A Tribute To My Friend, A.J.
This has been a couple weeks coming. It wasn’t that I wanted to put this off, or neglect putting down my thoughts on my friend, I just wanted to be sure I was ready. What good would it be to write out of sadness, or mourning, and forget all the good memories that we shared?
A.J. Joseph was born on March 6, 1999 in Arkansas. Me and Michele adopted him at Petland in Novi on July 4, 1999. We often joked that he was on sale and we bought him with our credit card. We put no thought into getting him. We just knew we wanted a Dachshund. When we walked into the store, I saw just one, and said to Michele “Hurry up and go tell her.”
After that, they put the 3 of us into a caged area to meet, and the rest was history. Me, Michele, and her brother Alex took him home from the mall that day, and later named him A.J. I could tell we had gotten ourselves a cool dog right from the beginning, I just didn’t realize we were adopting a legend.
He was the happiest dog I had ever met. Playing with tennis balls, toys that squeaked, and even tearing up paper if we let him. A.J. never had a bad day in his life. We often said “He teaches everyone else how to be happy.” He was one of the most caring dogs I’d ever met, and the first I ever met that did things like thank you for his food after he ate, and took his epilepsy medicine twice per day for a decade without complaint.
He had a mind of his own, but he never caused trouble. He liked his freedom, but would listen when we’d catch him doing something he shouldn’t be, or that could hurt him. I never had to yell at him, or wish he’d just stop being bad. He never was. No biting. No tearing up the furniture maliciously, although I’ll admit he would dig for those tennis balls. He just lived a happy, playful life, giving back all his joy to everyone.
One of the first things I think about in his puppy phase was the Detroit Tigers hosting an even called Bark in the Park at the new Comerica Park. I can’t recall the exact year. Maybe 2001-2002? I wasn’t able to go to the game, but my wife and mother in law took A.J. He loved it there. He was watching all the dogs, the ball fly around, the people, the food. Afterwards he used his charm to get the attention of Fox Sports Detroit’s reporter Shireen Saski. She found a common bond between his name, and the Tigers backup Catcher, who was also named A.J. She put him on Tigers Weekly, and fed him a hot dog. Tigers Weekly! I couldn’t have been prouder!
Speaking of using his charm. The thing I’ll remember most about him was the ham he was, and the ability he had to work a room. Let me tell you. If you were working a bank drive through, fast food window, or any other form of drive up window, you were hooked. He’d mesmerize you with his eyes and his smile. Always sniffing, he’d end up with treats and pets from everyone. There wasn’t anywhere we could take him without him being the center of attention. He loved people.
The past summer was a little difficult for him. He had some issues with his kidney levels, and had to stay with our Vet for 3 days. When we picked him up, he had the whole place roaring. They loved having him, and were sad to see him go. Subsequent visits always were greeted with “Hey A.J.!” from everyone. Our Vet, Dr. Hynes, always took the best care of him. We even followed her to 3 different Veterinary Hospitals. If A.J. were here now writing this himself, I think he’d want her to know that he appreciated everything she did for him throughout the years. In the end, he’d want her to smile on his memories, and not worry that she missed something, or could have prevented it. She wrote in a card to us that he was special to her. I can say without a doubt that she was special to him too.
Coming home just isn’t the same anymore. We were living in a 2nd floor apartment the first 2 years we had him. We’d pull into the parking lot and look up int our window. There he was laying on the window sill looking for us. He’d lift his head, look, wag his tail, and then jump down. We’d walk in the door with him on his back waiting for a belly rub. All while still wagging that tail of his. It didn’t stop in the nearly 15 years of his life.
We moved to another apartment that was on the first floor. It wasn’t quite the same as a sill, but he’d always push the blinds of the door wall back and look for us. If the sun managed to get through, he’d be laying there sun bathing as well.
I think my personal favorite, although my wife still talks about the first apartment’s window sill, was coming home to our house and seeing him laying on the back of the couch up against the Window. He’d either be awake and excited to meet us at the door, or he’d have been up there so long he fell asleep. He always came to life when I’d tap on the window. And although coming home now doesn’t offer the same warm greeting, I do imagine him looking at me.
