A Boy and His Dogs

Posted by: on Jul 29, 2013 | 2 Comments

It all started with Muttle…Muttle being a dog. One Friday afternoon, not quite 21 years ago, when Zach was about a year old, I got a call from my father. He had left the heat on in our house in Great Neck, and was heading down to my parents home in Florida. Could I drive out to longisland, and shut the heat off while he was away. And I did because that’s what sons do.

Linda and I decided that I should take Zach with me. I also decided I’d stop off and see Hy and Arlene, long time family friends who lived near my parents in Great Neck. After taking care of things on Ramsey Road, I headed over to the home of Muttle, Arlene and Hy. At one point during our visit, I put Zach down on the floor. At which point, Muttle propped himself up on Zach’s shoulders, and proceeded to start licking him. Eventually Zach toppled over, giggling with glee, with Muttle sitting on his little body and that’s how it all started.

Flash forward to the winter 1998, Zach is now 6 years, Allie is almost 9, and we just bought our house on Deerfield Road at the end of January. 2 weeks later we are at Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter to look for a dog. We are put in a room with a dog named Becky, who proceeds to prop herself up on Zach’s shoulders and lick him for about 5 minutes. Tired out from all this licking, she curls up in Allie’s lap, goes to sleep and that was all she wrote. Becky becomes Ripley and Ripley becomes a huge part of our family.

Zach and Ripley playing in the snow, February 2010.

Ripley left us 3 years ago and I miss her all the time (for more on that you can read http://irasez.com/2010/08/28/ripley-and-me/).

Moving on, it’s August 2007. Allie has graduated from HS and in a few days will start life at SU. Zach had been lamenting that he will “miss my sister so much, I need another dog.” My reply to his frequent requests had always been “let’s wait until you get back from camp and we can discuss it.”

On the 2nd Friday in August, 2007, Zach returns from camp. We turn out of the hotel parking lot adjacent to the Garden State Parkway at exit 156, get about a mile down the Parkway (if that), when Zach asks “So, when are we getting another dog.” My answer is we can discuss it. To which Zach states “No more discussions. We are getting another dog.”

Well, you know what happened. A day after we got Allie off to SU for her freshman year we were back at the Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter in a room with a litter of boxer/shepherd (or so we think) mixes.

Cosmo and one of her siblings at the shelter the day we adopted.

Zach narrows the candidates down to 2 and than to 1. I run home to get Ripley to see how she will react to this new dog. We put Ripley in a room with one of the puppies and Ripley proceeds to shit all over the place. Just awesome. A week later we bring Cosmo home.

Cosmo a few days after we brought her home in September 2007.

In August of 2010, Ripley leaves us but not before getting her 2 kids off to SU. In life and in death, timing is everything. We go back to being a one dog family…until now.

Zach and Cosmo looking pretty good in the Spring of 2009.

Over this past winter, one of Zach’s fraternity brothers adopted a dog from a litter of puppies he had seen on Marshall Street. They named her Shay. Once Zach realized that neither his friend or the friend’s roommate in Castle Court Apartment Complex where they all live, knew the first thing about raising a dog, he started to take control. And at some point, Shay became Zach’s dog and so, Shay became our dog.

You want to know the great thing about owning a dog when you are a 21 year-old party hearty college student? It gives you a sense of responsibility, it grounds you and centers you. I am proud of my son for many reasons but how he has handled Shay has completely blown me out of the water. He takes her to pet school, works with her on her training, gets up with her in the morning (no small task for any college student) and he has done an unbelievable job with her.

Shay showing off her jumping skills in South Mountain Reservation.

And if I do say so myself, Shay is an awesome addition to our family. If you don’t believe me, just ask Cosmo.

Cosmo and Shay chilling on my bed!

She looks pretty happy to have a new friend and a new member of the Berkowitz household. Not like she’s going to share her SU blanket with just anyone.

So there you have it.  It’s a classic tale. Just a boy and his dogs.

The Looming New Jersey Disaster

Posted by: on Jul 8, 2013 | No Comments

At some point on most weekends, Cosmo and I can be found on the trails of South Mountain Reservation behind Old Shorts Hills Park. In early November of last year, less than a week after Hurricane Sandy laid waste to many parts of The Reservation, we made our usual trek in but getting around was quite a different story . The tree you see below is just one of many that were destroyed by the storm.

Cosmo in South Mountain Reservation, November 2012.

Sandy was just the latest in a series of natural disasters to strike NJ in a 14 months period:

  • August 23,  2011, an earthquake – nothing earth shattering but things certainly shook, rattled and rolled.
  • August 28, 2011 – Hurricane Irene barrels up the eastern seaboard. Widespread damage, no power for days, lots and lots of tree damage (now hold that thought as this is really the point of this whole thing).
  • October 29, 2011 – The Snowtober/Halloween White Weekend snowstorm occurs. Again, lots of damage, no electricity for several days, lots more tree damage.
  • October 28, 29th, etc., 2012 – Hurricane Sandy, the mother of all northeast storms crushes the northeast and I mean crushes. Total devastation to many areas, no power for days (even weeks in some places) and catastrophic damage to the environment, including the heavily wooded areas just a few hundred yards from our home.

More recently, we have had some very serious thunderstorms and last week a tornado touched down just a few miles from here (here being Short Hills). Every time we walk in the reservation, there is still new damage taking place on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s just a small branch or two but you can sense that the ecosystem in The Reservation has been severely weakened by the battering of the past couple of years.

Getting back to Sandy, the weekend after the storm, Cosmo and I went for our usual walk in a South Mountain Reservation but this walk turned out to be anything but a casual walk in the woods. For those of you not familiar with the area, South Mountain is a 2000+ acres park and preserve in Western Essex County. This area is popular for dog walking, hiking, illegal mountain bikers and as hang-out for local teenagers who go there to get drunk and stoned. This is some of what Cosmo and I found:

Part of one of the hiking trails completely blocked off by several branches, big limbs and overturned trees.

A section of a trail where multiple trees had been toppled.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, the whole family went for walk. Just to give you some perspective on what an upturned tree trunk looks like, take a look at this:

Zach underneath an overturned tree trunk.

That’s actually one tree that had fallen on top of another. In some spots there was as many as 6 or 7 trees that had fallen one on top of the other, just like dominoes.

OK, so let’s try and tie some of this together. We have a suburban forest, 3 major weather events in 14 months, each one causing major damage, the last one exponentially worse than the first two combined, branches of all sizes ripped from their trees, trees themselves uprooted and now all of that timber is left for dead to dry out inside the reservation. Here’s the way thinks looked a few months ago, at beginning of April.

Looks like big pile of kindling to me.

Inside the reservation are piles and piles and piles of debris just like the one pictured above. Branches, limbs, tree trunks and whole trees, covering and surrounded by dead leaves. A perfectly combustible pile.

I can’t help but look at all of this and think that Mother Nature is going to find some way to clean up this whole mess.  Despite all the rain we have had over the past few weeks, it was just 2 months ago when there were severe fire hazard warnings posted for much of the area. Imagine what will happen if things dry out again.

Will it be Mother Nature herself who causes the first flame or will it be the other folks who enjoy the occasional stroll in the woods.  I’m talking about the smokers who enjoy a cigarette in the woods; or maybe it’s going to be a cigar; and let’s not forgot the Narnians – those pot smoking teenagers I mentioned before. Whether by lightning or by match, every walk I take in the woods of South Mountain Reservation has me thinking that I’m staring at the next disaster to strike our area.