Archive for the tag 'Mykee'

28 May 2012: Memorial Day Pups

May 28th, 2012

Imelda and Mykee: My Memorial Day Pups

Some friends and I are spending the afternoon of this Memorial Day watching an opera on DVD, a performance of Leos Janacek’s FROM THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD.  Afterwards, we will go to the backyard to spend a few moments with my two faithful and valiant pups, IMELDA (20 May 1987–13 October 1997) and MYKEE (7 June 1997–9 March 2012).  Hardly a day goes by when I do not think about how they both enriched my life, and today we will drink a toast to their memory.

22 March 2012: A New Songbird In My House

March 22nd, 2012

I am grateful for all the comforting words and sentiments which have been sent my way ever since I shared the sad news of Mykee’s death.  While I am still trying to decide whether or not to get another keeshond to fill the void which Mykee left behind, yesterday I bought a young canary, to join the pair of lovebirds which I’ve had in the house for a long time.

Although the lovebirds nestle together affectionately, and I find eggs regularly in their cage as proof of their affection, they don’t really sing to each other; they mostly just squeak and squawk, so I’ve named them Gustav and Alma (after the Mahlers).

The young canary has adjusted well to his new environment. He seems happy.  It’s only been one day, but already my house is filled with his sunny disposition, his thrilling trill and cheerful chatter. Maybe he’ll inspire Gustav and Alma to sing a different tune.

I have yet to name the young male canary.  I’m thinking of Johann (after Bach), or maybe Papageno (after the character in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, my favorite opera).  Any suggestions?

Remembering Mykee

March 20th, 2012

Mykee, a very special keeshond whom Dr. Tom Liebl had nicknamed “the miracle dog” because of everything she had been through, died in my arms, her eyes weary but wide open, at noon on Friday 9 March 2012. She was 14 years, 9 months and 2 days old.

Mykee had survived extensive surgery (for cancer) and chemo treatments not just once but twice, so I was certain she would also survive the severe edema which started to bloat her hind legs four months ago.  I had been warned about the many possible side effects of edema, but I was not really ready to see her losing her once plush silver and black fur in great big clumps. She too seemed perplexed and saddened by the sight of her own bare skin, shivering with cold and embarrassment every time she went outdoors to do her business. Nonetheless, Dr. Tom Liebl, who had been caring for her ever since she was a puppy, reassured me Mykee was not undergoing any pain or discomfort, that her “quality of life” was still good.  This went on for a couple of months.

But then, on Wednesday, Mykee suddenly stopped eating. When she showed no interest in any of the treats that she normally barked and danced for, ignoring even the crunchy Chinese fortune cookies which she gets only on special occasions, I knew it was the beginning of the end.  Two days later, when she whimpered and gave me the usual signal that she needed to go outside, I did not respond quickly enough, and she left a horrifying trail of blood from the house all the way to the backyard. Afterwards, she refused to come back into the house, perhaps out of guilt about what had just happened, or maybe she simply wanted to savor the sunshine one last time in the yard she had romped in for nearly fifteen years.

She was too weak to protest when I wrapped and scooped her up in her favorite blanket, rushing her to Clinton Parkway Animal Hospital, where Dr. Liebl examined her briefly, and said quietly, “She’s tired.”

It was Dr. Liebl’s way of telling me to let go, that it was time to let go.  Perhaps I had been in deep denial all along, refusing to believe that Mykee had been losing weight, when she had in fact dropped ten pounds in just a couple of weeks. And so, reluctantly, I cradled Mykee in my arms for the last time. She was looking at me with those wondrous eyes of hers, eyes no longer luminous because she was now weary beyond comprehension, when Dr. Liebl solemnly administered the merciful relief that she needed.

And now, twelve days later, I continue to find myself fixating on Mykee’s final moments.  Did she see her whole life flashing by within seconds, the way it’s rumored to happen for us human beings? Do the snapshots in her mind begin with memories of her parents in the puppy farm in Beloit, KS where she was born…followed by images of her being transported to the pet shop in Topeka where I first held her in my arms and fell in love with her spectacular keeshond eyes…then her coming home with me to Lawrence to meet Imelda, a 10-year-old keeshond who had been diagnosed with cancer, and for whom I had acquired Mykee, thinking she might give the older dog a new lease on life; that Imelda might be inspired to teach the young pup “the rules of the house.”

