Aja in 2015

Our Dog Aja

Aja in 2015

Last night our dog died. Her name was Aja and she was 10 years and 10 months old.

She was the second pet dog that I’ve ever had in my life. The first was Josie, a puppy chosen and named by my daughter Erin when she was 8 years old. Erin named Josie after her doll, Josephina. Josie grew with our children and we had 13 years with her until she died in 2014. At the time, I was at peace with the idea that Josie would be my one and only dog in my life. However, soon my wife and sons convinced me to go to the Humane Society and “just look” at the dogs. Soon it was apparent that this 4 1/2 year old Jack Russell was going to be our next pet. My only condition was that we carry on the “tradition” of naming our dogs after songs from the classic 1977 Steely Dan album. This dog became the title song with Karyn’s counter-condition being that we use the unique pronunciation of Aja as “Ossha”.

We were Aja’s third owners, with no given facts as to why her previous two families gave up on her. Soon we learned that this was probably because while she was smart and perfectly housetrained,  she was just too damn undisciplined for the previous two. And undisciplined she was.

Unlike Josie, who could be let loose in a field and reply from a far to verbal commands, when something caught the attention of or sparked a fear in Aja, she was off like a torrent. Our backyard fence? Yeah, right! She would leap over it in a single bound. No doubt, Aja had some serious abandonment issues as well as a keen sense of when Karyn and I were planning to go on a trip. And those were the days she would forge her greatest run-aways and be nearly impossible to catch. But also she loved to be chased, keep away was her favorite game. It drove us nuts for a while, until we decided to just stop pursuing her and soon after she decided to just stop running away.

On the flip side of that undisciplined frustration were the unique and incredible qualities of this dog. When she loved something, she loved it with every fiber of her being. This passion applied to going for walks, rides, eating, singing, chasing squeaky balls, yelling at the mailman, and most especially bonding with the people in our family.

When we first got Aja, she was very hesitant to bark. But after a day or two with me, those inhibitions loosened up. Soon we were barking at everything and we even set off the occasional “bark bomb” on some quiet summer afternoons when neighboring dogs reacted to us and that cascaded down the block until the whole neighborhood was a chorus of barks. When I played my guitar, Aja would often harmonize with high pitched howls and I even developed a song just for her, made of nothing but barks, grunts and howls. Aja got so tuned in to this special “dog” song that she would instantly react when I hit the very first E power chord. In fact, once I had my guitar detuned a half step (hence making that ‘E’ an ‘E-flat’) and when I hit the opening chord she sort of raised an ear and an eyebrow at me as to say “dude, I know what you’re trying for but it’s not quite right”.

She loved rides but only down familiar roads (again the abandonment issues made her nervous whenever we took her anyplace unfamiliar). So we developed some regular routines with the car rides, one of which became the inspiration for a song I wrote called “Cherry Avenue” (due out on the next Sinclair Soul album coming in 2021). While the song is largely metaphorical about life, Cherry Avenue actually does exist. Unlike the grandiose corridor in the song, the actual Cherry Avenue is an unkempt back alley filled with trash cans, dilapidated garages, sheds, overgrown weeds and various states of backyards. To Aja, this was the most interesting place on Earth – filled with cats, squirrels and various familiar dogs – and I would cruise at 5 mph so that Aja got as many barks in as possible and always leery that someday we’d be confronted by a shotgun wielding homeowner sick of us disturbing their peace.

Once we drove by a local horse farm as a group of horses were feeding behind the fence very close to the road. I pulled over as Aja stuck her snout out the partially opened passenger window to catch their scent and assess the situation. Then she let out a sudden yelp, which spooked the horses and caused a mini stampede. I’ve never seen Aja prouder than when these creatures, 50 times her size and weight, ran away on her “command”. Going to “yell at the horses” became part of our routine, although they very quickly became wise to her and never again got spooked.

Karyn was the primary dogwalker in the family, but I joined them enough times to know how absolutely exhausting these walks could be for us humans. Aja had boundless energy and when she got us off the property she was eager to alert of us of every happening in every nook and cranny of the neighborhood. She would try to chase squirrels up trees, communicate with other pets as we passed their properties and God forbid if we ever came face-to-face with a dreaded postman.

We had Aja for 6 years, which seemed to go by in a flash. She appeared to age very little or change much at all during the first 5 of those years, an era when Aja was also my one and only co-worker, being I’m a self-employed business owner. However, 2020 changed everything. With the pandemic, Karyn also started working from home in March and, although Aja was thrilled about her “mommy” not leaving every morning, it was right round this time that our dog to change. At first the signs were subtle – more fatigue from her walks, shorter times interested in chasing the squeaky tennis balls, less interest in the outside happenings when we went for our rides. Soon it was Aja who was getting tired out on the walks, so much so that we merged it into a walk/ride where I’d pick up Karyn and Aja half way through their normal routine. But then some more severe physical signs emerged. In June she started shaking at times, sometime not being able to walk straight so we brought her to the vet.

