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The Flea Dance

When Cricket got fleas as a puppy, seven years ago, I didn’t know what they were. I saw what looked like fennel seeds stuck to the base of her hair, when she was wet from her bath and her hair was clumped together. I asked Mom what the seeds were and she had to take samples to the vet’s office, on a tissue, to find out.

"You're drowning me!"

“You’re drowning me!”

"I can do it myself."

“I can do it myself.”

We started Cricket on her anti-flea meds right away. Once the medication kicked in, I still had to comb through her hair to remove the dead fleas, and then trim her hair with clippers in order to find every last bug. And then we put her on monthly doses of Frontline, which she hates. The Frontline liquid has to be squeezed onto her back and she acts like I’m burning her with acid.

"You can't find me."

“You can’t find me.”

I don’t think we gave our dogs flea and tick treatments or heartworm pills regularly when I was growing up. I vaguely remember those white collars for flea and tick prevention but I can’t imagine they were worn year round. People spent (a lot) less money on dogs when I was growing up.

I don’t even remember hearing about ticks until we found one, engorged, on my last dog, Dina’s, neck and I thought it was a cancerous tumor. The vet rolled his eyes at me for that one too.

Dina. She survived that tick.

Dina. She survived that tick.

The thing is, when I was in first grade, I got lice three times. I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know why it was only me, and not my brother, or my best friend. Each time, I was sent home with special shampoo and combs, and everything in my room was washed. By the third time, my hair was so knotted from scratching that the hairdresser had to cut it short.

My classmates had two answers to this situation. One was to call me Simon, the name of a boy in my class with a similar haircut to mine. The second was a dance the popular girls made up, where in they pretended to be bugs, and danced around me with curled fingers and raised shoulders and bent knees.

Little Rachel

Little Rachel

When Cricket got fleas, I felt like I was back in first grade. Cricket had no doggy friends laughing at her and calling her names, and the fleas were dead and gone as soon as possible, but I could still feel the phantom popular girls dancing around me and laughing.

Cricket doesn’t understand when people are criticizing her, or making fun of her. She doesn’t hear it or care about it, but I do.

I can’t imagine having a dog now and not medicating her against fleas and ticks and heartworm. It’s part of the ritual now. With each new dog I become more protective and more of a mommy. They need meds, and treats, and baths, and grooming, and special collars and tags, toys, and beds, and training, and endless scratchies.

By the time I get my next dog I’ll probably have a full sized princess bed in the corner of my room with a tray table for midnight water breaks and maybe an escalator out to the yard.

And I’ll try not to project too much of my human crap onto him or her, but I can’t make any promises.

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

124 responses »

  1. Those first two pictures are the reason I so love dogs…Something about trust and vulnerability… I don’t know.

    And children can be so cruel. Dogs are better. So much more civilized.

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  2. We got fleas once (well, our dog did) and my husband went around ‘disinfecting’ our entire home until I couldn’t see for the fumes. We managed to survive…but they’re no joke. Good for you for taking care of your babies so well.

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  3. It’s good that you can use Frontline for your dogs, but I am unable to use those treatments any longer on my Bailey, as he had a terrible reaction to K9 Advantix in May of last year (details here: http://nonficwriter.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/beware-k9-advantix/). Many dogs can tolerate these strong chemicals very well, but some do not. I miss the ease of the monthly treatment between the shoulder blades, but I would miss my dog a lot more and would be loathe to endanger him this way again.

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    • Can’t help but ask…(if you don’t mind).. What do you use for prevention? I’m truly beside myself using harsh chemicals on my Gracie. I’ve tried 2 or 3 different products but either they don’t seem to work very well.. or the “aroma” is really too much. I do live in the “tropical” south Florida… Ft Lauderdale area.

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      • It has been an ongoing battle with frequent bathing, using the flea comb daily, vacuuming; really exhausting. I will be working with my vet soon to see if there’s something else we can do. Another thing, we had used regular Advantage in the past without problems, and perhaps it’s K9 Advantix formula that’s the issue and perhaps he could still tolerate Advantage, but I’m afraid to try. My daughter has continued to use regular Advantage on her dog, but it seems to have lost its effectiveness, and she’s been using essential oils, without much success. Funny, we lived in the Tampa Bay area for 25 years and had minimal flea problems; they are much more severe here in Oregon.

