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October 31, 1994 to August 26, 2008


“She was the child I never had” 

Pumpkin, a stunning Rhodesian Ridgeback with a miraculous sixth sense and healing effect on the sick and elderly, passed away of undetermined causes last August. “She was the child I never had,” said her still grieving owner, Annie Nelson of Mission Viejo. “She had very human qualities…an old soul with a keen sense of people and their needs.”

Scheduled for a routine visit to the veterinarian the day she died, Pumpkin, about 14, seemed fine, Annie said. Not a sign of the cancer she had so courageously whipped five years earlier.

Pumpkin was something, all right.

The pairing had a magical element

my-pumpkin.jpgWith a coat the color of sun-drenched wheat and eyes of darkest amber, she lit up Annie’s life from the instant she foot in it on Oct. 31, 1994, the date that became the pup’s unofficial birthday. Like so many things relating to Pumpkin and Annie, the pairing had a magical element. Close to losing her life in a terrible industrial fire in Norwalk, the puppy was rescued by Norwalk firemen and taken to the firehouse. Annie lived in Long Beach at the time, and a neighbor who raised and showed Rhodesian Ridgebacks told her about the fire and asked if she was interested in adopting the puppy. It was love at first sight, Annie determined to cure the frightened baby of her traumatic ordeal.

She brought the orphaned pup home on Halloween, her house decorated with baby pumpkins. Trying to think of a name for her adorable charge, Annie yelled out Pumpkin! “and the name stuck.” Pumpkin validated her new handle by chewing up the decorations.

African Lion Dogs

Distinguished by a ridge of hair that grows along the back in a reverse direction to their blond or reddish coats, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are a cross between a variety of hounds imported to South Africa by Boer settlers in the 16th and 17th centuries and the ridge-backed dogs kept by native tribes. Used throughout history for hunting, retrieving, guarding, and supervising children, these magnificent animals were legendary for helping South African hunters ward off lions – thereby earning the name African Lion Dogs. Trained to track a lion, hold it at bay, and turn the feline away when it charged, Rhodesian Ridgebacks – recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1959 – were never bred to attack or kill. Thus their gentle, protective nature.

miss-pumpkin-2.jpgWith her wide chest, aristocratic stance, and muscular frame, 90-pound Pumpkin manifest all the physical attributes of the breed at its best – as well as the intellectual ones. Her uncanny gratitude, for example.  It was almost as if her life were dedicated to thanking Annie for recognizing her worth and bringing her into her home. Like many Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Pumpkin possessed an amazing capacity to repay every kindness, every affectionate gesture, every treat – if only with a look of absolute devotion.

Company for seriously ill children

While these dogs can be reserved with all but their owners, not so Pumpkin. “After her puppy years, she became an amazing dog,” said Annie, who took Pumpkin along with her to visit the elderly in nursing homes and to Ronald McDonald House to provide company for seriously ill children and their families. “She was a love to everyone she encountered,” Annie said. That included Annie’s parents, both of whom cherished Pumpkin’s company during their battles with cancer.

After Annie’s dad sadly passed away in September of 2002, Pumpkin “knew exactly where his ashes were housed in a walled columbarium and went to sit below the spot without being shown or told or nudged,” Annie said. “She discovered my mom’s cancer as we were grieving over the loss of my dad.” Pumpkin detected the location of the tumor, just as she detected sadness in others and lavished them with her unconditional love and affection.

Helped set the standard for affordable chemo prices


During Pumpkin’s own fight with cancer five years ago, her courage following surgery and during six tough weeks of chemotherapy helped set the standard for affordable chemo prices for other animals. This happened after Annie discovered the drug was the same as that given her father, but way more expensive when administered to animals. Her friend and vet, Dr. Kristi Fisher, was easily persuaded to shop around for the drug, which she found at a reasonable cost.

After Pumpkin died and the veterinarian hospital sent a technician to retrieve her body, many hospital staffers who had known Pumpkin came in on their day off to say goodbye. “That’s what an amazing dog she was,” Annie said.

