Lori Levine knows what it is to grieve. She also knows how to make epic celebrations for celebrities. In 2020, she had to draw on all her experience, hard-won wisdom, and strength to transform the death of her three VIP dogs into the experience they – and their human family – deserved.
As a talent executive for the likes of late show host Conan O’Brien, Lori Levine knows better than most ‘the show must go on’. But how do you do that when you lose three four-legged friends in one year?
That was Lori’s family’s reality in 2020, when amid the Coronavirus pandemic and the many associated stresses, they said goodbye to their dogs Suki, Casey and Kipper one after another.
How she coped and the insights she gained came as a result of some hard-won wisdom from her past, a special Warren Zevon song and a tight knit ‘Brady Bunch’ family unit, who carried each other through a difficult time.
Lori is sharing her story in the hope it will help you face your dog’s death when the time comes. It is probably a good idea to have a tissue on hand … but brace yourself for some belly laughs too, as this dynamo is one waggish storyteller.
About Lori Levine
Lori Levine, founder of Flying Television, is a pioneer in the world of strategic entertainment marketing and events. The driving force behind some of the most recognizable entertainment promotions and parties of the past decade, Lori harnesses the power of celebrity to elevate brands above the clutter of the modern media landscape. As a talent executive for NBC’s “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” Lori earned widespread acclaim for her ability to keep the show at the cutting edge of pop culture and ensure a constant flow of A-list guests. The list of celebrities who look to her for insight and counsel – among them Kate Hudson, Usher, Will Smith, Robert Downey Jr., Jimmy Fallon, and Kim Kardashian – is a testament to her ability to make and keep friends close.
Social Media Instagram: @FlyingTV, @LoriLevineFTV
About The Long Leash
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James Jacobson: [00:00:00] Welcome to the long leash. I'm James Jacobson. Today we speak with Lori Levine, a business owner in New York who went through the pandemic like we all did, and she had three geriatric dogs to care for. As you will hear, Lori is one of those consummate dog lovers and an animal rescuer who just says yes with a big heart.
That's what makes this story so poignant because recently Lori had to say a final goodbye to not one, not two, but all three of her dogs in quick succession over the span of just a few months. This is a long and intimate conversation and it ranged all over the place, but we thought it was so fascinating because Lori has so much to offer all of us in terms of real hard won experience on how to go through and process grief, and more importantly, how to really be there for your dog at the end of his or her life. There is a beautiful segment featuring Lori story on our companion podcast Dog Edition and that segment runs around eight minutes. But for this episode of the long leash, we have decided not to cut the interview and instead let you listen to the whole conversation in its entirety. You may want to grab a tissue because you could shed a tear or two, but I promise you will also laugh because Lori is hysterically funny.
She cracked me up because you'll hear it multiple times throughout this conversation. Most importantly, though, what I think you will take away from this is how to really be there with your dog at the end of their life. It's something that most of us will have to deal with and Lori is an expert. Here is Lori Levine.
2020 was a pretty crummy year for you, right in probably lots of ways. You're in New York city?
Lori Levine: [00:02:13] I am, I mean, it was crummy for everyone, but it was crummy for us for so many other ways. I mean, it wasn't enough, that you know, we had to deal with the pandemic, but then we had three very geriatric dogs that we had to take care of in two different places because my husband, um, and I have a house in Connecticut and we have a place here in the city and we kept Suki our little Shitzu with us, always cause she's small enough to transport, but as the Labradors got older, they could only spend time in the Connecticut house.
And what ended up being great about the pandemic is that they had 24/7 care because I have four stepchildren who are all adults now and there was always someone in the house and suddenly we got to see everything that was happening with them. Oh, are you having trouble with steps? Let's build a ramp.
Oh, is it hard for you to get around the block? Casey the yellow lab, let's build a fence, you could just walk around the yard all day. You know, are you losing a little weight Kipper? Okay, so then let's change out your diet. I mean, we, they were so covered and then Suki just decided she never wanted to take a walk.
So then my husband used to wake up now, again, we're all working from home, so you know, the dogs wake us and of course we were okay, fine, we're up, we're here, we don't have anywhere to go. So Jan would get up, my husband's name is Jan, Jan would get up at 5:45 in the morning. He's in finance, so his day starts at seven when the market opens. So 5:45, he would get up, feed the cats, pick up Suki and walk her meaning, carry her to the park.
James Jacobson: [00:03:45] And paint the picture for that. How big a Suki?
Lori Levine: [00:03:47] Suki was 12 pounds like a Shitzu Maltese mix. What do they call that a Shitese, the worst, but she was very smart, but she had all the smarts of a Maltese and a Shitzu, but then she also was very stubborn, like a Shitzu.
So she can't get her to do what you can't get her to do. And she was like, I don't want to leave, I don't want to walk anywhere, but we needed to walk her. She needed to do her business, so to speak. So Jan God love him, would pick her up, walk to the Stuyvesant Park, which is two blocks away from our house, walk around the entire park with her and then she would walk at, walking home, not a problem. It's not like she had joint issues, she would pull him home, but she just wouldn't go there, you know, but home that's coming home to Mama. So that became their daily activity every single day for a year, unless we were in Connecticut. And then it would just be, you know, she'd walk out the door and hang in the backyard and, you know. Or walk around the block with Kipper. Cause Kipper is a big chocolate lab. He needed to be out several times a day.
James Jacobson: [00:04:45] So how long had you had these dogs, since they were puppies?
Lori Levine: [00:04:48] Suki, I adopted when she was a puppy, she was five months old and Kipper and Casey, my husband rescued and adopted when they were each a year and a year and a half.
Casey was a yellow lab, pure bred, very smart, but you couldn't teach her what she didn't want to learn and after a year of her living with one of Jan's very close friends, they said this dog is too much for us, we don't know what we're going to do. And Jan said, I'll take her, and that was it. Then Casey came to live with Jan and the kids, and then a year and a half later, there was Kipper who literally was big chocolate lab, Coonhound mix was a junkyard dog.
He lived in a junkyard. He would, you know, scare people away from the junk yard, and someone found him and he was beat up. You know, he had all had permanent marks on his body and, you know, Jan saw him and said, no, no, no you're coming with us. And then there was Kipper.
James Jacobson: [00:05:49] How many years had you and Jan been married when...
Lori Levine: [00:05:52] We're together eight years.
James Jacobson: [00:05:53] Okay. So eight years. So like seven years when all this started to go down during the pandemic?
Lori Levine: [00:05:58] Yeah. Seven years when it all started to go down in the pandemic. Jan and I met on Tinder. We were like the first Tinder wedding. So we literally met and were engaged within three months after both of us had been divorced for many years.
James Jacobson: [00:06:08] I read about it in that, you know, esteemed, uh, paper, the New York times. I thought that was great.
Lori Levine: [00:06:13] Yes, well, so here's why it got picked up in the Times. It's not like either one of us is like, you know, in society. It's because apparently we were the first people willing to go on record that we met online. And I was like, how is that possible? We met in 2013 when Tinder started or 2014, whenever Tinder started. That's when we met. But apparently people were embarrassed to say that they met online. I was like, oh my God, I am loud and proud, I want everybody to find love. So, and they called us and said, are you willing to say it out loud?
I was like, yes. You're sure? I'm like, doesn't everybody? They're like, no, we've never had anybody say that they met on Match or that they met on JDate, nothing. I said, we will go on record. We are happy to. We have no problem with it.
James Jacobson: [00:06:58] That's wonderful. My wife and I met on eHarmony. So...
Lori Levine: [00:07:01] There you go. You see, I mean, how are you going to meet otherwise? You know, and Jan and I were perfect strangers. Perfect. Strangers, nobody in common. I would have never met him.
James Jacobson: [00:07:11] You had your wedding dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, ABC kitchen.
Lori Levine: [00:07:14] We had our wedding at ABC kitchen. Yeah, the only wedding that they've ever done and they have never done another since then. And I wasn't a bridezilla by the way. I mean, I produce events for a living, so I know what I'm doing. I don't think that they were prepared for what it was going to take. So, uh, since then they haven't had one, but it was magical. It was beautiful. Yeah.