      • Thank you for the reply.. This is the 1st time I’m trying the K9 Advantix.. I’m not sure it’s going to be any more effective than the regular Advatage. After the last use, I think I’ll go back to the regualr Advantage plus a weekly spray. Never seemed to have a problem in the past. Thanks again 🙂

      • Hi there, I hope you don’t mind my interrupting, but since we have such bad fleas here (orlando), and I’m not a fan of putting those chemicals on my dogs either, I have found Trifexis for my dogs. It’s a pill that they take once a month and it prevents against heart worm, fleas, and worms, not ticks unfortunately, but I don’t have much of a problem with that here. It’s not cheap, but is effective and I like that it’s a pill. I have always been worried about giving my dogs the chemical between their shoulder blades. I’d be paranoid that they would lick it while grooming or something.
        Anyway, I wanted to pass that along. Good luck in your search.

      • Thank you for your input. Will definately look into Trifexis. Info is much appreciated. 🙂

    • I wonder what makes some dogs more sensitive to it than others. If the girls couldn’t tolerate the Frontline, I’d have to find them full body suits to wear outside. And diapers. So I feel very lucky.

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    • greyzoned/angelsbark

      Trifexis is a great product and it’s not a topical. It’s a monthly pill — they’re supposed to be chewable but none of the dogs that I know like them so I have to cut them up in little itty bitty pieces and mix them in their dinner. Trifexis is also a heartworm medication so instead of taking two doses monthly (flea prevention and heartworm prevention), Trifexis has them both covered. Highly recommended by my vet and I trust her implicitly. It’s soooo much better than putting chemicals on your dog’s skin! It may seem expensive at first but when you look at what you spend for both preventions your monthly cost will be about the same.
      Thanks for a great post. I enjoyed reading it.

      Reply
  4. My Gracie is looking at me with a most bewildered look. She can’t understand why I seem to be scratching so much..!! LoL
    Talk about expense…?? Pah-Leez…!!! I’m exist on a MEAGER S/S check. I’ve told my “daughter” MANY times, if she gets to be any more of an expense, I’ll start eating her HEALTHY food.. and she can have the cheap garbage I live on..!!
    Material things..?? Don’t get me started… She has better clothing than I do.. She has TWO beds.. She has completely taken over MY recliner chair..plus she has her own “Blankie” (a bath towel she drags around the house to lay on where there’s no carpeting)
    But…… the “unconditional love” I get in return is more than equal payment..!!
    Great post..!!

    Reply
    • Cricket has me trained. If I’d gotten Butterfly first, she would have been happy with so little, I wouldn’t have started on this path, but Cricket demands all of the best. She only eats her dog food when we’re not looking, otherwise she demands to share her Grandma’s snacks. And, of course, how can Grandma say no?

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  5. Hi Rachel, children really can be so mean! You got lice for the same reason some people can sit in a crowd and be the only one who gets stung by moscitoes. The lice liked your smell and taste. Lice also prefere straight hair to curles and clean hair to dirty, but all in all the most important part is the smell. You should have known that and told it to those peski girls.

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  6. I have to do that Frontline stuff too. I got by without it for a long time – until the vet found a couple tics on me. She said it was either medicine or no more walks on my trails – and I can’t go without my trails.

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  7. That all sounds so familiar. Those photos, especially the first two are precious. wag wag.

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  8. What about the silver platter that her food comes on?
    No problems here, fleas and ticks don’t survive in the desert.

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  9. I agree those pictures of Cricket are so adorable. And I feel so for little Rachael. I suspect we all have memories of not feeling liked.
    Regarding not using HW preventive……I did not know anything about heartworms until 8 years ago when we got Beau and the vet put him on preventive. I would venture to say that we and our neighbors lost a lot of dogs to that infestation when I was growing up in the 50’s. Beau was my 1st dog as an adult. Now, about the flea and tick preventive. We quit using the stuff you put between their shoulders because it is so greasy and Daisy likes to rub up against the couch like a cow. Currently we are using a very expensive flea/tick collar that lasts for 4 months, but I am concerned about the chemicals. Sigh.
    Loved your post.

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  10. So precious, our animals!

