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Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Broken Butterfly

There’s a special value in rescuing a dog, beyond knowing that you’ve saved someone’s life, or feeling like a good person: a rescue dog is a reminder of the broken things in the world, and of how sacred they are. My rabbi told us that the broken pieces of the first set of tablets of the ten commandments – the ones Moses smashed when he saw his people building the golden calf – were kept in the ark along with the pristine final set of tablets, as a necessary part of the whole.

           Butterfly, with her missing teeth and adorable protruding tongue, her heart murmur and lumps and bumps, is an important part of the whole story. Not all dogs are born to happy families, or adopted by happy families, and taken to the vet each time they have the sniffles. Happiness is only part of the story.

Beautiful Butterfly

Beautiful Butterfly

          Butterfly was recently diagnosed with diabetes. She had a urinary tract infection back in the fall, but with antibiotics it went away. We were curious about why she’d gotten it, but assumed it had something to do with how low to the ground she was when she peed, compared to long-legged Cricket, who practically hovers in the air.

Cricket  hovering, with help.

Cricket hovering, with help.

          As soon as she started to pee in the house again in February, we took her straight to the doctor. The vet on duty did some tests, took an x-ray to rule out kidney stones, and gave us antibiotics for another suspected UTI. We wrapped the pills in chicken and peanut butter and hot dogs and all of her other standbys; we crushed the pills and mixed them with water and then with her food and parmesan cheese. We did everything we could think of just to get the antibiotics into her system, against her will. But not only wasn’t she improving, she looked sicker and sicker every day. She was noticeably lighter when I picked her up, she didn’t do her usual poopie dance, and she stopped waking me up in the morning, waiting instead for me to wake her up and convince her to go outside.

Butterfly, not eating? Cricket is unconcerned.

Butterfly, not eating? Cricket is unconcerned.

          My concern has always been her heart, because she has a prolapsed mitral valve and is at risk for heart failure. I knew this when I adopted her. But it’s a hard thing to remember when she is running and jumping and smiling at me. I was afraid that after a year of watching her flourish, I was going to lose her.

          We collected some of her voluminous pee and brought it to the clinic to be tested, and made an appointment with a different vet. As soon as we met the new doctor he took a blood glucose test, to confirm the results of the urine test, which, he told us, showed very high sugar. In the office that day her sugar was over five hundred. It’s supposed to be under a hundred.

           I was relieved. I’d been so scared that this was heart failure, and she was dying, but diabetes is treatable. The doctor showed me how to give her a shot of insulin in the scruff of her neck. He also gave us a liquid antibiotic to try on her, instead of the dreaded pills, because the UTI was clearly being maintained by the diabetes and needed another round of antibiotics to wipe it out.

          Every morning, and evening, I give her a dose of the antibiotics which she hates, making angry toddler faces and sticking out her tongue, and I give her a shot of insulin, which she doesn’t seem to mind. Some days I do a better job than others. It still feels strange to stick a needle into her skin, and I can be too tentative, but mostly it gets done, and she’s improving.

          The rest of the day, I follow her around with pee test strips to see how the insulin is working.

          The first time I saw her run again after her diagnosis and treatment began, I thought my body would crack open from all of that joy.

Hopefully this is what she'll look like again soon.

Hopefully this is what she’ll look like again soon.

          There is a sort of halo of white light around Butterfly, that could just be the highlights in her hair, but the light could also be coming through her broken pieces. And I want to keep that light going for as long as I can.

Butterfly , spreading the light

Butterfly , spreading the light

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Becoming Sisters

When Butterfly first arrived last year as an eight year old rescue dog, she saw Cricket as the all knowing mentor about things like poop, and stairs, and dinner time. But Cricket looked at her with suspicion and made it clear that everything in the house belonged to Cricket first: the food, the toys, and most especially the people. Cricket had been an only dog for six years and did not see any reason to change that. But I did. I wanted her to learn social skills, to calm down her protective instincts and to widen her emotional repertoire. She preferred to sit on her grandma’s lap and give the usurper her best death stare.

"Hello, Cricket!"

“Hello, Cricket!”

"What are you looking at?!"

“What are you looking at?!”

My job was to make sure that Cricket had no good reason to feel usurped. That doesn’t mean she never felt jealous or resentful, just that she had no good reason to feel that way. I had to make sure that Cricket didn’t run low on scratchies or treats or have her walks curtailed.

When Butterfly pooped in the house or looked at the stairs with terror, Cricket rolled her eyes. She lived like there was no other dog in the house, just a distant, annoying, buzz of noise that had no interest for her. But Butterfly ran a campaign of attrition. She was unremittingly loyal, and upbeat, and ignored every sign of Cricket’s disdain. Butterfly was the kind of friend anyone would want, but no one could quite believe they deserved.

