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Butterfly is losing her vet, again

 

Butterfly goes to the clinic at the shelter that rescued her in the first place, and she has a wonderful veterinarian. Her doctor is the kind of person who walks around with a kitten on her shoulder all day, to keep an eye on the kitten’s well-being while she’s tending to the rest of her patients. Despite her many patients, this doctor answers emails about Butterfly’s various health issues, and recognizes us when we come in to pick up refills at the pharmacy, and always asks after Butterfly’s health.

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Butterfly’s first day at home, way back when.

The vet emailed us to let us know that she, and her relatively new husband, will be moving out of town, and she wanted to have a last visit with Butterfly, and set her up with a new vet at the clinic, to ensure continuity of care. I’ve never met a doctor-for-humans like this, let alone a veterinarian who, working at a clinic rather than in private practice, can’t be making a ton of money.

Butterfly is an expensive dog. She is twelve-and-a-half years old and a pure bred Lhasa Apso, with heart disease and diabetes, bright blue cataracts, and terrible teeth. The clinic partially subsidizes her twice yearly echocardiograms and vet visits, but we pay for all of her medication and diabetes supplies, and anything over two visits a year. Miss Butterfly takes three pills twice a day, gets her blood tested twice a day, and gets insulin shots twice a day. I’m not even counting the huge quantities of peanut butter and chicken treats that make the meds go down easy. So having a doctor who tries to minimize extra costs, while advocating for the best possible health care for Butterfly, is a godsend.

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“Any more medication Grandma?”

Cricket has had the same reliable doctor since she was eight weeks old, and it is wasted on her. She needs to be held in place by a vet tech to have her ears checked and her nails clipped, no matter how well she’s been cared for in the past. The vet techs have, often, had to put a muzzle on her for checkups, though it rarely stays on long. We brought Cricket along for one of Butterfly’s vet visits at the clinic, because Cricket ran out the door of the apartment before we could catch her, and Cricket could not stop barking. She’s used to the small waiting room at her doctor’s office, with the African grey parrot who tries to keep her calm. The crowded cacophony of dogs and cats at the clinic was not her thing. I like it, and Butterfly likes it, because there are always new friends to meet, but for Cricket it was too much.

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“You want me to go to the vet, Mommy? How are you gonna make me?”

The positives of the clinic, affordability and solid care, have always seemed worth the inconveniences, like a long wait and talking to different secretaries every time we call. But this is the second vet we’ve come to trust and have had to lose. I don’t want to have to argue with a new vet about teeth cleaning (the anesthesia for which could kill her), or hear some stranger tell me not to expect Butterfly to live much longer (just shut up). But most of all, I’m going to miss feeling like there’s someone else out there keeping an eye on my baby. It’s more than just having a doctor with knowledge and skill and the ability to write prescriptions, it’s about having someone who loves my baby and cares about the quality of her life.

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Butterfly believes that peanut butter has magical powers of healing.

I’m sure we’ll adapt. Butterfly will still be nervous going to the vet, until she gets a chance to sniff the other dogs, and the new doctor will make too many assumptions about Butterfly’s prospects, until I’m able to set her straight. But we’re going to miss this vet a lot, and we have to mourn a little bit before we can move on to what comes next.

Cricket & Butterfly waiting for Mommy

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Butterfly’s Heart

 

Butterfly started coughing about a month ago. It was only on occasion and seemed to be in response to her rawhide chews, so I stopped giving both dogs those treats. But the coughing continued; it was a sort of hacking sound, like there was something stuck in her throat and she was trying to cough it up.

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“Mommy, Butterfly sounds funny.”

I was concerned because it was the one question her cardiologist always asked me when he gave me the results of her twice yearly echocardiograms: has she been coughing? Even if her heart looked the same since her previous visit, he asked about coughing, and I always said no, she wasn’t coughing much. She’d sneeze here and there, or cough when she tried to swallow too much kibble at once, but, no, coughing was not one of her things. He never really explained why he was asking, and after the first three times I stopped asking him.

