The Big Kahuna – The Dog-Faced Boy

Dear Mark,

Although we’ve spoken on the phone on your show a couple of times over the years and indirectly through e-mail via our mutual buddy, Scott, my wife told me I must finally write to you personally. I don’t know about you, but as “head of the household”, I generally find it expedient to do exactly what my wife tells me, LOL! If you’ll bear with me a moment I’ll explain why.

We bought your book, Rescuing Sprite, when it came out, but I haven’t read it yet. My wife is reading it now. Tonight, while dozing on the couch after an early night out and a wee bit too much to eat and drink my wife, Pam, woke me from my peaceful repose shouting, “Is this you??? Did you write this??? You’re in Mark’s book!!!”.

She then proceeded to recite to me the comment I left on marklevinfan.com, after your Thanksgiving broadcast in 2006, which you quoted on page 125 in chapter nine of your book.

“Yes, I wrote that.” I said.

“Well, then you have to write to him right now, because you’re in his book!”, she said.

Asserting my authority as Man of the House, I paused, then replied, “Uh, well, umm, OK.” So here we are.

The reason Pam is just now reading your book, the reason I haven’t yet, but am about to, and the reason we finally got out of the house and went to an early night out on the town and had too much to eat and drink – on the strong advise from a wise and trusted friend – is that yesterday, on Monday, June 30, 2008 at approximately 6:30 pm, we watched the sky fall down, the stars in the heavens dim and our world cave in as our beloved 12 year old dog-child went to sleep for the very last time, his handsome face cradled in our hands, on our living room floor.

He was a purebred German Shepherd we adopted at eight weeks old from a friend of a friend. His father had been a bomb-sniffing K-9 in New Jersey. They had temporarily named him, “Moondoggie, The Big Kahuna” from a Beach Blanket movie. We liked the name, but we dropped the “Moondoggie” and just called him “Kahuna” or sometimes, “The Big K”. His AKC name was officially, “William (after my Grandfather, and Shakespeare, who’s birthday, April 23 rd, he shared) St. George (after a 98 yr. old beloved Greek neighbor who also had the same Birthday) The Braveheart (after William Wallace per my distant Scottish heritage and his natural disposition).

Kahuna was fearless and gorgeous, even as a pup, people would say he looked like a majestic little lion. He had longer than shorter hair and as an adult had a sort of tiger-striped feathering on his back fur that was like a painter’s touch. Walking him around our neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen was like strolling the streets with a famous movie star. I was always so proud, like I had anything to do with his looks, LOL! What was most beautiful about our Boy, however, wasn’t his appearance, but his noble soul. He never bit anybody in his whole life, well, not any humans that is. He was ganged-up on at a dog run by older dogs when he was only a few months old and decided early on that since he loved people, and his mission as a GSD was to be a guardian, that other dogs would therefore be the enemy. He was a pain in the butt on that count, as we had to avoid other dogs altogether – aside from his big sister, Becky, an ASPCA rescue, when she was with us, and his one and only canine buddy, Tiger, a reddish dog on the block about his size he’d befriended as a pup and played with like a brother. But people, he loved. Especially children. He adored kids and they loved him. He’d literally pull me towards kids, but knew they were small and would calmly approach them, sniff them, give them gentle kisses and let them pet, stroke, grab or hang all over him like he was a stuffed toy, without protest. My buttons popped when he was with kids. Some Mommy on the street would naturally be petrified at this big dog headed towards her child, but I’d say “Don’t worry, he LOVES kids”, and every time he’d prove me right.

He’s the only dog I’ve ever had who avidly watched TV. Forget about the Animal Channel in our house, period, because Kahuna would bark incessantly at all the critters on the tube so that we couldn’t hear the audio. He even had commercials with animals in them memorized and would come running into the room from wherever he was just in time to bark at them when they appeared on the screen. He was just too smart for his own good and we had to spell or use pig-Latin around him if we didn’t want him to know what we were talking about, like, “I’m going to g-o etgay the arcay, so meet me d-o-w-n-airstay in t-e-n inutsmay”. He loved the minivan we bought to accommodate him and Becky, who were both accomplished travelers and took many a cross country trip with us to visit my family in Texas. One of my favorite things was how he’d howl just like a wolf. He always howled when he was happy, exited or, to our neighbors’ chagrin, left alone for more than ten minutes. You’d come home, even after a fifteen minute absence and he’d cock his head back, form a little “O” with his mouth, and let loose a howl like he’d been abandoned in the wilderness for weeks!

