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Tag: brain damage

Remembering my son, Joe

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On May 13, 1992, a flight arrived at LAX from Seoul and three Korean babies, orphans all, were carried off the plane by their escorts to be handed to their new adoptive parents.

My wife and I were there to meet one of them, our new son whom we’d decided, based on photos, would be named either Sam or Joe, depending on which seemed the better fit after seeing him in person.

He was the last one off the plane, a tiny thing with an unruly shock of jet black hair that was shooting in every direction after the 11-hour flight. For a moment, we debated whether he might be an “Elvis.” But we opted for Joe.

Joe WoestendiekFast forward 26 years — and God, did it ever go too fast — and Joe (full name Joseph Yoon Tae Woestendiek) was lying in a coma in a Memphis hospital, his hair shaved off, and parts of his skull removed to accommodate the swelling of his severely damaged brain. The outlook was bleak, at best.

He was on his way home from work when his car rear-ended a dump truck on the interstate near Holly Springs, Miss. The truck grinded to a halt. The truck driver pulled Joe out of his burning car. And he was airlifted by helicopter from Mississippi to Memphis — to, ironically, the Elvis Presley Trauma Center.

He died 13 days later. For nearly two weeks doctors kept him sedated and fought to relieve his cranial pressure even while warning that, if he came out of his coma at all, he would likely have little to no brain function due to the extent of the brain damage. They warned, too, that lung problems had developed, and that those and the strain on his heart, were more likely to take his life. His heart came to a stop on June 18.

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I write this another week later, partly to explain why our ohmidog! posts came to a halt, but more to keep his memory alive, and in hopes that writing about it will be cathartic and make some of the numbness and emptiness inside me go away.

joetromboneJoe grew up in Orange County, Calif.; Yardley, Pa., Anderson, S.C., and Florence, Ala. He lived in recent years with his mom and stepdad in New Albany, Miss. He attended the University of Mississippi, where he earned a B.S. in computer science from the School of Engineering.

He’d recently started a job he loved — in the information technology department of Automated Conveyor Systems, Inc., of West Memphis, Ark.

His visits to my home, in Winston-Salem, N.C., had dwindled, but up until he finished college he’d come here regularly on holidays and in the summer. He loved guitars, and video games and, of course, dogs. He’d always get teary on his last day visiting; I was never sure if it was because he was leaving me, or leaving my dog Ace. He’d yet to meet my new dog, Jinjja, also adopted from Korea.

SONY DSCWhile here, Joe would volunteer with the Forsyth Humane Society, an organization I’ve also done some work with as a volunteer. He’d walk dogs at the shelter, and help out at events, his favorite role being donning the mascot costume — a swelteringly hot furry dog outfit — and working the crowd.

He had three dogs of his own at home.

Because of his love of dogs, and the joy working with humane society brought him, I’ve decided a fitting tribute would be to make a donation to the humane society in his name — one significant enough to merit a plaque with his name on it.

His name on a brick paver is one option, but I, for what are probably selfish reasons, want more.

I want to try to make a donation large enough to make him a lifetime sponsor of one of the shelter’s kennels.

That way, everyone who walks in to look at the many dogs available for adoption will see his name, and maybe more importantly, I will. I like the idea of a kid once in need of adoption sponsoring a kennel that will house dog after dog after dog in need of adoption — forever.

That requires a $10,000 donation, not an amount I have handy, or can even dream of obtaining. But, unachievable as that might be — and needing something to do right now — that’s what I’m working on.

So here is my plan.

I’ve started a Facebook fundraiser aimed at donating $10,000 to the Forsyth Humane Society in his memory.

SONY DSCA memorial service for him will be held in Mississippi this week.

But I want to do something here in Winston-Salem — perhaps a mini-concert featuring some musician friends of his and mine. I’m working now on setting that up.

I want it to be a simple and joyful hour or so, nothing somber, nothing speech-filled — just a chance for local friends to come together and say goodbye, maybe at the Muddy Creek Cafe in Bethania. We always enjoyed going there.

When Joe arrived in the U.S., my then-wife Jenny and I were living in Orange County, California. The riots that Rodney King’s beating sparked in Los Angeles were only starting to settle down. I was covering those for the newspaper I worked for at the time, the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Every morning, I would cruise through the most devastated areas, returning to a hotel in the evening to write. It was a bleak couple of weeks, the kind that make you worry about humanity and its future. Nearly every day, my rental car was pelted by rocks and chunks of concrete. At nearly every stoplight, I’d receive hateful stares and threatening gestures.

I remember wondering as I drove those streets how, and why, complete strangers could hate me so much.

Amid all that, we got the call that our adoptee was on his way. We were supposed to pick him up in Korea, but somebody goofed. My boss was kind enough to give me some time off, away from the riots, to bond with my new son.

And in the ensuing weeks, and years, I remember wondering how a complete stranger could love me so much.

And me him.

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That’s what he taught me, and it’s not unlike the lesson anyone who adopts a dog learns. Show a creature love and respect and loyalty and you’ll get it back — unconditionally and exponentially. Oppress, abuse and disrespect it and you’ll get … what you deserve.

As abruptly and prematurely as Joe’s life ended, I will always be thankful for the joy he brought me and the lessons he taught me.

I’m thankful, too, for all the prayers and expressions of support I’ve received from friends (and even strangers). I am overwhelmed by the response to the Facebook fundraiser. I posted it three days ago, and it’s already more than halfway to its goal.

