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A Stubborn Butterfly

 

Two weeks ago, on Thursday, I came home after five PM and noticed Butterfly standing by the door and panting. When she tried to sit down, she yelped. I checked for the bump on her lower belly that usually causes these symptoms, and it was not only there, it was bigger and harder than usual. These attacks make me nervous because Butterfly’s health is already fragile, with diabetes, and heart trouble, and a persistent cough keeping us perpetually on alert. But most of the time the panting and discomfort, and even the hernia/bump on her lower belly, passes in a few hours. We watched her carefully and gave her extra cuddles, but when we took the dogs out for their late evening walk, Butterfly threw up three times, in purple. I brought her back inside and put her on my bed so I could keep an eye on her, but she couldn’t find a comfortable position. I sat with her and scratched her back as she drooled a river on my bed, and after a while she calmed down enough to decide she wanted to walk down her doggy steps and search for a sip of water and a more interesting place to sleep. I thought that was a good sign.

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“I’m fine, Mommy, this is just how I breathe.”

When I woke up in the morning, I expected her to be back to her healthy-ish self, but instead she was listlessly resting her head on her paws, facing the front door of the apartment, next to a drying puddle of pee. Both dogs were scheduled to go to the groomer that morning, and Cricket was blinded by hair and smelled awful, so we dropped Cricket off for her haircut, and took Butterfly directly to the vet for an emergency visit. The people at the front desk were a little snotty with us for not calling ahead, until an hour later when the doctor did an ultrasound on Butterfly’s bump and it became clear that her intestines were compromised and she needed immediate surgery.

We were very lucky that Butterfly’s vet was still there. We had assumed that she would already be gone, and we had said our final goodbyes at Butterfly’s last regular appointment, but it turned out that Butterfly had her emergency just in time, on her doctor’s second to last day at the clinic. In the past, the doctor had discouraged even dental cleanings because Butterfly’s oversized heart would be too vulnerable under anesthesia, but this time she said it was worth the risk. Without surgery, part of Butterfly’s intestines could die and that would kill her just as surely as the anesthesia could.

I held Butterfly in my arms and sang her the Misheberach song, a Jewish prayer for healing, and then I handed her to her doctor. I used up a box full of tissues at the front desk and in the car on the way home, trying not to think that I might never see my baby again.

The doctor called within the hour to tell us that Butterfly was doing well on the anesthesia, but they would need to do a second incision so she would be under longer.

Mom went out to pick up Cricket from the groomer while I did busy work to keep my mind as blank as possible. Cricket returned looking skinny and clean and confused. She was still recovering from her anti-anxiety medication, and the trauma of grooming, but I think the worst part was that her sister wasn’t home to sniff her butt and listen to her plight.

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“What is going on?!”

The second call from the doctor came an hour and a half later. Butterfly had survived her surgery and was waking up from the anesthesia, and they wanted advice on what to try and feed her, because her blood sugar was low and she was refusing all of their treats. Even chicken. The relief was extraordinary. The numbness that had taken over my whole body started to recede and instead of crying or something else more reasonable, I started laughing. My baby had survived!

I felt like there was a GPS muttering in my head all that day, “Recalculating, recalculating.” The relief that Butterfly had actually survived the anesthesia was replaced with anxiety when the doctor called again later to say that she wanted Butterfly to spend the night at an emergency veterinary hospital, where a doctor could keep an eye on her, and her breathing. The clinic would only have a technician on duty overnight and the doctor was concerned that if something went wrong, no one would be there to help. She didn’t specify what might go wrong, and she made it clear that the night at the hospital would be very expensive, but she didn’t leave much doubt about the right course of action.

The doctor brought Butterfly out to us, drugged and blurry, and gave us directions to the emergency veterinary hospital twenty minutes away. I held Butterfly in my arms in the front passenger seat of the car while Mom drove, and I listened to Butterfly’s raspy breathing, trying to buffer each bump of the road (she lifted her sleepy head once or twice to let me know that I wasn’t doing a good enough job with that). I could still hear the GPS voice in my head, “recalculating, recalculating.”