"Are you down there, Cricket?"

“Are you down there, Cricket?”

Butterfly started to show her usefulness to Cricket by being the one who woke me up at the break of dawn to go outside. Cricket just had to yawn and stretch and meet us at the door. Butterfly also made chicken treats more available, by needing and responding well to training, so that if I was giving Butterfly treats, Cricket had to have some too, and again, without much effort, Cricket’s treat intake at least doubled.

But the biggest benefit of having Butterfly around is the unconditional love. Cricket can be snotty and grumpy and indifferent, and Butterfly will still look at her with devotion, follow her around, and pee where she pees. It has to be a nice ego boost.

I’ve caught Cricket, recently, snuggling up to Butterfly, purposely resting her head next to Butterfly’s tushy, for comfort and wonderful aromas. Cricket doesn’t find it quite as annoying anymore that Butterfly worships the ground that she walks on, especially because the worship has been tempered over time. If food or scratchies are being offered, Butterfly will shove Cricket out of the way to get first dibs.

Tushy to tushy.

Tushy to tushy.

I wanted Cricket to have a sister so that she would have someone to talk to, someone who could speak her language. No matter how much I love my dogs and try to understand them, there is a language barrier that stops important messages from coming through. Butterfly and Cricket know that language. A lot of it seems to be transmitted by the smell of pee. They sniff-in with each other multiple times a day, to see what’s going on, as if they are reading each other’s diaries.

The girls, intentionally, do things together now. They cozy up for warmth. They sit on either side of grandma’s rolling chair at the computer. They take turns eating at the bowls. They especially try to walk down the stairs at the same time, in the same place, so that they are piled on top of each other and jockeying for position. They do the same thing when they notice a strange pee in the backyard. They pull me forward like two horses pulling a cart, and then they both have to examine the pee at the same time, pushing each other out of the way, eventually smushing their heads together so they can both smell at once.

The facsination of pee.

The fascination of pee.

Cricket has attempted a play bow, though she still doesn’t know what to do after that, so Butterfly is trying to figure out how to grab a tug toy with her few teeth so she can play in the way Cricket likes best.

There was an incident one night recently when Butterfly managed to get in Cricket’s way, unintentionally, and Cricket was so angry that she made a screeching sound, like a car suddenly breaking on the highway. There was no dog fight, just the sound of Cricket’s outrage and then the scuffling sound of Cricket rushing under the bed to sulk. Cricket has a big mouth, but when push comes to shove she doesn’t really want to do damage.

But that incident made me realize that in more than a year, we’ve never had a dog fight. A few grumps here and there, but mostly smooth sailing. Maybe it has taken this long for Cricket to finally believe that there is room for two dogs here, and we are not going to get rid of her. I don’t know what she’s been thinking. She’s inscrutable when she wants to be.

Cozy time.

Cozy time.

I think Cricket would even protect her sister now. She won’t admit it, but she cares about Butterfly and would never let anyone hurt her. She still doesn’t think Butterfly should ever get more than she gets – of food or attention or outings or freedom – but she’s learned to tolerate a fair and equal distribution of goods, with Cricket being ever so slightly more equal.

The sherriff and her deputy.

The sheriff and her deputy.

Puppy On Call


 

            Cricket needs a job. She has a lot of excess energy, and uses it for barking and biting, and I’d like to find more constructive ways for her to keep busy. Some ideas that have come up in the past are:

·        Fitness trainer. She could help anyone build upper body strength and cardio, by pulling like an ox on her leash for three or four miles at a time. She might have a lot of one time customers, though, after an hour with her, I’m not sure we’d get follow up visits.

"Streeeeeeettttch!"

“Streeeeeeettttch!”

·        Assistant dishwasher at a restaurant, pre-cleaning the dishes. Except that any dangerous foods would have to be picked out before she got there, like onions and raisins and chocolate…

Cricket is an expert dishwasher. At least, Butterfly thinks so.

Cricket is an expert dishwasher. At least, Butterfly thinks so.

·        Ball puppy at a tennis court. Though I wonder if anyone would really want the ball back after she’d been carrying it in her mouth.

·        Carnival barker? I don’t think they really mean her sort of barking.

Nothing seemed quite right, and then I started thinking about my brother, the doctor. What if Cricket could do something in his field? I don’t actually believe she could go to medical school (anti-puppy prejudice!), but a hospital would be a fascinating place to work.

Doctor Dog (found online)!

Doctor Dog (found online)!