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  11. Loved your post again, and know exactly where you’re coming from with the pesky little critters. We Frontline Maggie alternately with Stronghold (same application method of dabbing on the back of the neck). Frontline guards her against ticks and fleas, but the Stronghold gives her added protection against ear mites.
    Like you, I don’t remember all the meds and preps we give our dogs today when I was growing up. Though I don’t think I ever had nits, the family I looked after did, and we had a ‘conveyor belt’ in the bathroom as we washed, combed and washed again!

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  12. Cricket, your puppy-pics are super cute! The frontline-procedure is a big drama in our house too, I always wonder why. Easy’s skin never showed allergic or any reaction. It’s done within 2 minutes and Easy acts like crazy, even before I place it on his neck.

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    • I’ve taken to waiting until after a walk, leaving the leash on, picking Cricket up, and THEN putting on the Frontline. Butterfly is much easier. I just put her on the couch and she sits and it’s done. But they are exactly opposite in difficulty level when ti comes to the heartworm pills. It all evens out.

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  13. Poor baby! I love that picture of her peeking out of the crate. 🙂

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  14. Our dog Memphis has had a couple ticks over the years. The first time, I too thought it was some kind of growth. I was nervous about removing it, scared I would break off the head, but the internet came to the rescue with plenty of videos on YouTube showing just how to go about it.
    We have 2 large-breed dogs and 5 cats, all of which get treating with a potion similar to the one you use, that gets squeezed out on the back of their necks. Some of our animals don’t even notice it but with a couple of the cats, you would think it was torture.

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    • Reading you comment about ticks, have you tried using a tick hook? They are like a little sewing machine foot (ours in the UK are green plastic), and you put the ‘claw’ part under the tick, and turn. It brings the tick out whole. Absolutely brilliant.

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    • I wonder if Cricket is part cat. We’re gonna have to troll YouTube for these exciting tick removal videos. I can’t imagine being calm enough to make a video in that situation, though. I’d be crying and squeaking and losing fine motor control.

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  15. Rachel,
    You my fair Lady are a riot. So many curiosities I ponder but…
    As you wrote is how I remember it also. I think maybe putting the frontline in a squirt bottle putting some barrettes to separate hair and squirt away you’ll get less of those “your killing me Mommy looks”.per application. 😉

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  16. Oh, poor baby. It’s no wonder she gets upset. One of my favorite natural vets puts it this way: the label “…says it’s OK to put on Spot’s skin, but not OK to get it on mine. Hmmm, and I shouldn’t eat, drink, smoke, or scratch myself while applying this?”

    And sadly, the ingredients in Frontline are cancer-causing: “Dr. Dobozy of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) pesticide division states that one of the laboratory effects of fipronil in the popular flea and tick product Frontline, is thyroid cancer and altered thyroid hormones.”

    If you’re interested in an alternative, I’ve had great success with my natural flea control plan (http://haleythewonderdog.com/2013/10/20/natural-flea-control/).

    Reply
  17. Oh the scars that children leave… Thank heavens for our furry friends! BBC1’s first dog, Boysie, was a street dog. He never saw a flea treatment and thought collars were the tools of satan. But that was almost a thousand years ago…Max, on the other hand wouldn’t be seen dead without his collar, car harness, bandana and several balls or toys. As for the flea treatment, he suffers this with great dignity. Like you BBC2 thought his first tick was a cancerous growth, but this was quickly dealt with by BBC1! Now, we’re not commenting on the princess bed, as gave a feeling we may be joining you! Great post!

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    • That engorged tick was so scary. I really did start crying and thinking my dog was going to die. You wouldn’t think one little bug could drink enough blood to blow up into such a monster. I’ve been adding to the princess bed concept. I’m thinking….bunk beds, with a ladder, and a canopy. And maybe an elevator to get from one level to the other if the ladder seems too difficult, and…

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  18. I give Bexley monthly Trifexus, which prevents against fleas, ticks & the varying parasitic worms, but I wanted to respond that when I had the home inspection from the rescue I’ll be fostering for, the lady who came by told me that regular old Dawn Dishsoap was every bit as good as a flea bath! She said that just to be safe, for both her home and her own dogs, whenever she gets in a new foster she gives them a bath. First she lathers them up in Dawn, lets it sit for a couple minutes, then rinse and does a second lather with regular dog shampoo to make sure the pup’s hair & skin are properly hydrated and balanced. I checked online after she left and saw some people even mix the dish soap with white vinegar, which I know is great for my hair (though I tend toward the apple cider vinegar, myself.)

