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Tag: ace

You remember Ace

aceandmikey

I promised myself long ago that, when Ace’s time came, I wouldn’t make too big a deal of the big dog’s death on these pages.

Unlike many dog websites, this one has always tried to avoid blatantly tugging on heartstrings — and to eschew all those mushy sounding and unnecessary words like “beloved” and “adorable” and “fur baby.”

We’ve always made it a point not to pander to your love for dogs with adjectives — just to cultivate it with truths.

For that reason, and others, we’re not going to be writing about Ace’s death a whole lot more.

Already, there have been more words written about him — between ohmidog! and Travels with Ace — than probably any other dog around. To keep going on and on about him (which in life I always viewed as “sharing”) would become something more like exploiting.

In other words, having made such a big deal out of his life, my plan was to refrain making a big deal out of his death.

But look what you went and did.

aceandjenYou’ve clogged my emailbox, you’ve kept my phone ringing, you’ve commented on my Facebook page and put up your own posts, often with your photos of Ace.

Since Ace’s death, I’ve heard from friends in Baltimore, Philadelphia and North Carolina, friends in — to name a few — Seattle, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, Ohio, Montana, California, Arizona, New Mexico, New Jersey.

And those were just the ones who actually met him.

Hundreds more, from across the country and even overseas, who came to know Ace through our websites, left comments here and on Facebook — many of which made me cry all over again.

I guess that’s a good thing.

Thank you is what I’m trying to say, in a non-sniffly way, to those who touched Ace and were touched by him.

A sampling:

“Folks who don’t believe that dogs have souls have never met Ace,” a North Carolina friend wrote on her Facebook page. “I saw the effect he had on people everywhere he went. People were very drawn to Ace, it was amazing to watch. He was pure LOVE.”

“Ace was loved by so many all over the country … our hearts break for you,” wrote another, who put Ace and me up for days in Seattle during our year long “Travels with Ace” journey — and helped him overcome some stomach distress. (He arrived there with a bad case of diarrhea, probably the result of too much fast food.)

Ace and Bim at Idle Hour

Ace and Bim at Idle Hour

A Baltimore buddy wrote, “Today is one of those days where something comes across your newsfeed that you dread seeing. Many moons ago Bim and I met a big guy of a dog named Ace at Canton Dog Park. Unlike some other big dogs, where Bim felt intimidated, he and Ace were very content to just “be” together … Ace was one of, if not THE, most amazing, chill, coolest, sweetest dogs I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.” This from a woman who Ace once pulled out of her chair and dragged across a few feet of pavement after I asked her to hold Ace’s leash for a minute.

aceatidle“Ace, there isn’t a human or dog that didn’t love you!” wrote another, posting a photo of Ace at the Idle Hour, his favorite bar.

“You will be so very missed by so many! Thank you for teaching us how to love every minute of life! The original bar dog, park dog. I am so sorry HB (Honeybun) tried to eat you the first time she met you.”

Another friend, who spend some dog park and bar time with Ace here in Winston-Salem, wrote: “Lauren and I first met Ace five and a half years ago on an assignment for the Winston-Salem Journal, and when we arrived at our interview, we saw him, a giant black-and-tan dog, gliding through the trees. We joked that he probably weighed more than 5’2” me. (He did.)

“…I watched Ace break up dog-park scuffles with the kindness and wisdom of a compassionate cop, moving his massive body between the offending parties. I saw him snack on peanut shells at one of my favorite Winston dive bars. Once, Lauren and I shared some beers with him in a booth (still one of my all-time favorite photos). He was the most gentle dog I’ve ever met … I’ll be hugging Stringer extra-tight tonight, and I hope y’all do the same with your pets. Rest easy, Aceface. The world will miss you.”

Ace and Stringer at Recreation Billiards

Ace and Stringer at Recreation Billiards

A former neighbor here in Winston-Salem whose two dachshunds were close friends and dog-walking buddies, sent this email:

“I don’t know what to say. I was thinking of what to say and then of all the things I would not like to hear… I guess I just wanted you to know that while I cannot understand what you are feeling right now … I am constantly thinking of all the many, many great times I had with you and Ace. I don’t think I knew how many until I really thought about it.”

Then she brought up Ace’s most shameful day — when he (always exceedingly gentle with every creature from baby kittens to baby ducks) took off, along with the dachshunds, after a baby bunny in College Village.

