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Tag: mourning

Another “Day,” another dollar

kinglouieYesterday was National Pet Memorial Day, billed as a time to remember our departed dogs and cats.

I’m not big on “national days,” especially those sponsored by businesses that make money off their themes every day of the year.

Therefore I am not celebrating.

Four months after Ace’s death, every day is still pet memorial day — and I don’t need the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories (sponsor of the day) to remind, prod, poke or even console me.

Most of us don’t.

Most of us manage, with friends, and family and time, to work through the loss of a pet without the aid of a special day or a professional organization that, well-intentioned as it might be, still wants to sell us something.

We come up with ways to cope — some of them scary and misguided, some of them touching, like this one.

A Las Vegas couple is paying tribute to their recently deceased Yorkie by emblazoning his image on a pair of billboards in town.

“You will be missed,” the billboard honoring King Louie Siegel reads. “Thanks for all the great memories.”

King Louie was born Dec. 20, 2008, and died Aug. 31, 2016, according to KSNV

Judith Perez, King Louie’s owner, said the dog was put down by the vet. He was suffering from brain inflammation and fluid on his spine, which was taking away his ability to walk.

She said the idea for the billboard was proposed by her fiance, Steve Siegel, and she went along with it, eventually coming to like the idea.

Whatever works, I say — as long as it’s not hurting or exploiting others.

(Photo: Twitter)

You remember Ace

aceandmikey

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

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

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

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

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

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

But look what you went and did.

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

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

And those were just the ones who actually met him.

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

I guess that’s a good thing.

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

A sampling:

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

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

Ace and Bim at Idle Hour

Ace and Bim at Idle Hour

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

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

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

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

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

Ace and Stringer at Recreation Billiards

Ace and Stringer at Recreation Billiards

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

It is greatly comforting to know he lives on.

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

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

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

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

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

A letter to a departed dog

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If you are in between dogs — if you’ve recently lost one and can’t quite make the leap to bringing home another — here’s something worth reading.

Allie Potts, a North Carolina writer, puts into words all those hard to pin down feelings that bounce around in one’s head when one is simultaneously coping with grief, dealing with the void of being dog-less, and wondering if getting a new dog is somehow disrespectful to the dear departed old one.

To deal with that, Potts, upon getting a new dog, wrote a letter to her old one.

alliepotts“We pulled out your crate this week, unused for the last three years, and brushed off the cobwebs, only we didn’t do it for you,” she writes.

“Another four-legged creature joined the family and needed a place to sleep. I think you would have liked her. She’s a mix of Lab, like you, but Boxer too, which was always your favorite playmate. But she’s not you.”

Potts recounts the feelings that arose as she sat with the new dog on the couch, much like she did with the old one.

“I felt so guilty. Guilty that I was enjoying her warmth by my side. Guilty that we couldn’t do more to keep you there longer. Guilty I am happy to once again see a bowl on the ground.

“But she really is a good girl and I was the one to suggest we bring her home. In fairness to her, I am trying to remember all your flaws as much as I recall your virtues. How you could clear the room after a meal. The books of mine you destroyed. That incident with the bunny.

“The trouble is, I loved you with your flaws as much as you loved me with mine.”

The full essay can be found on her blog, Allie Potts Writes. She has also written two books, “An Uncertain Faith” and “The Fair & Foul.”

Having had ten dogs come into and go out of my life, I’d agree with her that comparing dogs is hard to avoid — and at the same time a useless pursuit.

“She’s not you, true, but she’s herself; a dog who is sweet and mostly well-mannered. A dog who deserves to be loved for who she is rather than considered somehow flawed for who she’s not…

“So please forgive me if I eventually allow my heart to stop comparing, as difficult as that seems now. When I scratch her behind her ears or throw her a ball to chase, it doesn’t mean I miss you any less. It will just mean I’ve finally allowed my heart to grow more.”

(Top photo from Fort-morgan.org, Potts photo from Alliepottswrites.com)

Completing the bucket list, posthumously

12748381_611736422307626_1302001925_n(1)The thing about bucket lists — be they custom designed for our dogs or for ourselves — is that the bucket often gets rudely kicked before the items on the list are achieved.

That’s why Ace and I had our’s, though we simply called it an extended road trip, years ago.

New York City resident Neil Rodriguez was living out his and his dog’s list, when his yellow Lab, Poh, diagnosed a year earlier with tumors and kidney failure, died earlier this month.

Rodriguez finished up the list anyway.

He took Poh, in the form of a large photograph, to Disney World, introducing him to Pluto, Mickey Mouse and others.

On Sunday, Rodriguez posted photos on social media, including one of Mickey Mouse holding a photo of Poh at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando.

“After a couple of tries, we finally fulfilled one last item on #pohthedog bucket list,” the photo’s caption read.

12716590_512191502288812_412147863_nPoh was diagnosed as terminally ill in March 2015. Rodriguez, suspecting the dog had only a few weeks to live, decided to take the dog to visit landmarks across the U.S.

Rodriguez, a DJ, took Poh on a seven-week cross-country trip that included stops in 22 states. They visited Bourbon Street, the Alamo, the Santa Monica Pier and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The trip was depicted in photos and videos on Poh’s Instagram account, Poh the Dog’s Big Adventure, which now has more than 130,000 followers.

In July and August, they traveled to Chicago and the East Coast.

By this February, the dog’s health deteriorated and Rodriguez made the decision to put him down on Feb. 16. Poh died four days before that date, of natural causes.

“Because Poh is Poh, he went out on his own terms, while we were on the road, naturally in … my arms,” Rodriguez wrote in an Instagram post.