We have a covered porch on this house with a couch that some friends gave us. I remember me and him going out there to hang out. I’d lay down and he’d hop up on the back and look at the neighborhood and people. Sometimes he’d bark at them saying hi, sometimes he’d sleep. Other times he’d be running all over porch with a toy or ball. One of my favorite pictures is when my wife came home and woke me up. A.J. jumped up and sat down on my legs. She snapped a picture of him looking into the lens of the camera.
And speaking of pictures, we have a ton of him. Hundreds in fact. And videos of him opening up his Christmas presents. We’ll talk about that and his birthday coming up. For now, I’ll always remember taking our signature family picture. I held out my phone, and Michele held him up. He wouldn’t let go of his new ball, and it really made the picture what it was. The three of us all smiling and enjoying life together.
Speaking of enjoying life. No one knew how to celebrate Christmas better than A.J. He showed me and Michele how to celebrate it with happiness. He always gave presents to our other family members, and even opened his own presents. I have links to the YouTube videos of him at the end of this tribute, so keep reading, they’re not going anywhere. His birthdays were no different. Tons of presents, and he opened them all himself. We did have to learn how to give them in certain orders, which you can tell from the videos. The balls going anything but last, which they never did, was always a mistake. It was awesome though!
The one thing we never got to really do was go on vacations together. We didn’t have a place, and hotels were never dog friendly. So we’d set up a yearly summer camp run for him at Grandma’s house. That was Michele’s Mom’s house. My mom was Grandma to him also, but he stayed with her parents most of the time. He always had a good time with them. My father in law, Grandpa, would play ball with him. A.J. could catch them in the air, stop them from any angle, and naturally knew how to play fetch. He would go for hours.
It was August 1999 right after we got him. We had committed to an overnight trip to King’s Island, and so my Parents came by to sit with him for a few hours at our apartment. They wanted to meet and get to know him. My dad noticed that he’d throw the ball down the hallway, and a few seconds later, he’d hear a bark, and there would be the ball at his feet, and A.J. waiting for him to throw it again. He was very smart. Smartest dog I’d ever met.
A.J. was an engineer. He figured out angles and ramps, and figured out how to put multiple things next to each other, and roll the ball from the top to the bottom from item to item. It was incredible. I wish smart phones had been around when was into that. I could have recorded it, and you would have been amazed. Its something I will never forget.
Back to my talk about vacations. My parents bought some land and a trailer on a lake last year. So we finally had a place for the 3 of us to vacation at. We got to take him up there 3 times this summer and fall. He took a ride on my parents Pontoon boat. He loved that thing. He wasn’t afraid of the water at all, and Michele only made him wear his life jacket a little bit. After that, we took him swimming. He was a natural of course. He seemed to kind of like it even. Those were 3 weekends I will always look back and smile on.
A.J. and Michele went everywhere together. I mean it. Everywhere. I’d come home when she was out, and so was he. She’d call me running errands, and he was there helping. He became her house hold helper and homework helper when she was in college. It was funny coming down in the morning for work, and her and him had been up all night working on homework or studying. He’d be so tired, but was staying awake with her anyway. When she needed a break, he’d sit on her books. He even licked her tears if she was crying. There would be none of that. He promoted happiness. That was what A.J.’s life was all about. Selfless giving of love and happiness to everyone he knew, and any stranger he came in contact with.
Friday nights had turned into hangout nights for the 2 of us. Michele worked until 9 or 10 at night most of them. We’d watch TV or play video games. On occasion when I had work to do, he’d sit by my side helping me get through it all. He was a true friend and a great hangout pal. He just wanted to be around his friends and family. He loved playing with his dozens of toys he collected throughout the years, and his dozens of tennis balls. He never got tired of any of them.
Its been a tough adjustment here the last month. A.J. was young and healthy until the very end. Even at age 14 1/2, he was playing and running around. Nothing much had changed. Just his diet, and he couldn’t quite jump like he could when he was a puppy. But that was ok. He was still crawling all over everything.
