thought it might be challenging because I had a dog who was suuuuper reactive to other dogs – barking, lunging and even biting a few times.  I had plans for how I would rotate the dogs to keep them apart. I have a room off the kitchen that is glass so I expected Louie to bark, but when Cole came, he didn’t even look at Louie and Louie quickly learned that barking wouldn’t make a difference – Cole wouldn’t react at all and he wouldn’t “go away” reinforcing Louie’s barking by making him think he did that!  

Since both dogs seemed pretty relaxed, I had Perri take one dog on a leash and I took the other and it appeared that they ignored each other, but Cole was definitely communicating. I know a thing or two about “calming signals” in dogs and Cole was communicating them to Louie, making him realize that Cole was cool, he was not a threat. Some signals dogs share with each other (and with us, but most humans don’t know the language) are yawning, sniffing the ground, meandering toward another dog instead of making a beeline, quick lip licks, head turned away and more. Cole had the most well developed calming signal vocabulary of any dog I’ve ever met. Because of my personal nerves, I didn’t let them loose together, but I took them on walks together, with just me and two leashes and they were parallel buddies, taking quick sniffs of each other.  One walk we took on school days was 1.2 miles one way to school to pick up my kids. We would get there early and sit in the grass to wait. There was no other dog ever (other than the dog I had when Louie was a puppy) that I could have done that with. 

Cole also made friends with neighbor dogs. Cole was also a hit with my family, including my mother-in-law and my kids and their friends.  He was just so EASY!  No better dog ever lived.”

I couldn’t agree more!

Cole loved getting dried off with a towel after a walk in the rain.

In 2014, my relationship at the time ended unexpectedly. Cole really liked this person before the breakup so I was really surprised to see him shun the guy the night he came over to break up with me. He tried to give him a pet to say goodbye and Cole wouldn’t even look at him, it was so unlike him. I think Cole felt how sad I was, that this guy was the reason, and therefore he was showing his loyalty to me. Cole was always a supportive energy in my life. 

After my grandfather passed away shortly after that, I decided it was time for us to give the west coast another try. This time, we moved to Portland, Oregon. We made another cross-country trip which he did really well with and as usual, made for the best co-pilot. On our first full day in Oregon, I took him to my favorite beach on the northern coast. He quickly proved that he loved the beach as much as I did. We would spend many days over the next 5-years visiting the beaches of Oregon. We’d also go on many road trips throughout the Pacific Northwest to explore, hike, and photograph the beautiful landscapes. Every photo I took, Cole was there, just outside of the frame. Every camping excursion, he was the first one to hop in the sleeping bag, eager to cuddle up together. We made friends with our neighbors who also had dogs. Cole especially took to another pug in one of our apartment buildings, Emma. Emma’s dad would watch Cole some days while I was at work or on a trip that he couldn’t come with and Emma and Cole would play so hard. Cole was very protective of her. I’m pretty sure he was smitten. We’d also go to pug meetups occasionally and while Cole loved playing with all dogs, he especially loved playing with so many other pugs. It never seemed to matter where we went or what we did, as long as we were together, Cole was happy, and so was I. 

I’m fairly certain that our time in Oregon were the best years of both of our lives.

In the spring of 2018, I decided it was time to change my last name. I no longer wanted to attach my ex-husbands name to my life and especially to my photography. Knowing I could choose any last name I wanted, I decided to change it to Cole. I wanted to honor Cole’s role in my life. He was as much of my creative process as anything else. I also knew one day he would be gone and I liked knowing that his name would live on through my photography. So, that is when I officially became Kristin Cole. Cole’s vets always loved that he would come up in their system as Cole Cole. 

In the summer of 2018, I underwent surgery for kidney cancer. While I recovered at home over those 6-weeks, Cole was right there by my side. He seemed to understand that I was unwell and stayed extra close to me. We did a lot of laying in bed and watching Netflix. Friends, family, and coworkers would stop by the first few weeks to take him for walks and bring food for me but he never wanted to be gone long, he really had to be coaxed to go outside on his walks. He did not want to be separated from me. This was something that would continue for the rest of his life. It never occurred to me that Cole, too, may have kidney cancer. While mine was removed, Cole’s was most likely growing, undetected. 

My loyal companion as I recovered from cancer surgery.

