Actor Chris Cooper (American Beauty, August Osage County) and his wife Marianne Leone (author of Jesse and Ma Speaks Up) endured the unfathomable. 15 years ago, they lost their son Jesse, who was born with cerebral palsy.
Leone penned a beautiful essay for The Boston Globe titled “A Father’s Soothing Ways” that describes how she and Cooper coped with their loss and learned to reapply their energies. It has a lot to do with rescue dogs, and one, in particular, they adopted this year.
Honoring Jesse’s Memory
Due to premature birth and cerebral hemorrhaging, Jesse was nonverbal and paraplegic. His love for dogs was always clear, though. Leone writes about how the family got their first dog:
“At age 6, Jesse had sat on Santa’s lap and summoned every bit of muscle control to blurt “dog” into Santa’s ear. Goody appeared on Christmas morning and was his beloved fur sibling for the rest of Jesse’s life. A dog’s presence in our home seemed to honor the memory of our son.”
Nothing could possibly fill the void losing Jesse left in their lives. They did, however, have the unconditional love and support of their two rescue dogs, Lucky and Frenchy. Sadly, Lucky and Frenchy both died a few months apart during the pandemic at 17-years-old.
One day, though still mourning the loss of their dogs, Leone found herself browsing PetFinder. That’s where she found Titi, a dog saved from abuse.
“Titi, an undersized Bichon Frise, seduced me with her hopeful smile. Her origin story was grim: Kept in a backyard cage for the entirety of her six years, Titi birthed multiple litters, so neglected that her rescuers discovered the harness growing into her flesh.”
As a sad result of her terrible treatment, Titi became a fear-biter. And who could blame her? The first day Titi spent with her new family, she bit Cooper on the hand. He blamed himself:
“’I’m a guy,” he said. ‘I’m wearing a hat. I loomed.’”
Despite that type of introduction, a powerful bond formed between these two. Titi and Cooper seemed to be made for one another. Leone writes that she was almost jealous of their relationship, but more so touched by the love a patient father and his dog have for each other.
“But whatever envy I have is soon overcome as I, too, am enveloped by the love blast emanating from those two. I know the energy that draws Titi to Chris. It’s the same gentleness and infinite patience that surrounded our son when he was with us, Chris lifting him from his wheelchair, or playing video games, waiting for Jesse’s wavering hand to hit his switch, or placing a little turtle into Jesse’s hand.”
A True ‘Who Rescued Who’ Scenario
Early on in her essay, Leone describes the late Lucky and Frenchy as “a pair of wounded healers who never knew they were healers.” As the family dealt with the 15 year anniversary of Jesse’s death, they were grateful to have Titi by their side.
“We lie in bed watching Titi wiggle in ecstasy on her back. She burrows into the memory quilt of Jesse’s T-shirts on our bed and it’s as if he, too, is embracing her and welcoming her home.”
The family has another rescue, too, Sugar. Dog children are not the same as people children, but they still fulfill many wants and needs in our lives. This family needs Titi, and she needs them too.
This touching essay is a reminder that healing from great loss is possible, and dogs really help. Rescue can heal dogs too. Once an abused fear-biter, little Titi is now a happy lover.
Read the entire piece here.