            Children in the hospital can get very lonely, especially at night, when their visitors go home and the noise quiets down and they are supposed to be asleep. I know dogs have been invited in during the day, but I think they could be even more helpful at night. I can picture the puppies wearing blue scrubs, and beepers at her necks. Puppies could be called by the nurses when a child had a nightmare and couldn’t get back to sleep, or when parents had to leave at bedtime and knew that the child would be lonely.

The human handlers could bring the dogs in and leave a jar of treats by the child’s bedside table, with a bowl of water the dog could reach.

            The job of the human handler would be to be as unobtrusive as possible, but also to know when a child and puppy combination would not be a good match. If the child was angry, at being in the hospital and poked and prodded, and lashed out at the dog, the human handler could remove the dog from harm and prevent the dog from needing to fight back.

            The puppy-on-call room would have to have treadmills, and fake grass to pee on, and a water fountain to drink from, one for the big dogs and one for the little dogs. There could be a play circle filled with tennis balls and chew toys, and mats and beds to sleep on between jobs.

The dogs could do rounds earlier in the day, to meet the children currently in the hospital, and help the doctors with sniffing diagnostics, and then the dogs would be on call at night.

            But now that I think of it, I’m not sure this would be a great job for Cricket. She’s a bit more of a me-me-me dog, rather than an aching-to-be-of-service-to-others dog. Now Butterfly, she’s a whole other story. But her scrubs would have to be a light pink.

Butterfly is very patient.

Butterfly is very patient.

And very Zen.

And very Zen.

            Maybe Cricket could work for the police? Drug sniffing? Recapturing escaped prisoners? She’d be great at catching anyone resembling a leaf or a stick.

"Gotcha!"

Cricket always gets her leaf!

ESP in Dogs


 

            We have a history of ESP in my family – not big stuff, just little things – like knowing when a relative is about to call (before Caller ID), or knowing when a timer is about to buzz.

            Dogs take these little bits of irrational knowledge for granted. They don’t think it’s strange that they can guess when it’s Grandma’s car driving up in the parking lot, or when, without my saying a word or doing anything significant, they know I’m thinking of taking them for a walk. They accept that there are connections and electricity in the air that carry unspoken information, and they don’t rebel against it as eerie or irrational, the way humans do.

            I read an article that said dogs can track our eye movements to read our intent, so that what we interpret as ESP is just heightened attention to our behavior. And, to a degree, I believe that a lot of what we call ESP is really a heightened version of the senses we already have. Someone who seems to have ESP may simply be very good at collecting the information of their five senses, remembering that information, and interpreting it.

Cricket, the observer

Cricket, the observer

Butterfly prefers to absorb information unconsciously

Butterfly prefers to absorb information unconsciously

            But I also believe that there is a level of energy in the world that is beyond every day life. There is a magic that can crop up between people, and dogs are naturally more attuned to these electric and magnetic fields than humans are.

            One night, a few years ago, a friend of mine was in trouble. I don’t know why I knew or even if I knew that he was struggling. Maybe it was a coincidence that I’d emailed him that day. But when he wrote back, he sounded suicidal. He wouldn’t come out and say that, and maybe he would never have acted on it, but I was worried. I wrote back to him and added a note to his cat that she should keep an eye on him and let me know how he was doing.

            Dina, my temperamental black lab mix, usually slept up in my room, but that night, she slept in front of the computer, and then peed on the floor in front of the hard drive. She was getting older, yes, and in a few months she would be regularly incontinent, but not then, not yet. I choose to believe that she had received a message from my friend’s cat and was doing her best to send her own reassuring message in return.

Dina, feeling the vibrations.

Dina, feeling the vibrations.

            Cricket seems to have ESP sometimes too. I have these episodes, when I get tired, where I can’t speak well. I can hear what I mean to say in my mind, even though sometimes my thinking is also garbled in these episodes. I seem to run out of the air necessary to form words with full articulation. But Cricket understands me.

"Yes, Mommy. I understand."

“I’m listening.”

            I could be saying “I…eh…ugh,” out loud, but she knows that I mean “I think it’s time to take the dogs out to pee.’ And she will stand right up and yawn and stretch and come over to my knee, ready to go. Butterfly hasn’t figured out my gobbledy gook yet, but she trusts Cricket to know best and follows her lead.

We think of ESP as magical because we don’t understand how it works. But maybe the magical element of ESP in dogs is not just that they have different abilities than we do, but that they love us enough to use them to communicate with us. I wonder which idea is more frightening: that dogs are smarter than humans in certain ways, or that dogs love us, whether we deserve it or not.