So when I noticed that she was coughing almost daily, I got scared, and made her an appointment with her regular vet. I thought it could just be allergies, and that I was getting hysterical for no reason, but really, I was afraid her heart disease had progressed.

I’ve worried about losing Butterfly since the first day we brought her home, because not only was she already eight-years-old, but she had a heart murmur they’d just noticed when we adopted her. They hadn’t heard it when they were removing her bad teeth, or excising a lump under her armpit. If they’d noticed the heart murmur, the staff said, she wouldn’t have been out on the floor and up for adoption – she’d have been in a special foster program for heart patients. So I was very lucky that they hadn’t noticed.

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My Lucky Day!

Butterfly’s vet did a chest x-ray that showed no changes to her heart to go along with the coughing, but she said she wanted to try Butterfly on a heart medication anyway, to increase blood flow, and see if that would help. She said that the coughing could be caused by her enlarged heart pressing on her trachea, making it more difficult for her to swallow. But that was just a guess, really. Possible side effects of her new medication would be lowering of blood sugar and listlessness, but I already do blood sugar tests for her diabetes, so it wouldn’t be an extra burden.

Fortunately, or not, there was no significant change in her blood sugar readings, and no sign of listlessness. But, she’s still coughing, three or four times daily in short bursts. She coughs a little bit when she wakes up, she coughs a little bit when she eats, she coughs a little for no reason I can see. Her mood and energy level are still great, though, and she eats and drinks and runs and pees and poops like normal. And she’s loving the twice daily doses of peanut butter. But there’s the coughing.

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“Peanut butter?”

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“Yummmmmmmmmmmm.”

We have to go back to the vet and see what she says about the heart medication and the coughing. Maybe we’ll have to try a different kind of medication. Maybe she’ll tell us to redo the echocardiogram before the six month mark to make sure it really is her heart that’s causing the cough. But I’m worried. Butterfly came home as an eight-year-old puppy mill survivor, with a questionable heart, and then developed diabetes within her first year with us, so there’s always been a ticking clock over her head. I make sure to revel in her presence as much as I can and make sure that I don’t miss anything of the life she has left – but I still worry every day, and I picture my life without her as a barren wasteland. I need Butterfly to live to her full expected life span of twelve to fourteen years, but more would be better. She’s at eleven and a half now.

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My baby.

I’d like to find out that the coughing is something unrelated to her heart, like, maybe she’s trying to learn how to talk and this is the first step, or she’s decided to store kibble in her throat for later, and it’s more difficult than she expected, or maybe it’s just allergies. That would be wonderful.

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Thin Skin

 

Butterfly has bumps all over her body. She’s an eleven and a half year old Lhasa Apso, and the doctor says these bumps are normal for her age and breed. One of the bumps is like a tiny pink mushroom growing from her neck. Some of the bumps are small and rounded, above her tail, under her ear, at her hip. But one of the bumps looks like a cauliflower, and it bleeds every once in a while. It may simply be that her taller bumps get nicked when she goes to the groomer, or she scratches them, or bangs them into things accidentally, but from the very beginning, I worried about it. Butterfly’s skin is a light pink, with brown age spots hidden under her white hair, which, along with her bumps, is only really visible when she has a bath and her hair becomes translucent for a moment. I used to count her bumps obsessively before each vet visit, to report on any changes, and find out if this or that one was suddenly going to kill her.

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Butterfly’s big bump.

The fact is, though, despite her bumps and heart problems and diabetes, Butterfly is pretty hardy. She doesn’t sprain her ankles or tweak her back or whine when she gets her twice daily blood tests and insulin shots, and her feelings don’t get hurt easily. She doesn’t like having her hair messed with though; that’s something she learned from Cricket. She learns a lot from Cricket.

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“Are we going for walkies yet?”