Homemade French fries…and peanut butter

You know how someone can be described as a people person? Well, Pumpkin was a people dog. “She captured everyone she was around and became everyone’s dog,” said Annie, who will never forget the time she took her beloved pet to Illinois to meet her 90-year-old grandma. “Grandma ended up fixing Pumpkin all kinds of treats, including homemade French fries.”

Along with watching TV, especially any show with dogs, Pumpkin loved to snack on peanut butter, bananas, veggies (yes, the human kind) and, of course, chew on a good bone. She leapt upon any excuse to take a ride in Annie’s car, or have a play date with her boyfriend, a neighbor’s Golden Retriever named Chandler. When Christmas came, Pumpkin gladly donned her red Christmas sweater, the one with the golden angel wings, and strutted around like she owned the place. Which, in a way, she did.

The American Soldier Network

sleeping-2.jpgAnnie knows Pumpkin is still around, guiding her, encouraging her in her most important work: spreading national awareness about the need to honor and thank the men and women of the United States Military. As founder of the American Soldier Network, Annie Nelson supports the troops in various ways, including raising funds for everything from treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to assisting families of the fallen.

To this end, Annie imagines Pumpkin at night, lying at the foot of her bed, sleeping peacefully and helping her dream big dreams.

Pumpkin is survived by her owner, Annie Nelson, Annie’s mom Carol Nelson, and Chandler, of course.

Memorial contributions may be sent to American Soldier Network at www.americansoldiernetwork.org, a California 501c3 charitable organization.



1997 to September 24, 2008


So you think cats can’t talk?

Bob Clish was never a cat person. He always had dogs. So when Rhonda Friedman Clish suggested they adopt a cat, her husband was cool to the idea. That was over 10 years ago, before Squeaky Lee entered the couple’s lives and radically changed Bob’s feeling for felines. Forever. So you think cats can’t talk, giggle, sing, perform, laugh at your jokes, play hide-and-seek, contemplate the universe? You never met Squeaky.

rrhonda-new.jpgNow that she’s gone, the anguish of her absence affects both Clishes to an extent once unimaginable to them. Rhonda, especially, has trouble talking about her remarkable companion, who passed away last September, a subject that almost always sparks tears. “I probably sound like a crazy cat lady,” Rhonda said from her home in Pittsburgh, PA. “But she was really special to both of us.”

Will there ever be another Squeaky Lee? Probably not. Despite the absolute joy she brought the couple, they are not sure they could endure another loss. “Everyone says we should get another cat,” Rhonda said, “but as happy as she made us, we can’t go through the pain again.”

Squeaky had a special language

bed-new.jpgYou have to understand, Squeaky – AKA: Squeaky Lee Friedman (Rhonda’s middle and maiden names) – was Rhonda’s first pet. Her very first. But there’s more to it. Squeaky had a special language, a squeaky sound she used to communicate with certain humans.  When she first gazed out at the Clishes from a cage at PetSmart, for example, she made her intentions perfectly clear: “Take me home, and I will be the best little girl.”  She kept saying it until the Clishes signed the adoption papers, Bob quickly won over.

The adorable creature was just a year-and-a-half at the time, a sleek, gray feline with a white chest and belly and gorgeous eyes that melted Rhonda and Bob’s hearts. Abandoned by her original owners at a shelter for reasons unknown, she had been sent to the pet shop, a vivacious girl of obvious worth called “Orchid.” Immediately smitten, Rhonda sensed the name was wrong. “It didn’t suit her.”

Her strangely human qualities

w-dolly-new-2.jpgEnsconced in her new home, the happy cat (as yet to be named) immediately disappeared under the furnace in the laundry room, where a new litter box awaited. “A few minutes later she emerged with dust balls hanging from her chin,” the result of exploring under the furnace. Rhonda and Bob will never forget the sight of her silly little face.

It didn’t take long before Squeaky’s personality became a constant source of amusement – her strangely human qualities of utter fascination to the Clishes. Not just her conversations (the squeaky sounds that brought automatic grins to their faces), but also the gurgling noises she made when Rhonda called her name. Even when roused from a sound sleep, Squeaky Lee responded instantly to her mistress’ voice – a meowing intonation that seemed to say, “I’m coming!” Then she would stroll over to the couch, or wherever Rhonda happened to be, and jump into her lap. “I would hold her like a baby, and she would purr like crazy.”

huby-new.jpgSqueaky Lee also liked to oversee certain labors. Whenever Bob, a retired field-service engineer who specialized in medical equipment, checked email on the PC, Squeaky monitored it all from her spot on the computer desk. Same with Rhonda, who works part time as a bookkeeper for a tool distributor.

