Deborah and Ray Erickson knew their “happily ever after” would be cut short when he was diagnosed with late-stage esophageal cancer almost three years ago.
The couple, who found each other later in life after previous failed marriages, celebrated their 10-year wedding anniversary in October. Less than two months later, on Dec. 13, Ray Erickson died.
There is no way to escape the pain that comes with losing the love of your life, but the couple did their best while Ray was still alive to prepare Deborah for what was to come.
That included adding Cooper, a white fluffy ball of energy, to their family during the summer.
“Ray was like, ‘We need to do this. I want you to have a dog that we’ve both bonded with so that when I am gone you have something,’ ” Deborah said.
“We knew the cancer was going to kill him. We just didn’t know when.”
A month before Ray died, Cooper disappeared.
Grieving the loss of her husband has been at times unbearable, but “losing the 6-month-old puppy into thin air is the straw that is breaking my back,” Deborah said Friday at her Parkland home.
She believes Cooper is still alive. If not, she wants to know what happened so she can find closure.
Just tell me if you’ve seen the dog, if you’ve killed the dog, if you have the dog. No questions asked.
Deborah Erickson, owner of Cooper a missing 6-month-old Maltese puppy
“I just want somebody to call me,” she said. “Just tell me if you’ve seen the dog, if you’ve killed the dog, if you have the dog. No questions asked.”
Cooper was scheduled to be neutered and microchipped, but, a few days before that, he went missing. He disappeared Nov. 4 from the Ericksons’ fenced backyard. The couple thought they had blocked the fence line, but Cooper had a knack for finding a way out.
Calling him “a little Houdini escape artist,” Deborah said Cooper recently became curious about life beyond the yard. Usually, he went out to relieve himself and returned, she said.
The minute they discovered their pet’s absence, the family — the Ericksons and his 13-year-old granddaughter — knocked on doors, posted fliers and contacted people on the street.
One man saw Cooper head in the opposite direction of a busy road, giving them hope he hadn’t run into rush-hour traffic.
They searched until 2 a.m., despite Ray having finished his last round of radiation therapy that morning.
“It’s an amazing effort they put in to trying to find that little guy,” friend Terri Corvin-Davis said.
Since the disappearance, Deborah has called the Humane Society every day, checked its website and continues to post fliers offering a reward for Cooper’s return.
One of those fliers prompted an anonymous phone call from a blocked number shortly after Cooper vanished. A man left a message that was “the most horrible message anybody could have left,” Deborah Erickson said.
“He just said that we were morons and we were stupid and we didn’t deserve to own a dog,” she said.
Now she wonders whether the man found Cooper and won’t give him back.
It’s hard enough to lose a husband, but to not have that peacefulness that a dog could bring her at times, and that soothing — she just needs to know what happened to that dog.
Terri Corvin-Davis, friend of Deborah and Ray Erickson
If Cooper is still alive, Deborah worries someone might sell him for breeding. She also worries about his ear problems that require medication and that he’s not getting proper care.
Added to the uncertainty was another phone call. This one came just after Christmas.
A woman who owns a business nearby said a customer was talking about hitting a small white dog with his car and killing it. Deborah asked the woman to give the man her number if he returned.
Corvin-Davis said she wished she had a magic wand to solve her friend’s problems.
“It’s hard enough to lose a husband, but to not have that peacefulness that a dog could bring her at times, and that soothing — she just needs to know what happened to that dog,” Corvin-Davis said.
Deborah said her story “isn’t a ‘poor me’ thing,” it’s about doing what’s right. That means calling the Humane Society if a dog is found alive, or calling the number on a flier to tell the owner you killed their pet, she said.
“I need to be able to know,” she said about Cooper. “I just need to put it to bed.”
Anyone who saw Cooper, a 6-month-old Maltese puppy, on or after Nov. 4 in the area around 125th Street Court East near Eighth Avenue East or Golden Given Road East in Parkland is asked to email Deborah Erickson at firstname.lastname@example.org.