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Butterfly is Gone

Butterfly died at six thirty this morning. She has taught me so many things, and now one more: life is fragile, well-being is fragile, but love is the strongest substance there is.

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I loved you with all my heart Miss Butterfly, and I always will.

Cricket is Ten Years Old!

We missed celebrating Cricket’s big birthday recently, because Miss Butterfly has been having health issues that are distracting all of us. She was in the hospital for almost five days, but I will tell you more about that next week. Cricket has been too anxious to celebrate up until today (though a chicken treat has never gone uneaten). Now that Butterfly is home, it’s time for all of us to focus on Miss Cricket’s big milestone birthday.

 

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Cricket’s first day at home

 

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Her first game of hide and seek

 

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Her first bath

 

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Her first birthday cake

 

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Letting us know that she has a big mouth (we already knew).

 

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Meeting Miss B for the first time

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and expressing her displeasure.

 

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And then realizing that sisters aren’t such a bad thing.

Her adventures continued, despite the entrance of the interloper.

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She learned how to chew and weed at the same time!

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And then she saved the world (and her sister) from the red balloon!

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And then she taught her sister the art of napping (and watching your people at the same time).

We love you Cricket, and we hope your wonderful adventures will continue for many years to come. Happy birthday!

 

Cricket’s Obsession with her Feet

 

Cricket is a clean freak, but only in one particular way. She could be covered in eye goop and mud and poop and feel light and easy, but if her feet are anything less than pristine she has to gnaw them clean. She can sit on her dog bed, or on the couch, or on my bed (damn it), chewing at her paws for what seems like hours. I worry that she will chew off one of her toes, but it hasn’t happened yet, thank God.

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“I have to chew my feet, because you won’t let me chew on your feet, Mommy.”

It’s possible that she is less a clean freak than a dirt aficionado, removing and examining the precious layers of dirt out of a gourmand’s obsession with each new flavor, or a scientist’s passion for discovery, or she could have obsessive compulsive disorder. Whatever her purpose, she takes her work very seriously, until her leg is almost shaking with the effort of holding it up to her teeth for inspection.

I have never seen Butterfly do this. She doesn’t chew her feet. She didn’t even try to chew on her surgical stitches, and she only scratches her ears on the floor because they itch, and not out of some desperate need to see what was hiding in there. Butterfly even tolerates it when I hold her paws in order to wash them in the sink. Cricket would bite my hand off if I tried to touch her toes. They are sacred.

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Butterfly even lets me clean her feet!

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Cricket, not so much.

I met a small white-haired dog recently who chews his paw (only one paw) so much that it has turned rust-colored from all of that saliva. So far, Cricket’s paws have remained white.

I decided to research the issue, in case I was neglecting an important health issue, and one site said that the chewing can be a sign of an unhealed puncture wound, or foreign bodies lodged between the toes, like burrs or grass, or it could be a sign of an allergic skin disease, or a tumor, or an autoimmune disease of the nail beds or paw pads. It could be itchy dry skin because of a diet low in fatty acids, or she could be anxious or depressed from separation anxiety or lack of exercise, she could have arthritis, or there could be a parasite in her feet and this is her brilliant idea for how to get rid of it.

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“Tumor?!”

I’m pretty sure the vet would have mentioned a tumor over the years, if Cricket had had one, and she would have screamed to high heaven if she’d punctured a body part. The foreign bodies lodged between her toes sound like a real option, though. Sometimes when her sister, Butterfly, is limping, it turns out that she has a piece of kibble between her paw pads and didn’t realize it, this would never happen to Cricket. Cricket would always notice. It’s possible that Cricket keeps a collection of the things she’s found between her toes, but I’m grateful that she hasn’t shared it with me.

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Moose is clearly helping Cricket guard her collection, safely hidden under the couch.

Finally, on the fourth or fifth web page of my research extravaganza, the experts said that moderate paw chewing is actually normal, so unless there are other signs of trouble, like hot spots, loss of fur, or bleeding, it’s probably nothing to worry about.

I wish they’d told me that from the beginning. But at least now I know about all of the horrible things that could happen to Cricket’s and Butterfly’s paws. I’m sure that will help me sleep better tonight.

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I will never sleep as well as Butterfly.

