Mika: How dogs brought new purpose to my mother's life

The "Morning Joe" co-host and Know Your Value founder reflects on the impact dogs have had on her mom's life, especially in light of the recent death of their family dog, Cajun.
Mika Brzezinski with her mom, Emilie, and their family dogs Scout, Cajun and Daisy.
Mika Brzezinski with her mom, Emilie, and their family dogs Scout, Cajun and Daisy.Joe Scarborough

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By Mika Brzezinski

When my dad passed away more than a year ago, my mother had to adjust to several challenging changes all at once. One of the key constants in her life — and something that has helped her manage to thrive amongst so much change — are the many loving dogs around her.

My father's death ultimately involved my mom moving down to Florida, in her own home, close to me. Mom, who we all call “Bamba,” was also recovering from two heart attacks that took place during the week of my father’s funeral. Then she was diagnosed with very early onset Parkinson’s.

Bamba handled the move to Florida with courage. She knew it made sense, and it made it possible for me to see her almost every day. But it has still been difficult. She and my dad, who we called “Chief,” were extremely close, and there would never be anyone to take his place.

Mika Brzezinski with her mom, Emilie, and their family dogs Scout, Cajun and Daisy.Joe Scarborough

While there will never be another “Chief” in her life, my mom (who's an artist) and I have become a team. We’ve kept busy. We both immediately started marketing her sculptures down here in Florida, and she has two major exhibitions scheduled.

We’re also working to relocate her art studio and tools (which include axes, chisels and chainsaws) to Florida. We want her to have a new space that she can go to every day to continue her work. She is 87, so all of this takes patience and the ability to stop and rest when necessary. But then, together, we charge full steam ahead.

One key thing that has helped make all these changes more joyful and healthier is the growing number of dogs in Bamba’s life.

We need to start with Cajun. Just a week ago, Cajun, who was just shy of 15, passed away peacefully in his sleep. As Cajun’s health deteriorated, and as he got especially slow and wobbly over the past few months, my mom took really good care of him. It gave her an incredible sense of purpose.

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Cajun was my family’s dog of 14 years. But since my mom moved to Florida, my former husband and I decided Cajun would be better served living with Bamba. We rightfully knew that Bamba would be a healing presence – for both of them. My mom gave him back scratches and was attuned to his every need. Cajun returned the favor with lots and lots of love. We saw Cajun get a skip in his step when he moved in with my mom.

Cajun was rescued from a hurricane when he was four months old. We don’t know what kind of dog he was, but during his life, he was the most loyal, loving, joyful creature. He would hide every time it rained, in closets, corners and under couches. But otherwise he was always by our side.

There’s also Daisy, my dad‘s dog.

Daisy is a 5-year-old German Shepherd who is very possessive of my mother. She’s known as the super jealous and needy one in the family. If you are not giving Daisy enough attention, she will literally jump on you. And she is huge!

Daisy, the family's 5-year-old German Shepard.Joe Scarborough

Then there is Joe’s dog, Scout.

Scout is a Golden Retriever and is nervous around Daisy. We often drop Scout off at Bamba’s for doggy daycare! The only issue there is Daisy gets super jealous and starts to snap a bit if Scout gets any attention. My mom has become a mediator between Daisy and Scout. And she does a very good job giving each of them the attention they need.

If you could just see how boisterous and jealous Daisy is, how big Scout is, and how wobbly Cajun was, you would wonder how my mother deals with the canine chaos and doesn’t get knocked down by the dogs when they become rambunctious.

Scout, the family's Golden Retriever.Joe Scarborough

It’s remarkable to watch my mom with these dogs. She can talk about each one’s personality in tremendous detail. And when they are being rambunctious in her house (like when the doorbell rings), for some reason, they never knock my mom over! It’s as if they know that the area of 12 inches around my mom is a “no go zone” You can see that they respect her and contain her carefully. They will knock me over, but somehow always avoid her.

When we walk them, it’s chaos for me, but it never is for my mom. In fact, she’ll often chide me for not understanding them.

There are more dogs. My mom is known as the dog whisperer of the neighborhood. If I go to her house, I may see Brynn, Phoebe or Stella, all neighborhood dogs whose owners like to bring them over for a visit. Sometimes there are up to five dogs at her house!

Mika Brzezinski with mother Emilie, along with dogs Scout, Daisy and Cajun. Cajun passed away last week at the age of 14.Joe Scarborough

These dogs have benefited from my mom. But I think my mom also benefits. They’ve given her an added sense of purpose.

She connected with Cajun’s aches and pains. Daisy’s jealousy is sort of like my dad looking over her shoulder and reminding her that he was very jealous too! And my mom finds joy in calming Scout’s “Nervous Nelly” behavior, which can be answered by my mother’s soft caress.

When all is quiet in my mom’s house, you’ll find Daisy curled up sleeping under a picture of my dad. Scout sits upright next to my mom and stares at her intensely for hours. And until recently, Cajun would find his place at her feet.

Daisy sleeps beneath a picture of the late Zbigniew Brzezinski. In the picture, Zbigniew Brzezinski plays chess with former Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin, at the peace accords in 1979.Courtesy of Mika Brzezinski

The energy inside her home feels magical because of these dogs. My mom seems to be doing so much better this fall. Her memory is back, and her joy is ever-present. I would love to take the credit for all of this, but I have to give to to Daisy, Scout and Cajun.

It's down to two dogs now. Cajun passed away the day before Thanksgiving. The night before he died, my mom told me that Cajun was beginning to struggle and that his time was coming. She turned to me and said in fact “his time is now."

I had just gotten back from a long trip and tossed it up to my mom having no filter. The next morning, we found Cajun in his bed; he passed away overnight. My mother was not traumatized. Instead, she was very proud of how well she kept him. And as the family “dog whisperer," she knew she made his final months wonderful.Thank you, Bamba. Thank you, Cajun.

Know Your Value wants to hear how pets have impacted your life, especially during challenging times. Tell us your stories by emailing us at knowyourvalue@nbcuni.com.