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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Butterfly’s Step Training


 

For Butterfly’s Gotcha day, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to celebrate. She has been with us for a year now and the difference in her is extraordinary. She barks, and begs for snacks, and runs like the wind, and disobeys me, like a real dog. She almost never goes blank anymore the way she used to do. She loves her sister, she follows me everywhere, and she looks forward to her goodnight kiss from Grandma.

My first thought was to buy her a new pink leash, to replace the one she had drenched in pee and mud, but that was more of a present for me. Then I wanted to get her a special ID tag, one that doesn’t just announce her inoculation status. Her most recent tag from the doctor is actually blue, which is not her color.

            I like to be thorough and waste printer paper and toner when I do research, so I printed out ten or fifteen options for Mom to look at from her seat on the couch. There were tags in the vague shape of a butterfly. There were brass and plastic and steel tags. There were flowers and dogs and fire hydrants and bones, and quite a lot of tags devoted to sports teams. But the one I liked best was round and pink, with a colorful butterfly painted on the front, and her info etched into the back. I found a red one with a silver heart for Cricket, so she wouldn’t feel left out.

Cricket, my red girl

Cricket, my red girl

Butterfly's butterfly

Butterfly’s butterfly

            But I still didn’t feel like her present was a real present for HER. I always want birthday presents that will change my life and I wanted the same for Butterfly. And I thought about the doggy steps I’d seen all year in catalogs and at the pet store. For a year now, I’d been air lifting Butterfly onto the bed whenever she barked for uppies, and air lifting her down when she demanded to see her sister. But she’s become very insistent that this air lift be available every few minutes, and in the middle of the night. There’s a pain in my upper back that I blame entirely on her.

            I’d been putting off the doggy steps for most of the year, because Mom, whose father was a consumer advocate, on the board of Consumer Reports, believes that shopping takes time, months, really, of comparing, contrasting, forgetting, and starting over again. No more of that. I did my printing-out-options routine, wasting a very satisfactory amount of multi-purpose paper, and decided on a set of steps and ordered them right away, before the comparing, contrasting and forgetting could set in.

            It turned out that Mom was more excited than I was when the doggy steps finally arrived. I carried the box up to the apartment and went to bed, at one o’clock in the afternoon, as I often do. I could hear a lot of banging and crashing noises, par for the course with some of Mom’s do-it-yourself projects, so, nothing to worry about. And then the steps appeared, all snapped together, and hollow, and ready to place at the side of the bed. We tried a few different positions for the steps, to see where they’d be most stable, and least likely to trip me in the middle of the night.

            But the girls were not excited about their new furniture. When I picked up Cricket and tried to put her on the top step, she scrambled out of my arms and jumped to the floor and squeezed herself under my bed.

Can you see Cricket under there?

Can you see Cricket under there?

            Butterfly was less frightened, especially when I spread pieces of chicken treat across the steps. I placed her on the top step, and gave her a treat. We did that ten times. Then I placed her on the middle step and she climbed onto the bed and got a treat. We did that another ten times. We did sessions like this twice a day, until Butterfly could climb up all of the steps to the bed herself. She still refused to put her paws on the first step by herself, though. She sat and trembled on the floor and tried to run away.

Froggy tried the steps first

Froggy tried the steps first

Butterfly can fly!

Butterfly can fly!

Cricket refused to be seen even touching the steps. She came over, when she thought no one was looking, and twisted herself into knots to get at the leftover treats, without putting two paws at a time on any given step. She developed some quite beautiful ballet moves this way, and seemed to be teaching herself how to get whiplash from a standstill.

Cricket is cleaning up

Cricket is cleaning up

Cricket's dance moves

Cricket’s dance moves

            Butterfly took to hoovering up a row of chicken treats in one gulp, to prevent Cricket from getting to them. I worried this would lead to choking, but so far she has managed to keep herself alive.

            Butterfly has gotten to the point where she will run into my room, and flatten herself on the floor so that I can pick her up and place her on the steps, but she won’t put a paw up on the steps by herself. I may have to find more valuable treats for the next step of this adventure.

