Opening Your Heart Opens Many Doors: Q&A with Glenn Plaskin

Glenn Plaskin and Katie
Glenn Plaskin and Katie

We sat down with acclaimed author and celebrity interviewer, Glenn Plaskin, to pick his brain about his newest, heart-felt book; Kate Up and Down the Hall.  Raising a puppy was a new and untried adventure for the journalist.  When Katie, a rescued Cocker Spaniel, came into Glenn’s life he did what any New Yorker would do; seek neighborly advice! This is where the real story begins and develops. A story focused on family, love and companionship. This heartwarming “tail” depicts in the most delightful way how a furry friend brings comfort, loyalty, new friendships and even family into your life.

The book starts as Glenn takes his first steps in parenthood by adopting a Cocker Spaniel puppy. He names her Katie and the story details how owning a dog breaks down traditional social barriers and creates life altering situations. The long hallway in his apartment building serves as a conduit in which Katie runs back and forth, building relationships. She becomes the glue that brings an elderly neighbor and a young boy into Glenn’s chosen family.

Hi, Glenn. Thank you for letting me borrow your time for this interview! Okay, here it goes.

Animal Fair: Your new book is obviously very much a true story. Would you consider it a memoir or a novel or maybe even a hybrid of the two? It seems to transcend genres–part memoir, part self- help, part fiction, etc. (This is more for my own interest as an aspiring writer).

Glenn Plaskin: The book is an entirely true story—non-fiction all the way! It is an autobiographical memoir, but it’s also inspiring as well, with life lessons spread throughout. And because it has such a dramatic story line—it feels, at times, like a novel. Let’s remember, it’s an “animal” book, with the star attraction being my astutely intelligent Cocker Spaniel, Katie.

When I first got Katie, I was inexperienced and had no clue how to train a puppy, so one day I went down the long hallway in our New York high-rise and impulsively knocked on my neighbor’s door. What happened next really changed my life.

When the door opened, there was Pearl, a sturdy woman in her late 70’s with a passion for dogs. My puppy plopped right into Pearl’s lap—and that was that! For the next fifteen years, Katie was up and down our hallway, constantly visiting Pearl and her husband Arthur.

Then a three-year-old boy named Ryan moved into our hallway with his Dad, John. With no mother, Ryan found a grandmother in Pearl and a playmate in Katie. John, with no parents living, found a mother in Pearl; and I found in Pearl a confidante and best friend. We were a real family!

In fact, one of the prime messages of the book is that a family is anything you want it to be. We can create our own communities of friends and neighbors and dogs that become surrogate families, often just as close as any biological family can be.

AF: Without Katie you may have never had the courage/inclination to approach Pearl and her husband. Do you feel that there is a certain comfort created by an animal (different than that of a human) that makes it easier to approach a stranger?

GP: You’re right. It’s absolutely true that having a dog in your arms makes people receptive to friendship in a way that would never happen otherwise. A dog is a love magnet, an instant conversation- starter. Without Katie, I may not have had the inclination to be- come so emotionally close to my neighbors. But once Katie insinuated herself into everyone’s heart—I came along on the other end of the leash! In fact, for me, Katie was a passport to a brand-new social life. People are naturally shy about approaching strangers, but a cute dog does all the work for you. People were constantly coming up to us, wanting to pet Katie, hold her, chase her, feed her, play with her; be photographed, even offering to babysit her! And how often do you leave a stranger with a kiss? But Katie did it every single time! Thanks to her, I collected more new human and canine friends than I ever imagined I could. So I always say, if you’re lonely, or new in town, GET A DOG OR HELP ONE! In fact, that’s another lesson of the book: OPEN YOUR DOOR (AND YOUR HEART) to those in your community. I always believe that proximity is the messenger of fate, that those we’re physically closest to are people who will become important to us. There’s always a dog that needs a walk, a senior that needs a hand, or a child who needs a mentor. You never know what can happen when you knock on that door. So many people are hungering for love and connection. And I found that the key to fulfillment was waiting just down my long hallway.

AF: Loss is an inevitable part of human existence, and for pet parents, it is nearly guaranteed that we will one day have to deal with the death of our pets. How did you cope with the loss of such a pivotal figure in your life? What advice would you give to other pet owners dealing with the potential death of their sick or aging pet?

GP: Losing Katie was one of the saddest moments of my life. It’s like losing a child. It really is. Those last months with her were heartbreaking as I watched my fifteen-year-old deteriorate. She lost her hearing and vision and her ability to walk–all of it making her disoriented and depressed.
On that last day, just before the vet gave Katie the shot, I put my left hand under her warm little stomach and the right one against her heart. I bent over and leaned in close, repeating over and over into her ear: “Good girl…” Katie took a deep breath. And then she was gone. I couldn’t stop crying. My little dog’s body was still warm….I kissed her nose and, for a final time, stroked her beautiful head. Left behind was a terrible emptiness.
In the weeks and months afterward, I was numb and almost relieved that it was over, that she was no longer in pain. But waves of sadness often swept over me, in and out like the tides of the ocean. Some days were better than others. But I always remember that our dogs want us to be happy. They really do. And they wouldn’t want us to mourn forever. Knowing this, more than anything, was one secret to recovering from the loss.

