Keith Strudler: Kona’s Final Journey

May 9, 2018

I was going to write a commentary about minor league baseball players and a legal dispute over salary structure, which may or may not end up in the Supreme Court. But I didn’t. And then I almost started to write about LeBron James and the Cavs’ sweep of Toronto, and how a title this year would be perhaps the greatest accomplishment of his professional life. But again, I stopped. And that’s because, and apologies for bringing everyone down with me, but my nearly 13-year-old dog Kona is in the final throws of a terminal illness, and as I write, my wife and I are getting ready for Kona’s journey to his final resting place, likely later today. If you’ve ever owned a dog, you know what I mean, and you know it sucks about as bad as anything can. So with all due respect to baseball and LeBron James, I decided that I’d rather give these few minutes to my loyal companion that some athletes I’ve never met. And I decided that instead of taking the week off, I’d let you all know just how amazing a dog Kona was.

I suppose there are connections between the dog world and sports. At the most basic level, sometimes dogs are part of sporting events. In some cases, it’s fairly cruel, like greyhound racing. In other cases, like dog shows, it’s simply a bit niche – although don’t say that to the fans at Westminster. A lot of dogs help out with sports. Like as a running partner, like my dog did for years despite his relatively short legs and stout build. Kona is an odd mix of probably shepherd, basset hound, beagle, and who knows what else – so his speed and endurance were limited by his pedigree, or lack thereof. Dogs are good for fetching baseballs and catching Frisbees, although I suppose that’s only tangentially sports related. And of course, lots of sports teams are named after dogs.

I do think that athletes can learn a lot from dogs. For example, dogs live in the moment and never belabor the past or worry about the future. Let’s say a dog makes a mistake – say he eats out of the bathroom trash can and leaves the rest on the floor. I am speaking from experience. Kona doesn’t carry that around the rest of the day. Or hour.  Or minute. Imagine if all baseball players could do that when they’re up at the plate, and forget about striking out the last six at bats or thinking about tomorrow’s starting pitcher. Also like athletes, dogs have a tragically short life span, in Kona’s case just under 13 years. That would be an amazing run in the NBA, and it’s longer than most football players’ college and pro careers combined. Which is why athletes should enjoy every one of their few days, just like I enjoyed every one of Kona’s life – especially the past nine months when he seemed to hold cancer at bay. And dogs know better than anything the importance of working in a pack and maintaining order. What coach wouldn’t want his or her athletes to put team before individual and act a pack. These are all ways that athletes could learn a whole lot from dogs.

Of course, there’s a whole lot you can learn from a dog – in this case my dog Kona – that have nothing to do with sports. Like how important it is to eat everything on your plate and always ask for seconds. Or, when you’re being boarded at a horse farm for a couple of nights, make sure and roll in as much mud as humanly possible. Or if there’s a skunk in the backyard, definitely go bother it. These are just a few things I learned from Kona. He’s our first and only dog, and we got him as a puppy at a shelter a couple years before we had our first kid – kind of as a test run. And just the last few days, I learned a few more things from him, like how to pass with dignity, how to tell people you love them one last time, and just this morning, what do to when your 10-year-old son asks you, “why does he have to go?” I don’t have an answer for that one, because there isn’t one that makes a whole lot of sense.

I supposed I wanted to write this commentary about my dog Kona and his final journey not really because it has a whole lot to do with sports, or even because athletes can learn a whole lot from him. I guess I’m doing it because I want people to know Kona was special and the best friend I could ever have. And I’m going to miss him terribly. And right now, that’s about all I can think about.

Next week, I’m sure I’ll write about basketball or baseball or something more proper. But today is Kona’s day, and I appreciate you allowing me to tell you about how wonderful he was.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler 

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