Slugs on the Walkway

 

It has been raining a lot lately so, once again, we have a crowd of slugs on the brick walkway surrounding the building. Usually we have slugs and snails, but for some reason the snails are absent this time.

I actually prefer the snails because at least they have shells to provide some cover. Slugs just slither across the bricks, naked and slimy, leaving a slow trail of glistening muck behind them. Cricket is fascinated by them. She will walk up to the slugs and carefully sniff them, like the scientist she is. Neither dog ever steps on a slug, or tries to lick, or god forbid, eat one. I’ve never seen any of the robins pick up a slug either, the way they dig up the worms and carry their squiggly brown bodies in their mouths as they fly away.

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“They’re so squishy, Mommy.”

I decided to do some research to see if I could figure out why the snails are absent this time around. The only real difference between slugs and snails is that snails have shells, like a house they carry with them. Without shells to carry around, slugs can squeeze into smaller, and skinnier spaces to hide. When attacked, slugs can contract their bodies, making themselves harder and more compact, but normally they have soft brownish/gray bodies, and they vary in size from a quarter of an inch to two inches and longer.

(I want to warn you that there are slug pictures coming up, and even the two photographers – aka me and Mom – got a little nauseous during the photo shoot.)

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A camera shy, daytime slug.

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More brazen night time slugs.

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Note the goop trail.

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Follow the leader.

Both snails and slugs like to eat vegetation, so they are ever present in gardens, eating up plants and fruits, and even the roots and stems that keep the plant alive. Some people turn the tables on those slugs and snails and actually eat them. Blech.

They are both very slow moving creatures, so that as they cross the walkway at night they are likely to be squashed or crunched under my feet, making me feel like a murderer, and totally grossed out. There have been a number of times when I wasn’t sure what I was looking at up ahead, especially in the dark, because we have a lot of small dogs living here now, and many of the slugs are about the size of a small dog’s poop. I wouldn’t want to step on that either.

I still have no idea where the snails went this season, but one of the articles I read mentioned that snails, because of their shells, can hibernate, both in winter and summer, by retracting into their shells and creating a mucus plug in the opening, to keep in the moisture and keep out the small insects that would try to invade their sleep. Maybe all of the local snails are sleeping in dark hidden places in the backyard, and leaving it to the slugs to eat up all the vegetation they can, until the weather cools down again. Maybe snails have as much trouble with the heat as I do.

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I wonder if that house is heavy.

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Maybe they could get some in-shell air-conditioning?

In the meantime, the dogs and I have to do a lot of hopping and swerving to avoid stepping on the slugs, and I’ve tried to find something to like about them, since they are temporarily my neighbors and we have to live in such close proximity with one another. Other than the fact that they are very easy to take pictures of, because of their slow motion lives, the mucus trails they leave behind can be sort of pretty, like glittery graffiti.

That’s something.

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“Really?”

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“No, not really.”

 

 

Why I’m Afraid to See Wonder Woman

 

I should have been on line to buy one of the first tickets to see Wonder Woman. It’s a superhero movie, with a female star, who fights for the vulnerable, and the actress in the starring role is Jewish. But I couldn’t make myself go. The movie has become a smashing success, even without my help, and for that I’m grateful, because it means that female superheroes aren’t such a scary idea to (some) men anymore, and if the movie is good that’s really all that matters to an audience. But I still can’t make myself go to see it.

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The thing is, I can never live up to Wonder Woman. I could never be that strong or courageous. I’ve worked my whole life to build up to a level of strength that allows me to believe that I might be able to do some good in the world. If I have to compare myself to Wonder Woman, I’m afraid I will lose all hope. I know women who are fierce and strong and capable, and I feel like I always disappoint them with my vulnerabilities and doubts. Wonder Woman would find me pathetic.

I look at my dogs, both female, and I know that they are not superheroes. They have their strengths and their weaknesses, they can almost fly and they bark at every danger, but they are imperfect and I love them for it, because they make my imperfections seem acceptable. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, makes me think of all of my flaws. She is like the Golden Retriever of women: loyal, strong, up for anything, deceptively smart, and, of course, beautiful. That’s not me.

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Delilah doesn’t even need a special outfit to look like a superhero.

