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Tag: life

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.

Those living with a dog tend to live longer

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Dog owners have a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death, according to a comprehensive new study published by a team of Swedish researchers.

The scientists followed 3.4 million people over the course of 12 years and found that adults who live alone and owned a dog were 33 percent less likely to die during the study than adults who lived alone without dogs.

In addition, the single adults with dogs were 36 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, the study said.

While it’s already accepted that dog ownership can boost activity levels and lower blood pressure, especially among older people, the study was the largest to date on the health implications of owning a dog, according to WebMD.

The Swedish scientists analyzed seven national data registries in Sweden, including two dog ownership registers, to study the association between owning a dog and cardiovascular health.

And while their findings are Sweden-specific, they believe they probably apply to other European countries with a similar attitude to dog ownership.

Interestingly, they also found a connection between positive health effects and breeds.

“In general hunting type breeds had the most protective estimates, while mixed breeds and toy breeds the least,” said Tove Fall, senior author of the study and Associate Professor in Epidemiology at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University.

The study doesn’t explain how dogs may be responsible for providing protection from cardiovascular disease, but Tove speculated higher levels of activity and social contact lead to better health.

tove_dog_health“As a veterinarian I heard many stories on that vast impact a dog can have on their owner’s well-being and also on their physical activity levels,” she said.

The study’s authors suggested dog owners may have a lower risk because they walk more, feel less isolated and have more social contacts.

More than 3.4 million individuals, aged 40 to 80, were included in the study, which was published today in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Dog ownership was especially prominent as a protective factor in persons living alone, which is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those living in a multi-person household,” said Mwenya Mubanga, a Ph.D. student at Uppsala University and the lead junior author of the study.

The link between dog ownership and lower mortality was less pronounced in adults who lived either with family members or partners, but still present, according to the study.

(Photo: My dog Ace; Tove, with her puppy, Vega)

Why’d ya have to kick that dog, Marge?

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In the final episode of its 28th season, “The Simpsons” was making some pretty wry and thought-provoking observations on the ever evolving human-dog relationship.

But then Marge had to go and kick a dog, ruining — or at least tarnishing — the whole episode.

“Dogtown” started off with Homer swerving his car to avoid hitting the Simpson’s family dog, Santa’s Little Helper, and running into a human instead — a down on his luck character named Gil who was, like the dog, seeking to forage a meal from garbage cans in an alleyway.

The injured Gil files a lawsuit against Homer — one that he seems sure to win until Homer’s lawyer notices and seizes on the jury’s love for dogs.

He mounts a defense emphasizing Homer’s desire not to hurt the dog, highlighting all the wonderful things dogs do for us, citing historical examples and showing cute YouTube videos that lead jury members to utter extended “awwwwwwwws.”

Gil’s lawyer tries to show that a dog’s life shouldn’t be valued as highly as a human’s, pointing out some less than desirable canine habits, but the jury finds all of them cute as well.

They issue a quick not guilty verdict for Homer, and he goes on to be revered as a local hero for sparing the dog’s life.

bartNoting how the case has captured the public’s attention, Mayor Quimby decides he needs dog-loving voters in his camp and begins passing laws that turn Springfield into a dog paradise

Springfield becomes not just dog-friendly, but dog-serving, dog-pandering — a place where many human establishments once serving humans now service dogs almost exclusively, a place where dogs don’t have to answer to anyone about anything.

As farce, it worked. The outrageous scenarios it portrayed of dogs being coddled, pampered, spoiled and placed on pedestals rang at least a tiny bit true.

Other than a dejected Gil, who has realized the town values dogs more than someone like him, the only naysayer is local veterinarian Dr. Budgie, who predicts that dogs, without humans to be subservient to, are going turn on people once they discover that humans are no longer in charge.

When they do, things get chaotic. Dogs take over, taking advantage of new opportunities, but also growing more in touch with their wild roots, stalking and preying and wandering the streets in roaming packs.

When Santa’s Little Helper departs the Simpson’s home to live with his own kind, Bart and Lisa set off to find him, but end up getting treed by a pack of snarling dogs, led by the alpha dog, a Chihuahua.

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Marge comes to the rescue, facing down the pack of dogs, and particularly their leader. When that dog growls at her, Marge growls right back, ordering them all to sit and stay.