    Anyway, I just wanted to share that with your readers in case anyone needed a pointer 🙂

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    • I’ll have to try that. Does the Dawn soap have other benefits than flea removal?

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      • If you put a dab on a cotton ball, you can use it to gently rub off a tick. That’s my only other dog-related trick with it, but it sure has a lot of cleaning, stain removing & bug repelling powers outside of pups!

  19. Pingback: Much Ado About Fleas | My Foster Dog Blog!

  20. I have to say that I have never had any flea problems with my dogs until recently. I went to the vet and he said that it has been really bad this year and he has been treating a large number of dogs with fleas. So now both dogs are being Frontlined. I sprayed their beds and washed everything and then paranoia set in and I gathered their beds together, dumped them and bought all new beds. They seem to be ok now but I still use Frontline – just in case. Thankfully we do not have ticks in this area – although until about four months ago, we never had fleas either..

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    • There’s a new pet vet show on TV here, about a vet clinic in Australia. I’d been happily watching them save dogs from this or that, and then noticed a trend of dogs getting paralysis ticks. As if I’d ever heard of such a thing, or could have slept if I’d known. These poor dogs couldn’t breathe or walk until the tick was found and removed and some kind of intravenous treatment was given. Good thing you live in a part of the country without such things.

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  21. Cricket’s baby pictures are adorable, and I love your childhood snapshot as well! I remember being picked on in elementary school. That was never fun. I’m glad our pups don’t know what that’s like. Your girls are very lucky to have you as a mom. 🙂

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  22. When we got my daughter’s cat, unbeknownst to us he was crawling with fleas. No wonder his eyes were bugged out when we were driving home from the woman’s house where we got him. Our vet suggested special shampoo which I had to use a couple of times before we finally saw results. I think I made a friend of my daughter’s cat for life. He’s now 12 years old.

    Reply
    • I can’t imagine the relief that cat must have felt when the bugs were finally gone. It must feel like having a perpetual case of the chicken pox. I had that as a kid and when it was over I couldn’t believe how good it felt not to be itchy anymore.

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  23. It’s true that we didn’t spend as much time or money on pets years ago, but we didn’t care about them any less. I love this blog post because you wind yourself in with the story of Cricket. Kids can be such bullies .. . thankfully, dogs aren’t!

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  24. paigeandspaniels

    The first time I found a tick on Apollo I practically had a coronary. Thank god for the internet. It was like three in the morning and I woke up my best friend to hold him so I could pull it out. Then we didn’t know what to do with it so we lit on fire and put it down the garbage disposal and turned it on. Isn’t dog ownership fun?

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  25. Heartworms weren’t a problem is Sydney (where I live) when I was a child, so there was no need for prevention. Can’t say the same about fleas, though. These days, people seem to be taking better care of their pets, and with spot-on products that work, it’s so much easier.

    Reply
    • I think the big change became clear when pet stores went from being tiny storefronts with a few options for dog food and fish, to huge supermarket type places with freshly baked dog treats. I like this better.

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  26. very cute pictures of your little baby!

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  27. Revolution is a good flea medicine. I used it on my dog when he was alive and use it now on my cats. But living in Colorado, we have very few flea problems due to the high altitude. Cute puppy.

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  28. At the vet, sometimes I get an old gruff person who always complains about how “Back in my day, dogs were dogs. They didn’t get all this medication stuff.” Yes, times have changed and now the common dog owner is well versed on parasite prevention!

    I don’t know if I mentioned it or not, but the reason we got a prosthesis for Kahlua’s bad eye was because my husband didn’t want anyone to look at her and think she was ugly. As you said, even though they have no idea, we do.

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    • When I give the girls a bad hair cut, to save money from the groomer visits, I feel so embarrassed. The girls couldn’t care less. They’d go out with poopy on their butts and goop on their eyes and feel beautiful.

