“Mijo, I have some bad news. Last night, Coco got out of the fence. She was hit by a car. Unfortunately, she didn’t survive. I’m so sorry.“
Those were my dad's words on the phone at 5:05 last Tuesday. I was walking north on Wisconsin Avenue in the Georgetown neighborhood of D.C. He had found out that morning but waited until I was off work to let me know.
It was a beautiful day, and I had experienced another outstanding day learning from some of the country’s best journalists. For the first time in a while, I felt like me again. It was a far cry from just a year and a half earlier.
I’ve written about that before, but to recap, I flamed out in NYC after working at Fox, ABC News, and CNN.
I went from the Upper West Side back home to San Angelo. At that point, I felt 2 feet tall.
When I came home jobless, my parents welcomed me like a prodigal son. Only days before, they adopted Wally, a Jack Russell Terrier mix. Wally wasn’t too sure about us, especially my dad and me. He took off when I accidentally left a gate open only a few days after I moved back. At the time, I thought, “Man, I can’t even care for a dog.” During the 24 hours he was running loose in the city, I first learned of the love San Angeloans have for their dog family members. Posts about Wally went viral first on my dad’s Facebook and then on various lost dogs pages.
Wally, luckily, was found by his awesome foster mom, and I was able to get a second chance with him. He didn’t trust me at first, but slowly he did. We both were not at great places in our respective lives, and I think that commonality helped forge a strong bond that lasts to this day. Through those months, I was able to gain confidence with Wally. I want to think he’d say the same about me.
Still, Wally was my parent’s dog. I knew I wanted and most likely needed a dog once I went on my own again.
I wasn’t sure what kind of dog, but I fell in love when I first saw my Coco. The local PAWs had a picture of her and her brother. They called her Lil Anne. I knew immediately that not only did I want her, I needed her. I went to work on my parents, telling them she could be my emotional support dog. I applied to adopt her and was stoked that I was the lucky one who got to take her home in August 2022. She was hyper and naughty. Later, when we took her to a local dog trainer, he would note that she didn’t understand the word “no” for the first couple of days.
Still, we as a family, loved the addition. Well, almost all of us. Wally loved life as the only dog and was annoyed by having a new little sister. They would bicker and fight for my attention. If they only knew that I loved them equally both in their ways.
Coco was the name I chose for her. My family loves the Pixar movie, and I thought the name fit her well.
Right away, it was like she knew her assignment. I was still a nervous wreck about every little thing. I was unsure about life.
Coco was there to show me unconditional love. When I would pace the house full of nerves, she would walk with me. When I’d go to the restroom, she would lie outside the door. She wanted to be with me wherever I was. If I was lying in bed, she wanted to cuddle as close as possible. Her face rested on my stomach as she looked up at me. When I would get up at 4 AM to write my newsletter, she would get up from her bed and lie on the floor next to my work. It was not as comfortable as her bed, but again, she just wanted to be as close as she could be to me.
She was lying at my feet when I interviewed for a position in DC. It was an opportunity to learn from the best journalists in the country. When I got the email saying I got the job, she was the first person I told. To be fair, she was right next to me as I read the email.
I know she was excited for me. As I packed for a month in DC, tragedy almost struck. A pack of dogs had gotten into our yard and attacked Coco. Luckily, a neighbor was a hero and fought those dogs off. He mentioned that Coco put up a fight and was holding her own. When he got my attention, I immediately went to where she was lying. She did not look good and could not stand up. She was in a lot of pain, but her tail started wagging when she saw me. That describes Coco to a T. When she saw me, her tail was wagging. Even in pain, she was a happy dog. At the time, I was relieved that she was alive. I thought it had to be a God thing. I postponed my flight for a couple of days. Little did I know, those days would be the last time I spent with her.
Back to Tuesday. When my dad said those words, I let out an audible scream. Tears filled my eyes. I sat on the sidewalk beside the British International School off Wisconsin Avenue. I’m sure the students wondered why someone would be acting the way I was acting.
My dad mentioned details of what happened. I asked him to stop. I didn‘t want to know. It hurts to thing of how much pain she must‘ve been in and that I wasn’t there. He said that Wally, also outside, did not want to come inside until close to midnight. It was like he knew what happened to his sister.
One week later, I’m still searching for answers. Why was she spared weeks earlier? Why did this happen when I was away experiencing some professional success for the first time? Why is she gone when I expected her to be a part of my life for the next decade at the least? She would never get to meet my wife or my children. Did God not know I needed her to help me get through life?
Still, I’m surviving. I’m grateful to family and friends for their thoughts and prayers. I‘m also grateful for amazing coworkers and managers at this new position. And I realize how trivial this might be in the large scheme of things.
On Sunday, I talked to my mom on the phone. We both spoke over tears streaming down both our faces.
She said, “Ryan, we were lucky to have her for one year. God brought her to you when you needed her most.” She’s right about that. Coco was there for me when I was at my lowest. When I felt unloved, she showed me unconditional love. She was a friend when I felt I had none. While I’m heartbroken that I won’t be able to love on her in person, I have gratitude for the time I had with her.
Life will go on, I’m sure. My career is looking up. I have my Coco to thank for helping me get to this point. I’ll love her always for that.