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Monthly Archives: September 2016

Training Cricket, Again

 

We are, once again, trying to intervene with Cricket’s bad behavior, but focusing small this time: just don’t bark on the way out the door. If she barks, I sit down and count to ten. The hardest part is remembering to follow through with the plan each time we take the dogs out. Cricket is very hard to train, and so am I. It’s usually the last trip at night, when other people are trying to go to sleep, that her barking is at its most inappropriate. She seems to think that I need to be reminded, even as I am getting her leash and putting on my shoes, that she really, really, really wants to go outside. And it takes her a while to notice that each time she barks, I sit down and start counting to ten, starting over at the beginning each time she interrupts the count. But I’m persisting with the plan.

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“I am Cricket. Hear me bark!”

It seems like a very small thing to try and improve about her behavior, especially because it has no impact on all of the other barking she does throughout the day: rushing to the front door of the apartment to tell the non-existent bogey man to go away; barking at boxes on our neighbors’ porches; and shadows on the grass fifty feet ahead; and, of course, barking at random humans who dare to walk in her yard. But it’s a place to start.

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Hmm. This method could work too.

Mom is trying to go along with the plan, but she’s set in her ways too. She tries to talk Cricket into being quiet, which just makes Cricket bark more, because she thinks they’re having a conversation. And Mom doesn’t like having to sit down each time Cricket barks, especially at night when she’s already exhausted. So I sit, and Mom stands, and Cricket thinks that means Mom can be convinced, so she jumps at her grandma’s legs and paws at her, in vain. Eventually, Cricket figures it out and quiets down, and we go outside.

I wish I could convince Cricket to stop barking at babies, and other random residents of the co-op, when they try to pass within five hundred feet of her; I wish I could convince her to keep her teeth to herself, especially when I try to wipe the goop from her eyes; I wish I could convince her that the bath tub is not a torture device. But my many, many, previous attempts at teaching her those lessons have been utter failures.

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Cricket has some anger issues.

I rarely try to train Butterfly in anything anymore. Early on, we had to teach her how to poop outdoors, and climb the stairs, and take pills. After that, I thought I’d try to work on basics with her, like sit and stay, but she looked at me like I was a crazy person. She has her own learning style and it doesn’t include responding to voice commands. I’d love it if I could teach her to be less stubborn when she’s walking on her leash, or maybe teach her to sleep past seven o’clock in the morning, but after numerous attempts she is still indifferent to my efforts. And she’s twelve years old. She never bites anyone, and only barks to tell me that she’s hungry or needs to go outside, so, I’ve decided to let it go.

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Yes, Butterfly knows how cute she is.

But Cricket is a menace. The noise pollution alone is at toxic levels, and I can’t, in good conscience, stop trying to protect my neighbors from the full panoply of Cricket’s behaviors.

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“Who me?”

One magical moment happened, though, a few nights into the new regime. After three barking eruptions, and three full counts of ten, with no sign of a let up, Butterfly walked behind Cricket and gave her a look that seemed to say, please don’t bark anymore, because I really need to pee, and that actually seemed to work. Cricket quieted down, and we all went outside in relative peace. But most of the time, Butterfly is too busy having one last kibble for the road to expend too much energy in teaching her sister how to behave.

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“Psst.”

So I guess it’s up to me.

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The Baby Squirrel

 

When we went out last Thursday morning for our too-early first walk of the day, Cricket found something. At first I thought it was a dead mouse. Cricket has found dead mice a number of times, because we have feral cats on the property who are allowed to stay because of their great mousing skills. So, I thought it was a dead mouse and I yanked Cricket away from it quickly. It was curled up a few feet away from one of the huge trees on the property, up in the lightly wooded area where we are encouraged to walk the dogs. Butterfly did her usual standing around and listening to the raindrops thing – oh yeah, it was raining, lightly by then, after a night of heavy rain – and it was a lovely sound, the way the rain drops hit the leaves far over our heads. But I was still getting wet. The girls both did their business, and we were on our way back out of the woods when I thought I saw the dead mouse move an arm. I stepped a little bit closer, but I’m afraid of dead things so not too close, and that’s when I realized that it was a tiny squirrel and not a mouse, with a big head, and grey and white fur, and not only was one arm moving, the tiny squirrel was breathing. It was alive.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I had to take the girls back inside, out of the train, first and foremost. I left them standing in the hallway while I went down to the basement to throw away their bag-o-poop, and I looked through the pile of Amazon shipping boxes outside the garbage room. I like ordering things, but I am nothing compared to my next door neighbors (with the new baby) who have ordered so many things that they now have to move into a house to make room for all of it. I chose a small, shallow box, with the new-fangled air-pillow box-filler stuff, and I popped the pillows to use it as a squirrel grabber, in case it really was dead and only seemed to be moving because of the wind and rain, but also as a temporary blanket, in case it was actually alive.

