Losing a Pet



Her name was Hanil (하늘). In Korean, it means “sky.” She was a Shih Tzu, which in Chinese, I imagine means “Sits on You.” She loved to sit on me. If I was on the couch, she was on the couch; if I was in bed, she was on my foot mat. Before she got sick, she would try with grunty zeal to jump up on the couch or bed. She followed me around the house and barked if I closed the bathroom door. She followed only me on dog walks. She needed no leash, because she never strayed from my feet. When we drove, she would jump across the dead man’s zone of used cups and chocolate wrappers in the elbow console just to get to my warm lap. She was brown and white with big black cataract eyes. She used to roll and rub all over my scattered clothes trying to absorb the smell. She loved me and I loved her back.

Hanil was fifteen when she moved into our new apartment this March. Jordan’s mom couldn’t take care of three dogs alone, so Hanil came to live with us. She got along with the two boys, Hershey and Alvin, but used to try to eat their food if they were too slow to the bowl. She loved food. She ate in gulps. She ate everything you put in front of her. She had recently gotten mouth surgery to fix a broken jaw. Now, all her food had to be soaked in water to allow it to soften because chewing was no longer an option. She still ate well for a while. Then, when she stopped voluntarily eating, we had to feed her with a small syringe. Jordan would cook vegetables, eggs, and meat, then blend them into a healthy slurry. I’d hold her head tight as Jordan tried to slyly sneak the food into her growling maw. We knew she was really sick if she didn’t want to eat.

She got sick in the kidneys and used to pee almost hourly on the tiled bathroom floor so we could wash it down the drain. I’d hear her little feet with overgrown toenails clicking her way on the hardwood floors to the bathroom. We’d have to wipe up her feet after to prevent pee prints, and that includes the midnight hours. She was so sick and could barely jump up the raised step out of the bathroom. I’d give her a little push from her belly.

The vet said she had very little chance to live because of how far along the kidney disease was. We took her for a last trip to the beach. She did okay with the heat of the day and chill of night and relished the chance to sit on my lap for extended sessions of Korean weekend traffic. I complained about the traffic, but should have just enjoyed the lap time. We don’t always realize the impermanence of life while stuck in traffic. When we got home, I researched the internet and found a cocktail of Azodyl, kidney purifier, and vitamins B & C could help. After one day of treatment, her faced perked up, her step got bouncier, she started eating again. She still looked old, but was acting young. We got our hopes up.

I ordered another three-month supply of everything, since she was doing so well, I could save on the shipping. The hot summer days and humid nights passed as she snoozed in the A/C, she slept by my bed, sat on my lap for preseason football, we went to the park, we walked at night, she barked for me to open the bathroom door, and things seemed normal.

The disease was stronger than the medicine. On Thursday night, I took her out for a moonlight walk. She used to keep up with me, only stopping to pee or poop. This time, her head was down and she was just going through the motions, a sort of mechanical walk. She wasn’t sniffing the bushes or wandering around, she was just trying to keep up. She didn’t pee or poop. I picked her up, rested her on my arm, she wrapped her front paws around my wrist and we went inside.

Friday morning, I’m rushing around after walking the boy dogs, brushing my teeth, styling hair, drinking coffee, taking morning pills, eating yogurt and getting dressed in my daily rush of daybreak. Hanil usually followed me from task to task. That day, she only made it to my closet to say good morning before laboring back to her bed on top of my workout shorts.

At work, I got a message that Hanil was very sick and needed to go to the hospital. She’d been to the hospital a few times before, got an IV drip and was released. Cautiously optimistic, I went to my Friday night work dinner with all the teachers, but left early to try get to the hospital. Hanil was resting.

Saturday afternoon, we got to the vet clinic after a big pizza lunch. It was clear something was different. Her head didn’t leave the pillow when I touched her. Her back didn’t arch when I rubbed between her shoulder blades. She was very still save for breathing.

