Category Archives: pet

Rest in Peace, Angel Jolie

Ruidoso, NM, October 2012

Ruidoso, NM, October 2012

Jolie Blon Whitaker died November 6, 2012, after complications from a rare form of cancer.

Born March 7, 2012, in Abilene, Texas, Jolie (who was named after a Cajun waltz) became the beloved companion of Bill and Ann Whitaker seven weeks later.

 As a young pup, she spent many after-school hours in the classroom at Abilene High, chasing a ball while her mistress prepared the next day’s lessons. Jolie excelled at obedience training, as well as learning tricks such as “find it,” “sad,” “give me five,” and “wave bye-bye,” which once prompted a young boy to ask if she could recite her ABC’s.

 “Not yet, but she’s working on it,” her mistress told him.

000_0040Though Jolie failed to qualify as a pet therapy dog, she attended many social events, including the Albany Fandangle Sampler and parades in downtown Abilene and Waco. She also had the distinction of being the only dog ever to be evicted from Tommy’s Burgers in Fort Worth and was proud to be the only dog to be a member of Friends of the Abilene Public Library.

 Jolie died peacefully in her master’s arms at the local doggie hospital, a few months shy of her 17th birthday. Survivors include her immediate family and an uncle, Pucci Whitaker. The family is deeply indebted to the physician whose care, love, and devotion added greatly to Jolie’s life in all respects, Dr. Jered Johnston of South Bosque Veterinary Clinic.



Jolie 2002



Filed under dogs, Jolie Blon Whitaker, memorial, pet, poodles, rainbow bridge

The Red Shoes

You know how you look at something online or buy something online and then every time you open your browser, there it is, staring back at you? Lately it’s been a pair of red Crocs. Not the reptiles, but those plastic shoes people either love or hate.

Two years ago my mother had a stroke, which meant she needed skilled nursing care near me, almost 200 miles from her home in West Texas. You’re probably thinking, “Is this story going somewhere?” Yes, there is a Croc connection.

I soon learned that even in the best health care establishments, personal items sometimes get misplaced. For example, my mother’s eyeglasses—the kind with the huge frames—the kind identical to those of almost every other little old lady over 80. She’d take them off and leave them in out-of-the-way places only to have them appear a few hours or days later. Once when I visited, my mother’s roommate was wearing my mother’s glasses. I didn’t have the heart to tell her.  

Thanks to an online company that sells inexpensive eyewear, I solved the dilemma by getting my mother a pair of glasses with trendy, bright red frames. That way, if they got misplaced, everyone would know they were hers.

Then, a few weeks ago when her shoes disappeared (I later learned they were being cleaned), I realized she needed shoes easy to put on, easy to clean, and recognizable as hers. So I ordered a pair of red Crocs. Afterwards, I thought about Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” wishing Mama could click her heels together and find herself back home and healthy once more. 

The Crocs arrived in two days, but my mother never got to wear them. She died in the hospital a week later, three days after her 90th birthday.

Now, when the red Crocs pop up on the browser, I imagine my mother laughing and clicking her heels together. And then I see her on the front porch of her house with her beloved black Lab, B.J., beside her. He’s wagging his tail and licking her hand, so excited to see her that he’s like a young pup again.

She didn’t know he’d been waiting for her since summer on Rainbow Bridge.


Ava Mae Powell Howard (March 30, 1922-April 2, 2012) 

 Ava Mae Powell Howard, 90, a colorful, boisterous presence throughout West Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico for nearly a century who epitomized the rugged spirit of her forebears, died Monday, April 2, 2012, in Waco, Texas, after a brief illness. Strong-willed, outspoken, yet compassionate with those who took the time to know her, she was noted for her broad sense of humor and keen perseverance during a lifetime that saw her do everything from work in a once-famous hamburger hangout, to charming hotel guests such as fellow Oklahoman Ben Johnson, the famous stunt rider and Academy Award-winning actor.

Born March 30, 1922, in Snyder, Oklahoma, the daughter of Herbert Joseph Powell and Bertha Francis Van Buskirk, she moved to Abilene, Texas, in 1959, where she spent most of her life. Even so, she never failed to acknowledge her Sooner roots. A relative once remarked that Ava was typical of the resolute, enduring Okies who stayed and toughed out dust storms, drought, and economic devastation in the Great Depression when John Steinbeck’s famous Joad family instead loaded up and abandoned the region for California. Often vocal, opinionated, and hard-headed, Ava once claimed she sat quietly in the proverbial corner till she was age 21, listening to others opine and argue and spin tales, then resolved to make up for lost time herself. She was quick to make friends and had no qualms about striking up conversations with strangers. She could also strike faster than a rattlesnake if she thought she, a friend, or family member had been wronged.

Her curiosity knew few limits. Her obvious aptitude in school and early success in college only hinted at her real scholastic potential. After a year at Kiowa County Junior College, she spent a semester at the University of Oklahoma but quit to marry James Lowell Howard in January 1943 in the midst of World War II. After his return from war (including involvement in the Battle of the Bulge), the small family—by now including a daughter—followed his checkered career as an unusually talented, much sought-after, but wildly erratic baker across much of the American Southwest. Even as they moved frequently from one town to another, Ava Mae voraciously read library books and instilled in her daughter an early respect for education.