Thanks also to the caring staff at Regional One’s Elvis Presley Trauma Center, and to that truck driver, Michael Simpson of Memphis, whose actions gave Joe a fighting chance.

Those wishing to contribute to Joe’s plaque can do so through the Facebook fundraiser.

Contributions can also be made through ohmidog!, or directly to Forsyth Humane Society. Please specify they are for Joe Woestendiek’s memorial plaque.

Brain-damaged lawyer in Iowa continues to fight — and fight roughly — for dogs

mcclearyA Des Moines attorney known as “the dog lawyer” has been creating some major headaches since unleashing himself on the judicial system.

Jaysen McCleary, who has a mental disability linked to a trash can falling from a garbage truck onto his head, won a $2.1 million settlement from the city of Des Moines.

And he has gone on to fight for dogs in the area, often challenging local ordinances that regulate pit bulls. In the process, though, his critics say, he has filed frivolous claims, made a “farce” of the judicial process and offended countless judges and fellow attorneys.

He was profiled last week in the Des Moines Register — in an article whose publication he sought to block through a lawsuit.

The Register portrayed the 47-year-old former investment adviser as a man of above average intellect, with a law degree, 10 years of legal experience and the support of many of his clients — including the 10 whose dogs whose lives he helped save.

To do that, though, he has resorted to dragging his cases out, filing numerous ethics complaints against judges and demanding extra time and support because of his disability. He has made criminal allegations against another lawyer, and once told a Polk County judge he was “no better than the scum” sitting in the county jail.

McCleary has tied up his opponents with litigation and overlapping lawsuits that have cost taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal fees, the article said.

He blames his outbursts on attention deficit disorder and an acute working-memory deficiency, both a result of the brain injury that was caused when a trash can full of frozen dog feces fell off a truck and landed on his head.

“My disability has caused me to be extremely misunderstood and, as a result, less effective,” McCleary told the Register in November.

Over the past six years, he has filed at least 34 lawsuits, many of which include overlapping claims. In 26 lawsuits in which he has been involved, a city, county or their animal-control unit is named as a defendant.

Des Moines officials say that over the past 16 months, the city’s legal department has devoted at least 500 hours of staff time, all at taxpayers’ expense, to litigation involving McCleary.

In September, the chief judge of Iowa’s 5th Judicial District sanctioned McCleary for using the courts to harass Des Moines city officials and needlessly increase the city’s legal expenses.

In the past five years, McCleary or his co-counsel, Cami Eslick, have asked at least 18 judges to recuse themselves from cases in which McCleary is involved, in some cases citing the judges’ alleged bias, “personal animosity” or “deep hatred” of McCleary. The two attorneys also have filed ethics complaints against 10 judges.

Eslick said McCleary believes the city isn’t following its own laws and policies when it comes to euthanizing dogs it considers dangerous.

“These animals don’t have a voice,” she said. “He wants the court to take these cases seriously, and sometimes they don’t. … He’s incredibly smart, and he has a passion to help these animals.”

(Photo: Jaysen McCleary)

Flea collars found hazardous to pets, people

Some flea collars for cats and dogs leave cancer-causing chemicals on their fur that are hazardous to the pets and their owners, the Natural Resources Defense Council says.

The council has filed a lawsuit, asking the federal Environmental Protection Agency to order the removal of two chemicals — propoxur and TCVP, or tetrachlorvinphos — contained in many flea collars. Up until now, the EPA has said exposure to the chemicals in flea collars is insignificant.

The NRDC, in a report released yesterday, says the chemicals left residue high enough to pose a risk of cancer and neurological damage to children that is 1,000 times higher than the EPA’s acceptable levels.

“Just because a product is sold in stores doesn’t mean it’s safe,” said Dr. Gina Solomon, a physician and a toxicologist with the environmental group and an author of the study.

(To see a full list of flea and tick control products, the chemicals they contain and the risks they pose, click here.)

The federal agency had no immediate response to to the petition, or allegations that it failed to safeguard the public and their pets from dangerous pesticides, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The lawsuit, filed in California’s Alameda County Superior Court, claims 16 retailers and manufacturers, including chain pet supply and grocery stores, failed to warn consumers that they were exposed to unsafe levels of propoxur in violation of state law.

The group conducted tests on nine dogs and five cats. The tests for TCVP were conducted on Hartz Advanced Care 3-in-1 Control Collar for Cats and Hartz Advanced Care 2-in-1 Reflecting Flea & Tick Collar for Dogs. Tests for propoxur were done on Zodiac Flea & Tick Collar for dogs and Bio Spot Flea and Tick Collar for dogs.

Pet owners calling the National Pesticide Information Center have complained that dogs and cats wearing collars containing the ingredients had stopped eating or drinking and showed symptoms including vomiting, twitching, diarrhea. There was no confirmation that the collars caused the problems.

In the tests for TCVP, after three days, 60 percent of the dogs and 40 percent of the cats had residue levels that exceed the EPA’s acceptable level for developing brains of toddlers who spend an average amount of time with a pet. For toddlers who have a lot more pet contact or have more than one pet, residue levels on 80 percent of the dogs and all of the cats would exceed the acceptable level.

In the tests for propoxur, after three days, all of the dogs had residue levels that would exceed the EPA’s acceptable level to for developing brains of toddlers spending an average amount of time with a pet.

You can read the NRDC press release here.

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