(Photos from Poh the Dog’s Big Adventure)

Woman sees a message in her dog’s ashes

ashes

Allow us to be the first website on the planet to present this photo without sensationalizing or making any judgments.

Ashley Lang, of Chicago, took the ashes of her golden retriever, Wagner, to his favorite park to spread them.

A friend went along and, at the moment Lang released the ashes, the friend snapped this photo with her iPhone.

In the photo, especially after the color saturation was increased, a misty silhouette can be seen.

To Lang, and others, the cloud of ashes looks much like Wagner, who died at age 12.

“It’s pretty remarkable … the tail and the legs and he looks like he’s, you know, leaping to go up,” Lang is quoted as saying by CBS in Chicago. “Everyone keeps calling him the angel dog.”

We think … well it doesn’t matter what we think.

What matters is what Lang thinks — and to her it was Wagner’s way of saying goodbye.

(Photo courtesy of Ashley Lang)

Funeral homes find dogs comfort mourners

lulu

Funeral directors are increasingly turning to dogs to help comfort mourners, the Associated Press reports.

Therapy dogs, they’re finding, not only help soothe grieving friends and family members, but they can serve to lighten up the overly somber atmosphere that is the norm in many a funeral home.

When a dog joins a group of mourners, “the atmosphere changes,” said Mark Krause, owner and president of Krause Funeral Home and Cremation Service in Milwaukee. “In a funeral home, people are typically on edge, uncomfortable. But everyone lights up, everyone has to greet the dog.”

Krause bought Oliver, a Portuguese water dog, in 2001. His wife had Oliver trained to be a therapy dog at schools, nursing homes, hospitals.

“Then my wife said, ‘Why can’t he do this in the funeral home?’ and in the 10-plus years we had him, he probably touched a couple thousand families,” Krause said. Oliver seemed to “sense grief and who needed him.”

Krause remembers one 7-year-old boy who had lost his 3-year-old sister and had stopped talking, even to his parents.

“The minute the dog came in, the boy started talking to him about his sister,” Krause said. “This little boy tells the dog, ‘I don’t know why everyone’s so upset, my sister said she’s fine where she is.'”

“I don’t suppose Oliver understood, but he looked at the boy as if he did,” Krause added.

When Oliver died in 2011 — about 150 people attended his funeral — the Krauses bought another Portuguese water dog, Benny.

While no statistics are kept on dogs in funeral homes, Jessica Koth, spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association, said, “We hear from members that more and more of them are bringing animals into funeral homes … whether it’s a certified therapy dog or just an extremely well-behaved family pet.”

At the Ballard-Durand funeral home in White Plains, N.Y., Sandy Del Duca was mourning the death of her father when Lulu, a goldendoodle, came down the stairs and greeted her.

“That dog looked into my eyes and I was done,” Del Duca said. “She seemed to know just what I needed. A funeral is a funeral, it’s not a great thing. But that dog gave the service a family atmosphere and made it more of a celebration.”

When mourners come to the funeral home to make arrangements, owner Matthew Fiorillo asks if they’d like to meet Lulu and tells them she’s available — at no extra charge — for wakes and funerals. Almost all have accepted.

Funeral directors say dogs can lighten the awkward, tense atmosphere at a wake or funeral service, and sometimes seem to know exactly who needs their help.

Gayle Armes, owner of the Armes-Hunt funeral homes in Fairmount and Marion, Indiana, says his dog Judd, a golden retriever, serves a vital function by giving mourners “something else to focus on.”

“The ones who need it, they tend to go over to him, maybe kneel and love on him and he loves on them,” Armes said.

(Photo: Lulu, a goldendoodle who works as a therapy dog at Ballard-Durand funeral home in White Plains, N.Y.; by Jim Fitzgerald / The Associated Press)

Yes, Luke, there is a Doggy Heaven

firstcloud

The letter was in an envelope addressed to Moe, Doggie Heaven, First Cloud.

Coping with the death of the family beagle, a Norfolk mom encouraged her 3-1/2-year-old son, Luke, to express his feelings in crayon-drawn artworks and letters.

It was Luke’s idea to write to Moe in heaven, and Mary Westbrook said she figured it would be good therapy for her son who, after Moe died at 13, kept asking if and when Moe was coming back.

lukeandmoe

She’d put each letter, upon completion, in the mailbox, then, after Luke had gone to bed, she’d go out and retrieve them.

But one day she forgot, and the mailman picked it up.

letter“I figured someone would just throw it away once it got to the post office,” Westbrook told the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk.

“It didn’t even have a stamp.”

But last week, a letter from Moe — magically, it seemed — appeared in the Westbrook mailbox:

“I’m in Doggie Heaven,” it said. “I play all day. I am happy. Thank you 4 being my friend.

“I wuv you Luke.”

Postal worker Zina Owens, in her 25 years on the job, had taken the liberty of answering some mail to Santa before, but this was the first time she took on the persona of a deceased family pet, hoping to make a child happy.

Owens, a window clerk, had noticed the letter to Moe on a table at the post office. She opened it and found a card covered in crayon scribbles. With help from the address on the envelope, she was able to read between the lines.

zinaowens

“I felt it in my heart,” she said. “Here was a child who had lost his dog, and any time you love something and it goes away, it hurts.”

So Owens, as Moe, wrote back. Mary Westbrook was touched to find the reassuring letter from Moe in the mailbox and shared it with Luke.

She posted the response on Facebook, saying, “What a beautiful kindness from a stranger.”

Owens says seeing the letter from Luke “made my day … so I wanted to make his. It’s just love, plain and simple.”

“You see so much negativity in the world, so many bad headlines,” she added. “But we’re more than that.”

(Photos: By Bill Tiernan / Virginian-Pilot and courtesy of the Westbrook family)