Thursday, May 26, 2011


Until this chapter of the book there has been nary a word written about C-A-T-S, and you might ask ‘why’ gentle reader?   Given that this book was inspired as a tribute to my dear Chelsea, I seemed to uncover dog stories at first.  Then, when I stumbled across horses, Jamie’s penguin and other animals, I realized that this book should include a tribute to cats, as well.  As such this story would not be complete without telling you about my Snowflake, the first ‘Too Perfect’ animal I owned (or, rather who owned me).

Well, actually we had a dog, too.  Her name was Angel.  Yes, and by the description, both animals were white.  My mom, whom I lived with almost exclusively my entire childhood, my sister and I used to talk about our white animals; that it meant we were surrounded by real angels.  Whether her presence was angelic or not, Snowflake was there for me, especially, and what we shared helped me get through my childhood.  I needed all the divine intervention I could muster back then. 

Looking back, I wonder often how my mother suffered.  Some days for her were good, others were not so good.  I could tell in the morning which it would be.  My father, whose business was in supplying products to the road construction industry, was as busy as could be during the early 70’s.  He traveled extensively and when he was in town, he was at the office.  He sometimes took my sister and me with him there to give my mom a break and those days are the ones I choose to remember.  I’m sure we were a handful but I’m not sure who appreciated the ‘break’ more, my mother or my sister and I.

After several years of an emotional roller coaster, my dad convinced my mom that living 1000 miles apart would actually be good for their marriage and she moved my sister and I to Washington State, raising us in what was her own childhood home.  My father visited every two weeks, arriving on a Friday afternoon or evening and leaving before dawn on Monday morning.  He was as you might say the first super commuter. 

On Fridays, we would sometimes meet him at the ferry dock or the little airport a few miles from our house.  After regularly waiting over an hour for my mom to pull it together to pick him up, he finally started driving a rental car to and from the airport.  This ensured he made a clean getaway on Monday mornings; I’m sure, because by Sunday nights my mom was screaming and throwing the dinner dishes at him. 

My younger sister wanted nothing to do with either parent and she found two friends at whose homes she often spent entire weekends when dad was visiting (as I called it because he didn’t live there, no matter what my parents said).  So, she disappeared and I was left trying to find an inconspicuous place to exist and not become a target of mom’s wrath.  Which happened after my father left on Mondays, as anyone that angry is really just a heat-seeking missile looking for the closest, most vulnerable target. 

Snowflake came to our lives amid all this chaos as one of the litter of kittens from Blossom, who was also as white as a puffy cloud.  Blossom was the ultimate mom-cat and adored Snowflake.  We gave away the other kittens but kept ‘Flakey’ as we sometimes called her.  My sister was claimed by Blossom and so, luckily, Snowflake sized me up and picked me. 

When we were young, Snowflake let us dress her up and be pushed around in a baby carriage.  What cat does that?  We didn’t really understand her divine generosity back then but just had so much fun playing with her.  I remember her waiting patiently in the carriage for us to retrieve something from the house.  I peeked out our bedroom window, and there she was, bonnet and all, cleaning her paws or just contemplating the day. 

When she wasn’t playing a “Cabbage Patch” doll, Snowflake had many pursuits to keep her occupied and keep me laughing.  During the summer season when the tide went w-a-a-a-ay out, she was on the beach digging up a bullhead (a type of fish that lives under rocks when the tide goes out).  She then brought it up on the lawn and ate that danged thing from the tail up, while it was still alive!  It was so gross but we kids were fascinated with exploits from The Wild Kingdom.  Obviously on those nights she turned her nose up at cat chow. 

In the winter, especially if we had a rare snow, our Great White Hunter would go absolutely bonkers.  She loved burying herself in the snow and pouncing out at us.  I could almost hear her laugh and say something dramatic like “Muahahaha, foiled you again.”  When she decided she had ‘enough’ of the snow and wanted to warm up, Snowflake then balanced herself on the back porch railing and crunched snow beneath her paws as she paced back and forth calling for us to open the kitchen door. 

But later, as she matured, Snowflake became much more than a playmate.  She was my comfort and even my protector.  My mom was known as the Wooden Spoon Queen.  When punishment was to be doled out, that was her weapon of choice.  When things got out of hand as they often did when mom got really angry, Snowflake growled and paced the room.  Finally, she jumped up on my mom’s chest, batted her with her paws, then hopped down and walked slowly away, with her tail straight up in the air.  Her message was clearly “I dare you to do something more about that.”  Later when my mom was ready to punish us, as she called what she did, she had to put Snowflake away or the cat would intervene. 

