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The New Cat On The Block

The first time I saw the new cat, he was sitting on one of the porches at our co-op, half hiding behind an iron banister. He was small, almost kitten-like, and white with grey patches. He watched as I walked the dogs past him. He watched and watched and watched, while the dogs ignored him, or didn’t notice he was there.

The cat with no name. yet.

The cat with no name. Yet.

I read recently that dogs have a hard time seeing things that are too still. They see objects better when the objects are in motion.

Cricket may be able to smell the cat...

Cricket may be able to smell the cat…

but she can't find it.

but she can’t find it.

Eventually the cat hit his limit of watching and jumped down behind an evergreen bush. The dogs noticed him then, but it was too late, he’d already disappeared.

Butterfly was quickly distracted...

Butterfly was quickly distracted…

Butterfly's birdie friend

by a birdie.

I saw the new cat a few more times in passing, literally, passing in front of our door on his way to somewhere else.

And then, one morning, he was sitting in the recess next to my front door, waiting by the window of one of the downstairs apartments. The girls didn’t notice him in his stillness and I could almost picture him putting a paw up to his lips, telling me to keep his secret.

I needed a picture of him, because writing a blog makes me think every experience needs pictorial evidence. So I took the girls up to the apartment and picked up my little red camera. I thought I was on a fool’s errand, but I went back outside and there he was, still sitting by the window.

Still there!

Still there!

I’m not going to say that he posed, but he tolerated me staring at him and clicking away. He seemed to have a particular boundary distance in mind, so as I got closer, he stepped further away. I took a dozen pictures at least, but eventually I got too close and he ran away.

"You're getting too close."

“You’re getting too close.”

"Are you following me?"

“Are you following me?”

He didn’t seem like one of the feral cats. He didn’t have their clever look, or their quick reflexes, and he really did seem small. And the window he’d been leaning against was the one Muchacho used to use as his entrance and exit.

Muchacho

Muchacho

Muchacho, the big cat on campus, hadn’t been seen in months. He’d had a cancerous tumor removed last year, but he’d seemed to recover nicely. All of his fur grew back and he was his sweet, friendly, pee-all-over-the-yard self for a while. But then he was gone.

Muchacho, the scratchy glutton!

Muchacho, the scratchy glutton!

It’s possible that Muchacho died not long after I took his picture and wrote about him for the blog. He didn’t seem ill at all, though. I’d prefer to believe that he went to an old cats’ home or to stay with another relative. I almost wonder if he was saying goodbye that day when he let me pick him up and give him a hug, just for a moment, before realizing what he’d done and jumping out of my arms to freedom.

The last time I saw Muchacho.

The last time I saw Muchacho.

The new cat must have smelled Muchacho’s lingering scent by the lower window and found it welcoming.

Something was drawing me to this new cat, and I felt disappointed when he wasn’t outside during the girls’ walks. There’s something magical about finding a cat hidden in the landscape, like a real live Where’s Waldo. But it’s more than that. Cats make eye contact in a very satisfying way. They stare and observe and notice me in a way people don’t. People are too busy walking by and thinking of other things, but cats notice me, at least until they decide that I’m crowding their space and run away.

It turns out that one of our neighbors has been feeding the new cat behind the tool shed and is contemplating calling the county to have him trapped and neutered, like the other feral cats. Meanwhile he’s been getting bigger all the time, and I’ve been wondering if he has a home somewhere nearby, and just comes over for the food, and to have his picture taken.

I’d like it if that were true.

Magical Thinking

 

Up until a few years ago, I was a very hopeful person. It wasn’t necessarily reasonable hope; some of it was fantasy-like, and full of magical thinking, but it got me through. The hopefulness started to recede as my health got worse, and as rejections piled up for my writing. And as the hope seeped away, I started to realize how necessary it had been.

"I believe there will be chicken in my future."

“There will be chicken in my future, right?”