The girls watched me through the glass front door of our building as I went back out into the rain, and up the hill, to where Cricket had found the baby squirrel. It was still there, and still getting rained on, and still faintly breathing and moving an arm, but just barely. I picked it up carefully, all the time worrying that I should leave it there, to die a natural death, or to be found by its Mom after whatever calamity had sent her away. But it was alive, and I couldn’t just leave it there to die.

I took the box of baby squirrel inside to the girls, and we walked up the stairs and into the apartment, and that’s when I realized that I had to wake up my mom. She’s not a fan of early mornings, and I would have let her sleep through the drama, except that I knew I’d have to leave for my internship in less than an hour, and I needed her help.

 

As soon as Mom saw the baby squirrel, breathing in the shallow box on the dining room table, she was wide awake and in Mommy mode. She took the baby out of the box and wrapped it in warmed up towels and held it while I googled. There are surprisingly specific and comprehensive baby squirrel manuals online. One was long and alarmist – with the basic gist being that I should have left her out there in the rain to die. The other manual was shorter, simpler, and more hopeful.

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Then Mom called our vet’s office to ask them what to do. The woman who answered the phone said that they’d stopped working with their wildlife specialist and had no other recommendations, and, really, the baby squirrel was going to die. Mom persisted, though, and looked up other wildlife groups she’d heard of in the area, and left messages for them on email and voicemail. In the meantime, we prepared the rehydrating solution recommended in the baby squirrel guide and then and I used Butterfly’s supply of liquid medicine syringes to start bringing the baby back to life.

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By the way, I am not an expert at identifying baby squirrel genitalia, but we later found out that she was a girl, so let’s just pretend I knew that from the beginning. We set her shallow box on a heating pad (on low), and filled the box with fabric from Mom’s quilting closet, because the baby squirrel guide said that regular towels could unravel and choke her.

I took care of Cricket and Butterfly’s morning routine, and made sure they got extra treats for all of their patience, and then I got myself dressed for work, charged my cell phone, and reluctantly left Mom to take on the burden of keeping the baby squirrel alive while I was away.

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Cricket sniffing the baby

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Butterfly, worried I’m giving her peanut butter to the baby.

I tried to talk about the baby with a fellow intern, but she looked non-plussed. “You brought a squirrel into your house?” She asked, looking at me like I’d slathered bloody entrails on my door posts. So I focused on being nice and pleasant and helpful all day, and tried to put the baby squirrel out of my mind. The room we work in is filled with windows, and I could see as the rain got heavier and heavier, so I thought, maybe, I’d done the right thing by taking the baby into a dry place. But my mind was still racing, telling me that I’d made a mistake bringing her inside, and she would die and it would be my fault. She had a fractured arm, and probably other injuries, she was cold to the touch, and her mother had abandoned her; who was I to think I could save her?

When I got home, Mom was sitting on the couch and the baby squirrel on her chest, squeaking away. Her eyes were still closed, but she was much more alert, climbing on Mom and grabbing her fingers with a paw. The baby had survived eight hours in our care, against all odds, and the next job listed in the baby squirrel guide was to move from rehydration to actual feeding. The guide said we needed Esbilac milk powder for puppies, and we should mix it with water and heavy cream to mimic squirrel mommy milk. I asked Mom if she wanted to go out and have a break from baby care, but she didn’t, so out I went again, in the rain and rush hour traffic, to find the puppy milk powder.

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“Squeak!!!!!!!!!!”

When I came back, it was my turn to watch the baby. Her body temperature kept cooling down between feedings, despite the heating pad under her box, so Mom told me to hold the baby in my hands and try to keep her warm myself. I had to keep Cricket from sniffing too close, but Butterfly was largely uninterested in the baby; as far as she was concerned, there was no squirrel in the house.

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After another few hours of rehydration, we mixed up a batch of the new squirrel baby milk, and watered it down according to the mathematical formula in the guide, and warmed it in the microwave until it was just right. The baby squirrel swallowed her milk through the syringe dutifully, only pulling her head away a few times.

I woke up every few hours overnight to feed her, and to check that she was still breathing, and when I woke up again at eight o’clock the next morning I realized that she’d survived more than twenty four hours with us. She even seemed to be a little more energetic, though that could have been my wishful thinking. Mom said, pointedly, that we shouldn’t name her and risk becoming too bonded, but she knew it was already too late.

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We were still waiting for call backs from the wildlife groups a few hours later, when a friend on Facebook recommended calling other vets in the area, to see if they could help. The first one we looked up had the number of a local wildlife rescue, and when we called, they told us to bring the baby over right away.

By noon on Friday, we were on the road, the squirrel baby in her box on my lap, on our way to the rescue hospital. I kept my hand in the box to keep her warm, and she decided to crawl into my hand and snuggle.

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When we reached the Wildlife center, I filled out forms about where I’d found the baby squirrel and the assumed circumstances of her injury (a fall from the nest in the storm seemed the most likely cause, especially when I found some of the nesting material a few feet away from where I found the baby). They gave me her rescue ID number and their email address and said that I could write to them for an update whenever I wanted, and then they took her away.