Peaceful, happy Cricket

Peaceful, happy Cricket

Love.

Love.

Jigsaw Puzzles



 

I used to have boxes and boxes of jigsaw puzzles. I was an addict. I would sit in my chair in front of the TV, with a piece of cardboard on my lap, and sift through the puzzle pieces; sorting shapes and colors, and finding patterns in the chaos. I used the box tops from discarded puzzles to help me sort puzzle pieces into categories, and I would “watch” TV for hours, with the comforting voices going on in the background as most of my attention was focused on fitting the pieces together.

Blue puzzle pieces

Blue puzzle pieces

My standard jigsaw puzzles are the 1000 piece puzzles. I used to have some 750s but they went too fast. Anything bigger than 1000 pieces, though, ends up being too big for my puzzle board.

Puzzle, resting.

Puzzle, resting.

The jigsaw puzzles were an obsession, but a calming one. I never glued them to a backing and framed them on the walls. In fact, I especially liked dismantling and redoing the same puzzles, time after time, seeing how much faster I could do it as I learned the particular code of each puzzle.

Each puzzle maker has a different idea about the thickness and stiffness of the puzzle pieces, the sizes and shapes, the complexity of the color. Being able to differentiate between three shades of light blue was satisfying. And I think this accomplished something. I think it helped me rewire my brain, but I can’t prove that.

I started doing jigsaw puzzles in my late teens. I vaguely remember a picture of Golden Retriever puppies and a barrel of apples. I would put a puzzle board down on the floor of my bedroom and stay up all night, sorting pieces and putting things together, instead of sleeping. It was a step up from coloring books, which I had dabbled in for a while too.

My dog at the time, Dina, was not a fan of the puzzles. She would walk through the open boxes of puzzle pieces and turn them over “accidentally.” If she was really annoyed, or maybe lonely, she would stretch out on top of the puzzle and ask for scratchies. She didn’t understand why I was up all night, but she liked the company. Often, she would fall asleep on my bed while I sat on the floor, watching CNN and doing puzzles.

Once we moved to the other apartment in my early twenties, I didn’t have a TV in my bedroom anymore. We watched TV together in our tiny living room, me and Mom and Dina. I couldn’t fit the puzzle board on the floor anymore, and there was certainly no room for a puzzle table in there, so I balanced the board on my lap.

Dina was only a lap dog when there was thunder and lightning. The rest of the time she would stretch out on the floor, hanging her head into the hallway for extra room. The only time she disrupted the puzzles was when I stored the board on a shelf under the TV, and she knocked it with her hip as she passed by.

Dina guarding a puzzle

Dina guarding a puzzle

She seemed to understand my need for the puzzles. As long as I remembered to take her out for walks, very long walks, my puzzle time was okay with her. And it was better than fidgeting with scissors, which I also did when I needed something to do with my hands; inevitably, I mishandled the scissors (tiny silver nail scissors, but still) and they flew across the room, dangerously close to her head.

Post -puzzle walking

Post -puzzle walking

When Cricket came along, she wanted to help with the puzzles. I could no longer rest the open box tops on the floor or on a chair, or else she would slap them with her paw and turn the whole box over, or she would chew the side of the box until the pieces leaked out from the corner, or she would just jump up on my lap and push everything else to the floor in a rage. Laps belong to Cricket. She was even more insistent on that when she was little. She thought I should spend three hours scratching her instead of doing puzzles or anything else. She was jealous and impatient, and if I stuck to my plans, she would sit on Grandma’s lap and glare at me.

Grumpy Cricket

Grumpy Cricket

I always think of the Curious George story where the doctor takes an x-ray and finds the wooden puzzle piece inside of the monkey. I’m sure Cricket has swallowed a few puzzle pieces over the years but they are small and made of paper and she probably pooped them out easily enough.

I’ve been struggling with my eyesight lately. The eye doctor diagnosed me with Convergence Insufficiency that she thinks resulted from whatever neurological problems I’ve been having recently. I’ve always struggled somewhat with computer screens and 3D movies and fast food menu boards, but now I see faces doubled or moving around inexplicably and I struggle to read text on a screen.

I started doing jigsaw puzzles again recently, maybe to fight against the blurriness and double vision, or maybe just to return to the company of an old friend. When I take out the puzzle board, Butterfly sits in front of the puzzle and waits, assuming there is hidden food on the board, and if she waits long enough she will get some. Eventually she gives up, and stretches out on the floor next to Cricket, and they both listen to the tap tap of puzzle pieces on the board and fall contentedly to sleep.

Butterfly and Cricket, waiting.

Butterfly and Cricket, waiting.