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Tag: mourning

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.

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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.

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.

Barbara Streisand has cloned her dog twice

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Having literally written the book on the first customers of dog cloning, and having tried to keep you posted since then on developments in that morbid and exploitative business, I must report here on one of its newest customers.

Barbra Streisand.

In a far-ranging interview with Variety, the singer and show business legend revealed that her dogs Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett are both clones of her original Coton du Tulear, Samantha.

Samantha, who commonly accompanied Streisand to concerts and public appearances, and who had her own Instagram fans, died last fall at the age of 14.

In the Variety article, Streisand offered few specifics on how she made the decision to clone, or on the process itself, but either Samantha’s corpse, or cell samples from it, were sent to South Korea where they were cloned in a private lab operated by a once-disgraced scientist — the same one who was involved in the world’s first canine cloning.

Her two new pups were cloned at Sooam Biotech, using cells extracted from Samantha’s mouth and stomach.

In the process, the donor cells are merged with egg cells extracted from other dogs, zapped with an electrical current to spur splitting, then implanted in more dogs who serve as surrogates, carrying the embryos to pregnancy.

Often surplus clones result — those that don’t have the exact same markings. Through cloning’s development, death and deformities resulted as well. Animal welfare groups frown on the practice, because of the intrusive procedures the other dogs go through, and because it is generally quite easy to simply adopt a dog that looks like the one you just lost.

Streisand, from what I’ve read about her, seems to fit the common mold of dog cloning’s earliest customers — wealthy eccentrics unwilling to accept nature taking something away from them, who feel they have every right to get it back, no matter how much pain and suffering other dogs might go through for that to be achieved.

They weren’t all wealthy — including the very first customer — but they all were controlling sorts who often didn’t even recognize the utter selfishness of what they were doing.

They were also, early on, misled by the dog cloning companies that formed after the successful cloning of Snuppy in South Korea in 2005. Not only would the clone be an exact physical replica, but it would have the same endearing traits and personality of the original, they were told by the emerging dog cloning companies.

That part was bunk, and the companies later toned down their claims. As the process became more efficient, they dropped their prices too, from $150,000, to under $100,000, with some companies now offering a price as low as $25,000.

In the Variety article, Streisand’s two clones were mentioned as an aside, much like her husband, actor James Brolin, often is.

Along with her husband of 20 years, James Brolin, there’s no one she enjoys sharing her residence with more than her three Coton de Tulear dogs. Perhaps her biggest reveal: Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett were cloned from cells taken from the mouth and stomach of her beloved 14-year-old dog Samantha, who died in 2017. Miss Fanny is a distant cousin.

“They have different personalities,” Streisand says. “I’m waiting for them to get older so I can see if they have her brown eyes and her seriousness.”

Streisand, the article said, even suggested a cutline for the magazine to use with the photo they took of her and her dogs — Send in the Clones.

Streisand said that when the clones first arrived, she dressed one in red and one in lavender, so she could tell them apart. That’s what led to their names — Miss Scarlett and Miss Violet.

I don’t suspect Streisand looks at her new clones and sees in them the reincarnated soul of her original dog, as some early customers did.

I do suspect that original dog created memories she wanted to hold on to, at any cost.

Like the song she once sang, “The Way We Were,” asked:

Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Or has time re-written every line?
If we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me, would we? Could we?

The answer is — if you have more money than you know what to do with, if you have little regard for animals other than your own, if you have a selfish streak and an ability to delude yourself — yes!

(Photo: Streisand holding Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett, along with Miss Fanny (from left), who is distantly related and given to Streisand while was waiting for the clones; by Russell James / Variety)

Bring in the comfort dogs — again

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Jacob is a golden retriever who gets to go on lots of trips.

In 2016, he got to go to Orlando.

In 2017, he got to go to Las Vegas.

This year’s excursion was back to Florida, to a town called Parkland.

Jacob, you’d think, should be one happy dog, getting to go on all those trips, and getting lots of attention each time.

jacobBut Jacob, a four-year-old dog who lives in Illinois, is a comfort dog, specially trained to help survivors of tragedies.

He was present in the aftermath of the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas (58 left dead), and at the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre (49 left dead).

This week he’s helping the students, teachers and parents dealing with the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left at least 17 people, mostly children, dead.

You’d think, by now, comfort dogs such as he would be wondering about a species that harms its own members with such devastating regularity — and does such woefully little about it.

Likely not. Perhaps dogs don’t wonder about things like that.

Clearly, we humans don’t either — at least not enough to bring about real change.

Instead, we vent. We ache. Then we return to our own comfortable lives — lives not quite as plush and secure and NRA-supported as those politicians lead.

jacob3We are happy to see the comfort dogs arrive at the scene, happy to see people getting helped. The images serve as salve to our wounds — but they are wounds that should stay open, stay oozing and never stop throbbing until we get those politicians to act.

Dogs can lick our wounds. Humans can actually take steps to prevent them in the first place. But they don’t. Why? Because Bubba likes to hunt, and it’s his constitutional right, and if, every year or so, some deranged human decides gunning down fleeing people might be more fun, that’s the price we pay.

The rest of us, and dogs like Jacob, are left to mop up.