Cricket is more sensitive. She thinks having the goop removed from under her eye is torture beyond canine endurance. She hears and reacts to every noise in the world. If she eats a little too much, or the wrong thing, it shows up in her digestion and her mood.

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“Are you talking about me again?”

I have Psoriasis and I am hypothyroid (both since I was a teenager), so my skin has always been sensitive and easily scarred. I have a scratch on my wrist from October that never healed, and just starts to itch out of the blue every once in a while. I’ve read too much of the bible in my lifetime, so I end up feeling like my skin, and my health overall, makes me a leper. But I also, still, have figuratively thin skin to go with the literal kind. If someone tells me that I’m lazy or untalented, I take it to heart. I can build myself back up again, but it takes days or weeks, instead of minutes or seconds, the way it should.

At my last doctor’s appointment, my GP decided to test me for Lyme disease again. I’ve been tested for everything over the years, multiple times. This time around, the preliminary test for Lyme came out negative, but my doctor decided to go on and do the confirmatory test anyway, and that showed that I was positive for Lyme disease in the past, even though I’ve never had a positive Lyme test before, in almost ten years of testing. The doctor wasn’t sure what to make of these results and told me to go to an infectious disease specialist to check it out. I may have dragged my feet and whined a bit, but I went.

In the meantime, my mom went to Google and found that there are mixed opinions about Lyme disease and Chronic Lyme, and the validity of these blood tests, or lack thereof. There’s also, her googling suggested, the possibility that a positive blood test for Lyme, like mine, could be an indicator for some other virus or disease process, as a signal for further testing.

I went to the new doctor, he looked at my blood tests and crossed his eyes and said that he would never have sent my blood out for the confirmatory test, after negatives on the preliminary tests, because of the risk of false positives. He said it five times, in answer to five different questions from me, as if he couldn’t hear me, or had no other answers to give. He said that there was no point in re-doing the test because it would either be negative, or another false positive, because I had no risk factors for Lyme. He had no interest in my medical history, and no curiosity about other possible diagnoses to explain my symptoms.

The fact is, I thought this was a long shot, and didn’t have much hope that a strange doctor would take any of it seriously, but I’m annoyed that I had to go through the motions, just to prove that I’m doing everything possible and not being passive. I am not comfortable with theories that come with no proof at all and seem to be, at best, placebo level positive results (30%), but I’m also not comfortable with the rigidity of western medicine, which prefers to blame the patient when problems can’t be solved, instead of taking on the problem and studying it further.

It’s a relief, instead, to take care of the dogs. When they have symptoms, their doctors believe them, and believe me, and treatments are offered, when possible, and pain and comfort are considered. Maybe, when dogs start suffering from whatever it is I have, the veterinarians will figure out the cause, and treatment, and the doctors for humans will finally take me seriously. But probably not.

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Harrumph.

 

 

 

Dog Osteopathy

 

In my endless search for a diagnosis, or just relief of my physical symptoms, I’ve been to cardiologists, pulmonologists, endocrinologists, rheumatologists and neurologists; there have been all sorts of medications, and physical therapy, and vision therapy, and massage, and acupuncture, and yoga. After this summer’s adventure with the lumbar puncture and anti-seizure drugs, Mom decided I should try osteopathic manipulation – just because.

The first appointment with the osteopath was a history taking marathon. She took endless notes on her pieces of paper, with all of the words going in different directions, with arrows and circles and overlaps.    She took height and weight and blood pressure, and then examined my eyes, and mouth, and reflexes. I kept hoping that all of these examinations would lead to some new understanding of why I have trouble walking, or why I have terrible headaches, or why I’m so exhausted, but she just kept asking more questions.

I had to come back the next day for the rest of the first visit, so that she could check my alignment. She poked at my shoulders, and shoulder blades, and hips, and ankles, to see if they matched up or were out of whack. My shoulder blades seemed especially fascinating.