As kids do, my sister and I grew bigger and sometime around age 12 my mom couldn’t use corporal punishment anymore.  Besides, as our worlds grew to involve friends beyond just the neighborhood kids, she behaved much differently in ‘public’ as I grew to understand it.  My mother’s public persona was a vast divide from the person she was at home.  On the outside looking in, you would think we were a ‘Hallmark family’.  My parents both had their college educations; my father had his master’s degree from Stanford, for heaven’s sakes.  How could there be anything wrong in such an upper middle class family?  Despite that, I know some people caught on right away.  My mom didn’t socialize with those kinds of folks for long. 

But even though I got older, it seemed like Snowflake stayed in place.  She was always there when I got home from school or cheerleading practice or from my part-time job at the pharmacy.  In my quiet times, she was there helping me recharge my batteries so I could keep up the charade of the perfect girl when I went out into the world.  She kept me company while I did my homework or talked on the phone.  Later, long after she stopped growling at my mom, she began growling at my boyfriends. 

College was my escape, though by that time I was so fully engaged in keeping the family secrets that I had a tough time being on campus.  When my dad visited, as was his near twenty-year habit by that time, I was pressured to be home those weekends and to serve as referee between the two of them.  Of course, Snowflake was there to keep me company when I came home.  Looking back, I just feel like I abandoned her.  I was so focused on getting away to college, balancing the family dynamic, doing my homework, working part-time and getting to and from school, that I didn’t think about what her life was like.  Snowflake was just ‘there’ every time I came back home.

When I finally left for good, so did Snowflake.  My mom was the one left to take her in to the veterinarian and have her put down.  It bothered me so much when I found out she died.  I knew that I should have been there but with my life fully consumed by that pendulum swing of either serving as referee or running away from my parents at home, I just couldn’t. 

So, when it came time for Chelsea to go, I knew, as deeply as I know anything else in my life that I needed to be there with her to say goodbye and help ease her passing.  After Chelsea died and I was granted a moment of grace from heaven in dreaming of her, I dreamt about Snowflake.  Well, actually, I met an angel and asked “Is Snowflake here, is she alright?”  It’s a question that remains unanswered, even today.  I know that I did the best I could with what I had to give back then.  She gave me so much, and I know she never expected anything more.  As a result, I learned such a valuable lesson. 

There is a vast difference between those who society says ‘should’ be there for you, such as your blood relatives, and those who have really demonstrated love toward you.  In many people’s lives, such as my own, those who have loved me unconditionally are not exclusively of the human species.  In my life, they have included the canine, equine, and feline variety.  Their love makes any difficult situation bearable.  And, my dear Great White Hunter, Snowflake, was indeed too perfect. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011


The Ridgeless Ridgeback

I just sort of closed my eyes and leapt into my career as a public relations professional.  Each time I moved from place to place, I miraculously found a perfect job for me.  And, with each of those positions somewhere out in the communities I lived, almost without exception, there was a crusty, old military retiree as my boss.  I often learned that those ‘great opportunities’ were because my strong-minded, sometimes stubborn-like-a-mule and ALWAYS hard-working-to-a-fault-boss had run off the previous tenderfoot in my position.

Not to worry, these veterans of world wars, unpopular police actions and true warriors for our country, were woefully misunderstood.  Grateful was I for the chance to salute now and then, say a few ‘yes sirs’ and agree with indignation in just the right moments for these matches, made in heaven. 

And, just about the most indignant (and heartfelt) of these was Don Kirchoffner.  He could get so worked up over things that he would reduce mere mortals to tears, sending not-just-a-few drama queens marching right into the human resources office to complain about him.  Finally, one day, I just smiled and said something to the effect of “Honey Bee, Honey Bee, if you keep getting that upset you’re going to hurt yourself,” and after he wiped the tears of laughter from his face, we got down to some serious fun in the ensuing time we worked together.  I learned so much from him that I will be eternally grateful for his lessons in professionalism, creativity and hudspa.  Don has all those qualities, in spades. 

Don taught me so many things, but one of the greatest gifts we gave each other was the gift of laughter.  Together we learned to lighten up about taking ourselves and our situations too seriously.  Not the least of those was a good laugh now and then over his dog Duchess.  When things got quiet or when there was little to laugh about, I would say “So, how’s the ridgeless ridgeback doing nowadays,” or, he would say, “Well, the ridgeless ridgeback got into it again,” and he would be off some cockamamie story, and we’d all be laughing about that fifty-dollar dog, whom Don said he bought for the kids, but that he really loved for himself. 

When Duchess passed away, Don wrote a heartfelt eulogy to his beloved royal friend.  I am grateful to him that he allows me to print it here, as he writes it better than I could have ever done so….


"Duchess Louise” an Azriel brown Rhodesian ridgeback, went gentle into that good night at 3:30 am September 12, 2001 after a sudden debilitating illness.   She went quietly, sadly, and she had a beautiful yet mournful look on her face.  Those who attended her during her final hours were filled with deep grief and sorrow at their sudden loss.  The grief was sorely compounded because of those who loved her even more dearly; Matthew, Jill and Megan were not able to be in attendance.

