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Tag: memorial

Ace, and a few hundred other friends, surface during my fundraiser to honor Joe


My quest to honor my son’s memory by having a kennel in my local humane society named after him has almost reached its goal, thanks to the kindness of friends, family and a lot of people I’ve never known.

Sure it’s only a plaque, just like a condolence card is only a card, and words are only words, and, from the giver’s point of view, none of them really seem sufficient to honor a loved one who has passed — especially one who dies such an early death.

But people do what they can at times like these. And the $10,000 (maybe more) donation Joe will be making posthumously to the Forsyth Humane Society will go a long way in terms of caring and finding homes for the dogs who end up there.

thermometer-red-90-percent-hiThe plaque is one of several commemorative opportunities the shelter, like most, offers to those wishing to make a donation in the name of a loved one lost, be they cat, dog or human.

Forsyth Humane Society, in North Carolina, offers commemorative bricks, engraved with the loved one’s name, from $100 to $250, based on their size; bench plaques, for $750; annual sponsorships of individual kennels for $300 a year; and the big one — sponsoring a kennel for a lifetime — for $10,000. As part of the kennel sponsorships, the Humane Society sends you the stories of three of the dogs that occupy the kennel each year.

(You can check the website of your local humane society or SPCA to see the commemorative opportunities it might offer.)

For my son Joe, 26, who died two weeks after an accident on an Interstate highway in Mississippi, I had to shoot for the perpetual sponsorship.

When Joe visited me in the summer, he volunteered at the Forsyth Humane Society a few days a week, and at special events, where he most enjoyed donning the dog costume of its mascot.

So the choice for a memorial to him seemed a good fit — and a much-needed something to keep me busy.

I started a Facebook fundraising campaign, which is now more than 90 percent of the way to its goal and has left me marveling at the kindness and generosity of my friends, most of whom I’ve done a poor job of staying in touch with over the years.

Former colleagues at the Philadelphia Inquirer responded, as well as many from the Baltimore Sun. College friends kicked in. Dog park buddies came through, as did lots of you ohmidog! readers, some I know and some I don’t.

And I can’t remember ever being so touched. Thanks to you, Joe, who was adopted from Korea as an infant, will soon have his name on a kennel that, over the course of each year, will probably house one or two dozen homeless dogs (one at a time) awaiting that happy outcome.

Each and every donation, large or small, has lifted my spirits.

One of the gestures that moved me most came from a friend in Baltimore who was mourning the death of her dog.

Carey Hughes once fell really hard for me, but let me explain.

bm3We’d met when we were both out with our dogs at some sort of function in the Inner Harbor. We got together a few times after that, since our dogs hit it off so well — usually at a dog park, or a bar that allowed dogs.

Once at an outdoor restaurant near the harbor, I asked her to hold Ace’s leash for me while I went inside for more beer. Her dog, Bimini was tied to the table, but given Ace, at 140 pounds, could drag a table pretty far, I asked Carey to hold on to him.

When I came back outside, Ace bolted toward me, toppling Carey’s chair and dragging her a foot or two across the pavement (something he’d done with me a few times, so I knew it hurt, despite her assurances).

The fact that she didn’t let go of the leash says something about her. So does what she did this week. Bimini died last week, and friends were asking Carey how they might contribute to some sort of memorial for him.

Instead, she asked those friends to donate to Joe’s fundraiser, in a Facebook post, and many of them did.

She’s planning gathering in Bimini’s honor in the days ahead during which she will bury Bimini’s ashes in a whiskey barrel behind her house, then plant flowers on top.

bim2Having some of Ace’s ashes still remaining from my two spreadings of his ashes — one in the Atlantic Ocean, the other in a creek along a trail we used to hike regularly — I asked her if I could send some of those to be in the whiskey barrel with Bimini.

Given Bimini never liked to be alone (neither did Ace, who died two years ago), she thought it was a great idea.

Unless postal authorities became suspicious of the powdery substance inside and tore the package open, the ashes should have arrived yesterday.

Little things like that, all piled on top of each other — the reuniting with friends, the generosity people have shown, the support I’ve received — have, along with keeping myself as busy as possible, have made this week tolerable.

I posted a remembrance of Joe on ohmidog! Monday. On Tuesday, my local paper, the Winston-Salem Journal, ran a beautiful front page story by columnist Scott Sexton about Joe and the fundraising campaign. Those, combined with the Facebook fundraising campaign, have led to it nearing it’s $10,000 goal.