It’s tough to forget that Friday at 11 PM when he was laying there sick. He had been fine, so I took him to the all night Vet. We had to leave him there over night. I was able to pick him up the next morning, but then he had to go back Sunday morning again. He was very weak. Me, Michele, and my in-laws were able to visit him Sunday around 11 PM. We had a good half hour visit with him. He was in good spirits, and being treated for a bladder infection. He came home again the next day, and Michele didn’t leave his side much at all. Wednesday morning I came down stairs to use the bathroom at 4 AM, and found him breathing very heavy, and he was too weak to move. I sent the 2 of them to the hospital. He had just seen 2 specialists at the Michigan Vet Specialists in Southfield (great place), and so I sent her back to have them look at him. I got a call at 7 AM when I was driving to work that I needed to come there and say goodbye. I was devastated, confused, and didn’t know what happened. I thought he just needed more medicine. I was greeted by Michele and the specialist. He had raced in to stop us from making any rash decisions. He wanted 24 hours more to try to save him.
Ultimately A.J. had gone into sepsis, and his intestines had developed Chrones Disease. If you’ve ever known a person with that, you’ll know its a tough condition for a human to manage. Now think about a 12lbs dog. We visited A.J. for a few minutes, and told him to get rest and let the doctors work on getting him back on his feet. He was still smiling and I know he said “Ok.”
Michele called with an update that he was doing better. Then she called with an update that he wasn’t doing better. So after work for both of us we raced over there to visit. We didn’t know we were going to there to say goodbye. He had waited for us to slip away to the Rainbow Bridge. He had brought his kermit toy with us. He looked at Me, then Michele, then Kermit, and passed away. We were very sad, but very at peace. Our friend wasn’t going to suffer, and he wasn’t going to be sick anymore. He was able to live a full life healthy. Who can say that? He stopped breathing. Michele said let me get the doctor. I snuck in one last hug, and heard the last 2 beats of his heart. At that point, he was in Heaven dancing with my grandparents, dog Sparky from high school, and playing with an endless supply of tennis balls.
I miss my friend a lot to this day. There isn’t an hour that passes that I don’t think about him. We still haven’t picked up toys or food & water bowls. Everything is just as it was when he left. We had a nice memorial service for him with my brother-in-law and her parents. He has a great resting place. He’s surrounded by other animals, and great landscaping. The stone will be ready in a few months. They take a lot of time to make. I’ll add that to this post of course.
The next few days were very surprising. We received a lot of hand written cards. 1 from the Michigan Vet Specialists, with 3 people’s hand written notes on it. There was the Specialist, the Doctor, and a Tech. The Tech was in tears as well. They were really nice. The next card that came was from A.J.’s vet Dr. Hynes. She talked about how special he was to her. Another was from the Taylor family at Church. That was really nice to see that even people who hadn’t met him knew the impact he had on things. We also received a letter from our Vet’s office that they had made a donation in his name to the Michigan State Companion Animal Fund. That came right in time for her Birthday.
Oh, speaking of. A.J. and me had been looking for a present for Michele’s birthday. I held him up and showed him the Keurig Vue 700 and he wagged his tail. That came in the mail as well. A gift that will keep on giving.
A.J. is now legendary, and will be in many people’s thoughts forever. He’s up there in Heaven spreading more love and joy, and waiting for the rest of us to join him.
In closing, I’d like to say thank you, A.J. You were my best friend. We had good times, and you were always there for me. Friday nights will continue to be our time in some way or another. Christmas will always be full of joy the way you wanted it, and the way you taught me it should be. I’ll never forget you by my side in the trailer up north. I’ll always remember your smiling face in the window as I walk by. While it might be hard for me to wait to see you again, I know I will, and can’t wait. You are the best.
“How lucky am i to have known someone who was so hard to say goodbye to.” ~Anonymous
Here is our family signature picture, that picture of him on the porch, and the link to my personal YouTube channel with the Christmas videos. For those of you that shared pictures of him on Facebook and other Social Network outlets all through the years, thank you for being part of his life, and letting him be part of your’s in that small way. For those that knew A.J., remember him as the happiest person on the earth. If we all lived like him, our world would be in perfect shape.
A.J. Joseph, March 6, 1999 – October 30, 2013, now somewhere near the Rainbow Bridge.