Duchess was affectionately known as Dutch, Rown Brown and Rown Brown Bear and various other peculiar names by those who loved her.  She was born September 24, 1991.

Duchess came to the Kirchoffner household based on a promise that the elder Kirchoffner's finally kept with their children.  That promise was thus stated "When we get a house with a backyard, you can have a dog."  On a cold November day, Mrs. Kirchoffner and her son went in search of said dog and happened upon the proud owner of Rhodesian Ridgebacks.  A peculiar breed of dog, powerful, beautiful, devoted to protecting children, noted for hunting Puma and Lion, possessing great speed with the unique identifying mark of a reverse ridge of hair running the length of their backs.

Only those dogs born with the reverse ridge were deemed worthy and others such as Duchess would be put to sleep unless new owners agreed to ensure that the dog would undergo an operation to ensure that it would not have a litter of its own.

But that is how it came to pass that Duchess was brought to the household of the Kirchoffner family, "a ridgeless ridgeback" purchased for the paltry fee of $50 with a signed oath to ensure that said operation would insure that Duchess never bore children of her own.  Mrs. Kirchoffner nursed her for three nights with hot water bottle and alarm clock to attempt to replicate the missing mother.  Duchess grew fast and big, but even faster was the love that developed between her and the children. While she sought many places to call her spot and her turf (to include on that rare occasion Mrs. Kirchoffner's furniture) she could be most often found at the floor or foot of the bed of her self-proclaimed Master Matt Kirchoffner (which led to Matt’s claim that she was “his” dog).  But in his absence she would often find refuge with the daughters Jill and Megan who also laid claim to affection from Duchess.

She was a gentle dog, not given to chasing the defenseless or barking out threats. Only when the doorbell would ring or something seemed amiss would she let instinct take over to protect and mother her masters. She was trim and well muscled, weighing about 90 pounds most of her adult life but was for some reason fearful or had not time for other small dogs and animals.

Her favorite pastime was the romp in the back yard.  Not once in all the years was she caught by any of the masters.  Other peculiar tricks that only she was capable of performing were the blanket over the head, and the protective crouch with the blanket between her paws.  She was also quite adept as chasing and pushing a soccer ball around the back yard at speeds that were truly amazing.

Probably the greatest joy that Duchess brought the younger Kirchoffner's was the profound love she would express to them when they would return to the household after extended absences.  Jumping, pawing, licking, and circling with intense love for the three and the Mr. and Mrs. Kirchoffner.  Her eyes literally sparkled with the love she had for them and that same love was reflected in their eyes.
Her food needs were simple but she was also quite capable of foraging on her own for hamburgers, butter dishes and other dishes left unattended. Wherever she went, humans, adult and child alike, were drawn to her.  Though she took no particular interest in their attention, she was always intrigued with their activities.

The Kirchoffners were no less intrigued by Duchess' compulsive and neurotic behavior to only leave droppings in her own back yard.  Other neurotic behavior was displayed by Duchess when on occasion (or so it was rumored) Mrs. Kirchoffner would leave the gate open hoping that Duchess might try to experience some newfound freedom.  But about as far as Dutch would venture would be from the back yard to the front and on only one occasion did she stray across the street which caused a massive and uncalled for manhunt…but those were the early years before the family became well conditioned that Duchess was not going anywhere.

Because Duchess always seemed to take the full measure of life offered to her it was all the more agonizing to watch her suffering. During this sudden crisis, which lasted less than two days, we were desperate for answers that were not forthcoming.  Her deterioration progressed rapidly and the vet did not have the divine power to restore her to the vibrant dog she had been. The elder Kirchoffner's anguished over her total lack of mobility and their inability to help.  And while Duchess too was confused she seemed to understand what was happening to her…and consequently she fought all the way.  It was most apparent in her eyes and the quiet calls she sent throughout that final night.   During those last hours we spent together she was sending her love to her masters, Jill, Matthew, Megan and the Mr. and Mrs.  

Duchess did not go gently into that good night.  At three-thirty in the morning she knew that God was calling and called for Master Kirchoffner one last time.  I went to her and looked into her eyes and said its ok and lay down beside her.  Very shortly after she passed on.  She stayed true to the end, a loving and loyal companion.  She wanted someone there with her in her final minutes, someone who could tell the younger Kirchoffners that she did not go without saying goodbye….and that she will be waiting for us on the other side.

We will miss you Duchess......

I keep in touch with my good friend, Don, and his family via Facebook.  Since then, he and his wife, Elaine, have welcomed sons-and-daughters-in-law, grandkids and, yes, even dogs into their lives.  He and Elaine have moved a couple of times and Don has stared down cancer with the courage of the warrior and patriot that I know he is.  I’m grateful to be friends with the Kirchoffners and to hear their stories…It’s too perfect.