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Cricket, Protector of the Bed


 

Cricket is a protector by nature. She is a small, fluffy, guard dog, with teeth she’s not afraid to use. But she seemed to believe she had to protect my bed, from me.

My room in the old apartment was an attic, with a slanted ceiling, and lots of shadows. Cricket knew, long before I did, that mice were cowering in the invisible corners of the room, behind bookcases and storage boxes, in the recessed closet and behind the unused radiators.

"It's spooky up there."

“It’s spooky up there.”

When I walked into my room, she would stand by the edge of the bed and lower herself into attack position. As I stepped closer to the bed, she would slink toward me and bare her teeth, and when I reached the two foot perimeter, she would attack. Bark! Bark! Bark! Grr! Until I was safely ensconced on the bed and no longer a threat. Then she would jump up and snuggle next to me.

"Attack!"

“Attack!”

The bed protecting persisted no matter what I tried to do to distract her. I threw toys to her, I told her to sit (which she did, and then she popped right back up), I said Ouch.

Heaven help me if I tried to change my clothes anywhere near her zone. I learned to change in the bathroom with the door closed.

I think I must have brought a lot of ghosts with me from my childhood home to that apartment. Cricket certainly thought so.

It’s possible that she had done some doggy voodoo to clear the monsters and ghosts from the bed, and when I went upstairs to go to sleep, I brought new ghosts with me, threatening to undo all of her ghost busting work, so she had to bark and snarl and snap to scare those ghosts away.

I tried hard not to take it personally. Once I was safely on the bed, the barking abruptly stopped and Cricket could jump up on the bed for a scratch or a snuggle. Maybe this was her version of tucking me in at night.

Cricket tucking me in, sort of.

Cricket tucking me in, sort of.

Cozy time

Cozy time

The fact is, I saw the shadows too. I worried about monsters under the bed, and ghosts in the closet. I just didn’t have the nerve to bark them away, like Cricket did.

In the new apartment, I never worry that there are monsters under the bed, or in the closets, or waiting outside the windows. It’s shocking to realize that they are gone, and that Cricket sees that they are gone, and has given up on protecting the bed. Partly, I’ve hedged my bets by keeping plastic storage boxes full of clothes under the bed so the monsters would have to be pretty skinny and dexterous to make their way in.

Every once in a while when I put my feet over the side of the bed, I’ll find Cricket there barking at me, and tugging at my socks, but it’s a mostly vestigial behavior. Her protective duties now seem to be focused on the front door of the apartment, where she makes sure that no dangerous creatures can steal their way inside on her watch.

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Cricket is guarding the treats

Cricket is guarding the treats

Thank you to Rachel Sheppard at mykidhaspaws.org for the treats and bows! Butterfly let Cricket have first shot at opening the present, but now they are both sleeping next to their treats.

Sweet dreams

Sweet dreams

Three Dogs Named Rocky


 

            There were three dogs named Rocky in my old neighborhood. I assumed the reference was to Rocky, the fictional boxer played by Sylvester Stallone, and not Rocky the Squirrel, from Rocky and Bullwinkle, but I could be mistaken.

The first Rocky was a German Shepherd. He came to live at the house on the corner when he was eight weeks old, and just about Cricket’s size. Within two weeks he was twice her size, and eventually he was five times her size. He would cry and whine for Cricket to play with him, but she refused to get too close. He was a galumphing puppy and often escaped from his yard, offering play bows to each tree and human and cat he came across.

A German Shepherd puppy with floppy ears (not my picture)

A German Shepherd puppy with floppy ears (not my picture)

            When he reached full size, he was kept on a long chain in the driveway on nice days, and one day the next door neighbor’s youngest boy came to pick up a lost ball and decided to visit with Rocky, without supervision. Rocky bit him on the hand. I know Rocky didn’t mean to cause harm, but the boy’s parents took the matter to court and wanted Rocky put down. They lost the case, but the tension in the neighborhood remained. Whenever I saw Rocky out loose after that, I would run to corral him back home before anyone else could see him out frolicking in the great outdoors. He thought we were having a grand old time.