SONY DSC

“The memory that stands out to me is the one involving the very unfortunate bunny in CV. Watching Ace actually grieve over the fact that he accidentally stepped on one, while the doxies went nuts for blood. I am grateful for having Ace in my life …”

Some of those who got in touch had only known Ace for minutes.

This from a woman we bumped into five and a half years ago at a rest area in Montana, and spent maybe five minutes with:


“John, my heart breaks for you. I remember meeting you and Ace at that rest stop in Montana during your Travels with Ace road trip. He was sweet and gentle and willingly accepted my St. Bernard Charlie’s clumsy attempts for attention. As I lost Charlie just over a year ago, rest assured Charlie is now helping Ace settle in wherever special dogs go after their time with us.”

Dozens more who passed along their condolences were people who never met him at all — knowing him only through the Internet.

“My deepest condolences to John Woestendiek, whose eloquent journey with his beloved Ace has come to an end. Thank you for opening our eyes to BARCS (Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care, the shelter Ace was adopted from) and for showing us what love looks like,” wrote Baltimore attorney and animal welfare activist Caroline Griffin.

It is greatly comforting to know he lives on.

Sure, I’m still doing all those things that people who have lost dogs do — steering clear of the dog food aisle at the grocery store, getting used to returning to an empty house, marveling at how less often I have to empty the vacuum bag, thinking about the next dog, in a while, and worrying how unfair it might be to put a dog in a position to be his follow-up act.

Like most readers of this website, I can’t imagine a dog-less life.

Like a lot of you, I probably have a more admiring view of dogs than I do of humans.

But your response to Ace’s passing — the eloquent words you shared with me at a time when it’s so hard to come up with the right thing to say — has moved me more than I can describe (without getting sappy).

Let’s just say humans can be pretty decent, too.

Saying goodbye to Ace

SONY DSC

He was a well-traveled dog who loved the road more than anything, except maybe you and me.

He was a survivor of Baltimore’s less tender side who was picked up as a stray, placed in a city shelter, found a home with some writer guy and went on to become a therapy dog and minor celebrity.

He was the subject of a five-part newspaper series examining his roots, a book (unpublished and unfinished), the inspiration for this website, and my reason for being.

SONY DSCHe was an ambassador for mutts, and, more particularly, for all those disrespected breeds his sweet, gentle self was made up of — Rottweiler, Akita, Chow and pit bull.

And now the hardest words I’ve ever written: Ace is dead.

Last week, he was frolicking in the woods. This week, he slowed down to a state near lethargy and showed little interest in eating, and in the past two days he began swelling up — mostly in the belly region.

Having recovered from his recent bladder surgery, he was the same dog he always was — until Monday night when he came inside showing no interest in his nightly treat.

The vet’s diagnosis was congestive heart failure and possible tumors — hemangiosarcoma.

Blood was not getting to his liver, and fluids were pooling up inside.

Based on Ace’s age (nearly 12, a good 90 in human years for a dog of his size), based on the poor outlook in either case, or the even worse outlook in the case of both, and based on his apparent discomfort, the vet recommended putting him down.

When I asked for some time to think about it, the vet said that wasn’t a good idea. When I asked to take Ace home and bring him back today, he said that wasn’t a good idea, either.

So we took an hour before the deed was to be done. We started walking. It started raining. It was taking all of his effort to keep up with me, and I (being a fellow member of the congestive heart failure club) walk pretty darn slow.

brendanfinnertyWe only walked a few hundred yards, yet in that time I was asked twice what kind of dog he was, and thanked four people who complimented him on his good looks.

We stopped at a Domino’s and sat on the pavement under an overhang. I bought him a small cheese pizza — his favorite food. He took two bites, but only because I insisted.

We stopped in the rain on the way back. I briefly debated whether I was doing the right thing. I held his head in my hands, rested my head on his and looked into his eyes. I could still see the love in them, but not the joy.

Back at the vet, on the floor with his head in my lap, the vet administered a sedative. Ace was soon snoring. Once the lethal injection was administered, his heartbeat slowed within minutes and then, around 6 p.m. Thursday, stopped.

I’ll get his ashes in a week or so, and I’ll spread them in Black Walnut Bottoms, the trail in Bethania he loved.

Having written a lot about dogs and death, I thought I’d be better prepared for this. But I’m a wreck.

In answer to one of the questions asked a lot over the years, no — a resounding NO! — he will not be cloned. Having written a book on dog cloning, people ask that of me. Clearly, they never read the book.

SONY DSCIn answer to another — whatever happened to that book you were writing about Ace? — well, 95 percent of it exists, but only on the Internet.