Then I had to lie down so she could check everything again: hips, pelvis, ankles, and knees, and who knows what else had to be marked on a body map. And then the lights were turned off and the magic table lifted up and the power in the whole building went out. I wasn’t sure if it was a good sign or a bad one: either I brought my bad luck with me into the building, or I was so powerful that I could disrupt electrical currents. The doctor didn’t mind the extra darkness; she just went on searching out different points on my body, and pressing them, and swaying.

There was one spot on my upper back that made my stomach grumble, which was interesting, at least to me.

The doctor spent a lot of time on my neck and head, pulling and pressing and doing different hand formations, stretching skin on my nose and across my jaw and on my forehead. It was a bit woo woo for me, actually, but I seem to be willing to try just about anything.

I didn’t actually feel better when the treatment was over. My head still hurt, my body ached, and I didn’t walk very well. If anything, I was more exhausted afterwards, and I felt like my Serotonin stores had been depleted by all of the pressing and poking. But I kept going back.

After a few treatments, I started trying to reenact the work on Cricket. I would press on either side of her spine, locate tension, and mark where her shoulder blades and ribs and tail bone were. I worked on her jaw and cheeks and ears and neck. I don’t know if it helped, but she liked the attention and she yawned when an especially tense point relaxed. I kept hoping I’d find a hidden spot between her ribs, or below her ear, that would make all of her anxiety slip away.

Cricket is ready for her treatment. Ducky too.

Cricket is ready for her treatment. Ducky too.

I asked the doctor if I could bring Cricket in for a professional treatment, but she said her bosses would frown on it. As if dogs are germier than people. Cricket keeps herself very clean, and she’s got hypoallergenic hair, and she really does need help balancing her chi.

Cricket is always tied up in knots.

Cricket is always tied up in knots.

It’s possible that Cricket, the runt of her litter, never finished building up her nervous system. Maybe there are too many nerve bundles close to her skin, or glitches in her back legs, from the two knee surgeries she had as a little one. Maybe some of her nerves knotted up during the surgeries and clogged her messaging system.

She seems to need a lot of work on her throat, where all of the barking comes from, and her neck, where she tries to pull out of her collar, and her face is especially tense, from all of those frowning and growling muscles.

Spinal balancing?

Spinal balancing?

I tried the homemade treatments on Butterfly too, and it made me even more aware of how different their skeletons are; the shape of their shoulder blades and rib cages, the placement of muscles, and where they store tension. Butterfly needs special attention to her heart center, which on her is a wide expanse under her collar. She has a prolapsed heart valve, but she’s not on medication yet. She goes in for echocardiograms every six months to make sure things don’t get worse. But she also uses her heart so much every day, offering sympathy, expressing love, and wishing everyone well; that’s the muscle in her body that gets the biggest workout.

Butterfly showing her heart center, and her tongue.

Butterfly showing her heart center, and her tongue.

Butterfly, after treatment.

Butterfly, after treatment.

Butterfly has been very patient with her treatments. Meanwhile, Cricket has been standing on my chest, demanding more and more osteopathy while I’m trying to read, or sleep, or hide under the covers. I started out wanting to help rewire her nervous system, but I think I may have created a monster.

"More!"

“More!”

Butterfly’s Echo

              Recently, we took Butterfly in for her six month echocardiogram. When we adopted her at the end of 2012, she was diagnosed with a heart problem that could, potentially, develop into congestive heart failure. I worry each time she coughs, because the original vet told me that coughing could be a sign of heart failure. And I worry about the lumps and bumps on her skin, because I don’t want to assume that something is benign and then find out that I left a tumor growing inside of my baby until it was too late. I just can’t believe that she is as healthy as she seems.

Butterfly's First Day Home

Butterfly’s First Day Home

The echocardiograms are subsidized by the shelter where we adopted her, and they also cover her wellness visits, so we scheduled both at the same time.

