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2013-12-04 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

“Today is our chance to say thank you for the way you brightened our lives, even though God granted you but half a life. We will all feel cheated always that you were taken from us so young, and yet we must learn to be grateful that you came along at all”- Earl Charles Spencer

The lines above come from the eulogy given by Princess Diana’s brother. I’d like to borrow this quote to honor our beloved “Jin Jin,” a one-in-a million rescued Afghan Hound and accomplished therapy dog that was taken from her family and all of us suddenly last month at the young age of five.

Some “Pets” readers will be familiar with Jin Jin’s amazing work on behalf of senior citizen shut-ins and struggling young readers, as well as her triumph at a NYC fashion show plus her skills in agility and lure coursing. Jin Jin was a wonderful ambassador for her breed.

Jin Jin at the 2013 New Yorkie Runway Fashion Show Jin Jin at the 2013 New Yorkie Runway Fashion Show Record “Pets” 1/18/12 and 2/15/12 profile some of Jin Jin’s glorious achievements including her time on stage dressed as a NASCAR (not the driver, the actual racing car) or as a reigning queen during two New Yorkie Runway Fashion Shows that benefited Angel On A Leash, the therapy dog organization founded by Westminster’s David Frei. Jin Jin absolutely loved people, and also basked in the limelight. She had just run for the pet mayor of Toms River, and enjoyed every moment on the campaign trail. In September she helped out at the Afghan booth during AKC Meet the Breeds where she worked the Javits Center like a seasoned politician- letting kids hug her tightly, seeking out seniors in wheelchairs and never tiring of admiration from the crowd. She was the most sociable of Afghans.

On Thurs., Oct. 12 Jin Jin appeared on TV in an NBC news segment with correspondent Pat Battle, representing her therapy dog group-Canine Caregivers of NJ. Jin Jin was joyous, as usual, as she visited her 93-year-old lady friend who was confined to her home. Pat Battle told Jin Jin that this could be the start of something. But that was not to be.

Jin Jin in her NASCAR costume Jin Jin in her NASCAR costume That Monday, out of left field, Jin Jin crashed. On Wednesday she had surgery at a specialist that revealed the worst newsan inoperable, aggressive form of neuro-endrocrine cancer, not a disease that Afghans are prone to. Her mom Annette was in shock but determined to do everything that could be done to prolong Jin Jin’s good days and quality of life.

Jin Jin then moved to the University of Pennsylvania’s Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital where she received the best care on earth. Eventually she was stabilized enough to return home for a few brief days, but on Nov. 3 was rushed back to Penn where she died. Her illness remains a devastating blow to Annette and family, and to everyone who understood how much good this dear dog had done for people, her therapy dog groups and her breed.

Why? Yes, “why” is the perpetual question whenever a person so young and so instrumental in the welfare of others succumbs suddenly in the prime of life. So here too, there must be a cosmic reason for the unexpected passing of a vibrant five-year-old dog that had so much love to give; so much work yet to do. Her devoted caretaker’s own life revolved around Jin Jin’s schedule aiding others.

Besides her visits to the elderly for Canine Caregivers, Jin Jin belonged to Tail Wagging Tutors as a reading dog at five branches of the Ocean County Library system. Annette and her husband Rick own two more rescued Afghans including “Rebecca” from the same New Mexico hoarder as my Edgar Afghan Poe, as well as being foster parents to Afghans in need. That is how we met. She fostered an Afghan that was surrendered to me. Now she is nurturing another.

There are several explanations that may make some sense out of Jin Jin’s inexplicable demise. Might it be that Jin Jin’s passing will bolster research or veterinary care for future cancer victims? Some owners set up designated medical funds in memory of their departed pet. This idea is being tossed around. Jin Jin received remarkable care at Penn. Despite her sadness Annette has only praise for the young intern, Dr. Stephanie Majeski, assigned to Jin Jin’s care. She wrote a letter asking hospital administrators to let Dr. Majeski stay at Penn after her internship is over. To have a doctor with such potential remain at the university level could benefit pet patients for years to come. Annette’s letter ends with a heartfelt promise: “I know I say “no more dogs” but that will never be, I already have her name picked out and it is Stephanie!”

Could it be that Jin Jin soared above expectations because of Annette’s abilities to mold her talents? This reminds me of the recent wheelchair champion in the NYC marathon- once a crippled child crawling in a Russian orphanage, later saved and adopted by a US diplomat. Imagine if the child and American woman never met. Same with Jin Jin and Annette.

It matters who is at the other end of the leash. Jin Jin was rehomed after a divorce. If she stayed in her first home, chances are she would not have become a multi-tasking therapy dog. There may never be another Jin Jin, yet Annette will transform every dog in her care.

Finally, throughout the ordeal, a mutual friend’s words provided solace. Lisa from Philly, the former Afghan Hound rescue national chair, is a social worker with troubled families. She brought Jin Jin and Annette together, and airlifted our New Mexico Afghans. Lisa was waiting at Penn when Jin Jin arrived. As the dog’s illness progressed, Lisa assured Annette that Jin Jin was an angel, and her work here was done. She was needed somewhere else. Those words provided some comfort. Savor every moment with your dogs, and as Afghan owners often remind each other: “Hug your Hounds!”

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