As soon as we reached the emergency veterinary hospital, a technician took Butterfly from us, and we had to sit in the waiting room and wait to hear from the doctor on duty. We’d assumed we would just be dropping her off, so the long wait was one more surprise. We finally saw a doctor after eleven PM, and she said that she could hear a crackling sound in Butterfly’s lungs, and wanted to do an x-ray. More waiting. I tried to read the books they had around the room (dog books, of course), but I was worried about Cricket sitting at home alone, needing to pee, barely recovered from her day of anti-anxiety medication and grooming and loneliness.

The x-rays turned out okay, thank God, and then we had to pay the exorbitant estimated bill in order to have the right to visit Butterfly one more time and say goodnight. They led us to a roomful of kennels, set up like high rise apartments, filled with sleepy dogs attached to IVs. As soon as the technician opened the door of her first floor kennel, Butterfly walked out, still attached to her IVs but ready to go home. I tried to explain to her that she needed to stay overnight, but she did not believe me. The technician had to put her back in the kennel for us, because Mom and I were both afraid to risk pulling out one of the tubes she was attached to. And then we finally left, after midnight.

Once again, I had to take deep breaths and tell myself not to think too far ahead. It was a long ride home. Cricket, as predicted, was losing her mind and full of pee. We took her out for a late walk and then we all tried to settle down and get some semblance of a night’s sleep, but even Cricket found the No-Butterfly feeling of the apartment disconcerting.

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“I have nothing to say.”

The next day, we paid the rest of the exorbitant emergency vet hospital bill and took a seriously drugged Butterfly (they put her on Methadone!) back to her doctor at the clinic.

Not only did we have to say good bye to Butterfly, again, we had to say goodbye to her doctor, who really was leaving this time.

We had a second night of no Butterfly at home, but at least we knew she was healthy enough to stay at the clinic overnight. The next morning, a new doctor called to tell us that we could pick Butterfly up that afternoon, because she had been taken out for a walk and managed a soft poop. The only trouble was that she still wasn’t eating, and they hoped coming home would reduce her anxiety enough so she would eat.

As soon as the technician brought her out and put her paws on the floor, Butterfly led the way to the exit, even with the Elizabethan collar making the walls hard to spot. We had a bagful of medications to give her and a list of things to do and not do: do not give her kibble; do not give her a bath; do not let her walk up and down the stairs; do give her chicken and rice; pick her up carefully so as not to press on the staples closing her incisions; keep her belly away from magnets (okay, maybe they left that one out, but I really think they should have mentioned it).

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“I can walk myself.”

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“Where have you been and did you get extra treats that I didn’t get?”

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“I do not like this hat, Mommy.”

 

She still wasn’t ready to eat by the time her nighttime meds were needed, so we crushed the pills in peanut butter, and then spread the mixture, bit by bit, on to her lips. An hour later, her face and my clothes (and the couch and the rug) were covered in peanut butter, but it’s possible that some of the medicine actually got into her system.

 

 

 

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Oy.

She started eating chicken and rice the next morning, and took the pills that I broke up and hid clumsily in her food. Then I had to cut off the peanut butter hair left on her chin (whatever she hadn’t managed to rub on the floor herself), and some of the hair around her hygienic areas as well, because she was getting a bit stinky.

Butterfly still had two rows of staples on her belly, and this funny hairless ring on her right front ankle, where they’d put in the IV, and she was a bit slow moving and still on pain medication, but she made the most of my unwillingness to pull on the leash of an invalid. Out on her walks, she started a new habit of walking ten steps in one direction, stopping short, looking around, and then taking ten or fifteen steps in the other direction, just to see if she could get away with it. She could.

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This anklet is the height of fashion. Really.

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Ouch.

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She’s Home.

 

Within a few days, she was off her pain meds and back to licking the hand that petted her, and spreading her food in ever widening circles from her bowl (which is much messier with soft rice than it is with hard kibble). She started to walk faster, and then to jog, but she still didn’t think I had any right to control her leash and she made that very clear.

 

On Wednesday of this past week, not quite two weeks after her surgery, Butterfly went to the doctor and had her staples removed, and celebrated by trying to run all the way home. She’s still not allowed to climb the stairs, and bath time has to be put off for another week, but she thinks she’s all better. She also thinks that now that her belly has been reinforced with extra stitches, she should be allowed to widen her diet to include French fries and pizza, but this is unlikely. I can be stubborn too. She’s a very good teacher.

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“Mommy, you learned the wrong thing.”