That, plot-wise, could and should have been enough to show she has reasserted her dominance, but the writers took it a step too far. Marge is shown kicking the small dog, who disappears into the horizon like punted football. After that she’s completely in control, dogs resume their place, and — though the esteem in which I once held Marge is forever altered — life returns to normal in Springfield.

It just wasn’t in keeping with Marge’s character. Sure, she’s a no-nonsense sort and will lay down the law when she has to, but violence has never seemed part of her repertoire. She has always favored brains over brute force.

It was not a good message. Even in a cartoon. Even in an adult cartoon known for pushing the envelope. And the worse part was, it was not at all necessary to the story, just a gratuitous dog kick that should have been edited out.

We’re guessing that scene wouldn’t have survived in Sam Simon’s day.

Simon, director and co-creator of the series, died in 2015, but his philanthropy and love for dogs lives on through the Sam Simon Foundation, which, among other causes, works to save animals from harmful and abusive situations.

To see that other part of his legacy, namely “The Simpsons,” resorting to depicting a dog being kicked — and kicked by Marge rather than a doofus like Homer — strikes me as shameful.

Surely, the writer could have come up with another three-second gag to replace that, and not leave viewers with the impression — even in the context of comedy — that violence and brute force are needed to train, discipline or keep dogs “in their place.”

That’s my verdict, anyway, and as for the writer we’d suggest a good strong correction — like a firm jerk on the leash.

Coming soon: A Street Cat Named Bob

The true story of how a street cat named Bob changed the life of an alcoholic street musician in London came out in book form three years ago .

Now the movie version is coming — in which Bob is played (mostly) by Bob.

James Bowen’s autobiographical book telling the story of his struggle with addiction and of his life on the streets, in homeless shelters and in supported housing sold millions of copies.

Its focus was on the bond he formed with Bob after the cat found his way into Bowen’s room in a subsidized housing complex.

The pair went on become inseparable, winning fans across London.

Luke Treadaway stars as Bowen, a street musician overcoming a troubled childhood.

But in most of the scenes featuring Bob, that’s the real Bob you’ll be seeing.

The film is scheduled for release in early November.

Numbers of dogs in the workplace is rising

ginger

Thanks to the millennials, the percentage of American workplaces allowing dogs is increasing — up to 8 percent, from 5 percent five years ago.

NPR reported on the phenomena yesterday, citing examples of how employers — in an attempt to lure new employees by providing them with a low-cost benefit — are opening their doors to dogs.

Millennials (born between 1982 and 2004) are expected to make up half the work force by 2020, and they are expected to surpass baby boomers as the largest pet-owning generation around that same time.

Millennials tend to look at their pets “as practice families or substitute families and seem to be more verbal in their wants and needs for their pet and for making sure their pet is well tended and well cared for,” Bob Vetere, president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association, told CNBC, which reported on the increasing numbers of dogs in the workplace last fall.

“Employers are starting to realize that having a millennial bring … a pet to work, you wind up getting a more focused employee, you get someone more comfortable at the office and a person willing to work longer hours,” Vetere added.

Some companies, CNBC reported, go to greater lengths than others to make those dogs feel welcome, offering play areas, free pet training, pet walkers, pet health insurance, offsite pet sitters and grooming services.

More than 2,000 dogs are brought in by employees regularly to Amazon’s main campus in Seattle, where about 25,000 employees work. The company provides doggy treats at all of its reception desks and each of the nearly 30 buildings on the campus has spaces for pet exercise.

replacementsxThe NPR report focused on Replacements, that dog-friendly North Carolina china warehouse we told you about back in April.

It has about 400 employees, and about 30 animals who come to work with them regularly.

“… The interesting thing is that we have never had a pet break anything here,” said public relations manager Lisa Conklin. “We’ve had people, myself included, who have broken a number of these delicate pieces. But we have never to our knowledge had a pet break anything.”

Conklin says the pets-at-work policy costs the company nothing, and staff often say it’s their favorite perk.

On top of boosting morale and productivity, as studies have shown it does, it lets workers feel they are achieving a work-life balance — something a lot of baby boomers I know weren’t the best at.