James Jacobson: [00:07:33] So what was it like melding, you know, so you had no children, he had four children and,
Lori Levine: [00:07:39] Correct, I had two dogs, he had two dogs.
James Jacobson: [00:07:42] Talk a little bit, a little bit Brady bunch, if you will.
Lori Levine: [00:07:46] Oh, very. Well, first of all, I come from a blended family. I'm the youngest of five kids. My father had two daughters and my mother had two sons. Brady bunch was like that, that doesn't everybody happened that way. It did not seem like a big deal to me.
And so when I met Jan, I said to him, I remember on an early phone call, I said so you have two kids, and then he said, no, I have four, and I was like, okay, well we all have family. And he was blown away. He's like, wait a minute. Are you sure? And I said, yeah, what do you mean? Because it was normal to me to have a blended family. I'm one of five, so four, that's not even a team.
James Jacobson: [00:08:22] And you had a rough childhood, as I understand.
Lori Levine: [00:08:24] I did. I mean, my father passed away when I was quite young and my mother moved while I was still in high school, so I was living on my own and yeah, it was, you know, it was one of those things where you just figure out how to survive. And you know, especially in 2020 with COVID. I was really prepared for it only because of my upbringing, because surviving is thriving as far as I'm concerned. And when you get the wool pulled out from under you, you have only two choices. You either have to crumble or you have to rise. And I didn't, there was nobody to lean on. I'm like, okay, well, I guess I'm going to find an apartment and get a job and then go to college and pay for it all, alright. I mean, it wasn't easy, but there was no other choice.
You know, my dad was dead. My mother was gone, married to her third, then fourth and fifth husband eventually. So yeah, like there was no, there was no afterthought about what I was doing.
James Jacobson: [00:09:23] And how old were you when she left?
Lori Levine: [00:09:24] 17, I was 17 years old. And where were you living? I was living in Long Island and I graduated from high school and I put all my stuff in storage from my mother's house because she had sold it.
And then I went to work as a camp counselor up in, um, upstate New York, and then on weekends I would come home and I would look for affordable apartments with like whatever friends I found to live with me. And I found an apartment in Mineola, Long Island. It was like a, you know, a two family house, and we took the upstairs and the people who own the house lived downstairs, and that's where I lived for a year. And then eventually I had an older sister who lives in the city, so she allowed me to come live with her after that year for a few months, until I found a friend's father owned like a very rundown building and I just was like, I don't care. I'll live anywhere. So I lived above a deli, which meant like I was roach infested, but I was like, but it's my, and was huge. By the way, it was like a bowling alley in this apartment. It was so big, but you just had to deal with the one thing.
James Jacobson: [00:10:26] A lot of small pets.
Lori Levine: [00:10:27] Oh my God. It was, I mean, by the way, and not even like the turn, the lights on, like, they were just like sitting next to me watching TV, like, how are you doing ? You know, you do you again, you just survive it. What else do you do? What was I going to do, be homeless? I mean, I guess I could have counted on the kindness of strangers, but there weren't any, so you just do what you gotta do.
James Jacobson: [00:10:48] So how did that grit shape your early career?
Lori Levine: [00:10:53] I started working as, um, I was working in sitcoms and then I transferred over into daytime television when everything was about daytime television and I kind of eased my way into talent booking. So, it just felt very comfortable for me to figure out, you know, how to produce celebrities on talk shows, what they wanted to talk about. I understood the visuals. I mean, I was a latchkey kid growing up, so all I knew was television. I learned how to read by reading Norman Lear the credits at the back of the Norman Lear shows like All in the Family and Mod and all I know every producer there is out there.
I met Norman Lear in my life and I told him the story, my first words, hands of God, we're "Here's Johnny", because my parents had my bassinet in their bedroom. So the first six months of my life, every single night I heard Ed McMahon say, "Here's Johnny". So that was the first thing I ever said. So television was like ingrained in me.
So yeah, so I just, you know, you just kind of, I don't want to say fake it till you make it. I'm a quick study. I had already done my 10,000 hours with television. I knew every character actor, I knew their names, I knew who they were, what they had been in. There was no IMDB back then. It was literally in my head and I just had a sense of it.
So I was able to do TV producing for a long time. I understood that and then I transferred over and I started to focus solely on celebrity and that's when I worked at late night with Conan O'Brien and I was there for many years. And then there was like a shift in the, you know, the climate of the media where now it wasn't just about like an opening of a movie or this or that.
If you didn't have a celebrity attached to it, no-one cared. And I saw this white space, this niche in the industry, and I thought, I wonder if I could help corporate America with their brands, try to get them pushed out with talent. And I had a lot of friends who were publicists, who were corporate publicists, so. I did it. And I started offering the service or they would call me, we've got this Levi's Dockers film festival. I'm like, is that a thing? They're like, we need a celebrity to come or nobody will come cover it. You know, Phillips light bulbs. They needed somebody to go on the today, show to talk about the ball drop.
Nobody wants to talk about the light bulb in times square. But if a celebrity is there, then all of a sudden, The Today Show will book it. And so I asked Conan and my boss, Jeff Ross, who was the executive producer still is at the time, and I said, do you mind if I do this? And they said, we don't care book the show.
And I was like, okay. So if I booked the show, I could do this other thing. They were like, yes. And I couldn't believe it, but they were really cool. I mean, I remember the music booker Jim Pitt had booked, um, like a Scorsese film with 'em. The Rolling Stones. I was like, oh, this is the thing. Everybody gets to do this stuff.
And they were really kind to me. And for two years I would get up at seven o'clock in the morning. I go to the office, I'd open it from seven to 11, I do my thing, then from 11 till seven, I'd work on Conan, then from seven to 11, I work my thing, and then I'd go home again. Needless to say, I'm not married to that husband anymore.
James Jacobson: [00:13:52] I was going to say, that's a, that's a long workday.
Lori Levine: [00:13:55] It was. But that's, by the way, at the time, the reason why I even started it is because I really wanted to make my own money and I didn't want to have to rely on another person's income and I thought, oh, this is a good way to do it. And that was it. It was rough for two years, it was really, really hard. Um, and like I said, it broke the marriage, but it built the business. And, um, yeah, I'm not sorry about either, by the way.
James Jacobson: [00:14:19] Well, it sounds like you're very happy with Jan today in this blended family that you've created.
Lori Levine: [00:14:24] And my God, I absolutely love it.
James Jacobson: [00:14:26] When you first met, when you first met his dogs, what was that like?
Lori Levine: [00:14:32] So I met the dogs and the kids simultaneously, and they were great. Casey's a yellow lab, so she came to me immediately with a shoe in her mouth. And I didn't a hundred percent understand because I hadn't had labs. I'd had big dogs, but you know, I'd had Border Collies and I had Hungarian Vizsla's and, but I didn't have a lab and I didn't get that, that was like an offering. So I thought always a very cute, and then I remember I came to pick up the kids once and you know, it's like a wood door with a little window on the top, like around like five feet is that window that looks into the house or the person could look out. So I walked up the door, knocked on it and see Kipper.
And he keeps jumping up cause he's six feet on his hind legs and I was like, oh my God! I'm like, what is that? And I was like, okay, there's Kipper. And so that was Kipper and you know, he was just wonderful. Kipper was like my little soulmate. Every time I saw him, he would kind of put his forehead to my forehead.
You know, and he was like that and I would just massage his ear ears and he just, he knew like, oh, that's my Mama. This is my Mama. And you know, everyone loves Casey, Casey was like, everyone's heart. But you know, I had a female dog of my own that was already eight or nine years old. So, you know, it was hard for me to kind of go like, oh, Casey's my heart and then Suki, and then I also had Baxter. I had this geriatric dog, I adopted a 12 year old dog with a heart condition because, you know, yeah. And so we had him for a couple of years, but introducing them all four of them to each other was insanity because it's two very small dogs. Baxter was eight or nine pounds at his best pure Maltese.