In 2011, Ace and I set off on a trip duplicating the route John Steinbeck took in “Travels with Charley.”

It ended up lasting a year, and covering 27,000 miles. I think I speak for both of us when I say it was the time of our lives.

Travels with Ace” didn’t interest any publishers, but it will hang around on the Internet — at least until my time comes.

I still need to finish the last chapter, but I can promise you this:

In the book, Ace won’t die.

(Photos: Top, Ace at Salvation Mountain in California; Ace at the Bandera County Courier in Texas; Ace and John (photo by Brendan Finnerty); Ace with a bust of John Steinbeck in Monterey, California)

Not just any dog can be a bar dog

acebar


There’s nothing, in my view, that can make a neighborhood bar more homey than having its own dog.

You’ve likely met the bar dog. Though not a breed, he or she has particular characteristics: A laid back, borderline lazy demeanor; a 100 percent friendly disposition; a tendency to be large and situate him or herself in such a way to block the maximum amount of traffic.

The bar dog happily greets customers, but does not jump on them. The bar dog lusts after what you might be eating, but does not snatch it out of your hand. The bar dog is sociable, generally well behaved and not the least bit hyperactive. He goes with the flow.

My dog Ace (on the left in the picture above, taken at a bar in North Carolina) served as a surrogate bar dog for a while at a corner bar in Baltimore. (Bar dogs must also love bars, and Ace, being a reflection of his owner, does.)

At the Idle Hour in South Baltimore, Ace unofficially filled in after the owner’s dog, Higgins — now there was a bar dog — passed away.

Ace, it seemed, was born to be a bar dog. At the Idle Hour, there was no one he didn’t want to meet and greet and spend a while sitting next to, but he wasn’t prone to jumping up, or licking faces — unless such action was requested.

Not every dog has what it takes to be a bar dog.

vaughnThe jury is still out, for instance — literally and figuratively — on Vaughn, a hyperactive Doberman who frequents two Washington, D.C., bars operated by his owner.

Mark Thorp, who owns Vaughn — and who owns Little Miss Whiskey’s on H Street and Jimmy Valentine’s Lonely Hearts Club on Bladensburg Road –says his dog is big, and active, and harmless.

But two customers have sued Thorp, claiming otherwise.

Kathleen Moran says she was sitting on a couch at Jimmy Valentine’s one night in July 2015 when Vaughn bit her face, causing “gashes to the outside of her eye, cheek, and lip.”

In an earlier lawsuit, a customer at Little Miss Whiskey’s claimed Vaughn bit her face.

Thorp said both the lawsuits and other legal troubles stem for an ongoing neighborhood feud.

Thorp was arrested in February of 2015 on drug and animal cruelty charges — both of which he claimed were trumped up charges he thinks stem from his beef with a neighborhood official he successfully sued for libel for remarks she made about one of his establishments.

It’s a long, involved story that’s not too related to our point, but you can find a synopsis in the Washingtonian.

Numerous legal matters are still pending, but Thorp, who temporarily lost custody of Vaughn, now has him back.

And, legal issues aside, maybe it would best to not allow him to freely roam the bars — at least not until he becomes better schooled in how to be a bar dog.

A bar dog, like a bartender, should be compassionate, calm, patient and mellow. He must show up when you want him to. And go away when you want him to.

Unleashing just any dog in just any bar is a mistake — and one that might come with costs.

Ace never had a problem — or caused any, at least that I’m aware of — at the Idle Hour. A lot of that was because it was among, since puppyhood, his top three places to be.

When, years later, I did a little bartending myself, and brought him along to the golf club where I worked, his behavior was always exemplary.

So, yes, I’m all for bar dogs. They can make a place seem like home. They can make a laid back bar even more laid back. They can promote bonding and conversation and help lower an entire room’s blood pressure.

But they should be chosen carefully, have the right personality, and be able to stay within certain boundaries.

Then and only then can they do what they were meant to do — make us all chill out, get along, and not sue each other.

(Photos: Top photo, Ace and friends at Recreation Billiards in Winston-Salem; bottom photo of Vaughn from his Twitter page)

Who wouldn’t be distracted by Pluto?

Testing how calm he could remain amid the crowds and distractions was exactly the reason Ace, a guide dog in training, was taken to Disneyland.

But throwing Pluto into the mix seems almost unfair.

Ace, who began his formal training with Guide Dogs of America at the end of January, was with his caretaker, Sandy Steinblums, when they bumped into Pluto.