Hope doesn’t have to be reasonable or rational. Hope is like a dream: it can defy gravity and space and time. I think it takes some amount of magical thinking to be a writer, or to remain in therapy, or to even plan ahead and imagine that things can be different in the future, instead of continuing as they are now, indefinitely.

"If I dream about a walk, it will come."

“If I dream about a walk, it will come.”

Butterfly gives me hope, because of how sweet she is, despite eight years of being used and abused at a puppy mill. I believe that Butterfly survived her ordeal by believing in magic, and dreaming of a place, far away, where she could run and play and eat as much as she ever wanted. Even if that fantasy had never come true, the dreaming of it still would have made her days easier to bear.

Butterfly's first day home

Butterfly’s first day home

Dogs are role models for hopefulness. They wake up in the morning believing there will be walks and cuddles and food and excitement. They give us hope that life can be good even if its parameters are small; even if the gifts available are small. They give us hope that a life filled with love might be enough.

"I have Mommy's sock and that means I have Mommy."

“I have Mommy’s sock and that means I have Mommy.”

Dogs are trying so hard to teach us happiness, and we are stubbornly resisting the lessons and holding on to our pessimism. They must be so frustrated with us.

"Treats?!"

“Treats?!”

Magical thinking is supposedly bad for me, like chocolate cream pie, or fried chicken. It’s a vice, a drug, a crutch that has deleterious effects on my mental health. But magical thinking is also where my hope comes from, when reality can’t supply it. If my life had been lucky, and most of my efforts had paid off in success, and most of my dreams and goals had been realized, maybe I wouldn’t need magical thinking. But I don’t know anyone whose life is like that.

Even under the worst circumstances, it’s the hopelessness that will destroy you. Being too realistic, too practical, too down to earth, can kill a person.

"What's next?"

“Treats?”

Cricket always believes that she will get a plateful of whatever we are eating for dinner, and that she could eat a whole rotisserie chicken on her own without any bad after effects. There’s something about magical thinking that is vital to our well being. It’s what allows us to believe in things that don’t yet exist. It allows us to go beyond what we’ve been told in school, or by our parents, and imagine something different for ourselves.

"Yummy!"

“It’s my turn next, right?”

Maybe I haven’t lost my hopefulness after all.

Sweet dreams.

Sweet dreams.

Dog Osteopathy

 

In my endless search for a diagnosis, or just relief of my physical symptoms, I’ve been to cardiologists, pulmonologists, endocrinologists, rheumatologists and neurologists; there have been all sorts of medications, and physical therapy, and vision therapy, and massage, and acupuncture, and yoga. After this summer’s adventure with the lumbar puncture and anti-seizure drugs, Mom decided I should try osteopathic manipulation – just because.

The first appointment with the osteopath was a history taking marathon. She took endless notes on her pieces of paper, with all of the words going in different directions, with arrows and circles and overlaps.    She took height and weight and blood pressure, and then examined my eyes, and mouth, and reflexes. I kept hoping that all of these examinations would lead to some new understanding of why I have trouble walking, or why I have terrible headaches, or why I’m so exhausted, but she just kept asking more questions.

I had to come back the next day for the rest of the first visit, so that she could check my alignment. She poked at my shoulders, and shoulder blades, and hips, and ankles, to see if they matched up or were out of whack. My shoulder blades seemed especially fascinating.

Then I had to lie down so she could check everything again: hips, pelvis, ankles, and knees, and who knows what else had to be marked on a body map. And then the lights were turned off and the magic table lifted up and the power in the whole building went out. I wasn’t sure if it was a good sign or a bad one: either I brought my bad luck with me into the building, or I was so powerful that I could disrupt electrical currents. The doctor didn’t mind the extra darkness; she just went on searching out different points on my body, and pressing them, and swaying.

There was one spot on my upper back that made my stomach grumble, which was interesting, at least to me.

The doctor spent a lot of time on my neck and head, pulling and pressing and doing different hand formations, stretching skin on my nose and across my jaw and on my forehead. It was a bit woo woo for me, actually, but I seem to be willing to try just about anything.