We adopted him at nine years old. Suki, 12 pounds, cause she was like a football. And then we had Casey who was about 85 pounds and Kipper, who's a hundred pounds. So these are giant dogs. They all got along really well, but there was a very specific dynamic. Baxter hated Casey. He's like, no, no, no. You are not the girl, Suki is my wife. Now Suki hated Baxter. Suki was like, I hate him. I don't want another dog in the house. And then Kipper just kind of was like, am I supposed to eat them? Because Kipper was a hunting dog. He had hunted rabbits in his life. And then he sees these little dogs and he's like, wait.
And they were, you know, my dogs were, the little ones were very sweet with people, but were not to be messed with by other dogs. No matter the size they did not want, they don't want to make friends with you, they don't care about you, and by the way, get away from me. So they just kind of all coexisted very well.
They never fought. They definitely were some growling and barking and if Casey ever went near Suki, Baxter would come and stand in front of her and be like, get away from my wife. And Suki would be like, I'm not your wife, please. No, you're in my life, but you are not my husband.
James Jacobson: [00:17:19] Did you get the sense that the dogs were modeling the behavior that, that you and Jan had put out or were they just very independent doing their own thing?
Lori Levine: [00:17:29] Oh no. Suki was a princess from the minute I got her. I thought that she was stupid. I couldn't train her for the life of me. I went to this woman Katrina and I said, she's a lemon, she's a lemon, can't learn anything. I said, I'm going to go to the Sundance film festival for 10 days.
Would you board her and train her? And she said, absolutely, I can train her. And, uh, the next day she texted me and she said, just so you know, she already understands hand commands. And I was like, oh, I'm a dummy. I couldn't train her. She came back, understood hand commands. She taught her not to bark at the door.
Like she was really good, but you couldn't get Suki to do what she didn't want to do. So if we were coming outside and she was at the top of the steps of the brownstone, I'd be like, Suki, come on. And she'd be like, ma I'm like Suki, what do you need? An invitation princess, ma. So when she was four, that's when we got Baxter.
And at that point she listened to everything. Everybody said she was so obedient because now suddenly there was someone vying for attention. So that dynamic was happening. When Baxter died, Suki became the same dog as she was when she was four years old, she's like, he's gone? Great, I'll sleep on both sides of the bed now. Um, as far as the big dogs were concerned, they're so friendly and they loved everybody. I mean, you know, they weren't exactly watchdogs. They had big barks, but they had no bite.
James Jacobson: [00:18:50] Okay. So fast forward to the beginning of the pandemic, you're in Manhattan at this point, or you're in Connecticut?
Lori Levine: [00:18:58] We have both places. The pandemic happens, all the kids come home. So now, you know, they're all home from school, either college, high school, whatever it is, they're all in the house and available. And Jan and I are in Manhattan for the day. And then Cuomo locks up New York City. So now the dogs and the kids wait, whatever the kids, kids, they're 18 to 24 years old. Like they're not children, they're not babies. The kids are alone in the house. It's like, yeah. You know, like it's a frat house now, or a sorority house (inaudible) them. They're loving life and we are in Manhattan. So we've got Suki and they've got, by the way, we have some cats as well. So we have Suki and the cats and they have Casey and Kipper and the boys were the ones that said, we think that the dogs may need a ramp.
And we were like, okay. And so for six weeks we can't go to Connecticut cause you know, we're locked up and you know, we're communicating with these kids and they're ever, you know, everything's going well. But that's when they started to notice, like the dogs were slowing down in a way that was. Not that they were ever ignored, the dogs were always taken care of, but now you had four sets of eyes on them, 24/7 and you know, if you've got multiples, as far as children are concerned, they all have an opinion and they all have a heart for the dogs. So we're like, okay, we had a lot of collective family discussions, which we just do anyway.
James Jacobson: [00:20:17] What was the format for those discussions? Was that like, okay, so you had like FaceTime meetings where all the kids and then you and Jan were talking about...
Lori Levine: [00:20:25] To this day we still do it because two of the kids, you know, one of the kids was in Arizona, drove to Arizona to work on a goat, farm, the other one's at college living in his own apartment. So even when we were, the demise of the dogs happens, we just jump on FaceTime with each other and we just make family decisions. You know, cause they're adults, we have to include them. Then the dogs have been in their lives since, before they were born. One of them.
James Jacobson: [00:20:50] We're going to take a break here. We will be right back.
And we're back. So let's talk about some of these things that you did at a ramp sounds like a trivial thing, but evidently it wasn't.
Lori Levine: [00:21:06] Let me tell you something a ramp was not, it was no small affair when you were in the middle of the pandemic and you can't get wood. So the kids were able to get one giant plank, like a panel, like a wall panel almost, and then they kind of rigged it, they jerry rigged it with some, we have these really big, um, they're not cobblestones, but they're almost like, look like cobblestones. We have a bunch of them in our backyard because we have a path and there was just leftover. So they had them in the shed. So they just kind of jerry rigged it so that the dogs could at least go down the ramp.
After a couple of weeks, when wood became available, I spoke to our contractors of close friend of mine and I said, Javier, can you please build a ramp with treads? So then he build a proper ramp, because we have steps that lead out from the kitchen to the backyard. So I'm like, we need a permanent ramp, something that's not going to warp something that will be sealed, that is snow, everything, we can just make it easy, they won't slide off it. They won't, you know, and he did a perfect job. He weatherproofed it and then we went and got tread so that their pads would not slide them down the ramp, so to speak. It's only two steps down, but it's a house. It's two steps for people, the dogs couldn't do it. So the ramp ended up being, it's probably six feet long from the top to the bottom because we didn't want it to be too steep an angle. You know, the dogs were also, they're huge and now they have arthritis. They're a little geriatric, you know, they're like Kipper had been in a major car accident when he was two years old and he totaled an SUV.
He survived it. The car did not. Jan was coming back back from, I think walking Kipper. He used to run with him Jan is a marathon runner. He was running with him down to the beach and back, he was training for the New York City marathon, came back, Kipper ran off his leash unexpectedly. He just yanked it out of Jan's hand and ran into the middle of the street, probably chasing a squirrel, gets hit by an SUV. Jan picks him up, takes him over to this place. Uh, VCA hospital in Norwalk said, do everything you can to save my dog. They did, including pins in his legs. The SUV was completely totaled. There was no coming back from the car. The dog survived it. I mean, the dog had like nine lives, like no matter whatever happens to Kipper, he survived it. He, I believe he was so in love with those kids, you know? No one more than my oldest steps on Janssen. They were spirit animals with each other. If everyone could walk in the house and Kipper was happy. Janssen walked in the house, Kipper was like, oh, Janssen, it's like Santa Claus showed up.
So he had such a will to live, but you know, Casey too, they just love the children so much and the kids love them. Every time they come home from when they were little to teenagers to adults, even now, the minute they came home, someone's on the floor, on the floor, laying with the dogs every time, every child. They're just great.
James Jacobson: [00:23:57] So talk to me about that will to live, do you think that played a role in why you saw this very quick succession of their passing?
Lori Levine: [00:24:07] Okay, so when we lost Baxter was five years ago on my birthday, oddly enough and then Suki died on mother's day of 2020. And we were very confused about was what was happening because we had just rushed Kipper to the hospital, the same day because he needed to have a spleen removed. So we were praying it wasn't cancer. They said we can have emergency surgery, which was quite expensive and we were like, just do it, just save Kipper at all costs. You know, the kids were not ready and he wasn't in pain. I mean, if we've got a spleen out, he could survive it as long as he didn't have cancer and he had still had great quality of life. So of course we saved him. He had to have a spleen removed, but it was not cancerous. Thank God. So that happened and it really, he was great, uh, for a long time. Suki, on the other hand, out of nowhere developed, I mean, she was fine on Monday, fine on Tuesday. She stopped eating on Wednesday and now she's drinking, but she's not eating. Thursday morning, we take her to the animal hospital to drop her off and say, we don't understand what she's not eating. Can you let us know? And then we come back, Kipper now needs to be rushed to the hospital, something's wrong. So we take him in, we leave him. Then they say to us, do you want to have emergency surgery?