When I was little I loved the Wonder Woman TV show. Lynda Carter and her twirly skirts and golden lassos comforted me. I didn’t imagine that that could be me, no, I imagined that Wonder Woman could be one of my teachers, or a neighbor down the block, or the Torah reader at my synagogue. I thought, maybe there is a superhero hiding in plain sight and she will come to save me. I especially liked that she was in disguise, like Superman, with her glasses, and skirt suit, and a day job hiding her real identity. I wondered, every once in a while, if even Wonder Woman couldn’t manage to be Wonder Woman all the time.

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It’s possible that Cricket and Butterfly think I’m a little bit like Wonder Woman, actually, the way I pretend to be tired and achy and boring most of the time and then suddenly save the day with a walk or chicken treats or extra-long scratching sessions. I’d like to think they could see me that way, but I still refuse to wear the new Wonder Woman outfit, that armor looks painful.

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“Scratchies are wonderful!”

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“Playtime is wonderful!”

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“I wonder where my treats are!”

Social Policy 2

My current social work course for my Masters in Social Work, is Social Policy 2. Social policy 1 was a history of social policies in the United States, from child protective laws to voting laws, to Medicare and Medicaid, to civil rights and food stamps. The current course, though, is about advocacy: learning how to advocate for changes in policy when you notice a problem in the system. First we have to choose a particular problem area, then we research endlessly, and articulate the problem and who is impacted by it, and then (we haven’t gotten to this part yet) we figure out who to badger to successfully make change.

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“I can badger! I’m a really good badgerer!”

I have been overwhelmed by the research part so far. In one week, I read thirty articles, wrote eighteen pages, and did at least ten drafts to whittle that down to a two (and a half) page proposal for my project. My focus: the gaps in Medicare, both as a result of the 80/20 split between what Medicare covers and what the beneficiary is responsible for, and in what is covered (not dental, vision, hearing aids, or long term care). Why is long term care designated to Medicaid (the health coverage meant for low-income individuals), rather than to Medicare (which is meant for the elderly and disabled)?

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“This is exhausting.”

This all led me into the weeds of Medicaid, which is one of the primary targets for budget cuts, both of the current presidential administration and the Republican House and Senate plans to replace Obamacare. Many of the billions of dollars they plan to cut from Medicaid will inevitably come from long term care services for the elderly and disabled.

This led me to the backdoor legal schemes people are allowed to use to hide their income and/or assets, in order to qualify for Medicaid, and the difficulty of those low income people, who are not low-income enough, to afford the elder care lawyers who can competently advise them on the different types of trusts available.

If you have absolutely nothing ($845 a month income, for 2017), Medicaid will catch you when you start to fall through the safety net. But if you have even a drop more than nothing, you are screwed. There is the option of a spend-down plan, where you must incur medical bills in the amount of the difference between your income and the Medicaid income cap every month, in order to get Medicaid coverage, a month at a time. But publicly financed advisors (AKA Free) are not allowed to advise you on the trusts that could hide your extra income, and don’t have enough hours in the day to help each person who needs help to organize a viable spend down plan.

This leaves a lot of seniors without dental, vision, hearing aids, long term care or medical transportation, and in fear of the 20% of any doctor visit or procedure that is not covered by Medicare. Which leads people to skip even the services that Medicare covers, because they can’t afford the fifteen dollars for a cab, or the fifty dollar copay for even routine appointments.

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“You mean I could skip going to the doctor?”

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“I really don’t want to go to the dentist, Mommy. Ever.”

There is a campaign slowly going around the United States called Medicare-For-All, with a version that passed in Vermont, and one that made it through the New York State Assembly three or four times now (but has not been able to pass the state senate), and one in California too. What interests me is that what they are calling Medicare-For-All is really not Medicare as we know it. Someone decided that in order to create universal health care, we’d have to fill in the gaps in Medicare as it is, adding dental, vision, and long term care, and limiting co-pays.

So my question is, even if we as a country are not ready to pursue universal health care for everyone in the form of Medicare for all (and it seems obvious that we are not there yet), could we be ready to fill the holes in the health care system that covers the elderly and disabled among us? Is that a step we could tolerate?

Once I fix Medicare and Medicaid, my next project will be to figure out how to add pets onto our existing health insurance plans. Because, really, my dogs are family members. If human children get to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26, to make sure they can earn a living on their own before they have to buy their own insurance, surely my puppies, who will never be allowed to work for a living (anti-puppy prejudice!), should be covered by their family’s health insurance too. No?