As Sexton noted, say what you will about all the cons of Facebook — and I frequently bash it — it leads to some pretty marvelous things.

“Facebook has earned every last bit of criticism leveled at it for helping to sow discord and divide people through dissemination of fake news and paid manipulations by bad actors overseas. It, and other outlets, are easily manipulated and should be viewed in many cases with healthy skepticism and an eye toward fact (and source) checking.

“The flip side is that social media can be extremely useful. It can help connect lives, share news and has the power to bring people (and communities) together. It also has the ability to pass word of tragedy, and spare people from having to repeat over and over and over the unfathomable.”

Joe WoestendiekIt is mainly through Facebook that old friends have gotten in touch and complete strangers have decided to donate. Thanks to those who shared the posts, and to all those who sent comforting words.

My friends are mostly fellow writers, many of whom pointed out that words just aren’t sufficient at times like this.

But they tried anyway and, for the record, they do help. A lot. Words, gestures, hugs — they mean everything right now.

So will Joe’s plaque. It will probably take a while before it goes up on one of the kennels at the humane society, which opened its new facility two years ago. It takes time for the donations to be funneled through and for the actual making of the plaque.

I can’t wait to see it.

And if that last name isn’t spelled right, as often happens, believe me I will let them know.

(Photos: Joe Woestendiek and Ace, by John Woestendiek; Bimini and Ace, courtesy of Carey Hughes)

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.

joefishing

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.

SONY DSC

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.

Michigan funeral home holds service for dog who comforted thousands of the grieving

holly1

Hollie, a golden retriever who for 16 years comforted mourners at a Kalamazoo funeral home, was remembered yesterday with a ceremony in her honor.

Betzler Life Story Funeral Home held an open house for the therapy dog they believe to have been the first used in Michigan by a funeral home.

While more funeral homes have begun having therapy dogs on the premises, Betzler’s started their program at a time it was mostly unheard of.

Scott Betzler, Hollie’s owner, got the idea while he served on the board of directors of the Kalamazoo Humane Society. That organization offered a pet visitation program for nursing homes at the time, and Betzler decided to try to incorporate it at the funeral home.

“It was very different at the time to have a dog in a funeral home,” said Patrick Bauschke, a funeral director at Betzler. “But Hollie made it the most natural fit. She’s worked thousands of funerals and visitations and helped countless people.”

“Mention the Betzler name and chances are people will remember Hollie,” he added. “She happily greeted people at the door, mingled throughout visitations and services, and offered a calming and comforting influence on those who needed her most.”

Bauschke said Hollie had a soothing effect on visitors — “an unmatched sense of knowing just who needed her and when.”

holly2MLive reported that setting aside some time for people to remember and honor Hollie was an obvious idea.

“So many people have adored her, it is a time for people to come in and visit,” Funeral Director Joe Buysse said. “We have so many people who say, ‘I remember when I was here for Grandma or Uncle Charlie and she was here. She was a big comfort to me when I was a kid. Now I’m grown up.’ It is amazing how she has touched so many people.”

Hollie completed temperance training through the Kalamazoo Humane Society and was the first official funeral home therapy dog in the Greater Kalamazoo and Paw Paw areas.

Her work was featured in articles by the International Cemetery Cremation and Funeral Association, the Michigan Funeral Directors Association and the Kalamazoo Gazette.

She was often taken on visits to local senior communities, and visited elementary schools for book-reading sessions with children.

You can read more about Hollie’s life here.

With Hollie’s passing, the funeral home says her role will be taken over by Ellie, a 3-year-old English retriever who has been working alongside her.

(Photos: Betzler Life Story Funeral Home)

Western Kentucky weather dog passes away

Radar the Weather Dog — voted Bowling Green’s best television personality for nine years in a row — passed away Christmas morning at age 16.

Julie Milam, general manager at WNKY, broke the news to staff at the end of the station’s morning news program Tuesday, the Bowling Green Daily News reported.

“It’s a very sad and somber day at our station,” she said. “It is a great loss at our station for every employee and the community as a whole.”

