Shannon Ingram's Place

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Location: Orange County/CA

Musings of a woman who left her corporate career to become a caregiver for elderly parents, wrote a book and found her way back to corporate - with love, instead of fear, leading the way. Now working at my Alma Mater, UC Irvine, as Marketing and Communications Director for the School of Biological Sciences.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

My Vanna Dog

Although my family always had a dog, I never had one of my own until 1999 when Gary and I adopted a little yellow shepherd mix from a friend who had saved the dog from euthanization at the Boulder Humane Society. The vet told us she was between two and three years old. Her name was Hannah, which was totally unacceptable because my niece's name is Hannah. We didn't want to confuse the dog, so we changed her name to Vanna. She reminded us of Vanna White - pretty, blonde and with a beautiful smile. Seriously. When she was excited to see anyone come in the door, she would wag her tail, snort a few times and show her teeth, not in a growl, but in a charming, happy grin. It was her standard greeting for anyone she liked.

Vanna wasn't the brightest star in the canine galaxy, possibly because she had been abused as a puppy. We had to teach her to play. When I took her out for a first walk on the day after we brought her home, she refused to budge. I had to drag her out the front door then pull her all the way to the little "bark park" two blocks away from our house. It was a struggle.
When I removed the leash so she could run with the other dogs, she took off down the street like a bat outta hell. I screamed as I ran after her, but I couldn't keep up. Walking back towards our home - in the days before cell phones - I resolved to jump in the car and go drive around to try and find her. I hoped she hadn't run into the fields below our street where coyotes roamed. As I turned the corner onto Hedgeway Drive, I noticed something by the front door of my house. It was Vanna, curled up next to the door, panting like crazy. It was as if she was saying, "You can't make me leave my new home."
We didn't go on another walk for months. Vanna preferred the backyard. Gary was flabbergasted that she refused to go on a walk that day, or run freely with the dogs in the park. He called her "Dim Star." I added "Princess," so she became our "Princess Dim Star." And a precious princess she was.
When we moved to California in 2003, our new home had only a small patio. Vanna was used to a big backyard in Colorado. She had enjoyed a doggy door into the garage so she could keep warm in winter. She was not a house dog, although we did let her inside occasionally. I knew living in California would be different for Vanna because she would need to go for walks. What I didn't realize was that she would also become an indoor dog.....and my very best friend in the whole wide world.
During the years that I was a caregiver for Mom and Jack, Vanna was always by my side, to make me smile, to urge me to exercise by taking her for a walk, to be a silent and unconditionally loving companion. On nights when I couldn't sleep due to worry or sadness and didn't want to awaken Gary, I would crawl out of our bed, down onto the rug next to Vanna. We would snuggle for awhile, my head nuzzling the amazingly soft fur of her neck, until I felt a relaxing calm come over me. Vanna was a true healer in my life.
One of the reasons I wanted to work for Silverado Senior Living was that I could take Vanna to work with me every day. Rarely did I leave her at home. She entertained everyone who visited our office with her "smile" and her snorts. During the holidays, she even wore felt moose antlers, albeit with a pathetic look on her face!

The past six weeks, Vanna was suffering from a variety of maladies. She looked pretty good, but there were problems that were getting worse. Last weekend, I knew something was terribly wrong. When Gary and took her to the vet on Monday, we knew intuitively that we would not be bringing her home. Sadly, we were right.

My beautiful best friend, Vanna, has left the planet. Steve Winner sent me a wonderful poem, "The Rainbow Bridge," about losing a dog, that he said was "corny" but somehow helped him when he lost his own dog. It really helped me too. That poem and the silly, ever-upbeat attitude of our two year-old Corgi-mix, Bindi Sue, whose grief cycle is obviously shorter than mine. She sniffed around for a few hours then happily took over Vanna's bed. That made me laugh, because I knew it was what Vanna would have done were it Bindi who went first.

Princess Dim Star is now the BRIGHTEST Star in God's canine galaxy. Like my mom, Vanna will live forever in my heart.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bucket List

Bill Clinton ranked "Being alive to see my grandchildren" high on his "bucket list." That made me think how lucky I am to have two precious grandchildren when I never had any children of my own. I relish my role as "Granny Shanny" - or "Gray Shay" as my two-year old granddaughter, Kendall, calls me. I liked "Shay Shay" even more, but that was a month ago and her r's are way better now. Whatever, it's good to have grandchildren, Bill! We went to the lake last weekend and built sandcastles. It doesn't get any better than that.

I also started thinking about what's on my personal bucket list. Gary's having a "big" birthday next month and we're beginning to discuss stuff like where and how we want to live when we're 80. Contrary to our parents' way of thinking, we love the idea of living with a bunch of people our age and being waited on. We don't particularly like the thought of giving up driving, but that's a long way off at this point! I doubt I'd mind surrendering my car keys if bus service was good and had decent heat or air-conditioning. Most of the elderly folks I know are always cold, so I'm determined to be prepared for that.

My bucket list: Botox, all the latest I-stuff from Apple, visit Australia, take a cruise every year, write another book, keep working till I kick the bucket. After all, I did most of my bucket stuff when I was in my 20's, 30's, 40's - sailing around the Caribbean, scuba-diving and snorkeling, traveling to Europe and Africa, climbing mountains in Colorado, skiing at some of the world's best slopes, sampling the best food on the planet, living in Hawaii, swimming with dolphins, owning wonderful homes, working at Disneyland, meeting a gazillion celebrities. There's really not much left except to have fun with Gary and the grandchildren and stay healthy. Life is a bucket of cherries. I think I'll go buy some now...