In Abilene, Ava worked at Lion Hardware, Thornton’s department store, and Baum’s Broiled Burgers during its late 1950s and early ’60s heyday. Later in life, Ava often recalled how her years as night desk clerk at LaQuinta Inn along windswept Interstate 20 in Abilene were among the happiest of her life, even though she was once robbed at gunpoint and often locked horns with management. Customers came from a wide range of backgrounds and included occasional celebrities such as country-western crooner Eddy Raven, who alternated between staying there and a fancier, high-dollar motel in town, dependent (she claimed) on how his career was faring. Through it all, she made a strong, lasting impression on both customers and co-workers. “She always listened and then always gave me her two cents’ worth,” a former colleague recalled. “I can still see her squinting up her sweet face and then saying, ‘Well, that SOB.’ She was a good friend through thick and thin. Everyone needs a friend like her. Her customers dearly loved her.”

Even during most of her retirement and decline in later years, she remained full of energy and curiosity, long after most her age had dismissed any new marvels of technology for the rocking chair. At one point, she acquired a fascination with anything electrical: VCRs, DVD players, TVs, tape players, CD players, and a camcorder she couldn’t afford (and tried to return to Montgomery Ward after six months on the grounds she’d charged it on their charge card). One family member concluded Ava was the reason many stores now have entire departments devoted to exchanges and returns. Her concept of credit reflected her Depression-era past. She once dismissed any concern about paying off her credit card bills because, she believed, “it all goes away after you die.”

Even in her final years in a retirement home in Waco, far from her beloved West Texas, she maintained a certain vigor and hearty sense of humor. “She wanted her newspaper every morning so she could read (her son-in-law’s) article,” one nurse recalled. “She would sit behind the desk with me while I got my morning stuff together, drinking Dr Pepper and eating honey buns. What a ham she was, always wanting us to take her picture. She posed for every one of them. She is one of the ones who remind me of why I love working with the elderly.”

Ava was preceded in death by her husband, James Lowell Howard, in 1981.

Survivors include daughter Ann Whitaker and husband Bill of Waco; brother Joe Powell and wife Irma of Snyder, Oklahoma; and grandson Michael Davis of Abilene.

The family deeply appreciates the staff at Ridgecrest Retirement and Health Care in Waco for their care of Ava during her last two years of life and for their ability to see past her speech difficulties-the result of a stroke in 2010-and their appreciation of her sense of humor and unique personality. The family also thanks the staff of Providence Health Center and Providence Hospice who tended to Ava during the last week of her life, working to ensure she was as comfortable as possible and poised to be just as vital in the next stage of her long existence.

In lieu of a New Orleans jazz funeral procession led by Al Hirt, as she once requested, Ava will be put to rest quietly at the Fairlawn Cemetery in Snyder, Oklahoma, near other kin.

Memorials in Ava’s name may be made to Waco’s Animal Birth Control Clinic or Rescue the Animals, SPCA, Abilene.


Filed under Abilene, dogs, eyeglasses, memorial, mothers, nursing homes, pet, rainbow bridge, shoes

Rest in Peace, Angel Mardi

Mardi Gras Whitaker

Mardi Gras Whitaker

Mardi Gras Whitaker, a devoted therapy dog and 13-pound toy poodle whose engaging personality helped inspire a romantic comedy, died July 3, 2011, after complications from bronchitis. A street dog adopted by Bill and Ann Whitaker in October 1999, Mardi not only responded quickly to several levels of training in his native Abilene but proved himself adept at civic involvement, spending several years as a therapy dog in Waco’s Angel Paws program, regularly visiting hospitals, retirement centers and hospices with his mistress, Ann, and even serving in a funeral. He inspired the funniest sections in a novel, “Dog Nanny” (2009), and even made appearances promoting the book. Many evenings late in life, he lay at his master’s feet during the composing of newspaper editorials and columns at home. In his many outings about town, Mardi knew no stranger and was a sincere friend to all he encountered. He especially enjoyed attending parades. Affectionate, loving, brave, curious and intelligent, he proved himself a little fighter the last three and a half years of his life as he battled diabetes and endured twice-daily shots of insulin to maintain his vibrant lifestyle, including his beloved morning walks. He died very quietly in his mistress’ arms on the way to a local doggie hospital after a sudden illness over the Fourth of July weekend. He was a few months shy of his 13th birthday. He was a good boy. Survivors include his immediate family, including sister Jolie Blon Whitaker, and the physicians whose care, love and devotion added greatly to his life in all respects, Dr. Jered Johnston and Dr. Nicole Hudspeth of South Bosque Veterinary Clinic.


 img137Ann5mardiB100_0302Mardi Big Eyes

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Filed under diabetes, diabeticritters, dogs, Mardi, Mardi Gras Whitaker, memorial, pet, poodles, rainbow bridge, veterinarian

One Face of Diabetes

Mardi, diabetes survivor

Diabetes is a disease that touches not just people but often strikes our beloved animal companions. Mardi, our 11-year-old toy poodle, was diagnosed with diabetes in January 2008, but thanks to caring veterinarians and an online Yahoo group called “diabeticritters,” he’s doing well.

Just like people, with a little practice, owners can test a pet’s blood sugar and regulate insulin dosages accordingly. Mardi is on a special high-fiber diet, receives two insulin injections a day, and has his blood sugar tested at least twice a day. He’s a happy little guy who brings great joy to everyone he meets.

So if you have a pet that’s been diagnosed with this disease, remember, in many cases, it’s treatable.


Filed under diabetes, diabeticritters, dog nanny, Mardi, pet, veterinarian