Hide and Squeak

The gray-and-white kitty traipsed everywhere after Rhonda, often walking just ahead and brushing her tail against her legs. At night, she would sleep at Rhonda’s feet or by her side, snuggling as close as she could get. If Squeaky sat on either of the Clishes’ laps, she would gaze up at them with adoring eyes, lift her paw and stroke their cheeks.


She loved her toys, especially a fur mouse dubbed “Mousy Girl” and the soft little balls she batted around on the floor, often losing them under the sofa. An indoor cat, Squeaky would spend ages sitting on the windowsill, contemplating the wonders of the universe. She adored playing “Hide and Squeak” and “Squeak-a-Boo” with Rhonda. If the blinds were closed, she would hide behind them, poke her nose out, and then quickly retreat again. “Everything she did delighted us,” Rhonda said.

She remained in seclusion, like a diva

basket-new.jpgHilarious was seeing her gallop up and down the hallway like a thundering “herd,” and then grind to a halt to groom herself. And when Bob brushed her every morning, she practically swooned with bliss. But Squeaky Lee’s world revolved around the Clishes, her affectionate responses and talkative nature reserved almost exclusively for them. With guests, she preferred to remain in seclusion, like a diva awaiting the perfect entrance.  Then “she would come out and visit,” Rhonda said, knowing, no doubt, every attention would be lavished upon her.

floor-purse-new.jpgSqueaky’s nine lives were not without problems. Bad colds routinely followed annual visits to the veterinarian. “I thought she might have picked up a germ in the vet’s office,” Rhonda said.  “So I found a vet who made house calls.”  As it happened, Squeaky was due for her annual exam when she got sick in September – this time seriously so. She stopped eating, used the litter box less often, and was found to have enlarged kidneys. Hoping it was an infection, the vet gave her antibiotics and discouraged painful medical tests. A week later, the doctor discovered a very aggressive tumor and advised putting Squeaky down to prevent needless suffering.

“I talk to her every day”

It happened at home. The vet sedated Squeaky and then handed her to Rhonda. “I held her, and Bob and I stroked her until she fell asleep.” After saying their final farewells, the Clishes took their beloved pet to be cremated.

Squeaky’s ashes reside in a small, decorative box embossed with a Star of David. The box sits on Rhonda’s dresser, next to a framed photo of her darling cat. “I talk to her every day,” Rhonda said, her heartbreak not likely to heal soon. “I miss the way she followed me everywhere and talked to me.” Fond memories haunt both Clishes. “We miss the cute way she used to drink her water, taking a sip and twitching her paws one at a time. We miss hearing her crunch her food. We miss the little gurgling noise she made when she entered the room and jumped on the bed, settling in next to me for the night. We miss seeing her little face in the window when we pulled into the garage.”

Shopping for handbags


Every time Rhonda gets up from her computer, she expects to see Squeaky sitting on the bed, patiently waiting for her to finish work so they can cuddle up and discuss important things, like shopping for handbags.  “She loved my handbags more than I did!”  Great thing is, they still talk.

Squeaky Lee Friedman is survived by Bob and Rhonda Clish, every other family member who adored her, and so many friends. Spayed when adopted, she left no off-spring. Memorial contributions may be made in Squeaky Lee’s name to the ASPCA or any no-kill shelter.



December 10, 2008


A match made in heaven

Libby, treasured Keeshond of Debbie Lewandowski of Mission Viejo, passed away shortly before Christmas. She was believed to be about 12.  Adopted in February 2001 from a shelter that caters only to Keeshonds (a lively, intelligent breed recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1930), Libby (shown above with a certain friend) was named by shelter caregivers who felt they had “liberated” her from bleak circumstances. “I didn’t have the heart to change the name,” Debbie said.