We took her for her 10:30 AM appointment and she was seen almost immediately by the cardiologist. He said, basically, that her prolapsed valve was a tiny bit worse, but she had no signs of congestive heart failure. I told him how much she had improved since November: she can run, and jump, and stand straight up on her back legs, to beg for food. He just smiled and patted her head, and the appointment was over.

When we asked at the front desk about Butterfly’s wellness visit, they said she was scheduled for 12:45 PM, in two hours, so not at the same time, as we’d been told. We were wondering if we should go home for lunch and come back, but the woman at the desk said there was only one dog ahead of us and it would be a short wait.

We sat on the wooden benches against the walls of the waiting room, which were comfortable for the first twenty minutes, and then not. Butterfly was stunned from her ordeal. She still had goop on her belly from the test, and she was almost dead weight in my arms again, the way she’d been way back when we first adopted her. I held her on my lap and gave her scratches and talked to her. We tried the dog cookies they had in a jar on the counter, but she wasn’t interested. I hadn’t thought to bring chicken treats with me.

I felt awful leaving Cricket home alone. Cricket found it shocking herself. But she didn’t need to sit in a waiting room swirling with various diseases. And, as we sat there waiting, I was relieved to have left her home, because she would have been barking her head off.

My poor lonely Cricket

My poor lonely Cricket

The waiting room was full. There were a lot of newly adopted puppies getting their shots or being treated for kennel cough. There was a Cocker Spaniel with a big, red growth on his ear and a cone on his head to keep him from biting it, again. And there was an Australian Cattle Dog mix, named Bandit, who jumped up and shed all over me and gave me kisses. He had epilepsy and was there to get more medication for his seizures. It was an odd coincidence, because I’d just been told that my abnormal EEG could mean that I was having partial seizures. I tried to ask Bandit what it felt like to have epilepsy, but he was too busy giving me kisses.

An hour along, Butterfly was back to full strength and up to visiting the other dogs, and peeing on the floor, but Mom was getting antsy. She went up to the front desk to ask when we’d be going in and they told her there had been twelve emergencies, and they all took precedence over a wellness visit. But, the woman at the desk told her, there was only one more dog ahead of us.

Our choices were to believe her and stay, or be circumspect, reschedule the appointment, and go home. I really wanted to take Butterfly to Cricket’s vet instead, but it was so much more expensive. The shelter’s medical care was subsidized, so instead of paying $350 for an echo, we paid $50 and there was no charge for her wellness visit. We decided to wait.

There was a pug in the waiting room with her dad, and she was there for an echo too. She already had congestive heart failure and took daily meds to help control it, but her dad said that if he saw her trying to run after a squirrel in the yard, he’d run screaming, “No!” because if she exerts herself too much, she faints.

I felt guilty, and lucky, that my Butterfly wasn’t in her situation, yet.

After the pug left, more puppies came in for their shots, including two white toy poodles, with their ears died pink and blue to identify which one was the boy and which one was the girl.

The long wait was starting to get to me, but I felt guilty for complaining when all of these other dogs were coming in with emergencies, and I wasn’t paying much for help. I do okay with feeling worthy of care when I’m alone, but when it feels like someone else might need things more than I do, I struggle. I almost lose track of myself, and disappear. I couldn’t force myself to go up to the front desk and ask about Butterfly’s appointment, even after two hours, and then three. I left it to Mom to be the assertive one.

It’s been a relief to see Butterfly finding her voice lately. She barks when her sister leaves the room, or when she thinks she’s missing something exciting. She demands attention and expresses frustration when it is not forthcoming. I wanted this for her, but I’m not the one who taught her, Cricket did. Maybe I can get Cricket to give me lessons too.

My assertive girls

My assertive girls

By the time we went in for the wellness visit, we’d been in the waiting room for four hours, and when the general veterinarian looked at Butterfly’s chart, she found out that she only needed one booster; the rest weren’t due until November.