While he might not have followed his training to the letter, Ace did calm down after some initial excitement and, once directed to stay a few times, he did a pretty good job, given Pluto was egging him on.

Steinblums said that, though it’s not in the video, Ace remained in the stay position for several minutes.

A video of the meeting was posted on Disney Dorks, a Disney fan page on Facebook, and it has been shared more than 15 million times in three days.

Ace will undergo six to nine months of training before he graduates and is matched with a human.

Is this the dog-human bed of the future?

dogandhumanbed

Surveys have shown that as many as half of us sleep with our dogs, so isn’t it time the makers of bedroom furniture started to catch up with the dog-loving times?

And, if they did, would this be the bed of the future?

This sort of bed makes pretty good sense to me, and I think Ace would like it, too.

But for you to understand that, I have to explain the tenuous in-bed relationship my dog and I have.

As soon as I turn in, Ace rushes to the bed, waits a second or two for me to say “OK!” and jumps in — jumps in as if he is thrilled beyond belief to have the distinct honor of sleeping at my side.

He settles down, after the mandatory circling, a few feet away, and with his head at the end of the bed my feet are on.

He waits a few seconds for me to get snuggled under the blanket, pat his butt and say goodnight.

The idyllic picture ends there.

From that moment, any movement by me — and especially by my feet — leads him to lift his head, turn and give me an annoyed look. After the third annoyed look, he harrumphs, gets out of the bed and heads to the floor, the futon in the den, or the sofa in the living room.

My recent purchase of a new mattress helped some. I could shift without him being bounced around. But still, any even minor movement of my feet — whether they are under the blanket or not — sets him off.

So, no, we don’t exactly snuggle all night long, even in winter. According to one survey, while 52 percent of pet owners sleep with their pets, only 23 percent snuggle next to them all night long. (We imagine the numbers are similar for spouses.)

For those of you who might also fall into the non-snuggling category, or who have dogs that fall into this category — i.e. those who appreciate the closeness without the contact or movement — this wooden bed by DoggieDilemma might be worth looking at.

This oak and pine king bed frame ($1,700) leaves a 23-inch wide space for a dog bed insert — be it blankets or a doggie mattress. A queen-size version ($1,500) is also available.

Of course, to our human eyes, this bed is not all that different from putting a doggie bed at the foot or side of your bed — especially if your box spring and mattress are, as in my case, on the floor.

But I think most smart dogs know the difference. They want to be not only on the same level, but in, or on, the same piece of furniture as you.

Furniture makers aren’t quite as smart. They’ve only begun to catch on. One can now find bedside tables that double as crates, or stairs that allow your small or elderly dog to climb into bed with you.

But with few exceptions, they haven’t quite realized: It’s not my bed, it’s our bed.

(Photo: Etsy.com)

Ace is home, and I’m ready for 62

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Call it an early birthday present — Ace is home and doing remarkably well.

After surgery to remove his bladder stones, and an overnight stay at the animal hospital, I picked him up yesterday evening.

I was warned he could be leaky for a few days, and that his pee could contain blood — much like that I’m still scrubbing out of my living room carpet from the morning before surgery — but, sequestered in the kitchen, he made it through the night.

When I let him out this morning (after relieving myself, it should be noted), he walked down the stairs, did his business, and came back to lay down on the front porch, just as he normally does.

All of which leads me to marvel, yet again, about what a stoic and resilient beast he is — far more so than I.

I turn 62 tomorrow and, believe it or not, I am happy to do that. I am happy for my year as a 61-year-old to be over. It included, in this order, quintuple bypass surgery for me, the death of my father, and the death of my mother.

When Ace became completely blocked up this week by what X-rays showed was a horrific number of bladder stones, and the veterinarian recommended, even with some risks, immediate surgery, I balked.

Might it be possible, I asked, to wait until after Sept. 5? My 61st year has been a particularly accursed one, I explained, and I don’t want to give it one last chance to hurt me.

Between saying it out loud, and the look on my vet’s face, I realized I was being ridiculous. Tomorrow is fine, I agreed. That was Tuesday.

stones 001Thursday, Ace was home, having emitted just one tiny whimper on the drive. On my ride home from the hospital, after heart surgery, I emitted a dozen whimpers, six grunts, four goddammits, and more than a few dirty looks at my brother for hitting bumps.

During the night, I heard Ace moan once. I, due to back problems, probably moaned 10 times last night.

I took three months to recover from my surgery; Ace looks like he is going to take about three days.