 After 5-years in Oregon, I decided I no longer wanted to work jobs where I had to leave Cole at home. I decided to move back to Wisconsin and start my own business. Before that though I wanted to do a big road trip with Cole all over the western United States. I purchased a teardrop trailer and we set off in the fall of 2019. We traveled from Oregon, to Washington, Idaho, Montana, back to Idaho and Oregon, then to California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and then finally arriving in Wisconsin about 6-weeks after we first departed Oregon. We saw so many beautiful places, a bunch of National Parks, stayed at campgrounds, met interesting people, and even stayed in some less than stellar motels occasionally. Cole, true to form, was a happy guy and loved smelling all the new smells and meeting all the new people. 

First stop of many on our Great American West road trip of 2019.

 Once back in Wisconsin, I found a part-time job that allowed me to bring Cole with me. When I wasn’t working there, I was working on my own business at home. Cole and I were inseparable. Shortly after arriving back in Wisconsin, I learned that Cole had a back issue that was making him have flare up episodes where he seemed really uncomfortable. Our options were to treat with medication and see how he responded. If that didn’t work, they recommended special imaging to get a better look and possible surgery. Fortunately, at least that’s what I thought at the time, he responded well to the medication and we were able to keep him comfortable. We did not have to explore the situation further with specialized imaging. In highsight, I wish we had. We may have gotten an early look at his kidney cancer at a time when it was treatable and before it metastasized. 

Vet visit where we learned about his back issue.

Meanwhile, life continued as normal, without us knowing what was happening. The homeowners on the Oregon coast that I had house sit for the year before asked us to come back in March 2020 while they traveled. So Cole and I left 10-days before they departed on their trip and had another road trip adventure. We traveled through Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California before arriving on the Oregon coast. We stopped to explore many beautiful places along the way and slept at many more motels. Cole was a trooper and just went with the flow. A little slower and a little grayer but no less of a co-pilot and companion.  Shortly after arriving in Oregon, news broke of the COVID-19 pandemic spreading in the United States. The whole world changed while we hunkered down on the Oregon coast together. It was a super scary time but I was grateful to have Cole with me. A month later, we made the journey back home to Wisconsin after completing our house sit and we hunkered down from April of 2020 to February of 2021. We didn’t leave the house much but enjoyed time outside in the yard when we could. Occasionally we’d go for a short hike or camping trip. We watched lots of TV and ate lots of snacks. The important part is that we were together. Over that year though, I had started to notice some weird behaviors. I’d mention them to his vet but they never could explain what was going on. Medically speaking, he always appeared healthy to them. 

My pandemic buddy which turned into the #coletherapy hashtag on Instagram for the remainder of his life.

In late February of 2021, we traveled to Michigan for a 3-week house sitting job. While there, Cole started exhibiting more serious signs that something was wrong. I took him to several different vets there. The first one thought he had an upper respiratory infection. The second one thought he had Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome. I got him scheduled for an appointment at the UW Vet School in Wisconsin for an assessment at the end of March. Two nights before we were scheduled to leave Michigan, Cole refused to lay down. I could tell something was really wrong so I rushed him to the emergency vet in the middle of the night. They took an x-ray, thinking it was his back that was bothering him, and that is when we learned that he had metastatic cancer in his lungs. There were seven tumors they could see. They said that there was nothing that could be done to cure him since the cancer had spread there from somewhere else and it was only a matter of time. They said that they couldn’t give a minimum amount of time but that he definitely didn’t have more than a couple months to live, max. We left Michigan a day or so later knowing that it would be our last road trip ever. 

Our very last road trip.

Once back in Wisconsin, we started seeing a new vet and developed a palliative care plan to try to give him the best quality of life for the time he had left. There was some hope that a series of MagnaWave treatments could slow the progression of the tumor growth so I was hopeful that we might actually have a couple of good months left. Unfortunately, things didn’t go that way. A few days after starting the treatments, Cole collapsed at home one morning. I took him to the emergency vet for a CT scan, hopeful that we could find the source tumor to get a better idea of what was happening inside of him. I wanted to make sure that we didn’t miss anything, that we knew exactly what we were dealing with so we could treat him appropriately,  and that he didn’t suffer. Before he could be sedated for the CT scan, they did another blood draw and noticed overnight that the signs were there, telling us that he was bleeding internally. They didn’t feel comfortable sedating him so we opted for an abdominal ultrasound instead. That is where they discovered he had a 5.4 cm tumor protruding from his kidney, likely causing him to bleed internally. Without emergency surgery, his organs would painfully start shutting down and he would not survive. If he did not already have all the tumors in his lungs, there is no question that we would have done the surgery. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like the humane thing to do, to put him through a painful kidney surgery that he would likely then die shortly thereafter from his lung cancer. I had made the decision to bring him home and have an in-home euthanasia service come the next day to help him pass on. When I went to pick him up from the emergency vet, I was shocked to see how he looked so different from when I dropped him off the day before. He wasn’t excited to see me at all. I had to help him get into the back seat of the car. Once there, he laid down. I climbed in the back seat with him but my presence didn’t seem to affect him at all. It was clear to me that he was suffering. I told the tech that brought him out that he was not OK. I didn’t want to take him home and make him go on like he was just so I could have one more night with him. As much as I wanted him to have a peaceful passing at home, easing his suffering seemed like the right thing to do. I made the decision to euthanize him that night at the emergency room in Madison. A friend of mine came to be with me for the process. 

