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Remembering Captain Cowpants

We’re sharing a guest blog this week from Melissa Lipani, Best Friends Mountain West regional engagement manager, about a dog who helped countless people and other dogs throughout his life. He was a pit-bull-terrier-like dog from a shelter, and his full name was Captain Cowpants, but he also went by Captain or Cappy. He lived with Melissa and her husband for more than eight years, until he succumbed to cancer on Monday. Since his passing, hundreds of people have commented online about what Cappy meant to them, whether they had met him or not. Captain made such a difference on behalf of dogs who look like him. Here’s his story.

Captain Cowpants came into Salt Lake County Animal Services as a bobble-headed young dog whose head was too big for his skinny body. I was working on a Best Friends program to help pit bull terriers at the shelter when one of my colleagues told me I had to meet this dog. His adoption had fallen through because his potential new family was worried about adopting a pit bull. 

I sat on the floor in an office and waited for them to bring him to me, and once he arrived, he sat in my lap. I knew then that I was in trouble. I brought him home to foster him temporarily, but it seems the universe had other plans. After two more adoption attempts failed, including one due to an insurance policy that discriminated against pit bulls, I knew this gentle dog was right where he needed to be.

That was more than eight years ago. It’s hard to describe all that happened in the years that followed. There are just so many stories I could tell. Early on, Captain trained for and passed his first therapy dog test, a feat he repeated every two years for the remainder of his life. He volunteered every other week at the University of Utah in a mental health program for teens, where he was a favorite among staff, patients and visitors. He was requested frequently for special visits, including a memorable one with a woman who was a refugee from war-torn Congo. She had been in treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder for weeks with minimal progress. She loved animals, and we paid her a special visit, which became the turning point in her healing. 

There were so many kids who came in shut down, afraid or angry. Cappy was often a bright spot during their journey to health. One young woman said we were such an important part of her treatment, helping her recover from self-harm. Cappy also attended countless special events, visiting kids affected by cancer at Camp Hobe and spending time at a girls treatment facility. He even helped a child work through his phobia of dogs after a traumatic incident. 

Cappy’s gentle soul didn’t only help people; he helped other dogs, too. His calming influence and sometimes goofy antics helped put shy dogs, like Halle the Vicktory dog, at ease. He was her “date” at The Champions  premiere in Salt Lake City. In that way, his reach went far beyond humans. My husband and I have fostered more than 100 dogs, and because of his incredible play and social skills, Cappy was a huge part of their successful socialization and subsequent adoptions. He helped countless shelter dogs, as he was so good at making even the most unsure dog let loose and learn to play safely. That included a group of dogs rescued from a dogfighting ring in Colorado, who came to Utah for a second chance. 

Cappy wasn’t adopted from Best Friends, but he was part of the Best Friends family through my work. He loved coming to the Sanctuary each year in May as a big part of our annual staff gathering, where he proudly finished last in the 5K year after year. (Speed was not really in his repertoire.) He appeared in Best Friends ads, billboards and legislative alerts, and he adored rubbing elbows with the Best Friends founders.

He also helped change laws that affect dogs who look like him by schmoozing with lawmakers and policymakers to illustrate that you can’t judge a dog by his breed or appearance. In 2014, with the help of Utah Representative Brian King, Cappy was with me when I testified on HB 97, a bill that would ultimately repeal breed-discriminatory legislation statewide and prevent any future ordinances that restrict dogs simply based on appearance. The bill passed and is now a law. In the years since, this law has saved the lives of countless dogs in our state and has kept families together.

Cappy was truly the perfect partner in advocacy. I rarely had to use words, since he conveyed everything that needed to be said through his actions, deep love and soulful, amber-colored eyes. People’s memories of him have been pouring in, and they have given us so much comfort, laughter and pride knowing how his legacy will live on and inspire for so many years to come. 

See more photos and stories about Captain Cowpants here.

Melissa Lipani posing with a dog Melissa Lipani
Mountain West regional engagement manager
Best Friends Animal Society