I’ve had dogs since I was a tot, and though they’ve all been special, I have to say I’ve never known a more intelligent, affectionate and innately spiritual canine companion in all my life. Even as a puppy, Kahuna had these light brown eyes that seemed to just pierce straight through to your very soul. His little ears hadn’t even gone from floppy to straight-up when I was so taken with his uncanny spiritual essence that I wrote him a letter telling him that he was my hero. He never disappointed us in any way whatsoever and we aspired to be worthy of his complete unreserved trust. One of my favorite things I used to say to him when I loved on him was a quote from Star Trek (the original series, not the later junk) when Captain Kirk taunted Mr. Spok to snap him out of a spore induced euphoria by saying, “Look at those ears, you should be in the circus, right next to the Dog-Faced Boy!”, because that’s just what he was to me – a Dog-Faced boy.

At heart, however, he was basically a big Ol’ Momma’s Boy, as all good lads are, and though to him I was Leader of the Pack, he always sought refuge in Pam’s soothing arms when daunted or insecure, or when he didn’t want to do what I was telling him to, LOL! With me, he was everyone’s friend on the streets, but with Mom, he was protective and judicious in his dealings with others. He once stood silent as I kicked an inebriated lout, who’d pestered him, down the block, while anyone who even looked askance at my wife wasn’t allowed within ten feet of her. Ah, the intangible bond between Mother & son and Father & daughter seems indeed to be universal, I reckon.

Less than a week ago, however, on his next to last walk before becoming completely housebound, I took the Big Boy downstairs for a late night walkers just about midnight. He made it to the curb, peed, then as had become his custom in his last couple of weeks, laid down like a sphinx on the sidewalk to rest before we attempted to see if there was anything else he needed to do. I immediately noticed a homeless person a couple of buildings up the block – nothing new in our neighborhood. Having lived in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC as long as I have, you develop a sixth sense as to what’s Kosher on the street and what’s not and as soon as I saw this person my “trouble” antennae shot up. Homeless thinnish man with a loaded pushcart looking through garbage – normal – fat, rather large homeless man with a nearly empty pushcart more interested in surroundings than garbage, smoking something and looking about as if casing the block – not normal. I had my eye on this dude from the get-go. I didn’t say a word or make a sound, just watched. He noticed me watching him and I let him notice me watching him. Kahuna was just laying there catching his breath. The guy was maybe twenty, thirty feet from us. Then he took his pushcart and started in our direction. Not at us, but our way. All of a sudden, Kahuna, who’d never deemed it necessary to protect me on the streets in his life and who hadn’t been able to utter more than a weak hoarse “woof” at best in more than a week, raised himself up full on his front legs and let go a robust, throaty, full K-9 “AROOOFF!!” at this person, who immediately turned on his heel and made a B-line in the opposite direction! I was so astounded and proud, I was moved to tears at his ESP/instinct, loyalty and bravery. That’s my SON.

By the time he was eleven, we thought we’d escaped the usual GSD pitfalls such as hip dysplasia, however, we noticed he’d begun to occasionally drag his right rear foot and stumble every so often. This was intermittent until we took a cross country car trip last October (one of the many mentioned earlier) and all of a sudden he wasn’t able to hop up on the hotel beds like he used to or get in or out of the minivan easily. Well, to abbreviate the story, we got back to Manhattan to find out he had what’s known as canine degenerative myelopathy – an incurable and basically untreatable and ultimately fatal deterioration of the spinal column common in GSD and other large breed dogs. We got all the known supplements and drugs, all the harnesses and special gear to help him cope with his rapidly progressing handicap. We put our own backs and bodies to the test hauling his 90 lbs up and down the two flights of stairs to our apt. three, four times a day. We lovingly cleaned up the messes he made in the house when he couldn’t bear the stairs anymore as he came full circle from helpless puppy to invalid senior. We waited until there was no qualm or question as to what had to be done and when, and we made the call. We held his beatific muzzle in our hands, told him how deeply loved he was, urged him towards paradise and asked him to wait for us there as the veterinarian sent him peacefully on his way.

Now in our suddenly empty home we sit and we grieve, praying that the sting of loss will soon give us leave, for never does sorrow cut so quick and so deep as when Man suffers the loss of his Best Friend’s keep.

We can only aspire to the love of a dog for its human.

If we get even half way there, we are truly blessed.

God Bless us pet lovers – and our charges – and give us the strength to get past the pain when they leave us, so that we can do it all over again.