I didn’t actually feel better when the treatment was over. My head still hurt, my body ached, and I didn’t walk very well. If anything, I was more exhausted afterwards, and I felt like my Serotonin stores had been depleted by all of the pressing and poking. But I kept going back.

After a few treatments, I started trying to reenact the work on Cricket. I would press on either side of her spine, locate tension, and mark where her shoulder blades and ribs and tail bone were. I worked on her jaw and cheeks and ears and neck. I don’t know if it helped, but she liked the attention and she yawned when an especially tense point relaxed. I kept hoping I’d find a hidden spot between her ribs, or below her ear, that would make all of her anxiety slip away.

Cricket is ready for her treatment. Ducky too.

Cricket is ready for her treatment. Ducky too.

I asked the doctor if I could bring Cricket in for a professional treatment, but she said her bosses would frown on it. As if dogs are germier than people. Cricket keeps herself very clean, and she’s got hypoallergenic hair, and she really does need help balancing her chi.

Cricket is always tied up in knots.

Cricket is always tied up in knots.

It’s possible that Cricket, the runt of her litter, never finished building up her nervous system. Maybe there are too many nerve bundles close to her skin, or glitches in her back legs, from the two knee surgeries she had as a little one. Maybe some of her nerves knotted up during the surgeries and clogged her messaging system.

She seems to need a lot of work on her throat, where all of the barking comes from, and her neck, where she tries to pull out of her collar, and her face is especially tense, from all of those frowning and growling muscles.

Spinal balancing?

Spinal balancing?

I tried the homemade treatments on Butterfly too, and it made me even more aware of how different their skeletons are; the shape of their shoulder blades and rib cages, the placement of muscles, and where they store tension. Butterfly needs special attention to her heart center, which on her is a wide expanse under her collar. She has a prolapsed heart valve, but she’s not on medication yet. She goes in for echocardiograms every six months to make sure things don’t get worse. But she also uses her heart so much every day, offering sympathy, expressing love, and wishing everyone well; that’s the muscle in her body that gets the biggest workout.

Butterfly showing her heart center, and her tongue.

Butterfly showing her heart center, and her tongue.

Butterfly, after treatment.

Butterfly, after treatment.

Butterfly has been very patient with her treatments. Meanwhile, Cricket has been standing on my chest, demanding more and more osteopathy while I’m trying to read, or sleep, or hide under the covers. I started out wanting to help rewire her nervous system, but I think I may have created a monster.

"More!"

“More!”

The New Dog Bed

 

We finally got rid of the old blue dog bed. First of all, both of my dogs are girls, so it was weird to have one of the beds be blue, just because that was the coziest bed at the store the day we went shopping. Second, the bed had stains on it; whether from Cricket snacking in the bed, or Butterfly throwing up on it in the car, or from Cricket’s unauthorized use of the bed for, let’s call it scratching. It was ugly and dirty looking despite many trips to the washing machine. And Cricket would fight with the bed, and yell at it, and toss it around the room, so really there was only one reliable dog bed, the red one, and Cricket would take it for herself, and leave Butterfly with the upside down blue bed in the middle of the floor.

Grumpy Cricket in her blue bed.

Grumpy Cricket in her blue bed.

Butterfly, after throwing up in the blue bed.

Butterfly, after throwing up in the blue bed.

Not quite big enough for two.

Not quite big enough for two.

We went to all three Petco stores in our area, and Target, and Wal-Mart, and who knows where else, and found nothing. The beds they had were too big, or too small, the wrong colors, or not substantial enough; and if they were perfect, they were, of course, too expensive.

"This is no longer good enough, Mommy."

“This is no longer good enough, Mommy.”

Eventually, we found the perfect dog bed online, where I seem to find everything these days. The bed is really more of a sofa, and it’s brown and cream, which seems kind of dignified, and goes nicely with the color scheme of the living room, and the color scheme of the dogs. If I were a dog, or a small child, I would want this little couch bed for myself. It’s an orthopedic bed, which means it is firm, instead of squishy, and allows for support of aching bones. And it has a bolster for resting tired chins.