Having a successful dogs-in-the-workplace program requires some planning, and some patience, and some resourcefulness, say those who have instituted them.

The NPR story cited the case of Buchanan Public Relations, a company located outside Philadelphia, where Lacey, a Rottweiler mix, was regularly being terrorized by Romeo, a toy poodle with “a bit of a Napoleon complex.”

Company owner Anne Buchanan — instead of reneging on the pets-at-work policy — hired a dog trainer who managed to restore workplace harmony.

(Photos: At top, Ginger, an English bulldog, at work with owner, Will Pisnieski, at Authentic Entertainment in Burbank, Calif., by Grant Hindsley / AP; bottom photo, Charlie rides along with employee Kim Headen at Replacements, by Peter Taylor / AP)

How to stay young? How to grow old? Dogs show us the way to both

foghat

Dogs have a knack for helping us accomplish our goals. Somehow, they seem to know what those goals are without ever being told. Maybe, they know our goals better than we do.

With no apparent effort, they can help us accomplish our missions … whatever the mission … even missions that are completely opposite from one another.

Dogs, for instance, can help us stick to a routine, or get us out of a rut. (Ace has done both for me.)

They can enlarge our circles of friends, and — at those times solitude might be best — keep it from getting too lonely. (Ace has done both of those, too.)

And they can both keep us young and show us how to grow old.

That last trick, I think, is particularly impressive.

Dogs, when you think about it, show us how to live our lives (in the moment, with abandon), cope with our maladies (with brave perseverance) and die our deaths (with grace and dignity).

Between the examples they offer, the similarities between our species and the uncovered secrets dogs may still hold, it’s no surprise that science and medicine and more than a few other fields of study are increasingly turning to them for answers.

What dogs have to teach us about living a healthy life — some of it obvious (if we pay attention), some of it suspected and undergoing research — was the subject of an article last month in AARP Magazine.

As it noted, dogs, as they continue to evolve alongside us, are increasingly mirroring us, right down to getting the same diseases and disorders.

“… This evolution is ongoing, a process scientists call convergence: Human and canine genes, shaped by the environment we share, are evolving in lockstep. Today, along with home security and leftover disposal, dogs confer a host of wellness benefits, especially to kids and older people,” the article’s author, David Dudley, wrote. “People with dogs sleep better, weigh less and get more exercise than dog-free peers.”

“And there are the less tangible perks, the ones cataloged in Marley & Me–style books. This burgeoning “dogoir” literary genre revolves around the reductive but basically correct idea that a dog is foremost an instrument of personal growth: It exists to ease your existential anxieties, impart lessons about love and friendship, and teach you how to be a better person.”

But as noted by Dudley, who weaves the lessons his dog Foghat taught him into the article, that’s just the beginning of what dogs might have to share.

He cites a couple of research projects as examples of the possible answers dogs may hold when it comes to aging.

Neuroscientist Elizabeth Head is studying elderly beagles at the University of Kentucky in an attempt to determine why, by age 6 or 7, they start showing signs of the microscopic beta-amyloid plaques that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

About a third of the beagles will succumb to canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, about the same percentage of Americans over 85 who will get Alzheimer’s.

“It could be that living in our environment — our food, our water, our homes — has made dogs more vulnerable,” she says.

Head thinks dogs might hold the key to defeating it. Past studies, she notes, have demonstrated that an antioxidant-rich diet and “behavioral enrichment” — a course of memory drills and new-skills training — can significantly delay or diminish plaque development and memory impairments.

At the University of Washington, Daniel Promislow, an aging researcher (in both meanings of the phrase), has assembled a team to join in a Canine Longevity Consortium. Through a a grant from the National Institute on Aging, they’re working on the first national longitudinal study on aging in dogs, which will include looking at how dogs stay so seemingly happy and carefree as they advance in years.

On the downside, as we all know, they can relatively suddenly become frail, forgetful and sick — as was the case with Dudley’s dog, Foghat.

“…He entered his dotage in roaring good health. Around his 18th birthday, I Googled “oldest dog in the world,” because I started to wonder if he was closing in on a record. He was what gerontologists would call a successful ager.