I was devastated, but also hopeful. I knew that the rescue hospital would be able to do a much better job than I could at treating her wounds and feeding her correctly. Giving her up was the right thing to do, but it was also awful, and painful, and I was starting to have trouble breathing. I was giving her the best possible chance to survive, though, and I had to hold onto that.

I waited a couple of days to give the wildlife center a chance to do their work, but then I got impatient for good news, and wrote to them.

This was the email I received from them on Monday morning:

Unfortunately, we had sad news about the baby squirrel. We brought her to our veterinarian right away who confirmed that she did have a fractured humerus (one of the bones in her arm). In addition to the fractured arm, she also had lung contusions caused by trauma from the fall. We began treating her right away for the fractured arm and respiratory issue, but sadly, she was so badly injured that she passed away overnight that night.

While not the outcome we had hoped for, we are glad you brought her to us so she was able to get treatment and passed away in a quiet and peaceful place rather than outside in the wild.

Thank you again for caring about her and bringing her to our center.

 

I read it over again a few times, to take it in, because the words were not making sense at first, and then I just cried until I couldn’t cry anymore.

On Tuesday Morning, Cricket found another squirrel, this time a full grown adult, and this time, it was dead. My first, and enduring, thought was that this must be the baby squirrel’s mother. Maybe they both fell in the storm on Thursday morning, and it took the mother longer to feel the effects.

We dug a hole for her, and covered her with dirt, to keep her safe from predators. I couldn’t think of a prayer to say, all I could think of to say was, “This is for baby squirrel.”

And it was.

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p.s. Many of these pictures were taken by Naomi Mankowitz (AKA Mom)

The Research Class

 

The administration at my online Social Work program decided to change the hosting format, right before the new school year began. The previous format for our classes was a bit stodgy, yes, but you could find everything you needed. The new format is not just new to the students, but also new to the teachers, and there hasn’t been any time to work through the bugs and figure out how to manage the new layout. So it’s a mess.

And maybe that would have been okay, if I were taking a less stressful class to start the semester, but I’m in Research One, and each assignment involves group collaboration and has to be finished in less than a week. I have bad memories of working in groups in high school and college, and having to either do all of the work myself, or spend all of my time gently, nicely, pushing my classmates to do their share of the work, or editing their attempts before the rapidly looming deadline. Some people think that ten o’clock the night before it’s due is the perfect time to start working on a project. I don’t. I really, really, really, don’t.

I want to use my insight and imagination and empathy and creativity, and none of those are allowed for a research class. It’s all about formatting and organizing other people’s work. I feel like a marathon runner forced to do finger exercises for hours on end, in a seated position. Every once in a while I may be allowed to move my whole hand, but rarely.

I want to scream. I want to throw things. I resent that it feels like the online faculty at my school is running a secret experiment on us – testing the impact of unpredictable stressors on student work quality and psychological wellbeing (I wrote that to my teacher in an email, and he seemed to take me seriously instead of getting that I was, sort of, joking).

My anxiety about the Research class and the new online format is making me obsessive. I’m overworking and under-coping. I feel a desperate need to control everything that feels chaotic to me. I can’t find restful or fun books to read. I can’t find anything decent to watch on TV. My mind just keeps filling the gaps with more work.

I need to take a nap and rest and recover and focus on other things, but my brain keeps telling me to re-read research articles, and do more searches, and try more databases, and do the whole group assignment by myself. But I know myself, even if I managed all of that, I’d just start obsessing about the reading and possible assignments for next week. It would never end.

It’s frustrating to have to see all of my flaws so clearly – my impatience, and rigidity, my temper, and need for control. I don’t want to know that there is so much still to fix.

For relief, I’ve been watching for the feral cats in the yard, and communing with them as much as they will allow. Hershey actually let me within five feet of her the other night, but then she scooted under the maintenance shed (her palatial estate). I also had a chance meeting with the neighbor-dogs, George and Zoe, and it made me unreasonably happy for a few minutes. Zoe barked a lot, and Cricket stared at her, in silence, as if this behavior, this barking at nothing, was completely alien to her. Then George clapped his front paws at me and asked for pats and a hug, and I willingly obliged. Zoe stood in her perpetual ballet first position and allowed me to pet her too. I even got to walk with the baby next door – or with his nanny, who was holding him as he slept – for a few minutes, and breathe in the utter, unspeakable cuteness of him.

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Hershey, hiding out.

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“Are you taking my picture again?!”

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Zoe and George

But mostly I work. I read and summarize and research, and I attempt to keep my emails to my fellow group members polite and reasonable. I try to follow the conflicting instructions from the teacher, and the disorganized new formatting, but all I want is for the class to be over, and for all of this self-knowledge and hitting-my-limits to end.

Cricket is doing her best to distract me by barking at every moving thing, and Butterfly has doubled up her requests for scratchy sessions (for my sake, of course), but it’s not enough to calm me down. Clearly, I don’t have enough dogs.

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“I’m doing this for you, Mommy.”

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“I work so hard to protect you, Mommy, and you never adequately appreciate my efforts.”

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“We do not need another dog, thank you very much.”