Cole waiting for his very last MagnaWave treatment. Also the last picture where he looks fairly comfortable.

They took Cole back into the clinic while we waited in the car for about half an hour while they placed the catheter in his arm, then they came out to get us and led us into a small room with Cole. There was a couch and a chair. They brought in some paperwork for me to fill out and then said we could take as much time as we wanted. When we were ready, we were to push a button on the wall and then they would come in with the drugs that would stop his heart. I asked them to bring me a blanket and some treats. I had nothing with me to make him comfortable because I didn’t think this is what we would be doing that night. I fed him the treats and pet him and hung out with him for awhile. It was clear to me that he was uncomfortable so I didn’t want to drag things out too long. When I was mentally ready, we pushed the button. A woman came in with two syringes. I sat on the couch next to him and pet him while they pushed the first drug into his IV. I wasn’t prepared for how quickly he would collapse nor for how quickly they would push the second drug that stopped his heart. In a matter of seconds, he was gone. His eyes never closed and wouldn’t stay shut, as much as I tried to make them. I pet him over and over and over and cried and cried and cried. It was so clear how gone he was but it was so hard to leave. When I was ready, they came in and took him away and my friend and I followed them out the door. They turned right to carry him down the hallway and we turned left to go out the door to the car. I watched as they carried him down the hall and then through a door, out of sight. That moment was the worst moment in my entire life. Somehow, I had to leave my whole world behind and drive myself home, forever without him by my side. 

Moments before our final goodbye AKA the last picture of him alive.

The days and weeks that followed were terrible. I have never been so sad in my life. Lots of people reached out through texts, calls, social media, cards, flowers, etc. It helped to know I had support and that people cared but there was just nothing that anybody could really do to make things better. This was something I had to deal with and there was no escaping it. My first instinct was to run away. I knew that no matter where I went though, these feelings would be there. There would be no running away from this. So I hunkered down at home and did my best to survive. There were lots of really hard days. There were moments when things seemed not so bad but then shortly thereafter I would be blindsided with grief. For the first 40-days, I posted a daily update on Facebook about my grief process. Then I switched to periodic updates, a sign that I was beginning to move forward in my process. I had all the feelings you would expect. I felt so guilty for not getting him that MRI back in 2019. I felt guilty for every stupid french fry and shitty food I “treated” him to over the years. I felt like it was my fault this happened and if I had been a better pug mom, he would still be here. Some days I still think that’s true and that’s something I’m going to have to figure out how to live with. The good days are becoming more frequent but I still cry every day. Sometimes just a little bit and sometimes a lot. 

Cole comes home.

I hate trying to learn to live without him. The things I used to love doing before like photography and road trips are so lonely now. Life is really lonely now. Cole was my constant companion and now there is suddenly no one. I struggle to find the words to even begin to explain what that feels like to me. Cole came into my life when we were both abandoned by the people that were supposed to love us most, his first owner and my ex-husband. He was by my side and the center of my world for 11 years, 9 months, and 4 days. He was there for all my moves, breakups, new jobs, injuries, sicknesses, and everything in between. He slept by my side every night. He sat next to me for every photo and every meal. He was my co-pilot for thousands of miles of road trips. He made me laugh and kept me company when I was sad. He loved life and helped me make new friends. With all the time I was alone, I was never lonely because he was there. With him by my side, I had the courage to do so many things I don’t think I would have done if it weren’t for him. I without a doubt loved him more than anyone I have ever loved in my entire life. We had a very unique and special bond that I feel doesn’t come twice in a lifetime. He was my best good friend and my heart is just shattered without him. I’m doing my best to move forward and I hope someday the joy will return to the things I used to love. In the meantime, his memory lives on in thousands of photographs I have of him and honored in my name. I hope to live a life that can rise to the greatness that was enveloped in his tiny little body with a giant soul.  

My heart, my soul, my entire life on four legs also known as the best dog to ever live (9/6/08 – 3/16/21).

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