We sat for a few hours beside her little cage. I was under the impression she was going to get better again, so we went upstairs to hit golf balls at the fenced driving range to relieve some stress. Later, I took Hershey and Alvin, who had been patiently waiting in the parking garage all day, out of the car for their night walk. I got slightly lost meandering thoughtlessly, thinking of the little pup’s life with us. I thought of how, years ago, when Jordan and I were first dating, Hanil sat with me, creating a calming influence for me in a strange new house. I remembered, during my interview for James’ TV show, Hanil sat with me on camera, giving my nervous hands something to do. I thought of all the naps I’d taken with her as an armrest. Basically, if I was in her vicinity, she was next to me. She’d given her love, affection and attention to me constantly. That’s the thing with love from pets, it’s always there, so you think it will always be there. I got back to the clinic around 22:00. Jordan managed to get us a private room. Hanil was still hooked up to the machines and randomly twitching from the ammonia poisoning that was now soaking her insides. The odor was pungent and upsetting.

An hour passed, I had to move the car out of the garage and feed the dogs dinner. Moments later, I got an urgent call beset by panic. “Come in, Hurry!” The mind doesn’t prepare you for death’s horrorshow. Hanil was receiving CPR and in the process, her eye had nearly burst out of its socket, her white tongue hung listlessly out of her sad jaw and they were pressing upon her chest in a brutal, rhythmic pulse. I exclaimed curses and begged them to stop. The last few minutes were terrible as I waited for someone to translate to me what happened. But, I knew.

Back in the little private room, we wrapped her in a blanket and sat sobbing. I wanted this terrible day to end, so we began the 70-minute journey to World Pet, a crematorium near the ocean. In the countryside, crying and confused, Jordan asked, “Where is she now?” I began a sentence when from our right, out of the cornfield, a meter-wide wing span swooped in front of the car, forcing us to brake in terror amid our stunned screams. It was a beautiful owl. We cried and trembled in fear before imagining a wonderful thought. It was our hope than Hanil traded in her sub-par eyes through re-incarnation for the animal kingdom’s best.

World Pet had a nice, clean candlelit altar, incense hung in the air. The man brought us a small box into which we placed a flower and her body. A long, lugubrious half hour later, we had a tiny urn and box which read “Hanil is in the origin of the soul. September 11, 2016.” The general burden of that date was not lost on me as we exited to the sound of deep rolling thunder. There was distant lightning as a misty rain fell. The rain fell harder as we drove away. It stopped suspiciously quickly after we mentioned how it felt like Hanil was crying with us, and the road was dry the rest of the way home.

Our little apartment was full of painful reminders: Tupperware full of blended foods, medicines and syringes scattered on the table, mesh shorts piled in a cozy circle beside my side of the bed, wet tissue for cleaning up accidents. I was home, and finally able to cry, unabated into my pillow.

The sun rose in a gleaming yellow flood upon our living room. We hugged and stared the distant gaze of loss that all pet owners feel at some point. We whimpered in sadness and tried to assure ourselves of her good life. We grieved and thanked her for her love. We wondered if she heard.







Love and the Jersey Shore

Love is all around us on Valentine’s Day; and not the love that most of us experience. Not the absolute love from family; not the productive love of a partner; not even the dependable love of a pet. We are exposed to the Hallmark version of love. The version of love that can be quantified through expensive jewelry, fancy chocolates, and effusive gift cards. It’s another great idea destroyed by commercialism. Valentine’s probably began with one caveman bringing his wife a big rabbit followed by a hug and kiss. Then Dr. Showoff caveman brought home a deer and flowers, and the competition of gossiping girlfriends began. Christmas—a day of family gatherings turned into must-have items; Thanksgiving—a day of gratefulness warped into a giant carb feast to prepare for the insanity of the approaching Black Friday. Although these holidays of excess and spending money give a modicum of order and idealized sequences to the festivals, it doesn’t change the loss of purpose. St. Valentine paid his life to marry young Christian couples in a pagan world. He believed in uniting the love that finds a way to be together. He believed in the love that those Valentine’s cards aspire to bestow, but fall short mumbling in smarm and stumbling in schmaltz.