Absolutely. Have it, save him, let us know if it's cancer. And then we are waiting with on pins and needles and then we get the call from the other animal hospital, you need to come here right now, Suki is not going to make it. And I was like, are you kidding me? What are you talking about? We just dropped her off, she's just not eating. And they said, she's not, not eating. She has kidney failure, you cannot save her. So we were just expecting, okay, let's just drop her off and then tend to Kipper, and then now she's never coming home. So now we're walking the walk back to the animal hospital going like, okay, hold on, we got to go get her. She had this, like a plush toy donut. She loved their donut, you know Suki didn't like to chase the donut and bring it back, she liked you to throw the donut, then she gets the donut and then she chews on the donut and it goes ee-ee-ee-ee endlessly until you can get the donut from her because you're going bonkers.
And then she just stands there and she's like throw it again, I want to do it, and then ee-ee-ee-ee. So I bring her the donut and you know, her favorite blanket and then something of mine that smells like me and, we go in, you know, it's COVID now, so we have to put on all the PPE and we have to, you know, get temperature checks and they weren't really letting people into the animal hospital, so we had to wait until they could bring Suki into a private room. Now we had already said goodbye to Baxter there, so I had it in my head, what happens when they go. And I remembered that I made a mistake with Baxter because they put them in a room and I let them turn on the overhead light. And it really stuck with me that that fluorescent lighting should not have been the last thing he saw.
It should have been dusky in there. It should have been softer for him. We should have played music for him. Like there could have been other things we did. So with Suki, I said, I need a room that has a dimmer, or I need a light bulb or something. They said, no, no, no, we have a room with a dimmer. And you walk in and the room is like, it is the room that they say goodbye to everybody in. There's tissues and dim lighting and you know, the, the blankets.
So we had Suki and she held her in my arms, and I played her Warren Zevon's Keep me in your Heart, for awhile. And that if you haven't heard the song, I mean, if you download it, it'll break you, but it is so beautiful and he wrote it for his family when he was actually dying of cancer. And it just, it always makes me think like, you know, it's just a beautiful song in general.
He was such an incredible artist, but it really put us in the right mindset where we were no longer thinking of ourselves and we were thinking of her. And you know, for me, Suki was my responsibility for the minute I got her and I got her on a whim, by the way. I was buying cheese and bagels next door to where she was and I walked in and I said, I'm (inaudible) and the woman said, well, go buy your cheese and bagels and come back, I'll pack her up. I was like, what happened? You know, they do this. It was 100%. I was having 17 people over the next day for brunch. It was the Eve of new year's Eve. I used to do this brunch every January, 30th. 17 people walk in, they're like, you got a dog I was like, I know. And, but I got her home, I thought, oh, that's 20 years of keeping this thing alive. I don't know what I'm doing. I haven't had my own dog, I never had my own dog, I only had family dogs from when I was a kid. So I remember actually I called the woman who I got Suki from and I said, she won't stop following me around, what's the matter with her, and they said, no, that's normal! So anyway, I figured her out, got her trained, she was perfect and I thought to myself, okay, well, we've got to give her the kind of exit that she requires, you know? And I looked into her eyes and I said, I wouldn't leave her. And we played her the song and we dimmed the lights and, you know, we said all the things and, you know, she was struggling for air and she was struggling in general.
So, you know, but I promised her, I would keep looking in her eyes. I will be the last thing you see, because you know, that Mama is what always kept you safe. And I could see her, you know, like, but even before they gave her the sedative, I could see her kind of going like, okay, Mama's here and it killed me, it just killed me. I mean, she died in my arms, but that was what I had to give her and it was rough. It was rough. Had I known that it was coming again, nothing would have changed, but it prepared me for when Casey went and then for one Kipper went.
James Jacobson: [00:29:54] So when you saw that transition, when you were holding her in your arms and the sedative was taking it's effect and you were looking at her and she was looking back, what do you think was going on in her mind?
Lori Levine: [00:30:07] You know, obviously she didn't know what was happening, but she knew that she was starting to feel better because the sedative was obviously making it, she wasn't in pain anymore, you know, and she wasn't struggling and you know, and Mama was there. All she needed was Mama. Now, Suki in general wasn't a lap dog, she was a sit next to you dog. But she liked to be held where she was kind of like sitting up like a person. Like she would sit with her hind legs like on my legs, and then she would sit like she was sitting in a chair and she loved that. And then I would see that and I would rub her belly. So that's what we did.
You know, I held her and I rubbed her belly and you noticed that and she used to put both her paws, she would have them down and then if you started rubbing her belly, her paws would slowly go up. Like, you know, like you were getting ready to rob her. My youngest stepdaughter would, um, hold Suki when she would rub her belly, she would kind of go, hi, hi, hi. You know, she was just very sweet and I tried to just do everything I knew that she would like. So I knew that once we got there, she was no longer afraid. She saw me, you know, there's no tail wagging when they're in that much pain, but I could see that she was looking at me and you know, so I just thought lock eyes with her, don't look away. You know, this is not about your comfort, it's about her comfort. And it's hard. It's hard. And I am not the kind of person, I can not watch videos of anybody getting hurt on TV. I'm extremely empathetic. I am, I can feel other people's emotion who were just standing in the room. I pull from that.
It wears me out, if I'm around too many people at one time. You know, like I'm the kind of person like, great, I'll go to a party and at some point I do not fade, I turn off. I'm like, it's too much, I gotta go, I gotta go, I gotta go. So in this case, I had to not go, you know, I can't watch videos of anyone getting hurt or any of the horrible police videos that are going on right now.
It is too much. Way, way, way too much. That is not my privilege. I should not be witness to your demise, but Suki, you are mine. I am privileged to see you and help you transition to the other side and so that, I don't know how, but I mustered, whatever it is that I needed to muster, to to do it. Like I said, it wasn't about me.
And I have to tell you, everyone thinks it's going to be haunting. You'll have bad dreams. You won't, you won't because you are serviced to someone else. You are not of service to yourself and you will discover that once you do that, you're like, oh, okay, so I did that. And I'm not saying that you won't cry and be devastated, you will, but I don't have dreams where Suki is, you know, dying over and over and over again.
James Jacobson: [00:32:44] And that prepared you for the next one?
Lori Levine: [00:32:47] Seemingly. We had already said goodbye to Baxter a few years before Suki. I didn't think that I could survive in this world without Suki. Suki traveled the world with me. She was with me on every trip. She had more frequent flyer miles, I think, than many people, I know. She came everywhere with me, LA San Francisco, Texas, London. She had been to islands. She had been everywhere and I didn't understand what my life would be like without her, but then I got married and I have four stepchildren and more pets, and then I got into cat rescue and now suddenly I was like, oh, nothing changed from my feeling with Suki, but I did start to understand as she got older, like, oh, I see that life will go on. It won't be the same but, I do see how life will go on. And, and I was happy in her later years that I didn't feel tortured by the thought that she was going to go.
I thought like, okay, I have to come to terms with it. She's, you know, almost 14 years old, but I thought I had 20 years because you know, crossbreeds and little dogs, you think you've got 20 years and I've seen my friends have 20 years. So I was like, really 13, this is happening. You know, so I felt gypped, but you know. But honestly, if you get 10 years, any year, past 10 is a bonus year as far as I'm concerned.
James Jacobson: [00:34:07] What did you do for the other dogs that passed?
Lori Levine: [00:34:12] So Casey, the yellow lab, she was getting older and it was showing, right. Her face was turning white, she was blind in one eye, she went deaf, but it wasn't until she got dementia that we realized that things got really bad for her. So in this last year, we realized that Casey, she could feel the vibrations in the house and she obviously could tell when we touched her and she had a tiny bit of vision out of one eye, but she couldn't hear anything. So it wouldn't matter if you were like, Casey, come here, it's okay, mama is here. None of that mattered. She needed to be touched. So if we were sitting on the couch, Casey, either we'd bring her up on the couch and she needed help because, you know, she had arthritis and bad joints and all of that, but if not, someone would have to have like either a hand or a foot on her. So she knew someone was around. We ended up putting beds in all of like the high traffic areas of the house so that she could feel people walking by and if she could feel it and then she could come and find where you were. So sometimes she would lay down in my stepdaughter's room and she'd be on this carpet and then she would start crying.