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  29. I love the way you write about your dogs, & I’m always on the lookout for your next post. Re haircuts… Many years ago, I stopped taking Gretl, a min-Schnauzer to the groomer, in part cuz she couldn’t stand the pink bows they put on her and she’d have them ripped off by the time we got home. After I took in a second Schnauzer, I managed to learn to give them a halfway decent haircut myself, and it was seriously ONLY halfway, if that good at all. Yes, the cost. Don’t feel embarrassed, they love the extra attention I’m sure!

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  30. Little Rachel is PRECIOUS. 🙂 Love this photo. Best, Shanna

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  31. I so could have written your post lol..right down to when my daughter and I compared my puppy’s fleas to her head lice in year 1. MY puppy still gets the occasional flea despite our diligence in ensure none (seem to) live in the house and we give him a flea tablet the vet assure us is the best. As to ticks I knew nothing of them either and mistakenly thought he flea tablet was for ticks too, so when we saw the tick we didn’t know what it was. I wrote a blog post about it to warn others http://wp.me/p2GFqd-gJ Glad your puppy is all good now

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  32. Such a nice story. I am glad that all are ok, fleas are pesky little devils. Don’t forget though that you have to be very careful about giving kittens and puppies any flea medication. Glup I don’t know I would ever recommend this but a ‘bath’ (there I said the dreaded word) can work well on little ones, fleas hate water as much as good looking Tabby and White Cats like oh I don’t know err… ME!

    Love the picture of the little Rachel tee hee!

    Have a classic weekend.

    Purrs,

    The Cat

    Reply
    • When Cricket had fleas I’m pretty sure most of them died in that bath, but a few made it out alive. Those fleas are survivalists. I’m pretty sure they carry tiny cans of beans and flashlights with them wherever they go.

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  33. Hello! Just stopping in to let you know I love your blog, and that I have nominated you for a Liebster award, which is a writing challenge too! If you’d like to find out about it, check this post out! I hope you’ll accept! http://laurieanichols.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/the-liebster-award/

    Reply
  34. Oh, poor you and Cricket! I have become a very protective dog owner, too. I shudder to think what I was like when I got my first dog as an adult 10 years ago. (He’s still with me, so I didn’t do too badly!)

    There are five dog beds in my house. I have three dogs. They mostly sleep on the couch. 🙂

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  35. Those baby pics of Cricket are sooooooo cute!!!! What a teddy bear!!!!

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  36. Hi thanks for liking a post Your poor puppy she is so cute wet. Glad your other Pup didn’t get fleas. I don’t like them and ever now and then worry about them. Hope all is well.

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  37. One chapter in My Leash on Life is entitled “Scratcher.” Would you believe that Napa fleas are resistant to Frontline because the same chemical is used in the vineyards? Poor Foxy has to swallow a big pill every month to get the same results.

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    • That’s both surprising and disturbing. Please tell me they rinse those grapes before they squish them! I have a hard enough time getting Butterfly to take a small pill, a big one would never happen.

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  38. Beutifully written…I follow your journey and chronicles

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  39. Thank you Rachel! Your pix are very good (especially little Rachel-amazing)! sincerely Alla

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  40. You are a good person Rachel … and an old soul …

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  41. Have any of you tried diatomaceous earth? I live in Africa where we have the most amazing number of creepy crawlies imaginable…I put it on the dogs and where they sleep. In the cats baskets. Apparently you can eat it to kill some varieties of worms and its safe (Ive eaten it myself) I don’t do chemicals. Frontline, and other chemical burn some animals. Diatomaceous earth doesn’t work that good for ticks – but then if you had to see how many ticks we have here…love reading about your dogs…I love animals and people think I am crazy to talk to them…

    Reply
  42. I would not have laughed at you, or danced like an idiot pretending to be a louse, which they obviously were. What adorable babies you have. Thanks for the good cheer.

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  43. Diatomaceous earth does work. I used it when I lived in Florida (humid!!). It kills both ticks and fleas.

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  44. I do not recall eating it though.

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  45. Such adorable photographs 🙂 A wet dog in the tub makes my heart melt!

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  46. So true about how different it is for pets today vs when we were growing up, but you are such a good Mommy!

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    • Thank you! I always look back and wonder how I accepted things as they were for my dogs, but it all seemed normal at the time, or at least beyond my control. I was very strongly tempted to give my bed away to the dog and sleep on the floor, but I was not allowed.

      Reply

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