Since we were there anyway, I took the opportunity to point out to the vet all of the various lumps and bumps on Butterfly’s skin. She did a needle aspiration on the largest lump and showed me how the pus came up through the needle. It was a sebaceous cyst, she said, and nothing to worry about.

We were done within minutes of stepping into the examining room. We were exhausted, and starving, but relieved.

When we finally got home, Cricket was crazed and jumping all over us as if we’d been gone for months. She sniffed Butterfly for signs of where she’d been and then carefully sniffed my pant leg for the smells of other dogs, of which there were many. My clothes, covered in dog hair, went straight into the laundry basket and I went into the shower. After we’d all calmed down and eaten a late lunch, we settled down for a nap. Butterfly fell asleep at my side right away, but Cricket ran back and forth from Mom’s room to mine every few minutes, to sniff her sister for signs of where she’d been, still shocked that Butterfly had dared to go on an exciting adventure without her mentor.

Butterfly and her suspicious mentor

Butterfly and her suspicious mentor

Butterfly’s Weird Health Problems

Butterfly's First Day Home

Butterfly’s First Day Home

 

Butterfly refused to take pills. The veterinary technicians at the animal shelter couldn’t get her to take her de-wormer pills before sending her home with us in November and she wouldn’t even chew the new de-worming medicine that comes in a tiny meatloaf shape. We tried wrapping it in turkey, crumbling it into chicken soup, spreading it with peanut butter. Nothing worked. She ate the turkey and spit out even the smallest crumb of the medicine, which Cricket made every attempt to steal, because she loves the stuff.

We finally found these Pill Pocket treats the other day. They look like gummies and stretch to fit the medicine. It took four treats, but for the first time in three months, Butterfly got her whole dose of medicine down. I could finally stop imagining the slithering little worms crawling around and sucking the life out of her from the inside.

My fear isn’t completely unwarranted. Butterfly’s heart is already fragile. She was diagnosed with a level four Mitral Valve Insufficiency, which the vet told us could develop into congestive heart failure at any time, requiring daily medication. If she continued to spit out even the easy medicine, no telling what she’d do with actual pills. The fear of her developing serious heart problems, or any other health problems for that matter, has been hanging over me from the first day we brought her home. I watch her anxiously every time she sneezes or coughs or seems to sleep too deeply.

The anxiety blossomed about a week after she came home, She was shivering in the doorway of the living room and I picked her up to comfort her and saw this lump protruding from her lower belly. I pressed on it and it moved around under her skin. Mom thought it could be a hernia, or just constipation pushing forward. Butterfly was coughing and shaking and I was worried, because the vet had warned us that coughing could be a sign of congestive heart failure. We called the clinic attached to the shelter she came from, but couldn’t get an appointment for another two days. The clinic had her records and was inexpensive and had just seen her a week before, but I was starting to panic. I was afraid we’d have to rush Butterfly to a doggy emergency room first thing in the morning.

I brought Butterfly upstairs and put her on my bed. She fell asleep and then, finally, I did too, but I woke up when she vomited, and then stayed up with her as she vomited three more times. I was getting ready to look up numbers in the phone book, wishing for a doggy ambulance because I was too freaked out to drive, when she started to walk around. Then she ate her breakfast as if everything was fine. I kept checking her protrusion as the day went on, and gradually, it disappeared. Coincidentally, she pooped five times that day. Really big pooping.

We cancelled the vet appointment, because I didn’t want to stress her out with more doctor visits than necessary. But, also, I was afraid they would dismiss me as a hysterical dog mommy imagining problems that weren’t really there, now that the evidence was gone.

 

My Happy Girl

My Happy Girl

And for a month, Butterfly was fine. Then, one night, I noticed she was licking her lips obsessively and having trouble sitting and lying down. She was having muscle spasms around her waist that were rippling down her back. I worried next to her overnight, feeling incompetent and in over my head. But the protrusion and the spasms disappeared by the morning and haven’t reappeared since.