But, this was not to be.  Imelda was terminally ill and in no mood to frolic with a puppy. Friends said it was cruel of me to torment the old dog with the new object of my affection (in retrospect, making me no different from someone like Newt Gingrich, who traded in his cancer-stricken first wife for a healthier and younger model, then dumped the second wife for yet another younger model).

And so, while Imelda was still alive, I arranged to board Mykee with a kindly breeder in North Lawrence, who agreed to keep and train Mykee in his house like he would his own dog. I visited the rambunctious puppy twice a day for the next four weeks, not bringing her home again until after Imelda had died.

The kindly breeder in North Lawrence had worked wonders with Mykee, training her not only to be ladylike and hygienic, but also not to chew on anything indoors except designated toys, and not to chase or bark at squirrels and rabbits outdoors because they were God’s creatures who were also entitled to play there.

What I didn’t know about the kindly breeder was, that he did not allow any other dogs inside his house the whole time Mykee was there, only cats, four of them, so Mykee had been socialized primarily with cats.  Forever thereafter, Mykee would look at all other dogs indifferently, even disdainfully, because she didn’t think she was a servile dog; she thought she was an aristocratic cat. She ran skittishly like a cat, crouched and jumped like a cat, licked and groomed herself like a cat. She may have been as loyal as a dog, but she was also as independent as a cat.  This was really quite delightful.  I had the best of both worlds, a lovable keeshond who was not only Mykee, but also Mykitty.

I wonder if Mykee’s snapshot memories continue with the time she broke her tooth chewing on a bone, and I had to drive her to Columbia, MO, where there was a special dentist who performed root canals on dogs….of our many other lengthy car trips for summer vacations in Toronto, Montreal, Mount Rushmore, Santa Fe, Cleveland, Dallas, St. Louis, Madison, Omaha, Eureka Springs.  Closer to home, she loved our frequent outings to the KU campus and Dad Perry Park, and Saturday mornings at the Farmer’s Market in downtown Lawrence. Everywhere we went, people admired her and wanted to pet her, but she was a shy girl, and always looked to me to protect her from the kindness of strangers.

What did Mykee see at noon on Friday 9 March 2012 as I cradled her in my arms?  Her eyes were open when Dr. Liebl administered the injection, and they remained open even after he cheked to make sure that she had stopped breathing, that her little heart had stopped beating. Dr. Liebl tried to shut Mykee’s eyes, but they remained stubbornly open. She continued to look at me. The good doctor said I could stay in the room with Mykee, be alone with her for as long as I needed to be, but I declined and rushed away.  Her eyes were open, and I did not want her to witness my grief.

A week later, I received the following letter from Dr. Liebl:

“Paul, I know I will never find the words that can bring comfort to a heart that has lost a great friend, but I want you to know how sad I am for you.  Mykee was a truly great dog, a faithful companion and, from a medical standpoint, a survivor like no other.  The love, care and diligence you extended to her will never be rivaled. So many months/years passed that would never have been possible without your efforts.  And she always let the world know how much she appreciated our efforts by always being the most gentle and ‘willing’ patient I have ever seen.  I will never forget her or her greatness, and will cherish my time with her. Sincerely, Tom.”

I was numb, had been on automatic pilot for over a week. But when I read this letter from Dr.Liebl, I finally broke down, and the tears came.


My Academy Awards Story

February 27th, 2012

It happened over twelve years ago.  I remember it was a Sunday afternoon.  I was working in my stuffy little office in the bowels of Wescoe Hall at the University of Kansas.  No one else was around, so I left open the door to 1070 Wescoe even though it doesn’t help to increase the air circulation  nor to decrease the claustrophobia.  The building is locked on weekends, accessible only to those who have keys to the pearly gates, and who are foolish enough to work even on God’s own day of rest.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when, out of the corner of my eye, I espied a stranger scurrying along the corridor outside my office.  This he did, not once or twice, but three times.  He was tall and gangly, scruffy-looking, perhaps in his late 30s or early 40s, perhaps a disgruntled former student who has come back to wreck havoc and seek vengeance.