The other love of her life

couple.jpgFor Debbie Hawkins (her last name at the time), it was a match made in heaven – in more ways than one. Libby was that rare Keeshond (pronounced “Kayz-hund”) able to bring pint-sized Debbie together with the other love of her life, Mark Lewandowski. The two met when Debbie was out for a walk with her eye-catching, gray-and-tan canine cohort. No one quite remembers if it was the lion’s ruff around Libby’s neck, the richly plumed tail that curled over her back, or the pink rhinestone collar and black leash decorated with doggie bones that grabbed Mark’s attention, not to mention everything about Debbie. Regardless, a new love story was born, two people meeting “cute” over a dog within a Mission Viejo condo community in the fall of 2003. Granted, Mark got to feeling like “an ambulance chaser,” hunting Debbie down until she agreed to marry him two years later.

Not exactly your ideal guard dog

keeshond.jpgMark is convinced Libby brought them together, as is Debbie. But here’s the thing. Libby, due undoubtedly to her early childhood, was afraid of everything that moved – especially men. “I believe she was abused by a man and [possibly] children,” Debbie said, recalling how her Keeshond scampered to hide when perceived danger threatened in the form of a male or squealing kids. Not exactly your ideal guard dog.

But Keeshonds were never bred to hunt, kill animals or attack criminals, which accounts for their extreme gentleness and devotion. In 17th and 18th century Holland, Keeshonden were used as watchdogs, good-luck companions, and vermin controllers on riverboats, farms and barges. During the 1700’s, Cornelius “Kees” de Gyzelaar, a leader in the Dutch Patriot revolt against the reigning House of Orange, kept one of these dogs as his constant companion. The Keeshond became the symbol of the Patriot Party and the basis for the breed name, “Kees’ dog”, which translates as “Kees hund” in Dutch.

Deep psychological scars

In Libby’s case, however, past abuse had inflicted psychological scars. How did Mark Lewandowski – the evil intruder who had evicted Libby from her rightful spot, cuddled up next to Debbie in bed – win the dog over? Steak. Leftovers the furry girl gleefully gobbled from his hand. As she aged, Libby grew more loving and playful, once even poking Mark’s bare butt with her nose, a moment the couple still laugh over.


Then, heaven help us, along came Max Lewandowski, a noisy little bundle threatening to usurp Libby’s place in the family pecking order. Libby tolerated the competition well enough at the beginning. But when Max (now two) became a toddler, he was a practically a MAN, for lord’s sake, able to pull at Libby’s coat, spew pureed peaches in her face and whack her on the nose. Who ended up backing down?

Libby, of course!

T.C. (short for “The Cat”)

libby-and-cat.jpgLeave us not even mention T.C. (short for “The Cat”), the orange menace Libby avoided like the plague. As the dog matured, she got considerably braver – where T.C. was concerned, at any rate. Libby even launched cat attacks now and then. On the whole, however, she was a sleepy Keeshond, content to doze-so long as her adored mistress was nearby. “She loved me unconditionally,” said Debbie, who took Libby everywhere she could, even to her massages.

lib-lying-down-small.jpgA monitoring device was never necessary for Libby – for the simple reason that “she stuck to me like glue,” Debbie said. The one time she did slip through the open front door, Debbie caught up with her at the perimeter of the condo complex. After that, Mark decided to train the Keeshond to obey commands off the leash. Eventually, the Lewandowskis took Libby to the dog park, expecting her to relish running free and playing with the other dogs. No soap. “She did not leave my side for a second!” Debbie said.  As old age began to stiffen her joints, cataracts affect her sight, Libby left the house less often, was slow to climb the stairs, more apt to laze the hours away on her doggie bed beside the front door – where Debbie still sees her.

Most can be lured out of their shells

deb-libby-sml.jpgStill aching with loss, Debbie is constantly reminded of something she learned from Libby. “She taught me that most (even a timid pet) can be lured out of their shells, even if it’s ever so slightly.” This comes in handy in Debbie’s professional capacity as a marketing consultant. Her dynamic elevator pitches and sales techniques – known far and wide among Orange County entrepreneurs and business people – are taught via her marketing company, Spotlite.

