Koekers (formerly known as Fancy 04-270) came to my family in the late summer of 2004. We went through the RAGOM process in hopes of adopting a dog who would be a friend to our then 11 year old Golden Retriever named Chester. We assumed we would get a "standard model" GR, but we met a dog named Fancy and could not help falling in love with the terrified little retriever. She was thin, her coat had no life to it and she wouldn't make eye contact with anyone.
Koekers was seven years old at the time of adoption and had just been sprung from a puppy mill in Missouri. She was afraid of ALL people and was unsure about how to do basic "dog things" like asking to go outside, how to go upstairs, how to eat out of a bowl, how to pet and not completely tense up. Our first year to two years was very challenging as we (including Chester) had to help her learn how to do just about everything. Most things she needed to learn, like trusting us, could only be taught by time and patience. The first years, at the time, seemed long but we recorded her progress: "Koekers walked to the drinking bowl today!" or "She actually came out of her safe spot on her own today!" or "She let me pet her and actually seemed like she wasn't so terrified she would bolt". As life went on and Koeks started wagging her tail, playing with Chester and letting us play chase with her, sleeping on the bed, the couch or where ever we were, those early years seemed so distant. Of course she wasn't your typical Golden Retriever ("Pet me! Pet me! I'm here! Hey, I love you!"), but I liked that about her...she wasn't a sell out and only reserved special affection for her most loved people (me and my parents). She never enjoyed the typical toys, but she did enjoy poop immensely! When winter came, she made a sport out of tossing turdsicles into the air and then eating them. And of course, if she mustered the bravery to give you a kiss, you had to take it even though it was a poopy kiss!
I guess now is a good time to explain the name change. Fancy is a rather silly name for a dog (Koeks always said it was a name for a cat) and it just didn't fit her. She wasn't fancy by any means; she was always kind of clumsy, not very sophisticated with her missing teeth and her manners were lacking when she had gas or scooted across the floor in front of company. Anyways, we started calling her Fanny as that seemed better than Fancy. Fanny eventually morphed into Fannekoeken (like the restaurant Pannekoeken) and then Koekens and that somehow became Koekers and she responded to that name more than the others.
Over the next six and a half years Koeks had many accomplishments. After our best friend Chester died (the dog who helped Koeks become a dog and my childhood), Koeks and I decided we needed to get out. We had never done obedience because we spent so much time trying to build her confidence at home and around the neighborhood. Once she grew into a confident dog at home, I wondered if she would be successful in obedience. With nothing to lose, we signed up for obedience level one. I have to admit I was nervous about it being too scary for her or too stressful. I had become very sensitive to not cause her any stress as I figured she had had her share. It took a time or two for her to not totally shut down, but by the third class or so, she was actually doing things. I had made it clear to the instructors that I had no aspirations for her to compete nor did I expect her to do a down-stay for 20 seconds or back up; we were there for confidence building only. She did great! She passed level one and level two!
Obedience wasn't her only feat - after college I moved into an apartment in downtown St. Paul with my fiancee. Koeks lived part time with me and part time with my parents and she transitioned beautifully. She loved riding the elevator and much to my dismay, all the birds that hit the big windows and fell to the ground for her eating pleasure (it was hard to get those out of her mouth!). A year after that we moved into our house in White Bear Lake and again, she transitioned beautifully. She impressed me over and over again with her resilience. It had only been a handful of years ago that she couldn't handle the smallest changes or surprise and now she could handle any challenge.
It was at age 11 that our happy life together was completely shaken. I found a small bump on her skin and showed it to my aunt who is a vet tech. We both thought it was a skin tag, but thought the vet should check it out just to be sure. The vet also thought it was nothing but said she would aspirate it just to be sure. She said she would call if anything showed up, but again, she said I wouldn't hear from her. About an hour later she called with devastating news - Koeks had advanced mast cell cancer. She said Koeks could live a few weeks more, maybe months and maybe, but unlikely, a year or so. We soon found other tumors and Koeks had surgery to remove them and then started oral chemo. All the while I was freaking out that I would soon lose my newly acquired best friend, Koeks proved once again that she was a fighter. She lived two years and several months after the original diagnosis. Those years went by with few incidents besides diarrhea here and there, but nothing that antibiotics couldn't take care of.
All was well and good and Koeks made us laugh in her old age. She slept in such a deep sleep that often we had to shake her awake. Another favorite is when we would stumble upon Koeks when she was sleeping and her tongue would be sticking out. She became a little senile and liked to play a game where she would bark because she thought she needed someone to escort her from room to room. She impressed us with her endless spunk and vigor. Everyday when we returned home from work she would frolic in such a way that she looked like a bounding/galloping deer. I felt lucky to have a dog that was healthy besides the lingering cancer.
Then about four weeks ago (the end of October 2010), she started to go downhill. I want this memorial to remain full of positive memories so I will spare the details. After four weeks of ups and downs on the morning of Friday November 18th I knew it was time to say goodbye and I am thankful that Koekers let me know it was time. As difficult as it was to say goodbye I am at peace with Koeker's and my decision and I feel fortunate to have been able to provide her with the gift to no longer suffer.
It has been exceedingly difficult without Koekers. When at home and on the weekends, she accompanied me everywhere. However, this Thanksgiving I am so thankful for RAGOM bringing Koeks and I together. Even though we only got to spend half of her life together, it was a full, happy life. I can't express my gratitude to RAGOM and all the people who helped me find Koeks - she was a life changing dog and my life has been that much fuller because of her. Thank you.