In fact, after all of the awfulness, wherein I felt suicidal for clearly failing my dog, Butterfly was back to smiling and being happy and ready to play. If all of that vomiting and coughing and spasming had happened to me, I would still be moping and cursing God months later, but Butterfly just shook it off and went back to being a dog.

I worry that I should have taken her to the vet anyway, even though there was nothing left to see. I worry that she needs a special doggy nurse, and a doggy psychiatrist too. I keep worrying that I’ve taken on a situation that is too big for me, and the after effects of her life in a puppy mill will pose too much of a challenge, and I will fail her. But then she makes me think it over again.

The other night we had a lot of wind and rain, and my bedroom, the attic, is like a wind tunnel, so the sound was exaggerated, and Butterfly was frightened. She woke me up at three o’clock in the morning trying to stuff her head into my armpit. I used to do that with my Mommy when I was little too. She crawled over me and around me and curled against me, but she couldn’t find any position that worked for more than ten seconds at a time.

Finally, by five a.m., she sat down by my chest and stayed there for the rest of the night. She seems to think I’m trustworthy, and I’d like to believe her judgment is sound.

 

Butterfly and her crazy hair

Butterfly really likes her scratchies.

Walking with Cricket

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Cricket and I used to do a two mile walk around the neighborhood, when the weather was right and we’d been cooped up too long in the house. I’d fill a bag with her necessities: a Tupperware cup full of water, extra poopie bags, and a paper towel or two in case of emergencies. Cricket knew that a bag like that signaled a long walk and once she had her leash on, she raced down the stairs with the leash flailing behind her and jumped up to reach the door knob with her nose. She had to wait for me to turn it, though.

The first few minutes of the walk were a blur of effort for her, dragging me, like a horse with a plow, past the corner and down the block until we had truly reached THE WALK ZONE, which was at least a block past the shorter PEE ZONE. Then Cricket could focus on her sniffing without fear that it would all end too soon.

Walking smoothes out her brain chemicals, and the neighborhood fills her up with smells and experiences that keep her mind busy for hours afterwards. She doesn’t mind hot weather, or cold weather. In fact she would drag me out in ice and snow if she could, though not rain, raindrops are like poison darts on her head.

Walking with Cricket helps to calm me down, too. If I wake up anxious, which I usually do, with twenty different ideas of what the day should hold running through my head, I take Cricket out for a walk, and burn off the extra energy. Walking with Cricket, instead of on the treadmill, has the added benefit of forcing me outdoors, where there are beautiful things to look at. My neighborhood is especially beautiful, filled with dogwoods and maples and birds and flowers, and the ground isn’t flat, so when we go up and down the hills, we get a whole new look at the view.

I still try to take Cricket out on her walks around the neighborhood, but in the forty-five minutes it used to take to do two miles, I can barely do one. Some days, I just walk slowly. Other days, my legs go wonky, and I look like a marionette. My hands curl up and my face twitches. On those days, walking uphill is like climbing Kilimanjaro and walking downhill is a race against gravity.

The doctors don’t know what’s wrong with me, but Cricket doesn’t mind if I walk funny. She runs circles around me when I’m slow, and gets twice the exercise in the same amount of time. Or she goes out with her Grandma, and barks all of the details of her adventure to me when she returns.

I wish I could put her on the treadmill to help her burn off the energy left over after her shortened walks. I worked on that with her when she was little. I built her up gradually, from standing on the unmoving treadmill, to walking at the slowest speed for two minutes. But then, abruptly, she changed her mind about the experiment. Maybe she decided that she didn’t like the ground moving under her feet, or she didn’t see the point of a walk with no peeing component and nothing to sniff.

My dream is to be healthy enough to take Cricket out for the longest walk she can stand. She will empty her bladder so completely that even she can’t believe she has any more pee left to give. She’ll drink all of the water in her Tupperware cup, and meet as many dogs as she can. And then, without any prompting from me, she will look up and say, Mommy, I’m ready to go home.

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