A shelter pet, Radar was rescued from the Bowling Green-Warren County Humane Society in 2005. He was introduced as the station’s weather dog, appeared in forecasts with the meteorologist and lived at the station full time up until two years ago.

radarThe purebred border collie was a friendly dog who would roam about the station and greet visitors. When the time came for the weather report though, “he knew to be in that chair (and) be still,” Milam said. “He would bark on command.”

Radar gained additional fame at various community events, including his appearances at the annual Fur Ball that benefits the humane society.

Radar would go home with various members of the staff on weekends, and there were often arguments about who would get to take him home.

Eventually, he moved in full time with Marilyn Gardner, her two dogs and her foster kittens.

“He was a very loyal and sweet and funny character,” she said.

From 2008 to 2017, Radar was voted Bowling Green’s best television personality by Daily News and Amplifier readers as part of the annual Best of Bowling Green poll.

Radar’s adopted sister, SOKY, has taken over some of his station duties. She was also adopted from Logan County through the Bowling Green-Warren County Humane Society.

Lorri Hare, the shelter director, said Radar’s celebrity did wonders for promoting animal adoption.

“You can find great dogs here at the shelter every day,” she said. “He’ll be missed by a lot of us for sure. He lived a great life. A lot of people loved him.”

A public memorial is planned for February, according to WNKY.

Shep: Montana dog was faithful to the end

It may be a dog in Japan who is most famous for demonstrating the true meaning of loyalty, but the vigil of a Montana dog, named Shep, is at least equally heart-wrenching.

The story of Shep’s vigil begins, almost eerily, the year after the death of Hachiko, the Akita who, after his master died, famously waited for him every day at a train station for nearly 10 years.

Hachiko would accompany his master, a university professor, to the train station every morning, and be waiting for him when he returned. When his master didn’t get off the train one day, having died while at work, Hachiko continued going to the train station every day for nine years and nine months, until he died in 1935.

In 1936, a sheep herder in Montana took ill and was taken to St. Clare Hospital in Fort Benton. His dog followed him into town, and waited outside the hospital.

A nun who ran the kitchen at the hospital brought the dog food as he stood vigil for the next several days, until the sheep herder, whose name has been lost to history, died.

His body was put into a coffin and taken to the train station in Fort Benton to be shipped to his family back east.

As it was loaded onto the train, Shep was there watching. Reportedly, he whimpered as the door slammed shut and the train pulled away,

The dog chased the train for a while, then turned back.

For the next five and a half years, Shep, believed to be a collie mix, never left the train station. He lived underneath the train platform, and would greet each train that stopped — about four a day — in hopes of seeing his master.

According to FortBenton.com, Shep “eyed each passenger hopefully, and was often chased off as a mongrel but never completely discouraged. Neither the heat of summer days nor the bitter Montana winter days prevented Shep from meeting the next train.

“As Shep’s fame spread, people came from everywhere to see him, to photograph him, and to try and make friends and possibly adopt him. All of the attention was somewhat unwelcome; after checking the train he often retired quickly to get away from those who came to see him. Most people missed the point that Shep was a one-man dog.”

Railroad employees fed Shep, and the story of his vigil was carried in the old “Believe it Or Not” newspaper feature, and picked up by other news media of the day.

As time went on, though, Shep was slowing down, probably arthritic, and he had grown hard of hearing.

One day in 1942, unable to hear an arriving train and too slow and frail to get off the icy tracks, Shep was struck and killed.

His death made headlines and thousands of people sent in condolences.

Hundreds attended his funeral, at which a boy scout troop carried Shep in his coffin up to a bluff and buried him.

An obelisk and sign mark the spot of his burial, and 50 years after his death the town of Fort Benton commissioned a statue memorializing Shep, which now sits alongside the Missouri River.

NBC’s Dateline carried a short report about Shep last week:

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Residents create a memorial at site where pit bull was found hanging from bridge

Concerned and frightened residents of an Atlanta suburb have created a memorial to a pit bull found hanged from a bridge nearly two months ago.

They’ve covered the guardrail on the overpass with stuffed animals and reward signs in hopes the dog’s killer will be brought to justice.

Volunteers met at the bridge along Kelly Lake Road Saturday and attached hundreds of stuffed animals — mostly dogs — to the handrails.

Police in DeKalb County continue to investigate the case, and a $10,000 reward has been offered for information leading to a suspect, according to WSB-TV in Atlanta.

A woman walking her 2-year-old son to day care found the dog hanging by a chain from the bridge on May 20.