While people are falling in love all the time, love is also falling apart somewhere at the same time. It’s the cycle. We all have felt different types of love at different times in our lives. It has been asked if it’s better to have loved and lost or never to have loved at all.  Hopefully, we have all both had and lost love to be able to answer the question for ourselves. But love is a heavy word—so, “What’s in a name?” Did we lose the lover we had, did we lose the happy times spent together, or did we lose something intangible inside ourselves. Love is only an idea, an idea that makes us act insane sometimes. Is love a necessary part of life? Must one love oneself before loving others? Does anyone admit to loving another, but loving themselves more? Is true love possible—and what is true love? Those questions are simply rhetorical, and must be answered inside your own heart.

Another bit of rhetoric from the modern world, albeit far removed from Shakespeare’s classic monologue of Juliet questioning semantics’ role in our life, is the ever so crucial knowledge of “Never fall in love at the Jersey Shore.” That was the best piece of advice those guidos and guidettes could give us; and yet three of them did fall in love and maintained the relationship throughout many of the seasons. Snooki found a docile gorilla in Jionni, J-Woww found the walking tattooed colossus of Roger, and possibly the most dysfunctional couple of all—Sammy and Ronnie, found each other the first week in the house. Those couplings left Vinnie and Pauly’s bromance to swell with their expanding biceps each week, Deena to flaunt her shoddily airbrushed tan assets and the eternally hopeless Mike “The Situation” to flounder in his own fatuity and arrogance.

I was dating a girl in 2008 (when “Jersey Shore” premiered) that hated all things and people from the Northeastern parts of the U.S. At the time, it didn’t register that if she hated everything from that area, and I came from there, that it stands to reason she hated me too. As I said, love turns you into a crazy person. She enjoyed reality TV, and I thought it looked like a hilarious way to show her the charm of New Jersey’s insouciant and ridiculous attitude. I’ve seen every episode since then. I was fascinated by the similarities of Sammy and Ronnie’s relationship to my own alternatingly adoring and unbearable one. I liked how unapologetic they were about the GTL lifestyle, and finding girls who are DTF. I went to university with guidos before that name was widely acceptable and now, perhaps complimentary. They did gel their hair to excess, wear tight t-shirts and fist pump in crowded, steamy nightclubs, but they were also intelligent, comical and sensible (mostly).

This show hit the zeitgeist of America right where it hurts, in the guilty pleasure genitals. Fans latched onto the show and therefore, it brought a hailstorm of vitriol from Italian-Americans, New Jerseyans and concerned mothers nationwide. Their anger only brought more attention to the cast and their antics and the show became MTV’s biggest hit. It was fun to watch them grow together, whereas “The Real World” got to leave after 4 strained months together. These strangers, picked to live in house, and have their lives taped, had to do it for four months, six different times. Of course, there were plenty of fights, sabotaging, backstabbing, C-blocking, clubbing, hooking up, working out and tanning. But, the reason I stayed with the show, besides being able to stare at a train wreck for 45 minutes every week, was how they actually matured throughout the run. Snooki became a responsible, sober mother-to-be, Mike became a successful recovering addict, Vinnie conquered his panic attacks, and the others all worked on their own shortcomings and problems to end the show with completely different attitudes than when they began. It turned out to be a fairly decent example of how my generation sees the world. Many of us experience the freedom and debauchery of university and are then expected to cut it cold turkey while working the 9-5 napless and without buffet dining hall meals. Some of us find our life-long lovers in college, like Sam and Ron and some find best friends, like Vin and Pauly. We all come out different people than when we entered and with memories that will never be forgotten (if they were remembered in the first place).

This show wasn’t labeled as a love show, but that’s what we saw in many episodes. We saw Ron and Sam almost kill each other, but ultimately fight through, learn to communicate and stay together. We saw two grown men able to say they love each other (with only a pinch of sarcasm). We saw a rather shallow, marginally alcoholic girl, find a man who loves her and learns to accept her wild behavior while she adjusts to life as a mature mother. Hell, even Mike found a girl who loved him, but she wanted him to love her back, and that wasn’t ever going to happen, so they broke up with benefits. It seems falling in love at the Jersey Shore isn’t so much something to avoid, but rather, something that is inevitable.

