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Empathy

Cricket is not an empathy expert. She tends to see the world through a fog of her own needs, interpreting others’ characters by how quickly and thoroughly they respond to her demands. I kept trying to help her learn to see the rest of us more clearly. When she bit me with her sharp puppy teeth I would yell “ouch!” like the teacher told us to do, but Cricket would go on biting me. When I was upset, Cricket would hop right over to me, not to offer comfort, but to steal my tear-and-snot-filled tissues.

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“You don’t need this, right?”

It wasn’t until we adopted Butterfly, an eight-year-old puppy-mill-mama from the shelter, that Cricket started to get an inkling of what empathy might be. Butterfly was about Cricket’s size, and her species, and she peed outside (eventually) and barked, and ate kibble and chicken treats, but at first, Cricket saw all of these behaviors as a usurping of her role as “Only Dog” and resented her new sister. Butterfly persisted, though, offering up her butt for sniffing, listening to Cricket’s rants with wide-eyed wonder, peeing only where Cricket peed, deferring to her sister on every big and small issue of dogdom, until, eventually, Cricket had to admit that there was something to this sisterhood business. Because Butterfly is all empathy. She listens to Cricket’s complaints and either offers comfort, or takes up the barking along with her. When Cricket seems grumpy or sad, Butterfly sits nearby to offer solidarity and a fluffy butt to lean on.

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Butterfly’s butt seems to be very comforting.

I’m not saying that four years with Butterfly have made Cricket into the queen of empathy, in fact, she still has very little interest in what other people, or dogs, feel or think, especially if it’s different from her own view of things. But she has come to respect the power of empathy when it is directed at her. She accepts her sister’s solidarity and comfort, and will even allow a small rebuke of her own behavior, as long as it’s cushioned with endless adoration.

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Only Butterfly could get away with telling Cricket to tone down the barking.

Butterfly sends warmth my way too, and notices when I am struggling, especially physically, but whereas she can clearly relate to Cricket’s issues, as a fellow dog, she sees my problems as too human, and therefore hard to understand. I feel that way too, a lot of the time. I don’t know how to have empathy for myself. I tend to judge whether I deserve empathy based on whether I’ve received empathy from other people. So if I happen to be surrounded by people who can’t relate to me, or can’t see things from my perspective, or if everyone who cares about me is busy, or in a bad mood, I’m sunk.

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“I love you, Mommy, but I don’t understand.”

My real world has been short on empathy lately, but as a result, I’ve been taking more and more comfort in the virtual empathy of my fellow bloggers. Even when I feel overwhelmed with school work, or the horrible, horrible news, I make time to write an essay for the blog, just because, selfishly, I want to feel the warmth and kindness that radiates from all of you in return.

Cricket is very lucky to have a Butterfly at her side, always ready to offer sweetness and comfort, and I think everyone deserves to have a Butterfly of their own, to keep them company through the rough spots. You, dear readers, are my Butterfly.

Thank you.

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About rachelmankowitz

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

100 responses »

  1. I’ll always be your Butterfly 🙂

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  2. So adorable! My little doggie is limping today. I have to find out what I can give him, he likes to jump up and down on my bed and is ten years old in May. The vet is not open. I think I heard no Advil for dogs….aspiring…the tummy! I don’t know what to do for him right now. I googled but everything was by prescription. Thank you for the lovely pics and adorable doggies Rachel.

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    • I’m so sorry! I hope you can convince him to rest until you can get him to the vet.

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    • I once gave my 100-pound Golden Retriever one 325 mg aspirin and he vomited blood. Its best to ask your vet. This is from PetMD: “As tempting as it may be to reach for an over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen and give it to the family dog, you must avoid them at all costs. Over-the-counter pain meds (OTC medications) and human medications can be very dangerous, even fatal, when used improperly in dogs. Dogs should not be given Advil, aspirin, Tylenol, or any other pain reliever made for human consumption.” I do know that pet stores sell doggie pain relievers, but I don’t know if they’re especially safe.