Summoning what little courage I had, I stepped out of my office, and saw the intruder peering intently at the sundry newpaper items and cartoons tacked on the door of the office next to mine.  “Excuse me,” I mumbled, “can I help you?”

“Just waiting for Jack,” he replied vaguely.  He was referring to Jack Healy, the affable Graduate Teaching Assistant who had the office next to mine.  But Jack’s name was on the door for anyone to see, so that was no proof that the guy actually knew Jack.

“Oh?  It’s Sunday afternoon.  Do you have an appointment?”

“Jack said he would meet me here.”

“The building is locked.  How did you get in?”

“The side entrance by the dumpsters is open. Someone has propped the door open.”

“We’re not supposed to do that.”

“Well, someone did. Maybe Jack was here earlier and propped it open for me.”

“Would you like to come into my office while you’re waiting?  We can try calling Jack at  home, to see if he’s on his way here.”

He came in as I looked up Jack’s number and dialed. No answer. Awkward silence. He was quietly surveying the odd knickknacks I had in my office.

“How do you know Jack?”

“We were in school together, in Nebraska.”

“Oh?  And what brings you to Lawrence?

“I’m looking for locations for a movie I’m making. Jack said he would help.”

“Really?  What sort of locations?”

“Fraternity houses.”

“Hmmm.”  Another awkward silence.  “So, you make movies?”

“Yes, I’m a director.”

Then, skeptically.  “Might I have seen anything you’ve directed?”

Citizen Ruth was at Sundance in ’96, and Election came out in ’99.”

“You made Election?”  I was genuinely astonished.

He nods.

“Are you Alexander Payne?”

Again, he nods.

I start to gush.  “Election is one of my favorite movies!  You know how Reese Witherspoon scrunches up her little face when she’s deviously plotting her next move?  That’s exactly the same look my dog Mykee gives me whenever she decides she’s really alpha and I’m omega.”

He smiles.

“Oh. And you know that scene where the jock says his prayers before he goes to bed?”

I paraphrase the line, laughing hysterically:  “And thank you, God, for giving me what, I’ve been told by all the girls, is a large penis.”

He smiles again. “Chris Klein is a very funny actor.  He’s like that, too, in real life.”

It’s all very convivial now.  “So, you’re looking for fraternity houses for your next movie?  What’s it called?  What’s it about?”

Before he could answer, Jack Healy arrived, and off they went, to look at fraternity houses at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.  As it turned out, the movie was About Schmidt (2002), with Jack Nicholson.  But Alexander Payne did not use any of the fraternity houses Jack showed him that day in Lawrence, choosing instead to go with the ones he was already familiar with, in his hometown in Omaha, Nebraska.

I have, since then, followed Alexander Payne’s Hollywood career with personal interest.  Although Election was nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1999, it didn’t win that year.  But, all the awards would come shortly thereafter. About Schmidt won the Golden Globe for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2002; Sideways would win his first Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2004; and, no surprise to me, The Descendants gave him his second Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2012.

I left my office in the bowels of Wescoe a long time ago, finally moving up in the world, to the third floor of the same building, where the offices turned out to be equally airless and claustrophobic, but that’s no longer any concern of mine because I retired two years ago.

A recent email from Jack Healy indicates that he, too, is moving up in the world.  After having been Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at Central Methodist University in Fayette, Missouri, he will now be the Dean of the College of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas.

As for my dog Mykee, she is now nearly fifteen years old, is severely deaf and arthritic, has not responded well to her second major surgery for cancer and her extensive chemo treatments, has now lost almost all her fur, and shivers pathetically in her nakedness every time I take her out to do her business.  Interestingly enough, she still has a mind of her own, still scrunches up her little face whenever I catch her doing something naughty,  but she no longer looks like Reese Witherspoon in Election.  If anything, these days she looks more like Jessica Tandy in Driving Miss Daisy. I dread the day when I have to drive her to the vet one last time.

But…onward and upward with Alexander Payne.  At age 51, he is still remarkably trim, and there is nothing scruffy about him.  He is graying nicely, and looks very distinguished indeed in his tux as he shows up at the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards to collect his various awards.  Needless to say, I’m a fan, and I’m looking forward to seeing the next one, and the next one, and the next one.