After an examination, we found out that Aja had a tumor on her pancreas and it was most likely inoperable. The net result of this was sort of like a reverse-diabetes where her body produced too much insulin and it was getting increasingly harder to keep her blood sugar high enough. At the vet’s suggestion, we started feeding her 5-6 times a day at modest levels and this did work to stabilize her for most of the summer, although her enthusiasm for all those things still waned. Then, about a week or so ago, Aja had a very bad day, but she did snap out of it and strung together about 4 or 5 good days right up through Saturday. In fact, on Saturday, Aja sang our “dog song” with me for the first time in quite a while. Like many other things, she had lost interest in singing in recent months and this “comeback” performance was a very pleasant surprised which turned out to be our last one together.

On her final day, yesterday, my wife cancelled all plans and spent the entire day with her. She could tell early on that something was not quite right but Karyn and Aja had several quality hours during the day. When I returned in the evening, things turned really dour and we had to bring her to the emergency animal hospital where we made the gut-wrenching decision to end her suffering.

The last song Aja heard on the radio as we arrived at the animal hospital was “Africa” by Toto, which contains the fitting lyric;

“The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless, longing for some solitary company…”

Aja will not be forgotten.

Goodnight, Good Guy

August 21, 2012
by J.D.Cook

Pap Pap and Me, 2008The following is the eulogy, written and delivered by J.D. Cook at his grandfather Pat Albano’s funeral on August 20th.
On behalf of my family I’d like to thank you all for coming to honor my late grandfather’s memory.

Born Pasquale John Albano; his friends and family came to know him best as Pat while his grandchildren dubbed him Pap Pap. Pat’s childhood home became the sight of many happy Christmas’s for his grandchildren. He would entertain his grandson Jake and granddaughter Erin with silly stories created over misheard phrases or words. His grandson Bryen would often find himself being chased through the house by Pat pretending to be a ghoul or ghost and whenever I needed a ride to football practice or home from school he was there.

This is, of course, a snap shot into Pat’s life near its conclusion. He was born in Hazleton Pennsylvania; the 9th of 10 children and spent the vast majority of his life here; taking an interest in local politics and serving the community for 31 years as a mail man who would ring the door bell for the elderly folks when their social security checks arrived. Pat was one of the great unsung pillars of the Hazleton community who never asked for anything in return for the years of service and effort he put into the city. He was the back bone of an American generation that emphasized hard work, generosity and friendliness.

This is best emphasized by his relationship with Morris and Bessie, two Jewish Russian immigrants, who he met while on his mail route. Although originally virtual strangers to him he became friends with them and as they grew older he helped them run errands, visit doctors and provided friendship for them in the twilight of their lives.
Of course he did the same for his family; taking care of his sister Theresa for twelve years.

Pat AlbanoPat graduated from the Hazleton High School which many of us know as “the castle” in 1954 and many years later he worked to preserve the building which has since been reopened as a middle school. It was a great source of pride for him while he lived. After high school, he spent a short time in the army visiting Texas, Kentucky and Washington D.C. Perhaps it was during this time that he picked up his love for Johnny Cash as he stayed near the base in San Antonio where Cash wrote his famous tune “Folsom Prison Blues”. Not long after returning to Hazleton and starting as a mailman, he married Peggy Fay, my Nana, whom he had two children with. Although their marital relationship did not work out; they remained lifelong friends and my Nana was always near Pat’s side in his last days.

Pat spent his life as a member of the Democratic Party and was always willing to discuss politics; although the debates between him and his son Ric, a conservative, tended to become pretty energized around the dinner table of Pat’s childhood home at 671 Monges Street on Nanny Goat Hill. This home has stayed in the Albano family as his daughter Cindy moved in and took care of him before his health deteriorated to the point of requiring a nursing home where he continued on into his own personal sunset long after Doctors had all but wrote him off.

Life is a garden that one sows throughout life. Moments like Pat’s 65th Birthday; where he danced his feet off; attending a Neil Diamond concert and singing at the top of his lungs with his Daughter-in-law Karyn; or just driving through New York City to see the World Trade Center with his son were the metaphoric fruits of his garden. Simple times like these are the measure of a man’s life. Pat’s garden was full and his 75 years on Earth are something to admire and marvel at but I will not say do not weep; for not all tears are sad.

I’ll leave you all with a quote from the 19th century poet Ralph Waldo Emerson which has been at the forefront of my mind since I received news of my Pap Pap’s passing. It is striking because it not only relates to those of us left in Pat’s absence but to Pat himself wherever he has transcended to.

Finish each day and be done with it.
You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

Thank You.

J.D. Cook