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  3. Well said and so very true!

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  4. Such a sweet post. I love how each dog has his or her own way of seeing things and of being in the world and in how they relate to others. Your girls are so lucky to have you and each other!

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  5. What a welcome respite. Thanks.

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  6. ramblingsofaperforatedmind

    You are not alone!

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  7. Empathy is such an important and powerful emotion. People don;t give enough credit to dogs and all animals in their ability to empathize with each other and with people. I love the shot of Cricket sleeping on Butterfly’s butt- my dogs used to do that too. My Max was always more empathetic to our Sammy then Sammy was to him- just like people- we’re all different in what we are capable of giving and feeling 🙂

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  8. I share somewhat your experience since the terrible news. I find such comfort this week when I am home with my Sophie and Emily and Loki ( Shorkie and two cats) and with my housemates going about their business. When first I went out this week I felt sultry. Had everyone else voted against all I hold dear? But that has shifted, so that now in public I feel compassion if not empathy, compassion for all. Thanks for sharing !

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  9. I loved this post because you wove humor together with emotion through cadence; a style I like very much. The beginning description of Cricket’s lack of empathy was an absolute riot; it never ceases to amaze me how you hone into their personalities then use words to share their habits and quirks with us. The photos provide the frosting on the cake of course!

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  10. What a lovely blog (and what is it with doggies and used tissues?)

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  11. What a lovely post. We certainly do need lots of Butterflies these days. Hugs from all of us.

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  12. Rachel, you’re an excellent writer. I always enjoy your posts, and hearing about Cricket and Butterfly, and you and your mother.

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  13. But… why is Cricket showing off her bum at the end?? 😉

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  14. Rachel–I do love your dogs, but Cricket holds a special place because she is such a riot. She and Butterfly must be so much fun to watch. I think it is amazing that Butterfly, in her quiet way has changed Cricket, even if it is just a little. Cricket laying on Butterfly’s butt has to be the absolute cutest photo. I will always be your Butterfly; you can count on that.

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  15. Butterflies to you! We will survive and come back stronger together!

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  16. SQUAAAWK. Empathy? How about for someone locked in a cage?

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  17. Thank YOU! Thank you for this! As usual, you weave the human and canine behavior together so well to illustrate your points. As someone who often finds herself on the short end of receiving empathy, I totally understand! And, with my three feline friends, some examples too. Lily, the attention-grabber, sister Zoe, the playful companion, and Dewey, the shy lover. Warm wishes.

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  18. hairytoegardener

    This post hits a note with me. So many times I find I’m alone in what I do, and it’s scary. I call my dad who is unable to empathize (and I know this BEFORE I call him) looking one more time for a modicum of support–just a tiny drop. Of course I don’t get it. I look for support from fellow church members, and they’re oblivious. I find the empathy and support in a few close friends, and it’s so meaningful. There are lots of Crickets and Butterflies in this world. Right now, I need Butterflies. When I’m stronger, I can deal with the Crickets.

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  19. What a lovely, LOVELY compliment, perhaps the highest I could hope for…to be a ‘Butterfly”. She is beautiful and graceful and forgiving – things I am not (mostly). And I think dogs are our best empathizers…silent and non-judgmental – but loving us regardless of our foibles and faults. They are the comforters in times of sorrow and abandonment and are great ‘kleenexes’ …their fur takes a lot of tears and is still fluffy and soft. This week I have been feeling pretty bad about things in general and Huny got lost (briefly). I realized that if I lost HER, nothing else would matter anyway…not the ugliness and unkindness and brutality of the humans I know. It was a huge reality check. Thank you for sharing Butterfly and Cricket with us each week. It provides me something precious and bright to look forward to and some beauty to look at as I prepare for another week I don’t want much. Thanks Rachel. You are beautiful! ❤

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  20. Anytime Rachel. I love butterflies, and adore your two babies .
    I have found solace and comfort in the blogging world recently, and discovered true friendship here on the marina. Family by choice, is probably the best way to sum it up. 🙂

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  21. I believe our president elect will shortly needour empathy and good will. Things never turn out exactly as one imagines. Butterfly knows this.

