Sunday, November 15, 2009


In my case, at least, I didn't become a dogman on my own. I had a co-conspirator who collected dogs and cats with me, my wife, Karen who passed away from breast cancer in January, 2002. She remains alive, not only in my memory, but in a number of the stories that come out of the den. In order to tell you enough about Karen, I would need to write a book, which I may ultimately do. For now, though, allow me a slight diversion from dogs and cats to tell you just a little bit about her.

Karen and I met in college in 1979, when she was still Karen Frerichs. She was memorable in that she was the only blind student at the university. You never would have known she was blind from a distance, and, except for one eye that was sort of misdirected, you wouldn't have known up-close. She was a psychology major, beautiful with long, chestnut, hair, and dating my friend, Jeff. We were nothing but friends for the first year and a half we knew each other.

Then Karen and Jeff broke up. I read her The Catcher in the Rye one January. According to international law governing the behavior of hot blind girls, once a guy reads Catcher in the Rye to one, they are obligated to fall in love with him, or, at very least, sleep with him. Don't complain to me about this. I didn't  draft the law, I just benefited from it.

Once Karen and I were together, we were spiritually married. The real marriage would take place sometime later, in a dog park, of all places. As soon as we got our first apartment we got our first dog, who we named Holden, appropriately enough. Then Karen got her first Seeing Eye dog, Lyric, and it was a whole lot of dogs and cats ever after.

Karen went to the University of Illinois College of Law. Though I read her curriculum to her, and her dog, Lyric, got her around campus, the accomplishment of graduating, and then passing the bar exam in New Mexico, belong entirely to Karen. Law school's hard, and the bar exam is harder, for those who can see. A blind person could get through law school on charm and pity, but there's no way to influence the bar exam. It's a two-day test from hell, and having to take it with someone reading it out loud to you seems incomprehensible.

Karen was also frighteningly funny and easy going. She was a hard drinking and smoking gal, and she loved to swear.  Making prank phone calls was a kind of specialty. Once, I was working at a personal injury firm, where I met my good friend, Rick. We did intakes about injuries sustained by people who had seen our firm's commercials on T.V. It wasn't much of a firm, and we didn't get many calls.

One day, Rick got a call from a lady downstate. She spoke in a thick accent, that sounded like that of black people from southeast New Mexico and southwest Texas. She talked to Rick for over an hour about her injury, supposedly sustained at the pet store she worked at, when a crazed chimp (who wasn't even supposed to be there) bit her on the face. Now she was worried that the chimp's owner, the caller's boss, was going to maliciously sic the chimp on her, and Lord help her if that happened!

Of course the caller was Karen, and the three of us laughed for months over it. I just got an e-mail from Rick about the call that brought the whole thing back and had me laughing, hard, again. I have no doubt that Rick was laughing as he wrote it. I could give a million examples, but, suffice to say, she was a very funny woman.

She played piano, and sang in cocktail bars, and could do "Me and Bobby McGee" in a way that would do Janis Joplin proud.

She originally got a job as a prosecutor at the D.A.'s office, but had to leave over ethical issues. She learned that the D.A. encouraged, no insisted, that his lawyers be dishonest with the court on occasion. After she was ordered by her supervisor to tell a judge she has witnesses ready for trial, when in fact she did not, Karen chose to do the ethical thing and resign from the D.A.'s office. 

She became a criminal defense attorney, and she never lost a single case she took to trial against the state, and continued to find it a very rare occasion when the state prosecuted their cases in an honest and ethical manner. I went to work with her as her assistant, and she and I both believed that only with strong, ethical, defense attorneys, would prosecutor's office's operate within the bounds of the law and fundamental fairness.

She always used guide dogs and loved the independence and safety they afforded her. She loved all dogs, and if there was a stray dog or cat within a five mile radius, it would find her. We had a chicken coop in the back of our old Albuquerque house, and Karen insisted we fill it with chickens, and a rooster, named Buff.

Karen had a host of medical problems, the main one being, of course, her blindness, which had a mysterious cause, with an onset just prior to puberty, and no cure. She also had early, pre-cancerous, incidents, where, in every case, the pathologist would eventually shake his head, and say, "These cells aren't cancerous, but I'll be damned if I know what they are!" 

She had migraines, and she got banged around a lot. I'd yell at her, urging her not to move around like an idiot like she could see, but Karen figured the occasional egg-sized knot on her forehead was a small price to pay for normalcy.

I'd been with Karen just under 20 years when she died, after fighting breast cancer like she'd fought everything else throughout her life. She had to fight society to be allowed to be a blind girl in a public high school in the 1970s. Not only did she attend, she was a cheerleader.

She had to fight the Department of Rehabilitation to get any help through college and law school. She had to fight discrimination, first for being a woman, and then for being a blind woman. She had to fight for her clients, and fight for the truth. 

She would have just as soon not have fought so often and so hard, but she wasn't going to back away from any fight that was just and necessary, and she would fight to the death, if that was required. What really sucks is that she died fighting cancer, which isn't just and only questionably necessary. Karen always wanted to live, but if she had to die, I wish she could have died fighting an adversary, not a stupid, random, epidemic disease which, if malignant enough, can't be beat.

I never knew Karen not to love a dog or cat (or horse, chicken, etc.), and I never knew a dog or cat not to love her back. She was a true dogwoman. 

There's a lot more to say about Karen, of course, but the main thing for now is Erica, Levi and I miss her a lot, and you need to know who she was to fully appreciate some of my recounting of things that happened to us.

© 2009, All Rights Reserved, Rich Sands


K said...

This is a beautiful post and a wonderful tribute.

Arlene deWinter said...

Very moving piece. Thank you.

tashabud said...

Reading your post is like watching a movie. Yes, you should write about your wife and your life with her. It's such a beautiful love/romance story/movie. Very touching.


Anny said...

And this is what love is all about.

Lorian said...

Rich, I'm glad to meet Karen here in your beautiful post, but of course sad that it will never be possible to know her, other than through what you've written. You've been through a hell of a lot in the past 30 years or so since I last saw you. I always knew you were different, and in a *good* way, and I can see that I was absolutely right about that.

I'm glad to be able to know you again after all these years, even if only through the internet. My wife and daughters and I live in Southern California now, so, if you ever get up this way, let me know you're coming so we can get together. I'd love to see you.

Post a Comment