Ivy’s promise

I ruffled my fingers through Ivy’s mop-headed curls, my face close to hers. “Such a good dog,” I gushed. “You’re the bestest dog in the whole world.” As Ivy wriggled, overflowing with happy puppy energy, a wave of guilt washed through me, leaving behind a familiar ache.

It wasn’t Ivy’s fault. She’s an adorable ball of beautiful fur. From the very beginning, it was obvious that she was smart, loving, and loyal. She was the first puppy I’d raised by myself, and I was (and am) sloppy in love with her.

Ivy came into my life eight years after my husband Earl died. Over the 27 years of our marriage, we’d raised and loved two dogs, both huskies. Keli was our first. Fourteen years later, about a year before Keli died, we added Tipper. Tipper lived a long time too, and died ten days before Earl did.

What do you do when you lose the best dogs of all time, then years later, adopt a fuzzy little puppy who is also the best dog of all time? Is it disloyal to the huskies to tell the newcomer that she’s the greatest dog in the world?

There are some who would pooh-pooh these feelings of disloyalty and my worry that I was betraying my beloved Keli and Tipper. “The dog doesn’t know,” they’d point out. True enough, but just because Ivy doesn’t know the sorrow I still carry doesn’t mean I don’t feel the ache of that loss.

At first, I thought I could stay loyal to the memory of the huskies if I told Ivy that she’s the “greatest dog born in this century,” but that didn’t ring true. It was like telling her, “You’re the best—but oh, wait, I had these two huskies, and you’re not the same—but don’t worry, you’re also a good dog.” Things would get tangled in my head, too. I’d say, “What a good husky,” or call her Tipper.

I slowly began to understand that this was less about grief and more about comparison. What are the parameters by which we compare our pets, and our love for them? Should we compare them?

As Ivy’s first birthday approached, the answer finally emerged: there is no comparison, and there should be none. I didn’t need to let my love of Tipper and Keli go. I didn’t need to qualify my joy for Ivy. All three dogs in their times were the greatest dog of all time. From now on, no comparing one dog to another, no trying to gauge my love to prove it was equally deep for each.

I sat Ivy down and looked into her big round eyes. I told her how much I loved the huskies, and that I’d never forget them or the things we’d done together that made sharing my life with them so much fun.

“These memories are for remembering, not comparing,” I told her. “I promise to never compare you to them. I promise to not add ‘born in the twenty-first century’ when I say you’re the best dog.”

I’ve kept my promise. The ache is still there, but it’s softer, thanks to the memories of Keli’s and Tipper’s love and antics, combined with—not compared to—the new memories Ivy and I have been making for almost three years.

This angel has gone home

How appropriate that my neurology professor, Dr. James T. Ingram, Purple Heart WWII vet, died on Memorial Day at 94. I have posted previously about Jim.

I saw him last week when he was an inpatient for hospice care last week. He was ready to move on.

In Fannie Flagg’s book and movie, Fried Green Tomatoes (book-at the Whistle Stop Cafe,) she has a conversation between Idgie and Buddy, whose mother, Ruth, Idgie’s best friend, is dying. Trying to get him to understand, she says, “There are angels disguised as people walking the Earth. Your mama is one of those angels.”

Jim Ingram, angel, husband, father, friend, teacher and the best equine neurologist ever, has gone home.

And for the class of ’87, “Beam me up, Scotty.”

I did it, Mom

Dear Mom (Carol, as I called you when we worked together),

Today I found out that my book, Drinking from the Trough: A Veterinarian’s Memoir won  three awards just from one competition. Judy, my coach and editor, took a stack of books to send in to many competitions. She said winners are often announced close to a year later.

Yet here we are, three months after the book launch, and I got word this morning of the three awards from Beverly Hills Book Awards. Here they are: Winner: Animals and Pets; Winner-Regional Non-Fiction-West; and Finalist: Memoir. Finalist is just as good as Winner.

You were the greatest writer I ever knew. I think we can thank Northwestern School of Speech (now called School of Communications) for that, where you got your undergraduate degree. For me, my Master of Arts from the Graduate School (now called School of Education and Social Policy, SESP) helped me.

I remember your starting a writer’s column for a little Highland Park paper, the name of which escapes me-it wasn’t the Highland Park News. One time, entries were slow, so you wrote the most exciting short story I’ve ever read. I wish I could find it. The ending was no less unexpected than a Stephen King work.

I miss you so much. This March 12 will be 40 years since you took your leave. In 1979, there were set visiting hours at the hospital, otherwise I would have stayed with you longer than that evening. Instead, the phone rang early the next morning with tragic news. It was unfair to lose my best friend when I was 26. When I have a birthday now, I count how many more years it is since your 56 years of life.

I know we communicate. Doing well on my first book I owe all to you. Thanks, Mom.

Love you, “Cara”


Where is my mom? I am sitting here in Tucson, Arizona with Cowboy Joe and Matthew, and no mom. A person who looks like her takes care of us, but where is she. Auntie Margo says she went back to Fort Collins for two Parks and Recreation board meetings, and to do her taxes. Huh?

She’ll be back soon, so I’ll practice sitting on my couch getting fur all over it. That’ll tell her. Oops! I forgot that the house cleaners come the day before she gets back.

She’ll ride Hannah for a few more weeks before starting her summer activities. We miss you, Mom!

Today in Ask Frank

Franklin discusses how, in my absence, the boys have plenty to do when they are not worn out by all their sleeping. As an aside to what Frank says, I play with the cats before I leave for class for the same reason I’ll put the top down on my happy fun car to drive three whole miles. It’s a mini-vacation that clears the mind and makes me happy and positive. If a student in an intense, serious program of study doesn’t ‘have time’ to feed the birds, play with her cats, or put the top down on the car, what does that do to the emotions? Frank knows I’m doing much better since Earl’s death. I’m really busy, which helps. It also helps to enjoy what’s around me. And there’s plenty to enjoy if you know how to look. Like the time I watched a big snail move along the concrete to get back to the flower garden. There were no snails in the other places I have lived. I watched that shelled unit for about half an hour. Snail watching is fun!

Today in Ask Frank

Franklin recounts his near drowning at my hand. Right. The incident brings to mind when my  sister, Natalie, was a sophomore biology student in high school. It used to be that classes would get fertilized chicken eggs, incubate them, and watch them hatch. The problem was, what to do with the chicks? Nat decided, without Mom’s knowledge or approval, to bring one home. Margo was at college, and I was a senior.

Nat kept the chick in a shoebox in the bathroom she shared with Margo. I paid little attention until one day, Nat opened the box and a rooster came out. The last time I had seen the chick, Natalie had it out over a sink full of water. She put the tiny chick in the water. It did nothing. Then my short-tempered little sister said, “SWIM, CHICKEN, SWIM!” I fell down laughing.

When the rooster came out of the shoebox, Mom insisted it was time for the chicken to go. Nat found a teacher who had some land, and ‘donated’ it to him. SWIM, CHICKEN, SWIM! Indeed, Frank. Shades of your late Auntie Natalie.