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  22. Beautiful as always. And yes, we are lucky to have our pets. I don’t know if you watch TED talks, but I found this very comforting in our troubling times….so I will share it with you and others.

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  23. Oh, Rachel, you are so, so wise! Yasher koach on another brilliant post!

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  24. Thanks for another lovely post, Rachel. I’m so glad your pups give you such comfort in sad times. In addition to being existentially depressed due to the happenings of the week, I’ve also been sick, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in bed — of course surrounded by my furry empathy machines!! I don’t know what we’d do without them.

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  25. Our dog is only periodically empathic, but it nice when she comes over and bumps us when we are struggling. She sure asks for our empathy, however, when we are eating dinner. She keeps trying to communicate that she is STARVING! LOL!

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  26. Rachel – Such a lovely well done post. Thank you for sharing it with us . Butterfly is a sweetheart. Your blogging family is always here for you.

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  27. Rachel, I’ve nominated you for the Mystery Blogger Award! You can pick it up at https://danicapiche.wordpress.com/2016/11/13/the-mystery-blogger-award/
    If you’re unable to participate please accept this as a gesture of my appreciation. 🙂

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  28. Beautifully put, Rachel. These days many of us could use quite a bit of empathy. Dylan is doing his best to understand the human perspective too – and while he doesn’t always get it right, it’s comforting.

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  29. Great post. Nugget and I are always here for you she is great at cuddling:)

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  30. A nice story of companionship between both dogs and their carer. It was a refreshing read and the photographs were very apposite.

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  31. Nicely done, Rachel! Sending warm hugs of empathy your way. Peace, John

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  32. Empathy is certainly in short supply these days. Once again, we humans have much to learn from the canine world! Thanks for sharing!

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  33. What a wonderful post. I always enjoy your posts as thoughtful provocative, or just fun with the dogs. All I can say is ‘your welcome” and proud to be a follower of the cricket pages.

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  34. Ah, thank you back Rachel.

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  35. Wonderful essay Rachel. I had a long talk with Ranger and Sheba last time I was sick about the same subject…they still wanted to go for a walk at the end (and, they didn’t make me chicken soup).

    Unfortunately, nothing makes problems worse than when you feel all alone surrounded by people who don’t understand. Sometimes the empathy of strangers is better and, sometimes, you find they are truer friends. Stay strong, you will get through it!

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  36. Our “spare dog” Henry knew that Mr. Comfortable had cancer before he was diagnosed. Henry began sleeping draped across Mr. C’s tummy; a position he’d never taken before. I knew Mr. C’s treatments were working when Henry began sleeping next to his daddy instead of on him. Dog’s are remarkable and our lives are so enriched by them.
    And Remy and Henry sleep on each butts all the time so I love the picture of Butterfly and Cricket “butt” sleeping.

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  37. Yes, we all need a special someone to empathise with us; our family contains us boys and the humans who love us and we all look after each other! Pip

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  38. Rachel, Girl, you are my New York Sistah!! Ain’t we got fun??

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  39. Know that your tales about the pups offer a quiet solace to your readers, not to forget some delightful laughs.

    Thank you,

    John

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  40. Had to reply as empathy was big on my mind yesterday or the lack of from a memory of an uncomfortable experience. Cricket and Butterfly remind me of Zim and Reg they were Wire Haired Dachshunds my folks had when I was younger. Both different characters yet complimentary and there for each other. One day I was upset and crying and they sat at the bottom of the stairs looking up at me concerned and solemn bless them. I enjoy your blog posts Rachel they are honest, comedic, sometimes sad but overall about life and how we live with our wonderful doggies. Look forward to future posts 🙂

    Reply

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