A German Shepherd who looks a lot like corner-Rocky (not my picture)

A German Shepherd who looks a lot like corner-Rocky (not my picture)

            The second Rocky was an English Bulldog, with three legs. He was thinner and faster than the English bulldogs I was used to. He’d had a tumor in his leg as a young dog and had to have the leg amputated, but it happened early enough that he acted like he was born three-legged. He believed he should get just as many long walks as any four-legged dog, especially when his parents tried to take the human puppy for trips in the car.

What three-legged Rocky may have looked like as a baby (not my picture)

What three-legged Rocky may have looked like as a baby (not my picture)

            I was out walking one day when I found Three-legged Rocky racing along the sidewalk, with his Mom trying to run after him, and the baby bouncing in a sling across her chest. Three-legged Rocky stopped to play with me and let me hold onto his collar until his Mom caught up. His joy at being outside was palpable, and the baby was laughing too. Even Mom, out of breath as she was, thought it was pretty funny.

            The third Rocky was a Lab mix puppy from the shelter. He was mostly black, with white markings on his chest and feet, and he lived in the apartment downstairs from me. He was playful and exuberant and very social, but he spent a lot of time tied up in the backyard, barking and whining for company.

            I worried that, especially in his case, naming him after a fighter was setting him up for trouble. I’m not saying he should have been named “Cookie,” but giving a sweet dog such a macho name and chaining him up in the backyard seemed like an effort to make him into a dangerous dog. It would be like forcing your whimsical bird watching son to play football, in order to toughen him up.

            Whenever Backyard Rocky saw Cricket and Butterfly out in the front yard with me, he would cry and jump and skip, choking himself on his chain collar. We went to the backyard to say Hello to him, and he would give me hugs, and show off how well he could sit, for at least a quarter of a second at a time. He got free of his leash every once in a while, and he would exhaust himself zooming around the block, then run up onto my porch, to say hello.

Backyard Rocky

Backyard Rocky

Backyard Rocky waving Hello

Backyard Rocky waving Hello

            I think “Cookie” might have been a good name for him, actually. And Rocky the German Shepherd could have used a more playful name too, like his little Italian greyhound brother “Prancer.” But, I have to admit, naming Three-legged Rocky, the English Bulldog, after a boxer, makes sense to me. He had that jutting jaw, the wounded eyes, and a broken seeming nose that whistled. And running down the block on three legs, he really did seem like Rocky Balboa, underdog, but fighting the good fight.

Down the Kibble Trail


 

            Butterfly wants to make our house a home. She does this with her art projects, and by scratching designs in the wood floors and the rugs, but most of all she makes our home her own by spreading kibble into every corner of the apartment. She loves her kibble. She treats each bite like a delicious piece of candy to be savored, and she makes sure to spread the smell of kibble all over her face, so that when she hunkers down to sleep next to me at night, I can share her joy.

"My kibble!"

“My kibble!”

"Can I eat now, Cricket?"

“Can I eat now, Cricket?”

            She doesn’t believe in just eating her food in the bowl, the way her sister, Cricket, does. Butterfly noses the kibble around, swishing it over the sides of the bowl, creating a kibble fountain. And then she chooses two or three pieces of kibble to eat on the rug, or bring to the bathroom door, or next to my bed, or into the kitchen. When it’s time to go out for a walk, she gulps a mouth full of kibble, dropping pieces like breadcrumbs down the stairs, and choking on the rest, as she runs for the door.

            It occurred to me, watching Butterfly’s kibble trail grow, that a lot of humans would appreciate her way of doing things too. Wouldn’t you feel more welcome at home if there was a trail of M&M’s leading to the living room, or peanut butter cups stashed between the books on your bookshelves?

A few months ago we had a visit from two toy terriers. They were fragile little dogs, and on very strict diets that did not include anything as daring as kibble, so we were careful to take the food bowls off the floor, and sweep up the kibble trail so they would not be tempted to hurt their sensitive tummies. But, of course, we couldn’t find everything. One of the little dogs, Milo, squished himself under the bookcase in the hallway, to get at what must have been stray kibble dust. Then he went over to the placemat where we keep the dog bowls and sniffed it centimeter by centimeter, lifting up the edges to see what he could find.

I swear, he really did get all the way under there.

I swear, he really did get all the way under there.

Milo is very thorough.