True, they were different kinds of surgeries. True, Ace is on pain pills, more than I would ever be permitted. Ace was prescribed Tramadol — and is to be given eight 50-milligram pills a day. My doctor, who prescribed the same for my back pain, at the same dosage, says I can only take two.

Still, on the one-to-ten scale of stoicism, Ace rates at least a nine, while I can barely eke out a two.

Ace — in his early 80s, if you compute his age in human years — is handling old-man-hood much better than I am.

He didn’t like being sequestered in the kitchen. He prefers following me from room to room and keeping me in sight. But he put up with it, and with no leakage or accidents the barriers have already been lifted, at least during daytime hours.

He is mostly sleeping, and mostly sleeping with his eyes wide open, which I’ve never been able to figure out how he does.

stones 007In addition to the drugs, and a bill for more than $2,000, the vet gave me what he said was just a small “sampling” of what was taken out of Ace.

There were hundreds of little stones, enough to make a nice bracelet, should there be a jewelry maker out there who is interested in — and not too grossed out by — taking on the job.

I also brought home a dog without the monstrous front claws Ace used to have. I’ve written before about our efforts to control those. Since Ace was going to be under anesthesia anyway, I requested he be given a pedicure. In retrospect, given the vet spent hours meticulously removing all the stones from Ace’s bladder, I feel a little guilty about that.

On the other hand, it symbolizes the fresh start that I hope comes for both of us when I turn 62 tomorrow.

He, with his bladder purged of rocky deposits, and his claws at a reasonable length. Me, with a still-ticking heart, my favorite season virtually upon us and, most importantly, my dog back at my side.

With his bladder getting badder, Ace goes under the knife for removal of stones

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This is a mostly selfish post — aimed at getting all of Ace’s friends and fans to think positive thoughts today as he goes under surgery for bladder stones.

Yes, they are back.

Never really went away, apparently, since his last X-ray a couple of months ago —  despite the obscenely-priced special dog food I kept him on for a couple of months.

Instead, they’ve only increased — to the point where it now appears a good portion of the real estate in his bladder is occupied by them.

After his catheterization in May, everything  appeared, on the outside, to be fine.  Things were flowing nicely. But over the weekend, his urine stream slowed to a dribble, like a coffee maker, and he was, while otherwise in good spirits, straining to pee.

On Sunday I took him to an emergency vet. They were getting ready to catheterize him, when he peed on his own and passed a stone.

By Tuesday though, his stream had slowed to a drip again, and he was lethargic. I took him to his regular vet, where X-rays showed stones filling his bladder and cluttering his urethra — so many that surgery appeared the only choice.

They catheterized him again and sent him home with me for the night before returning him for surgery this morning.

This morning, Ace, who is 10, woke me up early, with the clicking of his claws on the hardwood floor as he trotted from room to room, as he does when he needs to go out. This time he was dripping blood, or bloody urine, in every room of the house.

He eagerly hopped in the car for the trip to the vet, but balked a little about going inside. Either he knew something was up, or didn’t want to face another catheterization. He balked again when it came time to say goodbye and walk off with the vet tech.

Now I am back home, cleaning up blood and waiting for the phone call. The vet’s biggest concern is the stones that may or may not remain in his urethra after yesterday’s catheterization — the urethra, in boy dogs, being a circuitous tube that is prone to problems. He hopes to be able to flush any of those out without having to slice into that area.

Those are the gory details.

Here’s what you can do. Send some positive vibes our way, as many of you have before when my aging dog or my aging self have faced medical uncertainties. I, in exchange, will keep you posted.

No need to write. No need to call. Just think a good thought. I’m not sure I telepathically receive those, but I’m pretty sure Ace does.

Update 1: Ace is out of surgery, which his vet described as the most difficult such operation he has done in his career, due to the amount of stones, particularly those in Ace’s urethra. He managed to clear them all out. Ace is still under the influence of general anesthesia, and it’s not clear yet whether he will be coming home tonight. We’ll be making that call in a couple of hours. Deepest thanks to Dr. Raymond Morrison at Ard-Vista Animal Hospital, to all those who commented here and on my Facebook page, and everyone else who has kept my big ol’ dog in their thoughts.

Update 2: Ace isn’t getting up and around, so he’ll be staying at the animal hospital tonight. Plans are to pick him up tomorrow.

Update 3: Ace is still at the animal hospital, as of Thursday. Vets say they want to monitor him throughout the day, but that I can pick him up this evening.