Unfortunately, next to this new, wonderful, sophisticated dog bed, the nice, comfy red and tan bed that used to be so admired, looked ratty and small and in need of replacement. And the new, wonderful, sophisticated dog bed did not smell of dog, or food, or even of people, so the girls weren’t sure what to do with it. They just stared, at both beds, and looked confused.

I decided to tempt them forward by placing chewies on the new bed. I put one down for Cricket first, and she took it, and walked away to chew on it. Then I put a second one down for Butterfly, but before Butterfly could reach it, Cricket had dropped her own chewie and come running over to steal the new one. I had to take the new chewy away from Cricket, and place it on the dog bed three more times before Cricket accepted that she was not the only dog in the room, and allowed Butterfly to creep over and pick up her treat, barely letting her paws touch the new bed before she ran away to chew in the hallway.

By the second day, without any further inducements, Cricket had curled up on the new bed to sleep. But it took a few more days for Butterfly to risk stepping up onto the bed. Eventually, when I was busy at the computer, and Cricket was elsewhere, Butterfly rested her head on the bolster, and stretched her tushy back into a corner, and fell asleep.

Cricket's new bed, no butterflies allowed.

Cricket’s new bed, no butterflies allowed.

Wait, the red bed goes to Cricket too?

Wait, the red bed goes to Cricket too?

"Where am I supposed to sleep?"

“Where am I supposed to sleep?”

My favorite moments are when each one of the dogs is in a bed, sleeping peacefully, letting me watch TV or type on the computer uninterrupted. But those moments are few and far between. In the meantime, I keep sneaking looks at the new dog bed, and wishing I could get one in my size. I could probably find something big enough, made for a Great Dane or an Irish Wolfhound, or maybe we could just cushion the whole floor!

I’ll have to think about this.

Cricket’s Lost Teeth

 

Recently, out of nowhere, one of Cricket’s front teeth started to stick out. When she was really tired one night, she let me touch the tooth, and it moved. She is eight years old, middle aged for a dog, so losing teeth now is a permanent thing.

"Who needs all those teeth?"

“Who needs all those teeth?”

I worry that this happened because of all of the weeding I let her do earlier in the summer, grabbing and tearing and chewing tough roots out of the ground. She’s not a working dog; she just liked the challenge, and the flavor, of the weeds.

The happy chewer.

The happy chewer.

After the first tooth disappeared, the second tooth, right next to it, pressed forward and stuck out – kind of like her teeth were giving me the middle finger (which is very much in character for little miss Cricket).

The second tooth stayed like that for a few days and then it disappeared too. I have no idea where Cricket’s lost teeth went. Most likely she swallowed them and pooped them out. I have not been searching through her poop for evidence, though. The problem is that there are no teeth to put under her pillow for the tooth fairy, and she sleeps in so many different places, and without a pillow, so I’m not sure how the tooth fairy would know where to put her treasure anyway.

Sleeping on the people couch.

Sleeping on the people couch…

and in front of the dog bed...

and in front of the dog bed…

and in her apartment.

and in her apartment.

I should take Cricket to the vet, but I’m reluctant to put her through the trauma – she loses at least half a pound just from shaking herself silly in the waiting room. And Cricket doesn’t seem to be suffering. She has all of her strength and spring and energy. She certainly hasn’t lost her voice. She sleeps and eats and poops and pees, just like always. And those two little teeth were always crowded and crossed over each other. But, what if she loses more teeth and has to struggle to chew her chicken treats? Chicken treats and Grandma are what Cricket wakes up for in the morning.

I think what’s upsetting me about the lost teeth, though, is that at eight years old, Cricket isn’t really a puppy anymore. She is getting older. I think about mortality too much; my own, a little bit, but more the mortality of the people and dogs that I love, so this sign of frailty in Cricket hits a nerve.