Wah, wah, where's that? Because she couldn't feel anything cause she wasn't on a bed on the floor. So then we would go and find her and we would move her into the living room. And this, the moving of Casey became just a ... it's just we all just were like, Casey's crying someone move her. Does she want to eat? Does she need to go out? Oh no, it's just couch, okay. And then it wasn't until, I mean, this just happened, uh, about five weeks ago, but it wasn't until my husband was in the house with Casey, he picked her up and put her on the couch and then she wanted to lay on him. And then when she was laying on him, she would not stop crying.
So Casey's entire life became, if she was awake, she was crying and if she was sleeping, it was because she was exhausted from crying. Other than going out and going pee-pee's and eating, and then eating became a problem for Casey. We're talking about a lab here. Labs will eat like a hubcap, but when she stopped eating her kibble, I was like, oh, we've got a problem here.
You know, we kept taking her for wellness checks, we kept taking her to the vet, we kept changing different things and then when Jan was holding her and she would not stop crying for any reason, they said, listen, her dementia is so bad, she doesn't know where she is, she doesn't know who anyone is. She can't see, she can't hear.
And she can't walk anymore. We had to carry her outside to do her business and if she did her business, she would fall in it. And that point there's no more quality of life. Keeping her alive was torture because she really was sad. I mean, imagine your entire waking life, all you did was cry and scream.
And then the only time you were still was when you were sleeping. So, we had heard about a place called Final Journey. Some of the animal hospitals, you can't bring them and you can't say goodbye. So Final Journey comes to your house, because of COVID because of the pandemic. So Final Journey came to the house and we were all laying down in, um, our bedroom.
I had laid out a sheet for her. We covered her in rose petals and then we put her favorite bone, uh, near her. She couldn't eat it, but she could smell her bone, you know, with a one with this marrow inside. She never really chomped on it, but she just could kind of lick at it. So we put that in with her and then we all for hours just laid with her and said goodbye.
And then, you know, they, you know, that started at nine in the morning. And then the people from Final Journey who were so respectful, came at 2:00 PM and then they came and, you know, we played Warren Zevon, and then we lowered the lights and it wasn't until they gave her the sedative that we saw Casey finally relaxed for the first time, her muscles in her, you know, her upper body relaxed a little.
And we said, oh, okay, she's not in pain anymore. And then we did the same thing. We always did. We all held a paw. I looked into her eyes, we said goodbye and then we covered her with a sheet. They had brought in a stretcher, my husband's six, three, and my stepson six, six, so they were carrying her out. But we were able to cover her like Cleopatra in her Stroud.
And we said, just take everything, including her bone, the petals with her. And then, you know, we had her cremated and they, they sent us, um, her ashes, you know, a few days later. And then we were like, okay, Kipper, he has all our attention and he was great, for four days. And the next thing we knew, Kipper wasn't walking and he had lost like 12 pounds and we were like, what is going on? We had just brought him in for a wellness check. What? No! We changed his diet. We were giving him special meals mixed with ev.. you know, I mean, we're talking about like, you know, the private meals, the whole thing. I used to take the meals out and mix them with all the things and we would put them in Ziploc bags, marked Kipper morning, Kipper lunch, Kipper PM. And then we had the special bags and we would do this every week. And, you know, no one had to guess what meds, everything was in the bag, very easy to remember. And then whoever was in the house would be like, okay, it's two o'clock, it's time for Kipper to eat, you know, 5:30 it's time for Kipper, and then you just have to go find the bag. So we were very dedicated and then we were heading out, it was Jewish holidays and I'm Jewish, so some friends of ours had invited us, the two people in our pod. We were going over for a Seder. You know, now that we're vaccinated, we were like, okay, we can go and sit and eat in someone's house.
So only vaccination, only Seder. There were four people, it was supposed to be four people we didn't show up. So obviously nothing. And then we got a call when we were out the door, Kipper can't breathe. We said, what do you, huh? So we had brought him in because he was having a little stumble and they said, Kipper can't breathe, you need to come here. And I'm like, come on, come on! It was eight days now at this point. So we turn around, we pick up Carolyn, my oldest stepdaughter, and then we call Janssen and his girlfriend and we tell them what's going on. They call Jane in Arizona and Steadman at school, tell them what's going on, everybody, get on FaceTime. And we drove to the animal hospital and thankfully there, they had a private room you could come in and out from the exterior of the building. And, um, we were all allowed to go into by two. So the kids that weren't there, you know, Janssen and Carolyn went in and then they FaceTimed their brother and sister.
And then Karen came and Janssen, his girlfriend came and said goodbye. And then my husband and I went in as the last two and then needed to FaceTime Steadman again, cause he wasn't done. And then, you know, I do what I always do. Can we shut these lights off, I need a lamp. I don't care if it's a reading lamp, just face it towards the wall so that it's a softer light. They did it. They were amazing. Played the song. I mean, here we are, you know, the, Keep me in your Heart for a while, there we go playing the song. And then Jan said goodbye and then I went in front and Kipper and I were forehead to forehead, like we always were. And I said, okay buddy, you know, Mama's boy, I'll look into your eyes and you just stay with Mama, Mama's boy. And then, you know, we all said goodbye. I mean, I'd never seen a doctor, a veterinarian cry during these procedures, never. I mean, we've had four dogs and God, she was balling. You know, maybe it's the song. Maybe it was Kipper because he was so special, but she was broken.
And I thought to myself, oh my God, you know, that surprised me more than anything, but she had to rip us away from him. She had to say in through her tears, she said, Lori, he's gone, he's gone. And I just, I didn't want to leave him. I just didn't want to leave him, you know? And we didn't, you know, even though Casey, I mean, Casey and Kipper were very in tune with each other, you know, Kipper used to groom her.
He would clean her ears and you know, but then Casey, when they were younger, would bark one bark, loud bark and it wasn't for her, she was letting us know Kipper has to go out. And so we would be like, oh, I mean, Casey would be like, Woof! And we're like, what's going on? Who, wha? Oh Kipper. And that was it.
She knew, I'm sure she could smell, he was ready to go poopers, and I'm like, okay. She was so smart, even though she wasn't the most obediently trained, but she was so smart and she would tell us everything, you know? So yeah.
James Jacobson: [00:42:50] That's hopefully all the loss for...
Lori Levine: [00:42:52] Oh yeah, for sure. Cats, they live forever and we went, oh yeah, we have one cat that's local, super bananas. She's going to live forever. It's going to torture us for the rest of her life. She's 11. She scratched my husband's so badly yesterday and I was like, what happened? He's like, ah, she warned me cause she goes Rawr! And then he was like, what is it? And she's like, I'm like, no, she's going to live forever this one. Cause crazy lives forever. It's the sweet ones that go.
James Jacobson: [00:43:19] How did you become a different person or did you become a different person as a result of this succession of loss?
Lori Levine: [00:43:27] I mean, I'll tell you that, I can't see any stories about animals that aren't rescues. So like I follow the Dodo on Instagram because they're all happy ending stories, you know, that is good.
You know, now I'm talking to my husband. I'm like, should we get ducks? Because we're not getting dogs, not for a while, we've got all the cats. And by the way, we had cats and we had to train these big Labradors, not to kill the cats. So for six weeks, when we got the kittens, we had the dogs on leashes in the house.
And eventually they were like, oh, they're not squirrels, okay we shouldn't kill them. And then they learned slowly, we transitioned them, great... everybody lives in harmony until the cats decided they wanted to stalk the dogs. And then, you know, obviously nothing happens, they just kind of run up on them, scare them and run away.