My parents met at the Jersey Shore, and they are still together after 35 years. Love finds you. Sometimes love leaves heart holes only fixed by love. Love is working together and working on being a better person and partner. Love isn’t easy, and because of that, it’s hard to say it or admit to others. Can you lose a part of yourself to be replaced by another? Would you prefer to be lucky in life and unlucky in love or vice versa? To me, love isn’t the grand gestures of candlelit dinners, lavish gifts and rote romantic motions given once a year; love is more perfectly expressed in the intricacies of accidentally holding hands, surprises based on listening and sharing selflessly. Love is subjective, incomprehensible, profound, and completely incapable of being written by strangers on a decorated card. Show love in your own way, everyday.

A Day of Love

After the hate of Super Bowl Sunday has faded, and the groundhog has squeezed his plump hindquarters out of his hole, and the winter doldrums reach their dour, gray peak, we find the sunny artifice of Valentine’s Day.  The day when you feel bad for being single and having no one special to kiss, or the day when you don’t lavish enough attention on your special someone and either way end up feeling clumsy in your own heart.  We all know this day means nothing and everything.  It is a day to compare your love to the love you see all around you.  Oh, did your co-worker get flowers, did your sister get a chocolate truffle the size of a grapefruit, and did the neighbor get a big diamond ring from Zales?  Are you feeling sufficiently jealous of others and coveting what they received?  At least at Christmas, we can get past the jealousy and envy by celebrating in our own special way.  Some people go to the cinema, or eat a huge feast with family, some go on holiday, or hibernate with a DVD collection.  But on V Day, there is only one way to do anything, and that is with flowers, chocolates, terrible tasting heart candy and an expensive meal at your local, romantic Italian ristorante.  The Hallmarks of the world found a way to get a consumer boom in the otherwise slow holiday season between New Years and Easter.  The day was created by greed and fed by the need.  The need to feel loved.  If we can all remember the day is about celebrating the love between people and not the American idea of money buying love, we could have a less stressful moment.  Don’t buy things, create memories together.  If you have the money, create a big, flashy memory.  If you’re broke, watch a sunset together.  In either case, find something to celebrate yourselves and your relationship.  Someone told me yesterday, “All life is made of, is the relationships between people.”  It’s true to an extent; animals, nature and your setting play their own part too, but people make or break people.  Make someone’s day today with a smile and a wish for good karma.  There is no better gift than a positive future.



Please vacate my pool.

I have always loved cats.  I recently became enamored with dogs.  They are the best two pets if you don’t include trained squirrels or calm bears.  My three cats lay on me during TV time.  They are fun to watch during kitty playtime.  Dogs are aware of every sound in their vicinity and want to protect you, whereas most cats will run and hide at the approaching sound of danger.  The differences between the species is much more vast than their similarities which are basically limited to whiskers and fur.  It’s a great first date question–cats or dogs?  If they choose cats, they are probably snuggly, introspective and seductive.  If they choose dogs, they are probably protective/jealous, boisterous and passionate.  There is room for overlap of course, and that is where most people should find themselves.  Not, are you a cat or dog person, but, are you an animal person?  If you answer no to that, I’ll bet you’re also not a people person.  I hate to generalize and there are surely people out there who just hate fur or litter boxes or walking a dog twice a day and might love other people’s animals, but don’t need the constant attention of a four-legged friend.  Are you the kind of person who sees a dog and needs to pet it, or do you move out of its reach?  I must pet that dog.  I love to feel the completely individualized energy from each little pup.  Contrastly, I get very angry when people tell me not to pet the pup because he’s mean.  “Then what the hell did you do wrong?” I always want to ask.  Spending time with animals is therapeutic and relaxing.  Cancer patients and elderly get animal therapy.  Even Osama Bin Laden probably has some mangy mutt he feeds his extra rice to in that disgusting Pakistani cave he cowers in at night.  Dogs solve crimes, find criminals and sniff out drugs.  Cats have much less utility and are basically hug buttons and purr machines.  Both serve purposes and can really turn that frown upside down.  Do yourself a favor– go to the shelter, save a creature who will love you unconditionally and find some easy love everyday.  (Oh and have them spayed or neutered, feral animals live without love and it’s sad.)