Archive for July, 2010

Good-bye to Zen

Tonight the Harris/Wucher/Ellison/Meyer/Friedman families and many others whose lives he touched are mourning Zen Harris, a Shar Pei who happens to be my grand-dog and who passed away last night in the arms of my sweet son, Earl Harris. Debbie, my daughter- in-law, was out with a friend; perhaps it was best as he was “officially” her dog, a birthday present when she and Earl first moved to Chicago.

Those of you who know me well know I’m not a dog lover, not an animal lover at all. But you also know I love my children and my grandchildren very much. When they hurt, I hurt and that’s all there is too it.

And yet, and yet . . . I have some wonderful memories of my grand-dog Zen and lots of funny moments to recall. And I have a great sorrow that last week when I was in town, I didn’t make it to the Harris home to tell him good-bye. It seemed impossible to get by there–meeting kids and grandkids at local restaurants during a trip that was primarily buisness. Don’t we always have regrets when someone we care about dies? Well, it turns out this non-dog lover has regrets about an animal I met as a new puppy and watched mature over the last 11 years.

Shar Pei means “draping, sand paper skin” in Chinese. When I first met Zen, his skin was too large for his frame and he would shake all over “adjusting” his coat over and over, then frisky and wild, run and jump and play all over Debbie and Earl’s Chicago town house.  As he matured, his skin grew less wrinkled! (how I wish I’d found out his secret for that accomplishment!) and the distracting habit faded into memory. But his frisky personality remained, all 11 years of his life.

Debbie and Earl moved to Dallas about 8 years ago; Zen became master of his new domain, rushing to the door of their new home, jumping, licking, sniffing in the most embarassing areas before letting anyone step over the threshold of the Harris home.  Zen stands for peace and harmony, I’d think. Was this an appropriate name for such an energetic animal? Perhaps I had something to learn about peace, harmony; I knew I had lots to learn about dogs.

One day while I was visinting, Zen answered the door wearing a red bandana around his neck. When I’d gotten past his usual wet and disconcerting greeting, I asked Earl why was he wearing that? and he answered: “Oh, he knows how great he looks in it–see how proud he is.”

I have to admit, being a dog skeptic, I couldn’t really tell proud from any other mannerisim accompanied by all those sniffs and licks and jumps. But I knew Earl and Debbie knew. And soon the kids knew too.

Speaking of kids, because of Zen’s size and frisky personality, when Debbie was pregnant with Lindi, now 7 years old, I expressed my new fear: “Aren’t you worried that he’ll eat the baby one day when you’re not watching?” Debbie looked at me like I was nuts–and I admit that quality when it comes to my fears of dogs.

 “Eat the baby”? she asked.  “You’re kidding, right”? I shrugged. He didn’t eat either Lindi or Cooper for that matter. In fact, sometimes I thought they were trying to eat him–they loved him so much.

We all knew this was coming: Zen was diagnosed with sarcoma just a few weeks ago. He’d been strong and healthy and then, suddenly, he wasn’t any more. “Is he in pain,” I’d asked when I found out. “Not yet,” my son thought, but was certain pain could come in time. We all hope that he didn’t last long enough to suffer.

Concidently, the day Zen died, Earl and I had a discussion while he was driving home. I asked how Zen was feeling, how is illness was progressing. Earl told me Zen had less energy each day, but that he refused to give in to his illness.” He’s so strong, so stubborn, so smart. Brilliant,” he said. “Everyone tells us he will stop eating when his time comes; then we’ll know.”

But he hadn’t stopped eating yet and he followed them around, even the housekeeper had his constant presence the day before. That evening, Zen ate his dinner and then asked to go outside. It struck Earl as odd that he wouldn’t come back in no matter how much Earl coaxed him; no matter how hard he tried.

“I tried to pick him up and carry him inside–he hates that because he is such an in-charge kind of dominating dog–and he snarled at me. After putting the kids to bed, I checked on him again. By then he had collapsed by the swing set; by then he was weak and I picked him up and brought him in. He stayed on my lap and after some time time passed, I felt him let go.”

If Zen means peace and harmony, then perhaps he has found it; let us think of Zen in Zen now, wearing that red bandana, watching over his familiar domain, and dominating his next one.


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