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”

“Mara”

Teasing Kitties

The boys have rediscovered their favorite toy. It’s a Kitty Tease ®, a small, fishing pole-type device that has a string on it with a piece of denim on the end of the string. They chase it like maniacs and jump high in the air.

The dumb thing is that I actually paid money for it. I’ve had it since Fletcher and Kitty Al were born in the late 80’s. Cowboy Joe is the most maniacal. He chases it, jumps high in the air doing some pretty impressive gymnastics with it.

Since the new master bedroom is pretty large, there is room for the three to run and chase it, while I control the motions. Even Big Frank gets into the action. And, this is one time where Matthew doesn’t run the other two off. The three play together.

Ever since Joe was a kitten, he’d play until he panted. Panting is not normal in a cat. Open-mouth breathing is a sign of trouble, which is why I was concerned about him as Jeff and I drove into Texas, and Jeff held him in his lap the rest of the way to Cowboy Joe’s new home. As shoemaker’s children go without shoes, of course I’ve never had it worked up. He is a perfectly healthy, happy cat otherwise.

On a more worrisome note, one of my favorite (equine surgery) professors, Dr. Simon Turner, was in a terrible bicycle v. car accident at the end of last month. This is much worse than the accident he had in 1986 when I was a junior veterinary student. He and his wife, Dr. Ann Wagner, were headed the next day to Australia, of which Simon is a native. His bike helmet was packed. Out riding without a helmet on a road bike in the days before mountain bikes, he hit a rock and went over the handlebars landing headfirst. He had some major damage to his brain, but recovered enough to win a prestigious honor is osteoporosis research in sheep that benefits humans.

This time, a car was rounding a corner, I think into the sun, may have clipped the corner, and hit Simon. He has been at the Medical Center of the Rockies ever since, and will go straight to Craig Hospital in Denver hopefully soon. To lessen the hundreds of emails, the family has set up a blog. Thoughts and prayers go out to Simon and Ann.