[For further information, email Debbie at or visit her website at www.yourspotlite.com.]



1995 to 2008


Farewell to Paisley, Gina Almgren’s
English Springer Spaniel


December 2, 2008


 Diane felt blessed

Tonto, beloved companion of Diane Eisner of Trabuco Canyon, died of a stroke on Tuesday, December 2, 2008. He was hovering outside the kitchen, waiting for a snack, when he passed. The precise age of the black-and-white pit bull/Labrador mix with the sad eyes and crooked tail is unknown.  He was adopted.  Friends, unable to find a rental home that accepted two kids and a dog, opted to keep the kids and give Diane the dog. Diane felt blessed.

The result of hard knocks and obedience training (which didn’t quite take), Tonto liked to chase skunks, tree opossums and eat cat poop. An equal opportunity provider, he preferred to hump males but would also hump females – regardless of breed, age, ethnicity or appearance. He never quite came out of the closet.

“Why aren’t you scratching my ears?”

Tonto, many say, could have been a Wal-Mart Greeter, a sometimes overly-enthusiatic one.  He basically scared the hell out of the gardener, the garbage man and the mailman – anyone within barking distance. Diane’s guests got a special reception, tackled with a leap to the hip and a sunny “Woof!” (“Why aren’t you scratching my ears?”) He saved his most passionate devotion for his one-and-only mistress, Diane, sleeping on her bed, snuggling up on her pillow and crawling up to join her on her pure-white living room chair.

dogs.jpgSweet tempered, with a taste for cookies and bones, Tonto was an extrovert – something of a ham, actually. Two of his best chums were stepsiblings, Houdini (a Pomeranian) and Tara (a Sheltie). Houdini (pictured at left with Tonto) sometimes stood on his hind legs and swatted Tonto in the face so as to snatch a dog cookie; Tara tended to launch unprovoked attacks.  Tonto pretty much ignored the slights, maintaining his role as head of the family and refusing to allow his two younger siblings to rule the roost. Tonto was Diane’s first, afterall, and everyone knows where the first guy ranks in a gal’s affections.

All except the day of the Park Caper. Let’s let Diane tell it.

The little black dog wasn’t a dog at all

“One winter evening about four years ago, Tonto, Houdini and I met up with our friend Janet and her two dachshunds, CeeCee and Buddy, at the little dog park on the Ridge Route.  As it got dark, Janet and I continued talking as Tonto and CeeCee scampered about at the far end of the park.  Suddenly, I noticed CeeCee sitting at my feet – this as Tonto romped with a new friend, a little black dog, across the way. Only one problem. The little black dog wasn’t a dog.

It was a SKUNK.

The skunk did what skunks do

I stood up and yelled for Tonto.  He ignored me, as usual, forcing me to resort to The Voice, the one that says ‘If you don’t get over here this minute, you’re in big trouble, buster!’  This, naturally, alerted our other three dogs, and they, naturally, charged across the park, barking their heads off. The skunk, naturally, did what skunks do, turned around and sprayed Tonto square in the face.

By the time we reached the disaster, my poor dog was crying – the other dogs utterly stupefied by the smelly cloud settling over them like nuclear waste. Janet and I, meanwhile, stood agonizing over how to get our pets de-skunked. Unless we wanted to be drenched in skunk ourselves, not to mention our cars, we were going to have to attach our dogs to our bumpers and drag them home. Since we didn’t think they would make it six feet, much less six miles, we relented and contaminated our cars.

Someone else smells like rotten eggs

The remedy for skunk (thank God we knew it!) is a whole lot of tomato juice. Off we go to our respective Stater Brothers to buy in bulk. Since skunk stench resembles burning tires, my entrance into the store caused something of a stir, people asking if the store was on fire. Waiting to pay for my purchases, a Stater employee whispered that something smelled bad. Really bad. I reassured her that it was me, and that I was leaving post haste. Just as I said this, my phone rang and it’s Janet. She is suffering the same indignity at Stater Brothers across town, only she’s trying to make it look as if someone else smells like rotten eggs.

