In this monthly column, George Miller, TUJ’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs (ADAA), shares what’s going on at Temple University, Japan Campus (TUJ) and with his life in Tokyo. For this edition, he writes about his best friend, who isn’t able to make the trip to Tokyo.
My grandmother called me on the phone and said, “You want a dog? I’ll get you a dog for your birthday.”
It was January in 2003 and I had taken three months off from my job as a photojournalist to complete my master’s degree final project. My birthday wasn’t for another two months.
“It’s a bad time,” I responded.
Upon completion of my degree, which I really needed to focus on, I was set to teach in Italy over the summer, for seven weeks.
“I’ve got too much going on right now,” I told her.
She told me she and my grandfather were going to get one of the puppies and that they had picked one out for me.
“It’s a bad time,” I said again.
She seemed to accept that and after a brief conversation, we hung up.
Two days later, she called again.
“We’re picking up the puppies on Friday,” she said. “Are you coming?”
I was confused.
“You are off work, right?” she asked.
I said that I was but I needed to work on my project.
“Just come down and take a look,” she said.
A few days later, I found myself in a living room in Rising Sun, Maryland surrounded by a litter of bouncy baby shih-tzus. The woman who had bred the pups handed me the little guy my grandparents had chosen for me. He walked up my chest and started licking my face. When I laughed and turned away, he licked my ear.
And that was it. My life was forever changed.
Mookie Miller entered my life on January 29, 2003, weighing 3.8 pounds, fitting in the palm of my hand. He was two months old. He pranced around, scampering like a bunny rabbit, the most innocent, joyous creature I have ever seen.
Within a few days, he followed me everywhere I went. He wouldn’t let me out of his sight.
I spent most of the next three months playing with the puppy, letting him chase me around the house and yard. When he tuckered out, we crashed on the couch – me on my belly and him sleeping on my back.
My master’s project was a mess but I had found a soulmate. By the time I had to return to work, we were inseparable.
I became one of those people who took their dogs everywhere – to the newspaper where I worked, the university where I was teaching at the time, to friends’ houses, softball games, restaurants.
And when my friends were having actual children, they joked that Mookie was my son, which, of course, he was.
We went to a baseball game in Toronto, boating on the Chesapeake River and strutting in New York’s Central Park, among other places.
When I started teaching at Temple in 2007, Mookie joined me. We would walk the mile or so to school and then he’d nap behind the podium as I lectured. Every once in a while, he’d wake up and wander around the room and I’d hear giggles from the students in the front rows.
As a 13-pound mop of a dog, everyone wanted to pet him. Students and random folks always reached out to pet Mookie but he’d immediately turn away. I joked that he didn’t like people messing with his hair – a family trait – but the reality was that he really only wanted the attention of one person: me.
My life revolved around the Mook, which was an interesting change. I didn’t have much of a focus before. I had done a lot of different things but never had one thing that I identified with. Mookie became my identity.
He taught me to put his needs first, which made me more generally aware of how I impact other people. I’ve since tried to assist others, just as I’ve assisted Mookie, rather than focusing on myself. His presence made me try to be a better person.
Mookie used to like to sit below the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia and wait for the trains to New Jersey to pass overhead. When he heard the rumbling, we’d sprint two or three blocks, chasing the sound.
In January 2012, after we ran a few blocks, Mookie walked in circles and collapsed on his side. He passed out, waking up moments later with the most heartbreaking howl. He recovered quickly but he was confused and I was concerned.
It turned out he had a heart issue, a mitral valve disorder. The cardiologist put him on medicine to fix the leaky valve but said he wouldn’t be chasing Frisbees anymore. He’d have maybe a year to live. I was crushed.
I quit traveling so frequently. I rarely left Mookie alone. He came with me when I lectured at universities around the Greater Philadelphia region, he attended my meetings with the dean and, after I launched a music magazine, he went to concerts with me.
The meds seemed to stabilize him. He kept chasing Frisbees. Over the years, he’s had random medical issues but he’s bounced back every time.
During the spring of 2018, I was offered the job here in Tokyo. I was thrilled, as coming here has been a dream for a long, long time. But what about Mookie?
I researched the process to bring him here. It would take six months of tests and documentation, plus a 12-hour quarantine. I started the process but had to move to Tokyo two months into it. I’d have to be without my boy for four months.
It was a hard decision but this opportunity might not come around again. I left Mookie with my ex, whom he loves, and planned his journey from afar.
Last November, about six weeks before Mookie was to move to Tokyo, he had another series of health scares. I decided then that making a 16-year old dog with a history of heart disease fly for 16 hours was just too much. Mookie would live out his days in Philadelphia.
I miss him so much. I’ve traveled back to see him four times over the past year. He still loves me and follows me everywhere. Each time I leave my aging little man, I fear it will be the last time I see him.
I’ve sacrificed time with my best friend for my position at Temple, and the opportunity to be closer to my family in Japan. I work hard to ensure that I make a difference here so that I have not made that sacrifice in vain.
I will enjoy every single day and every single moment as best as I can, now and forever.
I have to, for Mookie.