But, um, yeah, I just think that, you know, there's been so much loss in 2020 in general and so many things happened that it just, it put me in a place where I was like, okay so I don't think I can do that for awhile. If something happened to one of the cats, it would be hard, but I, that needs to be it now universe, like you did it.
And like we all, so didn't expect Kipper to go because we didn't think Kipper really cared that much about Casey. Like, yes, he would kiss her every once in a while here and there, but it wasn't like, I mean, she would run around like a lunatic and he'd be like, Ugh, I can't. So we were like, Hey, it's gonna be great, he's going to be like great, now everyone pay attention to me. And apparently their relationship was much more symbiotic than that and he seemed fine when we got home. Like for those eight days, he was like, good, but you know how dogs are, they're fine until they aren't. And then the minute they're not it's often and unfortunately too late, we got very lucky.
We were fortunate enough that we've been able to save the dogs and one of our cats, multiple times. You know, that we have the wherewithal to do it. And I mean, even the kids were like, we'll do odd jobs around the neighborhood. And they did all kinds of things. And I said, please, don't put up a go fund me, like it's people don't have meals right now. We cannot put up a GoFundMe in the middle of COVID to ask for people to help us pay for this, we will handle it. And the kids were like, okay, well we want to help. And the next thing I know, all four of them were out there figuring out odd jobs, mowing people's lawns, babysitting, doing anything they could.
And they earned, I mean, a significant amount of money, a few thousand dollars and they handed it over and they said, please, we want to pay for it, we want to help. They just, it was so their wish. I mean, they're kids, we don't want take their money, but they had gone out specifically to only to do it, just to say, you know, here, we're bringing it to the animal hospital to help, it was so, so sweet.
James Jacobson: [00:46:09] So it sounds in some ways that this horrific experience was a blessing for your family.
Lori Levine: [00:46:15] I mean, I wouldn't call it a blessing. Here's the good part about it and there is only one good thing. Everyone had a voice in the family. Everyone had their voice heard regardless of how old they were, just because they are the kids and where the parents, uh, uh, uh, uh you have to tell us when it's okay. When Kipper was in the hospital with a spleen, they said, look, it's a 50-50 chance he has cancer, you may not want to do this. And it's going to be a lot of money. And they said, we're not ready, we're not ready to let him go. And I said, okay, that's it. We've heard from everyone.
We've all voted. We're not ready. We save him. When Casey was not well and was really bad and not consolable, we would all get on FaceTime and we said, this is what she's like now and they said, okay, we get it. We understand it's time to say goodbye. And then we all had plans to come and say goodbye in person.
And then when Kipper went, there was no conversation. He couldn't breathe. There was no saving him. He no longer had the ability to keep himself alive and you know, it's not like they put you on like, oh, an iron lung, I don't even know if they do now for people who can't breathe, I guess not, we're not putting the dog on a ventilator for life, right, exactly. But you know, again, the children are now 18 and older, so we are not telling them things, we're advising them. They're adults, they tell us what they want to do and then we give them our advice and we hope they make the right decisions. And thankfully our four kids make amazingly smart decisions about everything.
But I think I would have to ask them, I believe they would agree with me that they felt empowered that they were able to have a say in what went on with the dogs, because remember I'm the step-mom. I hadn't had the dogs my whole life or their whole lives, but I had been around eight years is a good portion, they were my babies, but I couldn't be the one. You know, I couldn't be the one to make the final call, it had to come from the children and Jan ultimately with my advice and my advice is always the same, we saved the animals as long as their quality of life after will be wonderful. That is the only thing we care about is their quality of life.
James Jacobson: [00:48:22] I mean, you guys seem like really close already. Did this bring you closer because you're all having to focus on this in the midst of the pandemic?
Lori Levine: [00:48:29] I think the pandemic brought us all closer because we were able to, I mean, look, the kids were adults and now living back in the house, that being said, they were already living out on their own. Now suddenly they're home, and I have something to say and my husband is to say about how you do this and what about the garbage? And you didn't throw this out in the refrigerator, and it's like, we had to start realizing that we're roommates. You know, this is no longer parents and children, this is parents and adults. So we had to say like, okay.
And we had already had so many family meetings through the year to say like, all right, maybe we need to figure out how to better communicate with each other about things and you know, if we're in the city and we come back to the house and a glass is broken, it's not the end of the world. You know, and things like just things like that.
Or if the garbage was not put away the right way or what have you. So we had already figured that out. You know, by the time all of this stuff started going down with Casey and Kipper, but I'm very blessed. My stepchildren feel like my own children. They love respect and adore their father, which is why they signed me off.
Like I'm signed off. Okay, got it, she's my stepmom. I'm not, I'm not their dad's wife I'm their stepmom, that's how I'm introduced and I'm very lucky that as the older they get the better our relationship is, and they're, they're just great kids. I mean, you don't often have the opportunity to say to a kid, no, you can't do that.
One of the kids wants to take the roof off the Jeep because we live in a beach town. My husband's like, you're not doing that. They're like alright. I'm like really, if it was me, I'd be screaming my head off, that's my car, and it's not, it wasn't my car, it was my parents' car, my mom's car, I guess at the time. If, I was a nightmare, but obviously it wasn't, I wouldn't, no one was watching the house while I was around, it was a little different. These kids feel taken care of. And when they do, when they feel like when you get enough and you get a lot of love and support, it's easy to kind of go like, okay, maybe that's irrational, okay I got it. Or maybe it's just like, dad's decision, okay I'll have to accept it. You know, we get what we need.
So I'm extremely blessed. It's, it's hard for me to live out there in the world of the evil stepmother, because I'm not saying that, you know, we don't have disagreements where they probably thought that when they were younger, but, uh...
James Jacobson: [00:50:49] It really is the Brady Bunch.
Lori Levine: [00:50:53] Listen, let's not forget these kids have their own mom and I'm not trying to be that, you know, and I've gotten sign off from her.
So, you know, no one's competing. But they're adults now. There's not a lot of co-parenting going on even between my husband and I, you know. They're adults, they say what they want to do and we say what we think is right and they generally make the right decision, but you have to remember something they're a Wolfpack.
So even if we say something, if they say something to their siblings and they don't agree, they're like, that's no, and they're going to get push back from each other before they even bring it to us, so we're like, okay. So there's an occasional moment where they'll whisper in our ear. Like, did you hear so-and-so?
And we're like, oh really? Oh, okay. We'll be on the lookout for that. You know, so they don't always agree with each other and they pressure each other to do the right thing. It's pretty incredible.
James Jacobson: [00:51:39] So here's a thought I had, you were talking about the high Jewish holidays. Are you by any chance at Kohen? Do you know?
Lori Levine: [00:51:47] That's a good question. I'm not sure. I mean, my last, um, Lori Levine van Arsdale. So my husband's not Jewish, he's Dutch. But my ex-husband is a Levi. I think I might be a Kohen, but my family's from Russia. I mean, don't get mad about that people, were not like related to Putin or anything. But our last name is Podolny back then you put the river and the town in front of your last name, so the last name was Dolny, but the Po river, so Podolny became our last name. When everybody came over from the old country to the lower east side, you know, when they came in through Ellis Island, they were like, what's Podolny, no, your name is Donnelly. And they got them at minimum to switch the L in the N, so instead of Donnelly became Dolney, they were like, okay and they put an E on it and they made it very easy, at least for record-keeping. But then when we go back, you know, we'll find some other people in the universe, but my family, you know, they all came through what we call the bakery. There was a bakery in the upper, on the lower east side.
Everybody worked at the bakery. When you came in from the old country, your job was to leave the bakery. So you take your job, you earn enough money to go get another job because then somebody else has to come in and take your job at the bakery. And that went on for my whole family, came over from the old country, everybody, unless they dropped dead, they were here.
And I had relatives that lived so old. I have a picture of a Seder from 1932, right? Yeah. Yes. 1932. My dad was like 16 years old or something like that. And he had me into his fifties and I knew all the people in the picture and they all looked a thousand years old back then, but they weren't, they were young, but a 1932, there wasn't anything, you know, there was, they weren't dying their hair and getting Botox and things like that.