God Bless you, Mark, for writing Rescuing Sprite. It’s an honor to have had my comments included in it. I don’t know how you did it as it’s taken me a full week just to finish this short letter. >From what my wife tells me and what you’ve said about it on the air, I’m sure it’ll be of great comfort as I now, at last, give myself permission to read it.

Your friend,

Mark Dean


Mark, please feel free to do what you wish with this letter; read it on the air, put it in your site’s Dog Corner, keep it to yourself or republish it, whatever you please. All I request is that you say a great big prayer for us as we face perhaps the hardest test we’ve had in a long, long time and find ourselves dogless for the first time in 23 years.

7 Responses

  1. Karen Brookman Says:

    Mark,I am sitting here crying after reading about your beautiful boy. We lost our 10 1/2 year old black lab, Beau, on June 10th – one month ago and I still miss him so. He also died in my husband’s arms. It was one of the hardest things I have ever faced even after losing other dogs in the past. There’s something about these big gentle dogs that touch your heart and never stop. Beau was also friendly with kids and our 6 grandkids all loved him, particularly the two 9 year old girls. These two cousins, had contests about who would be his date for New Year’s, who was going to marry him when they grew up, etc. I asked one if she would have babies or puppies and she said puppies, of course. I too read Mark’s book, Rescuing Sprite, after Beau died. My husband thought I was crazy to put myself through that so soon, but it helps to see that others feel as we do. There really is a club among dog lovers and you either are one or you are not. Non dog lovers just don’t get it. My husband continues to say he is not ready for another dog, but I miss not having one in our lives so much. Another dog will not replace my beloved Beau, but I know we can give a dog a good home so I think it is close to time. People say what kind do you want and I say a lab, of course. Your Kahuna was absolutely gorgerous and obviously brilliant. I hope you can have another pet friend join your family shortly. Please know you have people here in Texas who are feeling your pain as well. Karen

  2. Linda Says:

    You moved me to tears. What a beautiful dog he reminds me of the dog I had when I was little his name was Major. We have had many dogs since then they are all very special and missed terribly. My prayers are with you both – may God give you peace – and may you find a “New” baby soon!

  3. Pam Says:

    I so loved my dog-son Kahuna. I will forever love him, I so much miss him, and I yearn for the day when I can hug him again and smell his sweet puppy-scent once again.

    When will the heartache end?

  4. Donna Sant Says:

    Mr. Dean,

    Your blog left on Mark Levin’s website had me laughing and crying at the same time as we can identify living life with a German Shepherd. Your words are so eloquent and well-versed. We have just had to make the difficult decision of putting our sweet GSD puppy of 15 years to sleep. There are so many similarities in Rio’s personality and Kahuna’s. We also had to spell with her, but eventually she caught on. We didn’t think of the pig-latin, though. Great idea! Our sweet Rio is now waiting at Rainbow Bridge to join her family that she so loved someday. (In case you have never seen the poem Rainbow Bridge, it is very touching & beautiful). You and your family are in our prayers as you cope with your loss.

  5. Liz Lepre Says:

    Dear Mark Dean,
    I just wrote to Mark Levin about King and Glennie my beloved Labs. This is the first time I have spoken about my grief. This website is a gift from God to help us who are in so much pain. I rescued a chocolate Labrador Retriever from the local Shelter because I could not sleep in my house alone. Just this week, I told her I think I love her but my heart is very crowded because King and Glennie and their mother, Oakley are buried there. Penelope-Rose is about 18 months old now and she Rescued me. She was formerly abused by her owner and escaped, and was captured on Route 301 in Queen Anne County, Maryland. She grawled at me when I passed her cage at the Shelter but now I think she was saying hello, I know you need me. I am so grateful for your writings and Mark’s Sprite.

  6. Pam Says:

    Dear Mark Dean,

    I cried reading your letter to Mark. There are so many things I saw in your letter that made me nod in recognition – first of all, your wife and I share a first name – I live in TX (not sure where your family is, but I’m in the DFW area) – I also had a beautiful German Shepherd Dog I lost in 2006 at the age of 14.5yrs to a common GSD ailment (hemangiosarcoma) – and a GSD mix who I lost in 2005 to degenerative myelopathy, a hellacious disease that leaves their bodies nonfunctional and their minds clear. Bless you for loving Kahuna, and for sharing your story with Mark – and with us. (And good for you for being such a “wise” head of household.)

    Pam, in TX

  7. Stephen Says:

    Mark Dean,
    I loved reading about your dog and am saddened because this week I sent my lab of 14 1/2 years away. I grieve because of so many guilts of not doing enough for her through the years. Your stories have helped me. Thank you.