Milo is very thorough.

I can relate to this kibble fixation. I see food as comfort too. I’ve always wanted to have an open pantry or Swedish shelving where all of the food is easy to reach and clearly visible. Putting food behind opaque cabinet doors makes it harder for me to believe the food is really there. Some part of my brain is still mired in the Peek-A-Boo stage of development.

If I did not have to worry about weight, or cholesterol, or tummy trouble, I would like to have something like a rotating cake cabinet, like the ones they have at diners, set up in my dining room. I would fill it with homemade cakes, with Buttercream frostings, and chocolate ganache fillings, and marzipan, and lemon curd, and chocolate mousse. There would be seven layer cakes, and Babkas, and apple pies with lattice tops and whipped cream. If I could have that in my dining room, with everything visible at all times, brazenly dancing behind the glass, I think I would feel like I was in heaven.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Marzipan cake

Marzipan cake

Maybe I should find a way to make Butterfly’s kibble fountain spin?

The Puppy Kiss of Life

Lonely baby Cricket

Lonely baby Cricket

 

Before Butterfly came home, the closest thing Cricket had to a sister was her human cousin, Tamar. Cricket and her cousin were a lot alike, with their long skinny legs, mischievous eyes, and tendency to scream, very very loud.

Tamar was two and a half years old when Cricket arrived and she wasn’t sure about those teeth, and the fast paw movements, and the way Cricket could jump up on a couch or a bed and seemingly appear out of nowhere. And Cricket was too enthusiastic. Too bossy.

"Play with me!"

“Play with me!”

Tamar ran into her brothers’ room and grabbed onto me for dear life when Cricket followed her down the hall. I was reading to the boys, five and eight at the time, and Tamar zoomed in and climbed on my lap and curled into a ball, genuinely afraid. Cricket tried to come over and make friends, but with her pink tongue hanging out, her intentions were misconstrued.

Have tongue will travel

Have tongue will travel

By the next visit, Tamar had a pink toy gun and was fascinated with shooting at people. Her brothers were fixated on computer games with serious firepower, and so was her father (my brother), and therefore, so was she. And being her aunt, I was a prime target. She loved the shooting, but even more than that she loved to do her own death scenes, falling dramatically to the floor after a drunken stumble down the hallway. Cricket was off playing with the boys at first, but when she heard the loud thump of a body hitting the floor, she ran down the hallway to help. Tamar scrambled to her feet and raised the pink water gun and screamed, “fweeze puppy!” in a very serious voice.

"Why is the door closed?"

“Why is the door closed?”

            Cricket didn’t follow orders. She ran towards her human cousin with her tongue hanging out, intent on licking the pain away. My niece ran into her bedroom and slammed the door.

            It didn’t take long for isolation to get boring, though, and the gun slinger came out of her room and tracked me down again. I was in the kitchen, baking cupcakes with the boys, and, in order to save time, and eggs, I gave in; I did a long, slow death scene at the kitchen counter and fell to the floor. But when I tried to get up, Tamar laughed and shook her head and said, “No, you can’t move. You’re dead.” I thought for a second, and then called for Cricket to give me the Puppy Kiss of Life, to bring me back from the brink, so I could finish making the cupcakes.

Cricket rushed over to lick my face and I surged back to life.

My niece loved it. She insisted on replays, with various family members nearing death, and Cricket rushing in to save them.

When it was my oldest nephew’s turn, he did a very convincing imitation of death, after a very convincing shoot out with his younger bother. He was sprawled on the floor, limp and seemingly dead, and his little sister was horrified. She called for Cricket to hurry, “You gotta save BB!” Cricket obliged with the puppy kiss of life and my nephew rose from the dead with a flourish. Tamar jumped up and down and screamed, “I saved BB! I saved BB!”

She was so proud.

After that, she held Cricket’s leash and called her “my puppy” for the rest of the visit. She still demands Cricket’s leash, while her younger brother hogs Butterfly, but she doesn’t love it when Cricket tries to lick her toes. You can’t have everything.

"I wouldn't have hurt her, Mommy. I only like to bite you."

“I wouldn’t have hurt her, Mommy. I only like to bite you.”