So I was like, is that Nathan? Nathan was a thousand years old, but he lived into his nineties. So I remember him vividly. So, but he probably was in his twenties in that photo. So I was like, If you look at it, he looks a hundred in the photo, but I guess not, it was, you know, that it was, that was a hard life back then, of course they looked old. It was tough.
James Jacobson: [00:53:47] They'd been through a lot. I was asking about the Kohen just because of the connection with death and the Kohen and I don't know too much more about it, but I know that there's something there. Well, I'm kind of wondering where the Genesis of your decision to look into your dog's eyes and to know that that was the right thing to do, where did that come from?
Lori Levine: [00:54:06] I don't know. Honestly, it's not my way. I mean, I have no problem getting into, like, I have friends that I will get into your personal space or if they like are feeling like they're going through something, a friend of mine went through a divorce. I called her every day for months.
She never called me back. I'd be like, hi, you know, you're not calling me back anyway, I was thinking about this and I would just leave messages and text messages and she lives in LA and I finally flew to LA and I was like, what's the matter with you? Should I can't pick up the phone? I said, all right, well, you know what, you're getting divorced now.
So at minimum let's go to dye your hair, you look like, you look horrible because someone else is going to want to be with you in your lifetime. Like come on. So I, I definitely am that person that can kind of see what someone else needs and whether or not you like it. I might just click into it and just do it anyway and not feel like.
I know you're not responding to me, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to call you every day. And I know you need to hear from me. So this is who I am. So I have a lot of friends that are those types of people, you know, and you don't see them for awhile, then you do see them and time compresses and it's like, that's it.
So I think that perhaps just me being that person, I think, you know, the fact that I am, I don't want to say empathic, but I have empathy for other people, I can feel someone else's emotions, like I say to my husband, even though he'll say like, I'm fine. I'm like, look, you're vibing all over me, so what is going on?
Because I'm not good at guessing what's happening necessarily. Like, I don't know what's bothering you. I only know that something is bothering you, so I have to take your word for it when you tell me what it is and then sometimes people don't want to talk about it and you have to respect that, but I know when something's happening.
So perhaps that's where it came from. And also I just thought about, are they scared? How would I feel? Would I be scared? And if I was scared, I think I'd want someone to hold my hand. And I think I'd want someone to look in my eyes and make me feel like it's okay. It's not scary. It's okay. It's going to be okay.
You're going to feel better and it's going to be okay. And, and you're just going to feel like you're going to sleepies and that, that I hope, you know, I mean that on the other side, there is another side, the over the rainbow bridge. I hope, you know, they're on the other side. I hope that Suki never has to see Baxter again. I hope that Baxter can see Suki every day. And then Casey and Kipper are now with Chester and with Winston and Barron and all of them, Pierre and all the other dogs that have passed in our lives and that they're all, you know, frolicking and doing what they want and not feeling no pain .You know, Kipper's entire life would be if he could chase a killer rabbit every day, that would be heaven to him.
So perhaps that's what he's doing. Casey, she just wants to shoot to pick up and she just wants to wag her tail and greet people. Maybe she's like the concierge at heaven's gate. Hi, are you here? Here's a shoe. That, I mean, I don't know what people believe, it's, I'm more spiritual than I am religious, but you know, again, I just.
James Jacobson: [00:56:59] Have you felt their presence, heard from them gotten dreams, you said you don't have bad dreams, but have you, have you...
Lori Levine: [00:57:05] Have I had vivid dreams? Yeah, I've definitely had vivid dreams. My sister passed when I was young and my father passed when I was young and I occasionally will have very vivid dreams. And I sometimes like to think like, oh, that was a visit. Like I dream in black and white, but when I dream in color, I'm like, oh, that's a visit.
And sometimes they're welcome. You know, I remember once I had a vivid dream about my father, he died when I was 11. So I had a vivid dream about him and I said, where have you been? And I remember walking with him down the street where we lived in that house and he said, I was so sick. I just didn't want you to see me that way.
And I was like, okay. But to me that felt like a visit. Cause when I woke up, it felt so real. And you know, I don't know, I've heard people talk about meeting on the Astro plane and I'm like, well, I'll buy it, I'll take it. And then there are these things that suddenly happen in my life when I'm like, oh, that's Helene, that's my sister.
Uh, that feels like a little divine intervention. So I try to, you know, nod and tip my hat to, you know, God or the universe or whomever to say like, okay, remember to be grateful, remember that you, as sad as you are to lose, you know, these loved ones and these family members, it was your privilege to have them in your life and they gave everything of themselves. Dogs give everything to you. Everything, all they want to do is love you. That's all they want to do. They have no other purpose in life other than Kipper who wants to kill rabbits. Other than that, they only want to love you and be with you and lay with you. And it's like, you know, however long you get them, like I said, and any day over 10 years, because I've lost all of my dogs between 10 and 15 years, I have not had one dog live past 16.
And I'm like, well, what's the breed, what's the breed. That's going to live longer. And then I'm like cats, that's the breed that lives longer.
James Jacobson: [00:58:54] What's the story behind keep me in your heart forever. Is that yeah. I mean, do you know, like how did it come into your consciousness?
Lori Levine: [00:59:01] I was a latchkey kid. You get addicted to television. I could not go to sleep ever when I was a kid without watching Letterman. Letterman was my NoDoz or no, sorry, the other opposite, my NyQuil. And so, uh, I put on Letterman and he loved Warren Zevon. And when Warren was dying, he went on Letterman. I think he was on everyday for a week and he said, I'm dying, but I wrote this song for my family and I heard it and it broke me. It broke me in half and I never forgot it. And, um, I played it when my sister passed and it always stuck with me and I keep it in my phone just in case. And it's just that thing, you know, sometimes the songs are just with you for no rhyme or reason, well, for rhyme and reason, so to speak.
And that one, first of all, I couldn't believe that Warren Zevon was so strong that he was accepting that he was going and instead of feeling sorry for himself, he was like, no, I'm going to turn my pain into purpose and I'm going to remind them to keep me in your heart for a while, that I'm always here.
When you see the sun shining. And when you see, you know, you see the train and you see me down the road, that's me and you just keep me in your heart for awhile. And it helped me heal when Helene died. It helped me heal when Suki died. I don't even think I play it for them. I play it for me because I need, um, I just need for them to know that, I love them and I'll keep them in my heart forever, but it's also really beautiful song. Excuse me, it's a beautiful song. And if you're sitting and you're saying goodbye to someone who won't be there, but you'll keep them in your heart forever. It, it is a tool for healing, but at the same time, it helps them as well.
I mean, who doesn't want to hear some beautiful melody when you're feeling your worst? You know? Oh my goodness. I thought I was going to get through this whole thing without falling up and there it is. I really tried. That's okay to cry.
James Jacobson: [01:01:09] It's okay to cry. I think that it's definitely one of the things that help us get through these really tough things and you've been an amazing, thank you so much for sharing this with us.
Lori Levine: [01:01:20] I hope it helps someone. I, I give any listener credit for getting this far in, because if you listen to this all the way through, God bless you. And I hope that it helps, but I hope you also never have to deal with this.
James Jacobson: [01:01:34] Well, I don't think we talk enough about death and I think in many ways there's hush tones and I think there's a certain sense of shame that people can feel this emotional, this connected to a dog.
Lori Levine: [01:01:46] Yeah. Well, that's what people don't understand, this gets me. When you have a dog and you explain to someone that your dog passed, they do not get it.
They're like, it's a dog. And I'm like, well, get a dog and then you'll get it. You'll understand that that's your child, that you literally are breathing, it's like you birth them out. But then the thing that happens that breaks me, breaks me and angers me that when people have dogs that are sick, they drop them off at the shelter or they dump them.
And I, you know, I follow these rescues. I donate to these rescues. There are places in every town where people dump their dogs and they're old. And you know, and it's the reason I took in Baxter is because he was 10 years old and no one wanted him, his owner died. And at the time my next door neighbor said, I can't take in a dog.