Many residents believe the killer lives in their neighborhood.

“You don’t have to be a dog lover or even have pets to understand what a vicious crime this was committed right here across the street from where people live, right next door,” explained Johanna Falber, who organized the event.

Falber said the group has been posting reward signs on the bridge, but someone keeps removing them.

“It’s about a vicious killer that’s out here somewhere, that keeps ripping down our signs so they’re not caught,” Falbert said. “We want attention. We want this to stop. We want that dog killer found.”

Police described the dog as a brown and white, female pit bull.

Anyone with information about the dog or the crime can call the police tip line at 404-294-2645.

Is artwork an attack on pit bulls?

outofblue3

Whether it’s art, propaganda, or a combination of the two, a memorial to victims of fatal dog attacks is creating controversy as one of dozens of entries in a public art display in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The work  is called “Out of the Blue,” a reference to how dog attacks — and particularly pit bull attacks, the artist repeatedly points out — usually happen.

outofblue2The display, created by a woman identifying herself as Joan Marie Kowal, consists of more than 30 decorated crosses, representing the number of people killed in dog attacks this year, and images of the victims, many of them children.

The artwork is rubbing some dog lovers, and particularly pit bull lovers, the wrong way, which has led to some demonstrations and the kind of heated, everybody’s an expert debate that follows pit bulls around wherever they go.

Joan Marie Kowal, we suspect, has more experience in badmouthing pit bulls than she does in creating art, but then again artists don’t need credentials in this competition.

Every year, for 19 days, three square miles of downtown Grand Rapids is opened up to artists in ArtPrize, a competition that awards $200,000 to the grand prize winner.

Downtown becomes “an open playing field where anyone can find a voice in the conversation about what is art and why it matters,” according to the  ArtPrize  website. “Art from around the world pops up in every inch of downtown … It’s unorthodox, highly disruptive, and undeniably intriguing to the art world and the public alike.”

This year, “Out of the Blue” has proved among the most disruptive.

A week ago, perturbed pit bull owners brought their dogs to Calder Plaza, where the entry is displayed, in hopes of presenting their views and showing that pit bulls — the breed most often mentioned in the memorial — aren’t vicious killing machines.

When they sat down in front of the memorial, Kowal complained they were obstructing the public’s view.

Kowal told MLIVE.com in an email that “visitors can’t even see the art and many have told me the bully breed owners, sitting on the ledges blocking the view of the victims’ biographies and refusing to move, makes them unable to enjoy the piece.”

Grand Rapids Police Lt. Pat Dean said Kowal filed a complaint in late September about people sitting with pit bulls on the stone wall in front of her ArtPrize entry. Police found nothing illegal at that time, he said, and members of the group, while on public property, moved at the request of officers.

Kowal describes the work as “an opportunity to Pay it Forward, and show the good side of humanity. Visitors are encouraged to express their sympathy, respect, and support for the victims and their families by leaving teddy bears, flowers, or memorial decorations in the designated heart-shaped memorial space.”

According to a brief biography listed on the ArtPrize website,  Kowal is an animal lover, who has feral cats and pet squirrels. She attended Grand Valley State University.

Not a whole lot can be learned about her through searching her name on the Internet, and there’s no mention of any previous artistic pursuits.

There was a 2011 MLIVE.com article that mentioned her name, and quoted her as being a supporter of a proposed pit bull ban in Wyoming, Michigan.

Perhaps she became an artist “out of the blue.” Perhaps her anti-pit bull passion needed an outlet.

We support the right for just about anyone to call themselves an artist, assuming they are making some form of art. We don’t have a problem with Kowal expressing herself — either vocally or through her “art” — on the streets of Grand Rapids. By the same token, we have no problem with pit bull owners and their dogs sitting down squarely in front of it, as long as it’s public property. They have the right to express themselves in public, too, whether they’re ArtPrize contestants or not.

So do we. And our opinion is Kowal is pushing her personal agenda under the guise of a non-profit organization’s art competition, and that it’s likely part of a well-plotted effort by those forces intent on painting all members of the breed with the same brush, reinforcing negative stereotypes while playing fast and loose with the facts.

Kowal says she plans to add three more crosses this weekend in remembrance of three other people who died from injuries she says were caused by pit bull attacks.

“That is not my fault that they were all killed by pit bulls,” she said. “I’m just showing the facts.”