Cricket’s expected life span is eighteen to twenty years, but eventually she will be an old lady, and she’ll be the curmudgeonly type, rather than the sweet old lady in the rocking chair. She won’t be able to jump up as easily, and if she wants to get on the couch or the bed she’ll have to let me pick her up, or learn how to use the doggy steps, and she won’t like that. She will, of course, continue her crazy barking to the end, just at a lower pitch, like a smoker’s cough.

I knew an elderly Cocker Spaniel who rode around in a dog carriage and barked his commentary at the neighborhood as he passed by – a deep, flemmy, insistent bark from his royal transport. Cricket would love to do that.

Cricket would love this! (not my picture)

Cricket would love this! (not my picture)

Eventually, Mom and Cricket are going to be old ladies together. They’ll both have to wear slipper socks and housedresses, and they’ll complain about heartburn and digestive issues. I’ve had previews of this when Mom gets a cold and Cricket curls up with her on her bed and acts sick too. They need tea and toast and special treats brought to them, and they grumble and mumble and whine to each other between naps.

Cozy time for Cricket and Grandma.

Cozy time for Cricket and Grandma.

So, I’m kinda hoping Cricket, and Mom, can hold off on the aging thing for a while longer. Maybe another thirty years?

 

The Dog That Glows In The Dark

 

We have a bedtime ritual at our house. Most nights we (me, Mom, Cricket and Butterfly) stay up to watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. When the last show is over I say “The end” and turn off the TV. The dogs start to stretch and walk towards the hallway. Mom complains that she’s too tired to get up from the couch. I turn off the lamp by my computer, and then the air conditioner, and head off to brush my teeth.

"Where are you going, Mommy?"

“Where are you going, Mommy?”

By the time I’m ready for bed, Mom has turned all of the lights off, including the hallway, dining room and kitchen lights. I have to go looking for Butterfly, because she still can’t climb up her doggy steps (though she can race down them in a second), but Butterfly has taken to waiting for me at the end of the hallway and then twirling a bit in the dark and flattening down near the front door. She is bright white and therefore glows in the dark, so I can always find her, but, as neon as she is, nothing else in the room glows. So, the other night, as I bent down to pick her up, I smacked my eye against the back of a wooden chair. Correction, smacked my glasses, which smacked my eye and nose and the surrounding orbital socket.

Butterfly waiting in the dark.

Butterfly waiting in the dark.

The pain was extraordinary and I made some bizarre animal sounds and both dogs came over and Mom turned on the light to see where I was. I thought I was going to vomit, but I sat down on the floor, then flattened out, and the girls sniffed my head for injuries.

The curious puppies

The curious puppies

My immediate thoughts and feelings were anger – damn it chair! Damn it dog! Damn it Mom! And then there was some self pity, as in, why do these ridiculous things always happen to me?

Cricket was not impressed.

Cricket was not impressed.

As soon as I could stand up, I went to lie down on my bed with an ice pack on my eye, and the puppies by my side, and Mom standing over me looking very concerned. The thing I didn’t expect was the sobbing. It wasn’t a specific, wordy, list of anxieties or resentments, it was simply very loud sobbing, mixed with attempts at humor, and laughing, and asking why I was crying in the first place. I had to push hard to put the feelings into words, and guess where they’d come from and attach them to things I could reasonably be upset about.

Something about the sudden pain, or the shock, or where the injury hit my brain opened a whole capsule of emotions, and I was crying and whining and suddenly feeling hopeless about everything in my life, as if the physical pain were attached to a set of emotional fish hooks I didn’t even know were there.

The episode passed in less than an hour, but it made me wonder about the biological, or at least physiological, origins of emotional pain.

Physical and emotional pain seem to run over the same circuits in the central nervous system – which is why they’ve found that Tylenol can lift your mood and Prozac can reduce your knee pain. Many chronic diseases cause emotional pain, especially depression, simply by using up your Serotonin trying to relieve the physical pain, so that there isn’t enough Serotonin left to cushion even the smallest emotional upset.