Slick as a greased pig

Off I go to the house. Tonto, tomato juice, lemon and a huge red bucket are hauled upstairs to the stall shower. Stripped to my nothings, I try to get my dumb dog in the bucket so I can soak him in tomato cocktail. No way, Jose. I remove the bucket and pull the dog in the shower with me. Three cans of tomato juice later, Tonto has had enough, bolts out of the shower, shakes himself off all over the bathroom, and then tears into my all white bedroom to further decorate with tomato. By this time, my roommate Stacy has arrived home and gets into the act, trying desperately to help me corral Tonto, who’s slick as a greased pig from the tomato juice. She finally gets a hold of him, drags him outside and hoses him off.  The smell never came out of his collar

Houdini, ever the stoic one, took his tomato juice bath in stride.

What I wouldn’t give to have him…smelling of skunk

Months later Tonto chased another skunk, but lucky for him (and me) he didn’t catch that one. Still, what I wouldn’t give to have him greet me at the door, smelling of skunk, crooked tail wagging furiously, doing his repertoire of tricks (sit, stay, speak, play dead) so I will treat him to a cookie. I just wish I’d told him more often: ‘I love you, Tonto!'”

Tonto is survived by Diane, Houdini and Tara. Electing to have his tubes tied so as not to overburden the planet, he was without offspring. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent in Tonto’s name to the ASPCA. [KBL]





You just sorta put up with the ruckus

black-cat-coco-2.jpgHow we felt when Magneto left us, well, you cannot fathom our grief. So young, less than two years old, so full of promise, he was gone too soon. Granted, he could get on your nerves, especially his stepbrother Wai’s nerves. Wai (Hawaiian for “water”) tolerated him well enough-up until Magneto decided to torment the hell out of him in the late afternoon. The fights got so bad at times we had to hold our ears. Few had the gall to chastise the boys. Daddy Fred, who spoiled them rotten, wouldn’t hear of inhibiting exuberant youth.

But when Fred got sick with cancer, a funny thing happened. Both boys became extraordinarily protective-especially Magneto, a mischievous scamp no one had ever accused of being the least mature. Two weeks or so before Fred died, in fact, the two hardly left his side. They lay there on his rented hospital bed, cuddled up at his feet, two guardian angels: Magneto, a slinky coal-black cat, and Wai, his longhaired, gray-and-white stepbrother.

Keep the kids together

Fred’s dying wish, he told us many times, was that his kids be kept together. Both had been rescued from shelters and-despite their occasional differences-would be heartbroken without each other, he said. To be perfectly candid, the request made things a bit dicey. Neither Fred’s daughter nor his caregiver could adopt the two orphans. And few friends were prepared to take in two cats. Wai, so sweet-tempered and adorable, was no problem; Magneto, arrogant, anit-social and often destructive, was quite another. Take the hole in the screen.

Unlike Wai, imbued with the wisdom of middle age, adolescent Magneto was strictly an indoor cat. Apt to drag in live critters, he couldn’t be trusted outside. But just about the time Fred got sick, Magneto (sensing the worst, perhaps) decided to take a hike whether we liked it or not. He tore a hole in the screen door and disappeared into the foothills. The all-out search lasted into the wee hours, all of us frantic with worry. True to form Magneto strolled in when he damn well felt like it, around 3 a.m.

thumbnailcaiwam1v.jpgFrom then on he roamed at will and often. No one had the heart to stop him. Except when Fred got too sick from cancer to care about living anymore, both cats, as if attuned to mystic forces, ministered to their dear patient with licks and kisses and purrs. Just minutes before Fred died, however, Magneto and Wai scampered off to other parts of the house and stayed there. After three days or so, Magneto-alternately needy and aloof-walked through the hole in the screen and never came back.

He elected to vanish without a trace

Legend has it that cats often depart with a loved one. All we know is we searched for weeks, hung posters, called all over the neighborhood and waited, hoping someone would discover the phone number on the medallion dangling from Magneto’s collar. No one did. Aware he routinely wiggled out of his collar, we finally decided the kid had elected to vanish without a trace. Clearly morose and bewildered by the sudden loss of his entire family, Wai eventually relocated to the country home of one of Fred’s dearest friends.

We all share in Wai’s grief.


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