When Cami Smook was walking around town during a weekend in the beginning of July, she noticed how many community members had their dogs with them — then she noticed how hot it was.
The heat, mixed with all of the meandering dogs, had Smook questioning where dogs were supposed to get their water.
“I was down here the weekend after my brother passed away, and my friend had her dog with her and it was one of those days where it was probably 110 — it was so hot,” she recalled. “Everyone out here had their dogs, and I looked around and was like, ‘where are they supposed to be getting water?’”
Smook’s brother, Jesse Cook, was an avid dog lover. So, as a way to fix the lack of dog bowls in Cloverdale’s downtown and to honor her brother’s memory and love of dogs, Smook began working on a memorial dog bowl program for the community.
“My brother loved dogs, he loved them,” she said. Cook died of an asthma attack on June 28. “We grew up with Labs our whole life and Akitas. From there he would just find dogs and be like, ‘Can we keep it?’ and throughout his young adult life he always had animals as well. He was like, ‘People are cool, but dogs are my crew.’ His favorite place was fishing with his dog.”
After her initial spark of an idea, Smook reached out to the Cloverdale community through Facebook, asking if any community members had an idea of how to get the ball rolling — some offered advice and some offered donations.
From there, she bought 10 dog bowls and used a crafting machine to decorate the inside of each of them — each one has a blue heart inside of a paw, and reads “Water dogs: in loving memory of Jesse Cook.”
Smook passed out the 10 bowls to businesses during one Friday Night Live event over the summer.
“I was trying to hold back the tears and ask for permission to leave them,” she remembered. “Everybody’s been so generous and so kind and appreciative of the love that’s going into it.”
The bowls are at various businesses in Cloverdale, so dogs won’t go thirsty.
Soon after acquiring the initial 10 bowls, she received a donation of 70 more dog bowls that have yet to be placed around town.
While Smook isn’t sure if Cloverdale has the business capacity for 70 dog bowls, she said that she’s open to handing them out in other ways, like giving the bowls out to people who may need them for their dogs.
“I’m focusing on Cloverdale right now,” she said. “I do have a couple friends who own businesses in Santa Rosa and west county that said they would be happy to have them out there as well, but I would really like to focus on right here.”
Smook recently attended a Cloverdale City Council meeting, asking for the city’s permission to put dog bowls in city parks.
“We were talking about putting in something that’s less likely to get kicked over by an excited dog,” she said. The bowls around town are lightweight and can be easily knocked over. “My husband and I are coming up with a prototype of something that’s a long oval shape, with a jug on top. Something that’s bigger with a concrete base that wouldn’t get knocked over.”
The bowls wouldn’t be permanently installed at the parks, and the jugs connected to the top would lessen the likelihood that the water will run out after a single day.
As part of her proposal to the city, Smook said that she would take on the responsibility of refilling each bowl’s water jug.
This project, while meant to help the community, has also helped Smook.
“It helps me so much,” she said. “I think there are two roads of grief — one has been very dark and depressed, and then there’s a side that’s about what I can do productively, where I can still grieve and feel comfortable, but also be productive. I’m trying to stay on that road right now. I think I’ve been able to get through the different levels (of grief) a little bit quicker because I’m doing productive, happy things with it.”
When talking about how this idea bloomed into something larger than she expected, Smook credited the tight-knit community that Cloverdale has. She hopes that the dog bowls around town will not only serve as a way to memorialize her late brother, but will also serve as a reminder about how fleeting life can be.
“Our community is so tight here, we love people in our community,” she said. “We see them at our coffee shops, we see them at our grocery stores, we see them at schools and we never know when that’s going to be the last time we see them. We don’t understand how grief affects an entire community until it happens.
“Just as well as we love our siblings and our families, I love my community and I feel like it’s a huge opportunity for us to come together. When our dogs are at the bowl we can come together in these different ways.”
Those who want to get involved in the dog bowl program can contact Smook at email@example.com.