By the next day my eye only hurt when I pressed on the area, and I had a small bruise against my nose from my glasses. The only lasting effect has been that I refuse to follow Butterfly into the dark to pick her up. If Mom insists on turning all of the lights off half a second after I leave the couch, and Butterfly insists on running into the dark to play chase, then that little puppy will just have to sleep on the floor.

Butterfly, snuggling next to a bone, on the floor.

Butterfly, snuggling next to a bone.

Hairy Dogs

 

My Mom likes when Cricket is so fluffy you can barely see that there’s a dog in there, but I actually prefer to be able to see her eyes. And I prefer when poop doesn’t stick to her butt.

Cricket in full fluff (in her cousin's iron grip).

Cricket in full fluff (in her cousin’s iron grip).

Cricket has, more than once, been shaved down to the pink. I feel so guilty when she gets matted enough for that, but I try to remind myself that: a, this is what her hair is prone to; and, b, she thinks the comb and the brush are instruments of evil.

Cricket, shaved down to size.

Cricket, shaved down to size.

Combing seems to genuinely cause Cricket pain, maybe because of the cottony texture of her hair. I think I’d have to oil her down every day to keep her hair from knotting, and she would, inevitably, rub herself against every surface in the apartment, including me, to get the oil off..

I used to try electric clippers on her, but they snagged in her hair, and then overheated, before I could get much done. I’ve tried spray conditioners, but she thinks I’m poisoning her and bares her teeth at me, which leads to getting the conditioner in her mouth, which probably does taste a bit like poison.

"You're killing me!"

“You’re killing me!”

But, despite all of that trouble, I think Cricket’s hair is what makes people ooh and ahh over her. People ask about her when we walk her at the beach. They want one just like her. There’s something about the poodle mixes – the Cockapoos and the Golden Doodles and the Maltipoos, and on and on. Something about that loose fluffy curly hair makes them so irresistible. It’s like a gallon jug of oxytocin has just been poured down your throat and you have to pet that dog.

That hair!

That hair!

Butterfly’s hair is thicker and has more natural oils in it than Cricket’s. It rarely mats. It does absorb odors very well though. She often smells like stale chicken and corn chips, which is odd, because I never feed her corn chips.

Butterfly, dreaming of corn chips.

Butterfly, dreaming of corn chips.

The other thing she can smell like is pee, but putting her in the sink for a rinse is not a big deal. Cricket has to cover her eyes, or hide under the bed, to avoid the visual trauma of seeing another dog take a bath, but Butterfly just stands in the sink and shivers a little bit. She doesn’t even mind smelling like shampoo, or having her tushy hair trimmed while she’s there.

"What's a bath?"

“What’s a bath?”

The only problem with cutting Butterfly’s hair at home is that her hair is so straight that all of my mistakes are obvious. On Cricket, the curls hide some of the unevenness, but I had to trim Butterfly’s hair around her eyes and nose recently, and there are now bald patches. On her face.

"What's wrong with long hair?"

“What’s wrong with long hair?”

When Cricket’s hair starts to get fluffy, but not yet fluffy enough to put her through the trauma of a hair cut, she seems to fluff up only in particular places. Her face, for example, doubles in width. Not only are her eyes made into tiny black dots, but her cheeks spread out. The other places where she puffs out are her back legs, at the hip area. She’s suddenly a voluptuous female, with a big butt, wide hips and a tiny waist, which is very much at odds with her tomboy personality.

But in full fluff, Cricket looks like a lamb. And the fact is, when she’s in the mood to snuggle, she acts like a lamb too. She’s soft and sweet and cozy, and she’s generous with her fluff, sharing warmth with her sister and her people.

Snuggle happy.

Snuggle happy.

It’s almost time for another haircut, but I’ve been putting it off. I just need a little bit more snuggle time before she goes back to her no nonsense tomboy hair.

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