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“Jake misses Elizabeth as much as we do”

Posted by on Friday, March 2, 2012 in Editor's Column, March 2012.

Stories behind the winning pet photos

There were great stories behind the winning photographs in this year’s House Organ Pet Poll, the University tradition and annual exercise in democracy that elects Vanderbilt’s Dog of the Year, Cat of the Year and Group or Duo of the Year.

More 7,600 votes poured in for the nominees in the three categories, and I was, as always, struck by the fun and ingenuity of the nominated photographers, their co-workers, and friends, who used phone calls, social media and apparently a certain amount of old fashioned face-to-face haranguing to persuade voters.

Top cat wins by a nose

The closest election this year was in the Cat of the Year category, with Skyline, the fetching calico owned by Ed Donnelly of Radiology, finally besting Sushi, who belongs to Alison Miller of Genetic Medicine, and Sam, the fine feline of Rebecca Thomason of Cell and Developmental Biology.


It was a neck-and-neck race, and with less than an hour to go before voting stopped, the election was still too close to predict, before Skyline finally prevailed by only 30 votes out of more than 2,800 cast in the category.

If Skyline was nervous about the results, she didn’t show it, maintaining her cool cat’s demeanor even when the tough Sushi pulled ahead for a few hours toward the end of balloting.

“I got her when I was visiting a friend in Cincinnati,” Donnelly reported. “She reminded me of a calico cat I had when I was a kid (Patches). We chose the name ‘Skyline’ because that is the name of one our favorite restaurants in Cincinnati, and the kitten’s three different colors reminded the kids of their favorite order there:  a ‘three-way’ (which is spaghetti, chili and cheese).”

Bobo parties like it’s Westminster


The winning dog was Myke Ondek of the Gift Shop’s good boy Bobo, who bested the dignified Lady, who belongs to Regina Carey of Respiratory Care, and the redoubtable Miss Pickles, the apparently winged canine of Patty Durchsprung of Pediatric Anesthesia.

One of the secrets to Bobo’s success was a prominently placed campaign poster on the door of Ondek’s Medical Center North office, which read: “He wasn’t expected to make it.  He was part of a hoarding case and 120 dogs were found at one residence. Of eight puppies, Bobo and his sister survived. He was six weeks old.  He was hospitalized for eight weeks and when he was put up for adoption nobody wanted the scared, weak little dog. To thank his rescuers and let everybody know why rescue is so important and that it works, please vote for Bobo.”

Hundreds and hundreds of people did.

The day after the contest, Ondek said, “I can’t tell you how many emails I got last night.  People from all over the world participated. They celebrated like Bobo won the Westminster Dog Show.

“Bobo can ‘high five,’ so when I got home last night I just said to him ‘Top Dog’ and he high fived me.”

Jake and Elizabeth

The winner in the Group or Duo category was a wonderful picture of a dignified black Labrador, Jake, sprawled protectively across the lap of his girl, Elizabeth, who had two notable characteristics: her big smile and her lack of hair from chemotherapy.

The photo was taken and sent in by Anne Ussery of the Finance office, and it was the top vote getter in its category, winning almost one in three of all votes cast—by far a higher percentage than the winners in other categories.

Jake and Elizabeth

What many people at Vanderbilt, including many staff members on the sixth floor of the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, knew was that Elizabeth, Anne’s daughter, the girl with the luminous smile, died last summer.

“She had leukemia, and the picture was taken while she was in treatment,” Anne wrote.  “She was first diagnosed with leukemia just before her third birthday, and relapsed just before her 17th birthday.  She had just turned 20 when she died in June 2011.”

Anne said she wanted to submit the photograph to House Organ because Elizabeth loved the annual “Pets of Vanderbilt” issue.

“Elizabeth looked forward to the pet issue every year, so I knew that I wanted to submit her picture,” Anne said.  “One of the things I love about this picture is that beautiful smile. She maintained her smile and amazing attitude through everything. She brightened the day of everyone she came in contact with.”

Anne said that Jake and Elizabeth were a perfect pair (and that, since Jake wasn’t allowed on the couch, the sly co-conspirators were getting away with something in their photo).

“There is nothing [Jake] loves more than for someone to be rubbing on him; something he and Elizabeth definitely had in common,” Anne said. “They were really a pair. Jake misses Elizabeth as much as we do.”

Twitter: @woodw

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