I am a dedicated nostalgiaphobe. I have no use for nostalgia. The past is just fine exactly where it is. The moment we’re alive – this very instant – is the best one ever. “That’s why they call it ‘The Present,’” a wise friend told me – “it’s a gift.”
But Evelyn and I were near The Diamond Thursday shopping for floor tile. I saw the Richmond SPCA a few doors away. A talented woman named Karen Gammon’s artwork decorates their training a rea. And she did portraits of my first two dogs! And they’re both on the wall!
This is the wall of the exercise area at the SPCA. You can see Ivory’s picture toward the right, just above the little green tabletop between the two sets of blue stairs. Nicky’s picture is to the right of Ivory’s, directly above the fan sitting on the floor.
Here’s an image of the two of them on the back stoop of my old house on Three Chopt Road. This picture was taken maybe 1998 or so. I hadn’t learned to photograph black dogs at that point – all you can see is Nicky’s tongue. And his pointy ears. He was handsome, but he could be intimidating. Ivory was incapable of intimidation.
I’d never owned dogs before I owned Nicky and Ivory. I got Ivory in 1995. I was thirty-four years old. So all the time you see me with dogs today, I knew zero about them while I grew up. I knew about companion animals (we grew up with cats) and about the outdoors (between our cabin and Camp) but but Ivory and Nicky taught me everything I know about dogs.
Ivory was easy – he was so easy – he was the perfect first dog. He was jumpy when I first got him but he calmed down in no time.
Here’s an excerpt from my journal on January 8, 1996: “…an enormous amount has happened since I last wrote. The Blizzard of ’96, mainly, and boy has it been a doozy. Drove back from Kati’s [in Maryland] in it on Saturday night, left there at 2045 with no precipitation, finally arrived here at 0015 Sunday morning in mid-blizzard. Had two dogs with us for the whole trip, Kelsey and about a 10-month old Husky named Ivory. My talisman against the blizzard.” Then there’s a journal entry from June of 1998 that says “Ivory and I recently returned from our first visit to the MCV Children’s Medical Center as a pet therapy team.” Twenty years ago this summer, remarkable. I was working on my MS in Rehabilitation Counseling at MCV in the mid-1990’s and began studying Pet Therapy for a special project. And kept doing it at MCV for eleven more years! And still do it now, with another generation of dogs, but we don’t work in hospitals.
Nicky was more challenging. He arrived at a good time. Ivory was from AARF, the Animal Adoption and Rescue Foundation, and so was Nicky. They called me and asked if I’d pick up this dog; it was an emergency. I got him; he was a mess. I wrote at the time he was like “a skeleton with fur.” I kept him overnight and they got him to a foster home. At the foster home he bit someone and they asked me to take him back. I already had Ivory. I got Nicky back, and he bit me once and my renter once. AARF is a non-euthanizing group but they said Nicky would be the first dog they’d euthanize.
If I hadn’t been living with Ivory, he probably would have been. But Ivory had such a powerful and confident personality, it spread to everyone around him. And Ivory’s personality helped Nicky calm down.
Never let anyone tell you that an “alpha dog” is one who shows other dogs it’s the boss. Ivory was the purest alpha animal I’ve ever met, human or non-human, and the “alpha” quality was just confidence. There is no swagger, no growling, no aggression, no teeth baring, nothing. Alpha animals don’t act like they have anything to prove. It’s confidence, and nothing else.
Here’s a journal excerpt from October of 1995, when I was in graduate school at VCU. It goes well with the “nostalgiaphobe” theme of this blog post: “Life is a series of collisions with the future, it is not the sum of what we have been, but what we yearn to be” -Jose Ortega Y Gasset
Here – unrelated except it’s in the same journal – is another quote I enjoyed. Though it’s not particularly instructive: “Nothing’s impossible, but you’ll never wear skis through a revolving door.”
Mister Floyd came along later – over ten years later. I’ll write about him in another blog post. That was not a dog for amateurs. He came along after I’d had a lot of experience. I believe Mister Floyd did not have a joyful life. We didn’t know each other for a real long time but we formed a strong, strong bond.
Ivory was the first dog I ever owned. He taught me everything, and taught me to teach other dogs. And to teach other people. Ivory made it into a book about dogs in 2009. Here it is: To the Rescue: Found Dogs with a Mission, Elise Lufkin, Diana Walker (photographer), 2009.
Here is a picture of “Ivory’s” book (though his is only one of 53 chapters) and a picture of the beginning of Ivory’s chapter, Chapter 53, page 135:
Excerpt from the book (I wrote this chapter; it’s Chapter 53, the final chapter of the book:
“…Over the years I have tried to emulate Ivory’s best characteristics and make them my own. It’s not always easy. Once we were in the pediatric ICU visiting a teenaged girl. She was really, really big and bloated, probably due to medications, some of which can produce severe weight gain. Her hair was greasy and matted, her skin was horrible, her face slack, dull, and uninterested. I’ve been seeing kids in the PICU for ten years now, and even with the really sick ones, even in a coma or something, you can tell that they’re normally happy, healthy kids who are just in a tough spot. This girl was not like that. She looked like she’d never been happy; she looked like she’d never been cared for. Ivory, of course, went straight up to her bed and shoved his nose up to greet her. When she reached out to pet him, I saw that her hand had six fingers. I have always fancied myself an open-minded and poised person, accepting differences in people and taking things as they come. And on the surface I was that person, making friendly conversation with this girl just like I do with everybody. But I was faking it; she didn’t know that, but I did. Ivory was most definitely not faking it – he was as genuine, real, and present as one being could ever be with another. He would have stayed all day.
I thought about it for the rest of our visit, the whole way home and all that day, and I still think about it. I realized that I had to raise the level of my compassion, care, and empathy to be equal with a dog. With a dog – not with Gandhi, or Nelson Mandela, but with a dog. That was an immensely powerful lesson for me.
I am undeniably a better human being as a result of the years I’ve spent with Ivory. He’s an incredible animal, and I’m just so happy I’ve been able to have this time with him. There will certainly never be another Ivory. He’s probably only got a couple of years left with me, but he has changed the course of the rest of my life.”
So beginning with Ivory in 1995 I went from no dogs to this:
Only two of those live at my house – Turner with the ball in his mouth (he always “has a ball,” both literally and figuratively) and Mackey, solid black, you can barely see him there left center in the image. But Yuki (the big handsome white dog) is a regular hiking buddy of ours. And Luna (bottom, black and white, smiling) and Lola (licking my ear) are also regular companions, and Sonny (top left, yellow Lab, looking soulful) hangs out at Yuki’s house regularly. They’re neighbors.
A couple of images from the river this week:
I can’t go a week without a hawk. I almost did. But I saw a female in the drizzle at the Westhampton Memorial & Cremation Park (corner of Patterson and Gaskins) on my way home Friday morning:
A couple of images from today. On the left, Mackey, Turner, Yuki, Lola and Luna in the warm rain at Pony Pasture early this afternoon. On the right, Dash, making clear his keen desire to join them the next time they venture outdoors:
That’s all for this week! I hope you’ve had a great week and next week is even better!