Jacob has been working since he was 16 months old. He’s had a lot of on-the-job experience — too much, says Tim Hetzner, president and CEO of Lutheran Church Charities, which runs the K-9 Comfort Dogs Ministry.

“I’d prefer they’d never have to be deployed for these type of situations,” Hetzner said.

Jacob is one of 130 dogs in 23 states who have been trained by LCC to be comfort dogs. They arrive in the aftermath of tragedies to soothe those coping with the trauma or mourning loved ones they lost.

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They are, basically, grief sponges, absorbing the gut-wrenching misery of victims and survivors.

“They don’t bark, bite, jump up,” Hetzner told Yahoo News. “They’re trained to either sit or to lie down on the ground — it depends on the situation. A lot of times with students that are on the ground, the dog lies down on the ground, and they lie on top of the dog. They’re kind of comfort rugs with a heartbeat sometimes.”

Jacob is expected to be in Parkland until the middle of the week before returning home and awaiting the next call to duty.

Unfortunately — as politicians twiddle their thumbs and debate actually doing something, as the gun lobby digs in to ensure they won’t — there will be a next one.

And we’ll bring out the comfort dogs again.

(Top photo, Associated Press; other photos courtesy of Comfort Dogs Ministry)

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

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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)

Grieving mother learns, two years later, that her daughter’s ashes were actually a dog’s

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Two years after having her stillborn baby girl cremated, a Pennsylvania mother learned the ashes she received from a crematory were actually those of a dog.

Jennifer Dailey, of Kittanning, said her grief prevented her from examining the contents of the white box she received. When she finally did, she knew something was wrong.

“I finally worked up the nerve to look into her urn and look at her ashes and there was a metal plate in there and I read it and it said Butler Pet Cremation and when I seen that I knew something was wrong,” Dailey said.

Jerrica Sky died in April 2015 and the Bauer Funeral Home in Kittanning arranged for the cremation, contracting with the Thompson-Miller Funeral Home in Butler County, which operates — separately — a pet and a human crematory.

The owner there has admitted the mistake was his, WTAE in Pittsburgh reported.

“The mistake is mine. Quite honestly I made a mistake. I had two identical containers. I just simply put the wrong label on the wrong container. The Bauers and the Bauer family and the Bauer funeral home are not at fault,” said Glenn Miller.

The Bauer family apologized as well.

“I wanted the public to know how deeply saddened I am that this happened and that I’m so sorry for the family and that it was a mistake, it was human error and that I’m so thankful we were able to rectify it extremely quickly,” said Jennifer Bauer Eroh.

Bauer Eroh said that the two funeral homes were able to track down the correct cremains and correct the error. Dailey received a new box with what the crematory said are the right cremains this time.

Dailey says she’s not accepting any apologies, and that, given what already happened, she’s not convinced the new ashes she received are her daughter’s.

“They told me a mistake had been made and I was given somebody’s pet and they were given my daughter. It turned the worst thing that could possibly happen to me in my life into a thousand times worse,” she said.

“It’s humiliating. I’m horrified,” she added. “As many times as I sat and cried and held that urn and cried myself to sleep, grieving for my daughter and it was somebody’s dog.”

(Photo: WTAE)

Thief returns dog’s ashes to owner

The thief who stole a package containing a dog’s ashes from a woman’s front porch in Staten Island has returned them, along with a note of apology.

Gloria Johnson said a box containing the ashes of her Yorkie, Dakotah, was returned to her home Tuesday morning with a note from the thief.

“Dear Mam,” the note begins. “I’m sorry for all the trouble I caused you. I wanted to bring back to you what’s dear to you and to me.

“My mind was mesed (sic) up without my mental medication and I feel bad. I love dogs and I made sure I placed him in a rose basket for the time being until I could return him where he belongs!!!”

Johnson told the Staten Island Advance Tuesday she was “ecstatic” to have Dakotah’s ashes back.

Surveillance footage obtained from Johnson’s neighbor showed a man enter her gate after the package had been dropped off by Fed Ex on July 27.

What happens when he approaches the porch can’t be seen, but he walks back into view with his backpack in his hands, walks out of the gate and leaves on his bicycle.

Johnson learned the ashes had been stolen after checking with her vet to see why they hadn’t arrived. She was told they had been delivered the previous week.

After seeing the surveillance video from a neighbor’s home, Johnson searched the neighborhood, knocking on doors, asking questions and checking inside trash cans to see if the thief might have tossed the package after seeing what was inside it.

Dakotah died from complications after a possible stroke.

“I go outside a hundred times a night to see if maybe someone put him on the fence,” Johnson, a widow, told the Advance in an interview after the theft. “After my husband died he was the one I hung on to every night.”

She had bought a crystal ash box for the dog’s cremated remains that she planned to fill and place on her mantle, alongside those of her husband.

In a plea for the return of the ashes, she added, “It matters to me that I have him, that I can talk to him. I’m not coping well.”

It’s not known if the thief saw the initial news reports, but apparently he had a conscience, and three weeks after the theft the box was returned.

“Got a little bit of faith in humanity,” Johnson told ABC 7 in New York.
“But still, he held it for three weeks. He didn’t throw them in the garbage, that was my fear, he’d just open it up and throw them in the garbage because it didn’t mean nothing to him.”

Johnson said the ashes were returned on what would have been Dakotah’s birthday.