AF: Similarly, following the death of a pet (or any loved one, really), how do you remain positive and embrace your doctrine of “Love Remains”?

GP: I had to concentrate less on what I lost and more on the gift that had been given to me. This was really key for me—not wallowing in grief or self-pity but replacing those emotions with gratitude. What Katie, Pearl, Ryan, John and I all created was a once in a life- time opportunity—never to be repeated—but never to be forgotten protection and care—they’re also profoundly helpful —providing companionship, comfort, and loyalty. Their sensitivity proves that they really do have souls. On 9/11 and during the traumatic days after it, Katie was incredibly comforting to all of us, especially to Pearl, who was nearly 90 at the time. Katie would curl up on her lap and lick Pearl’s face over and over again, sleeping with her at night, somehow sensing that Pearl was especially vulnerable. Dogs have this instinct. It’s been proven that the mere presence of a dog lowers your blood pressure, slows your heart rate, and increases the release of endorphins. I can tell you that having Katie with me during those difficult days helped me recover and overcome my own depression- -giving me a focus outside myself.

AF: Finally, are there any pet/animal-related charities that you would like to give a shout out to? We’re always looking to spread the word about a good cause!
GP: We all know that there are thousands of dogs who desperately need homes—and I support any organization that helps to make that happen. There’s a list of some of my favorites in the back of my book, and in addition to groups like the Humane Society or your city’s Animal Control Center, you can easily rescue a pet with just a few strokes of the key. I love, which has helped with more than 13 million pet adoptions since 1995! This site is linked into more than 13,000 adoption groups and it’s great because you can see the dogs, cats, birds even horses!–right there online, and choose the age, sex, size, breed of your choice. All in all, it’s never been easier to find a pet—and one look into the eyes of an animal that needs a home is all it’s going to take to seal the deal!

“In the weeks and months after Katie died, I was numb and almost relieved that it was over, that she was no longer in pain. But waves of sadness often swept over me, in and out like the tides of the ocean. Some days were better than others. But I always remember that our dogs want us to be happy. They really do. And they wouldn’t want us to mourn forever. Knowing this, more than anything, was one secret to recovering from the loss.”

Glenn’s Guide to Recovery
Being stoic in the face of profound loss never helps. So acknowledge your grief and give yourself per- mission to express it. Instead of bottling up feelings of sadness, let them out—and let them go. No matter how old you are, man or woman, young or old, crying is cathartic. It reduces stress and eases the loss.
Glenn would rather celebrate Katie’s memory than avoid it, so he keeps a photo of her in his wallet and carries her engraved name tag on his key chain. Find your own way to remember: Write a tribute. Frame a photo. Compose a song. Take out your scrapbooks or watch videos, reliving the indelible moments that defined your life together. Talk about your pet with sympathetic friends and family who understand your loss, telling funny stories and recounting adventures. You’ll find yourself smiling.
Create an event—a funeral, a ceremony, a party–something that celebrates your pet. Invite all your friends and family and make it a personalized memorial related to who your pet loved, and what he or she liked to do. When Katie passed away, because of Glenn’s classical music background, and because she was well-known in the neighborhood, he planned two memorial piano recitals in my home, inviting 30 friends (and their dogs) to attend. Others choose to memorialize their pets with a headstone or urn, or a donation to an animal-related charity. Do whatever feels right to you—but do something special.
Don’t be embarrassed to get help. The loss of an animal, whether due to death, or being lost or stolen, is devastating and traumatic. For kids, losing a pet may be their first experience with death. A child may blame himself, his parents, or the Vet for not saving the pet. He may feel guilty, depressed, or frightened. Expressing your own grief reassures the child that sadness is OK. A therapist is another option, and one that helped Glenn. You can also ask your veterinarian, local humane society, or your local animal shelter about pet loss hotlines or online chat groups.
The pain eventually does pass and you will feel better.The shock,depression,and emptiness are going to fade.But in the days following the loss of your pet, look after yourself—exercise, eat well, see your friends, keep active, take up a new interest, and indulge in small pleasures. One little thing that helped Glenn was re-arranging his home: moving furniture, changing the colors,adding plants,and creating a new environment for a different life.Craft your recovery your way,but carve out a new path that fosters increased energy and optimism, without ever forgetting the joyful spirit of your pet.

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