“And then, seemingly overnight, he wasn’t. If you have to go — and you do — a swift slide into decrepitude is the preferred way. The phrase is “compression of morbidity,” when the infirmities of age are delayed until the bitter end. Still, it’s no picnic. The joints went first. He started limping after a vigorous bouncing-a-soccer-ball-off-his-nose session. Then he needed help climbing into the car or crawling under the bed, his favorite sleeping spot.”

As Foghat declined, Dudley wrote, his “senescence appeared as both a comfort and a warning of what awaits: Some fears and eccentricities will lift with the years; others will only deepen. One by one, the things you love to do become too difficult and slip out of your life.”

With his death, Dudley says, “I was struck by the strange new stillness — the foreign silence of a household without a dog. It was as if a machine that had been humming in the background for a long time had suddenly been switched off.”

Amid that silence, Dudley, like many other grieving dog owners, started quantifying what he learned from Foghat.

” …And now that I’m no longer young, and he’s dead, I’ll do my best to follow the path Foghat blazed into my life’s last half…” he wrote.

“So eat the best food you can afford. Go for a walk, even if it’s raining. Take a lot of naps. Keep your teeth clean and your breath fresh, so that the people you lick will not flinch. And when someone you love walks in through the door, even if it happens five times a day, go totally insane with joy.”

(Photo: Foghat, the author’s dog, in 1995 at age 1, left, and in 2012 at age 18; courtesy of David Dudley / AARP Magazine)

Who knows what’s best for Jack?

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Dog blogger and broadcaster Steve Friess says he’s not going to spend $5,000 to put his dog though chemotherapy that could extend his life a year or more — and he’s going to try not to feel bad about it.

Even when he says his final goodbye to Jack in what could be less than a month.

In late October, Friess noticed the dog he’d adopted nine years ago was getting lethargic, and that his weight had dropped from his usual 11 pounds to around eight.

A vet diagnosed that Jack had an aggressive form  of lymphoma that was spreading quickly through his body.

Friess did some research, checking with friends, and vets, and friends who were vets: One of the latter urged him to “do the full chemo protocol ASAP!” It could send Jack into remission for nine months, or 12 months, or even longer.

Friess and his partner researched, debated and decided against chemotherapy — not because it would be all that rough on the dog physically (they handle it much better than we do). The main reason, he admits, is the money, which, he also admits, they just doesn’t have.

There will likely be those who second guess Freiss, or maybe try to lay a guilt trip on him: Take out a loan, hit up your friends, get a second (or third) job, launch an online fundraising campaign, let me be the first to donate.

We’ve become a nation of such overflowing compassion for dogs, with such promising new medical technologies, and such handy online fundraising tools at our beck and call, that it’s easy to lose sight that decisions about life and death — both ours and our dogs — are still our own, and that throwing in the towel, for financial reasons, or others, isn’t always a shameful choice.

We suspect Friess will receive some support for his decision, but will hear from many more questioning it. His decision to write about it, as he did in a post for Time.com, is brave, but also an open invitation to second-guessers. In any case, the decision on what’s best for Jack should be (and has been) made by the person who knows him best, and deserves to be respected

Friess, a freelance writer and co-host of The Petcast, said neither his advisers nor his vet seemed to be trying to make him feel guilty about his choice. But, as is the way with guilt trips, we often don’t need a tour guide.  Feelings of shame can start as soon as we ask our vet the question Friess did:

“How much will it cost?”

For Friess, the estimate was a minimum of $5,000 — more than he and his partner had.

“(It) means we have about 30 days. The end will probably come in time for holidays … “We’ve received a lot of advice, both solicited and unwelcome, through social media. Nobody comes right out to say it, but the disappointment some express at our decision shows that they question our love for Jack. In an era when people spend big on animal clothes, artisanal foods and medical intervention, and when medical science makes it possible to spend $5,000 so Jack dies slightly later than sooner, there is pressure to go as far as we can.”

There’s one more twist. Friess and his partner are trying to adopt a human baby, and they’re working on saving the $15,000 fee for that.

“If that $5,000 could cure the cancer and restore Jack’s full life expectancy, maybe we’d do it,” he wrote. “Maybe. It certainly would be a tougher choice. But to buy a year during which we’d be waiting for his lymph nodes to resume their swell? We could endure the end stages either now or later.”

(Photo of Jack by Steve Friess)