Will you? And I was like, well, can't you take the dog? And I said, all right, I'll bring him in the house for the weekend and if Suki doesn't kill him, I guess we could keep him. And that was it. I mean, this dog would do a very privileged life before he came to me. The only place in Manhattan I ever, ever took him, I remember we were on 57th and Fifth and he dragged me, dragged me into Bergdorf Goodman and I'm like, we're not going in here. And he pulled me all the way to one counter and that woman goes, oh, Baxter, who are you? And I said, have you seen this dog before? And they were like, yeah, yes. Dalia used to cut Dalia.
That was his Mo his old mommy who died. Dalia was this very rich lady who lived on Fifth Avenue, three blocks away from Bergdorf when, and every weekend Baxter with the, with her and then go to the counter and they had cookies for Baxter. So that's the only place in this whole city he knew. And we just happened to have been up there.
So, yeah. So the, the, anyway, the thing that breaks me is when you've got a dog for life, their life, not your life, their life, the whole thing from beginning to end. You can't dump your dogs. You can't give them to the shelter cause you don't you're too, you, you can't say goodbye. And if a loved one dies who loved the dog, figure out where you're going to place the dog.
Don't just be like, we tried everything. We couldn't find anybody. And then they take them to be euthanized. That breaks me in half, you know? So yeah.
James Jacobson: [01:04:04] We're going to take a break here, but when we come back a little change of pace, we will discuss the role of dogs and celebrity. We'll be right back.
(SFX) We are back. Let's talk a little bit about celebrities and dogs. Obviously you built your career working with celebrities. They're not just work colleagues, but they're friends, some of them
Lori Levine: [01:04:28] Some listen, I work in an industry just like yours and here's the deal. Some people, you like, some people, you don't. Some people are great. Some people are jerks. Doesn't matter if the famous. I'm just letting you know, you just click with who you click with, so I'm not a professional, celebrity friend, because, you know, I don't like everybody, I like who I like, you know? And that's it. But I have worked with a lot of people who have dogs and I worked on a dog rescue book.
It's called Rescue Paws. Right? Rescue Tails. Might've been called Rescue Tails, I forgot at the moment. I'm looking at one of the pictures in the book. I'm in the book with Suki, because I had gotten Suki while we were working on the book. All the proceeds went to charity, but we had pictures, um, of a million celebrities and their dogs, on the beach, and and in their house, everywhere and this photographer was traveling all over the country to meet celebrities and the dogs, and I got to get connected to him and he said, you know, do you want to help me? I don't have any money. And I said, no, I'll help you. If you're giving the money to charity, of course, I won't take any money.
And for three years I just would, if I met a celebrity that had a dog or I heard about one, I'd be like, Hey, can you go to California for a couple of weeks? And the photographer would go to California for a few weeks. I would set up the shoots. I wouldn't even go every once in a while, there'd be in New York, I'd be like, come to the Hamptons, let's shoot everybody out there who's got their dog. And then when I got Suki inside the three years, I happened to have gotten Suki and he's like, well, you need to be in the book. And then everybody had to give a quote about their dogs for the book and what I said about Suki, is she's the kind of dog that runs towards you, not away.
And also her breath smells like she ate a dead bird, not a bird that she killed, like an actual bird that was dead... decomposing. Yeah. But other than that, yeah she is definitely the kind of dog that she would never run away. I wouldn't even have to leash Suki anywhere I went, ever. She would never run away from me ever.
She wanted to be by Mama and it was great. And then if somebody new came around, she'd be like, hey. When we would walk around the block, it would take us a long time because Suki was like, she was like running for mayor and she was like meeting her constituents on the street. She didn't even want to, she would pee it all out in one hit, and then she (inaudible) let's walk around, who's out here.
And then that would be the thing we would do. And I'd be like, all right. Okay, here we go. And you run up to everybody. You know, but she was very sweet, she was very, very sweet.
James Jacobson: [01:06:47] Any, any standout celebrity, dog stories that you want to share?
Lori Levine: [01:06:51] Um, well, Fran Drescher is a close friend and she has had many dogs in her life.
So she, you know, she had Esther who was on the nanny. Sorry, she had Chester who was on the nanny then after Chester came Esther and then now after Esther, she has Angel. And, uh, you know, I think w I start sounding like Fran, when I start talking about Fran, I'm going to be careful about that. Um, "but you know", sorry.
Uh, the thing about Fran was so connected to her dog, she kind of made the blueprint for me for what it would be like when I got Suki. So Fran was like, yeah, well you just take them everywhere. They're small, you throw them in a bag. They come, it's no big deal. This is it. So whatever Fran was around, I'm like, where's Chester, where's Esther where, you know, so, but she also had very strong connections, all of her dogs, Fran's dogs only, care about Fran. Fran is their focus. They are imprinted. It's like a Jurassic park with dinosaurs. They imprint on one person. Fran, it's incredible. Now her dogs are all very sweet, but they, Fran is the one. She is like the beacon of light. So when I got Suki, I was like, I wasn't the beacon of light, but I certainly was, you know, she wasn't that interested in, like, she wouldn't like see the kids and be like, great pick me up, but somebody else to play with, she'd be like fun. I'm alright, you know hang with momma. If you're here, I'll hang with you. But if I leave the room, she put me down, put me down. I want to know where mom was going. So she has to hear me. He had to see me. So I think the Fran laid the blueprint for me of how you, you know, the dog is your responsibility.
That is your child, so to speak and you have to take care of them in that way. So I was like, okay, so we don't leave her. I don't board her. I never boarded Suki, never once in her life did I give her to any place, any facility to take care of her. If I couldn't bring Suki with me, someone came and stayed in my house with her. It was not, dogsitting...
James Jacobson: [01:08:47] Do I even need to ask where she slept?
Lori Levine: [01:08:50] She slept on the bed, what do you mean? Not only that we have, okay, we live in Manhattan, so the bed has drawers underneath it because you know, there's no room in Manhattan, so you have to have storage. So we built special, there when there are no stairs, big enough to get Suki up on our bed.
So we've had custom made steps built and covered with carpeting so that Suki could walk up. Literally just climb up the steps and then go. And we had a pair, we had a pair, a set of steps in Connecticut and in Manhattan. And now the cats love it, but, you know, yeah. I mean, and it wouldn't even matter if I didn't have them, because if I didn't have them Suki would be like, and she'd be tortured for me to pick her up, so I'm like, I can't deal with this because she can't get up and down off the bed by herself because it's so tall. Like I want to say, literally it's like hip height when you're standing next to it. So you have to like, even as a person, you have to jump up.
James Jacobson: [01:09:39] You had ADA requirements for your dog, perfect.
Lori Levine: [01:09:42] She needed steps, exactly. So I was like, okay, well I, you know, because she cries or we accommodate her and it felt easy enough and you know, so we got the steps.
James Jacobson: [01:09:53] Lori Levine, thank you so much. These are great stories and I do think they will help because it is a subject most people don't want to talk about and you lived it deeply in 2020 and may 2021 and beyond be much better for you and for all of us.
Lori Levine: [01:10:09] Thank you very much. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it and it was a privilege, to be honest. I feel like I was honoring their memory by having a conversation about them and sharing with you my life and the kids and Jan, um, I feel very proud of the house and the home and the family we've built.
James Jacobson: [01:10:31] I want to thank you for listening today. Please follow up the Long Leash in your favorite podcast app. All the links are on our firstname.lastname@example.org. This show is produced by Dog Podcast Network, and we have a growing slate of shows for dog lovers by dog lovers. That includes our magazine format, a Dog Edition.
And our award-winning podcast, Dog Cancer Answers. Learn more at Dog Podcast Network's main website, which is dog podcast, network.com. Please tell a friend about the Long Leash and about Dog Podcast Network. I'd like to thank Lori Levine for sharing so intimately on today's show. And I'd like to thank you for listening.
We'd love to hear what you think. Please reach out to us on one of the social media channels. All the links are on our website at dog podcast, network.com until next time I'm James Jacobson coming on behalf of all of us here at dog podcast network. We wish you and your dog a very warm Aloha.