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Cricket is not excited by this idea.

The Secret Keepers

 

One of the primary concerns in social work is confidentiality. It is important for clients to feel secure enough with their social worker to share difficult information, and many social workers make a point of telling clients, right away, that anything they say will be kept private, expect in cases of danger to self or others. In the case of a social work intern, though, confidentiality has to include a few more caveats: What you tell me is just between you and me, and my supervisor, and my coworkers, and my teachers, and my classmates. You don’t mind, do you?

I read instructions from a social work class, at another school, where they specifically told the students to camouflage not just the name of the client they were writing about, but also identifying details in their physicality, personality, and life circumstances. We were not told to be that thorough in our classes. My fellow classmates and I tend to use initials in our assignments, if identification of a client is necessary, under the assumption that since we do not work at the same agencies the initials will not be identifiable to fellow students. But some people choose to use false names instead, to make the prose flow more smoothly. I’ve been tempted to go whole hog and use “Cookie Monster” or “Voldemort” for some of my class assignments, just to see if people are actually paying attention, but I haven’t done that, yet.

I don’t think dogs care about confidentiality, but I’m not sure. I’m hoping my dogs don’t care, because I share an awful lot of their personal information online. Cricket doesn’t seem to experience shame when her behavioral quirks are uncovered, like pooping on the mat by the front door overnight, or peeing in the quilting area in the back of the living room (though that could be because she believes it is my fault, because I failed to get up when she asked for an outing at three o’clock in the morning). Butterfly is unconcerned with her missing teeth, or any leftover poopy on her butt, when she goes outside to meet new people.

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“The pee was up to my eyeballs, what did you expect me to do?”

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“What? I think I look great!”

Dogs are the ultimate secret keepers, actually. Cricket has never told anyone information she alone was privy to about me. And Butterfly lets people think that I am strong and confident and secure, even though she knows different. The dogs accept me as I am, with all of my facets intact. They’ve never suggested that I should be fired as a dog Mom because I have this or that imperfection, though they do expect me to make it up to them in extra chicken treats.

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“Secrets are yummy!”

Maybe we should all go to doggy therapists, instead of the human kind, and then we’d never have to worry about confidentiality (unless you believe that dogs are capable of speech, and are just barking to keep up the ruse that they are dependent on us, and there is actually a secret network of doggy spies collecting information about their humans to send to the doggy version of the NSA, or the real NSA).

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“You’ll never know.”

The fact is, humans are not built for unconditional positive regard, even though that’s what therapist’s try to offer to their clients. Even the most generous-hearted therapist will find herself looking askance at a client for one or two of his decisions. Most dogs, though, have unconditional positive regard down pat. Human therapists carefully guard their boundaries, conscious of how physical behaviors, and offers of support, can be misconstrued by people in desperate need. Dogs don’t do this. Human therapists are also taught to hide their own needs and vulnerabilities from their clients, both to protect themselves and to protect clients from feeling responsible for meeting the therapist’s needs. Dogs have no problem walking up to someone, even someone in deep and unrelenting pain, and asking for affection, and offering affection in return.

Dogs listen openly and without an agenda, whereas most human therapists have a goal in mind for each session: to find out the client’s story, to uncover the blocks in their life, and to offer healthy options for forward movement. Dogs don’t interrupt; they are more classically Freudian in their approach, allowing the client to free associate, and just know that someone is listening to them.

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“We’re listening.”

But, there are a few ways that human therapists can be more helpful than dogs, especially when you are ready to move past the venting stage of the work. It’s possible that, while the unconditional positive regard of a dog can be healing, you may take the positive regard of a human more seriously, because you know that their regard is conditional and you must have done something right to be winning their approval. Human therapists are also more knowledgeable about problem solving, unless the problem you need to solve is where to find the best place to pee, or how to fully appreciate the sounds of the backyard.

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“I can help with that!”

 

The fact is, human therapists are more than just secret keepers, or a safe place to confess the things you don’t want anyone else to know, they are bridges and teachers and support systems to help you make the connections to the life you really want to be living. A life in which, hopefully, you will have a faithful dog at your side to give you unconditional love.

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