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Pets Large & Small

Soul Mate

Jennifer Vanderau
Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter

(8/2011) His life certainly isn’t what he thought it would be. Turns out all the beer commercials on television are just trying to sell a product to sportsfans. Imagine that.

He remembers when he was younger, the sky was the limit. He was going to graduate high school, make millions, more than keep up with the Joneses and be a big success.

While he isn’t a failure by any stretch of the imagination, he’s not where he thought he would be, either. He’s got a nice house, reliable car, decent marriage and he’s not sure when he became satisfied with adjectives like "reliable" and "nice."

In his youth he wanted fast and instant and wild. Didn’t matter if the car needed work, could it hit 60 in a matter of seconds? Man, that was fun. Burning rubber on the asphalt -- now that was the way to live. Racing down country roads with a buddy in the car next to him. Woo, that really got the adrenaline pumping.

Now he’s got responsibilities – reasons not to rip up and down the road in a car because it’s not safe and he needs to be around for a while. Plus, he has to keep his car in good shape, so he's learned to treat his vehicle with a little more respect.

Sometimes he laughs at himself – at the dreams of youth – like adults do. Fast cars break down and when you’ve got a job, you need a vehicle that can get you there. Relationships take work from both people to maintain – they’re certainly not like what’s portrayed in the action movies he enjoys so much.

He does all this – thinks about gas mileage and makes a point to listen to his wife – because he wants to be a good person. Adulthood has taught him that character counts.

None of this is spoken aloud, though. Not to anyone. Well, almost.

He’s got one soul he confides in – and she seems to understand.

Her name’s Copper and as crazy as it sounds, she’s got four legs and a tail. She’s a 5-year-old golden retriever and she’s been with him since she was a pup. His family got her at an animal shelter and at first, he had to be convinced. His wife and kids wanted a dog -- and he remembered thinking at the time, wouldn't the Norman Rockwell picture be complete?

The funny thing is, though, as soon as Copper came into his life, he realized there might just be more to the world than fast cars and exciting times.

He doesn’t wax this philosophic to anyone, ever, but in his head, in his gut, he knows how special Copper is. He doesn’t have to choose the right words with her. He doesn’t have to toe the line, like at work. She understands if he’s had a bad day and just needs to relax.

Sometimes he actually talks to her – out loud when no one’s around – and he knows it’s stupid, but he tells her what scares him and what worries him and what he finds funny and what he misses from when he was younger. And he doesn’t have to explain why. She just watches him with those big brown eyes of hers and lets him talk.

He feels weird when he thinks it, but he sometimes believes that she just knows he needs to get some stuff off his chest and she’s there to listen. She sits with him during football games and doesn’t look at him strangely when he laughs out loud at the comedians on Comedy Central.

He shakes his head at himself. He used to be tough. He had a cool car. His boots were well-worn and made him look like the Marlboro Man. Nothing phased him. Now because of this four-legged, brown-eyed dog he’s become mushy and sentimental.

About a year ago, she had some lumps. Scared him so bad he didn’t sleep one night wondering what in the world he would do without her. He didn’t think he was one of "those people," the ones who form these odd attachments to their pets, but somehow, someway, Copper had wormed her way into his heart, almost without his knowledge and he doesn’t think he can remember what his life was like before she came into it and followed him around like he may have literally hung the moon.

The lumps turned out to be nothing of concern and the relief he had felt in the vet’s office that day had been nearly staggering. It was that moment that he realized although there were people who would make fun of and mock him, he didn’t care if he was one of "those people." Copper was important to him and he wasn’t going to apologize for it.

Since then he’s come to believe maybe she’s got the right idea. She loves her food – eats with gusto. She finds joy in the simplest of things – a walk, playing fetch in the backyard, a nap in front of the fire.

He’s started to think, the older he gets, that maybe life is less about being "cool" and having "awesome" stuff and more about knowing what’s important – what makes you happy. Copper sure seems to be able to find happiness in things that could be considered boring to humans.

He heard a line from a movie the other day that said "I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most."

He had smiled; Copper would totally get that.

So even though he sometimes thinks back to the days of his youth with an odd sort of yearning nostalgia, and he’s a long way from where he thought he would be, he’s come to realize that his life, as it is, can be pretty darn good, too.

And he's fairly certain he has Copper to thank for that lesson.

Jennifer Vanderau is the Director of Communications for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg, Pa., and can be reached at The shelter accepts both monetary and pet supply donations. For more information, call the shelter at (717) 263-5791 or visit the website

Read other articles by Jennifer Vanderau