Columnist Ron Marr takes you along for his daily walk with his love-struck dog Cooper and the neighbor pup, the irresistible Sookie. But trouble lurks for the pair. Will Cooper and Sookie’s new romance survive her dalliance with a skunk?

Ron Marr’s Column originally published in the January/February 2023 issue of Missouri Life.

Illustration by Merit Myers

Rhett and Scarlett, Romeo and Juliet, Bogart and Bacall … the world loves a love story. We’re captivated by the royal trials and tribulations of Prince Harry and Meghan. We obsess over the fractious exploits of Kanye and Kim. Thousands of years later, we still talk about Marc Antony and Cleopatra.

And yet, none of these hold a candle to Cooper and Sookie. For the uninitiated, these two were not characters on Jersey Shore. The former is my two-year-old, 45-pound terrier/heeler mix. The latter is my neighbor’s three-year-old, 80-pound, labrador/catahoula hybrid. I initially had some doubts about this relationship, mostly because Coop and Sook’s first meeting involved snarling, growling, and a fervent desire to tear each other into teensy, weensy pieces.

Then again, just like with Ben and Jennifer or Bonnie and Clyde, the most legendary tales of romance often hold more than a hint of contention and struggle. A bit of background here. Most country folks spend inordinate amounts of time and money fencing in their horses, cows, chickens, goats, sheep, pigs, small children, and maybe even tractors. But spending a few hundred additional bucks fencing in a 100-by-100 area for a dog is seemingly viewed as either silly, barbaric, or both. Rural residents and this has been a constant in every non-urban place I’ve ever lived, think I’m mildly addled for fencing in my dogs. I prefer that they stay alive and healthy, that they don’t bother the neighbors, and that they don’t get in death matches with coyotes and rabid raccoons. To each his own.

With such views on canine containment, you can imagine what the locals think when they see Cooper— attached to a fancy-pants, citified dog harness—and me walking down our very busy gravel road. I have no doubt more than a few passersby shake their heads and mutter to themselves, “That boy ain’t right.” These ambulatory forays are how Coop and Sook went from mortal enemies to legendary sweethearts.

When Sook noticed our morning strolls, she came tearing over like a freight train. She tried to tackle me and wanted to rassle with Coop. I yelled. I scolded. I cursed. Finally, I had a moment of Zen enlightenment and accepted the inevitable. I started taking along a spare leash and taught Sook to heel, sit, lie down, come, and stay. I like a polite dog, and as the months passed, Cooper and Sookie became thick as thieves.

Their smooching, deep gazing, paw-holding, and reading of sonnets are actually a little embarrassing at times. I told Coop he should beware of falling too hard. Sookie is an older woman, and since she’s been spotted at houses all over the township, I suspect she’s less than monogamous. Cooper didn’t listen, and then one morning Sookie bounded over sporting the scent of an unfamiliar perfume.

In other words, she’d been out all night having a clandestine dalliance with a skunk. The girl reeked. You could smell her from 50 feet away. She jumped on Coop, bashed into me, and covered us with the acrid stench. She had plenty of excuses, which Cooper, innocent that he is, believed fully. I just kept my mouth shut as I learned long ago that unsolicited romantic advice is rarely believed and inevitably comes back to bite you.

Thus, I simply dragged the pups into the backyard, mixed up the special potion I’d been using for years, soaked them down, and proceeded to eradicate the majority of the skunk funk. The dogs seemed to take this as a further bonding moment, which I probably didn’t appreciate fully because I was busy gagging and burning my clothes.

I guess it’s true that some loves last forever. Luckily, the skunk smell only lasts until you drown it with a quart of peroxide, half a cup of baking soda, and a few squirts of Dawn.