 

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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

Olive, the Morkie

 

At Cricket’s last vet visit in October, there was a dog standing on the welcome desk barking a greeting. She was small, but mighty, with silky grey and tan hair and a willingness to be petted by almost anyone. I talked to Boopy, the African Grey Parrot who had always acted as greeter in the past, but my eyes kept going back to the dog on the desk.

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“Hey, keep your eyes on the parrot. I’m still cute!”

Cricket was in a panic. She peed on the floor and refused to sit still on the scale and she did not want any dry dog treats (as usual). The dog on the desk was put on the floor and given free rein to walk wherever she pleased, and Cricket was horrified when the little dog decided to walk into one of the examining rooms of her own free will!

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“We’re going to the vet?!!!!!!!”

Eventually it was Cricket’s turn to see the doctor and when we walked into the pristine examining room, Cricket tried to hide behind my legs. I picked her up and she climbed behind my neck like a monkey. The doctor came in and I removed Cricket from my neck, very carefully, and placed her on the stainless steel table. I expected him to take some blood and give some shots; I did not expect him to gasp and shake his head and tell me that Cricket needed to have the hair pulled out of her ears. He was not pleased with me, or Cricket’s groomer, for being so lax about such an essential hygiene issue.

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Cricket thinks this is comfortable for me.

A vet tech had to come in to hold Cricket down, because I was no help, and as Cricket started to squirm on the table, the little dog came in to the exam room and walked over to my feet and sat down. I squatted to pet her and she seemed to say, I see that you are anxious, I am an anxiety dog, pet me.

Cricket peed on the exam table, and cried pitifully as the vet ripped hair out of her ears with a rounded, bent, tweezer-like device. The little dog stayed with me, and leaned against my leg. She seemed to think I was taking the whole thing as badly as Cricket, and she was probably right. I kept petting the little dog and talking to Cricket and working very hard not to slap the vet’s hands away from my baby’s ears.

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This is what Cricket looked like on the exam table.

Once the trauma was over, and Cricket was back in my arms, I got the little dog’s C.V. from the vet. She was a Maltese Yorkie mix (a “Morkie”), and her name was Olive. The vet brought her to the office sometimes to help keep the humans calm.

 

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This is not Olive, but it captures her expression. (not my picture)

Cricket’s vet is tall and awkward, and not especially warm. He’s so good at his job, in part, because he can block out the anxiety of the dog on the table and do what needs to be done to make them healthy. It’s not a lack of compassion, though every once in a while, I get the sense that his compassion for humans is limited. He looks like someone who would have black labs or German shepherds and take them hiking in the woods, but there’s Olive, the sweet, little, silky-haired girl with the bedside manner. And she’s his dog.

He seemed surprised by the idea that once or twice, at least, he’d had to retrieve Olive from the parking lot when someone “accidentally” tried to take her home with them. But I was surprised that it didn’t happen more often. I had a visceral response to Olive – maybe because we’d been through a traumatic experience together (Cricket’s cries were truly harrowing), or because she is a born comfort dog. Or maybe it’s me, because I have this dog magnet embedded in my belly and I have to fight hard against taking every dog home with me, but Olive made the magnet supercharged. And I felt the tug, and the loss, for days afterwards.

My Rabbi still has not gotten a dog. I made a blanket for his potential dog, thinking, if I knit it she will come. His daughters even threatened to choose a dog for him and just bring her home. He has his reasons for not wanting another dog yet, or ever. I just don’t know what those reasons are.

The thing is, despite everything that I love about my synagogue, there’s too much of me that doesn’t feel safe, or welcome, when I’m there. And I feel totally accepted by dogs. They don’t care how many times my writing has been rejected. They don’t care if I make funny faces or don’t wear fancy clothes. Dogs care that I show interest in who they are, and listen to them, and give them scratchies and honor their unique energies. I do the same with humans, but humans have more conflicted reactions to being seen as they are. Dogs appreciate when you read their body language and respond to them as individuals, rather than just being the same polite, charming, whatever you try to be with everyone else.

Cricket and Butterfly are too much like me to be community dogs. They need to be in their own safe place with their familiar people in order to let down their guards. But Olive the Morkie was different. She sent out calming vibes to the room, even when she was barking.

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Cricket and Butterfly are home puppies.

If Olive were the synagogue dog, she would walk through the rows of people, listening for an erratic heartbeat, or feeling for a tremble in someone’s legs, and she would try to heal what she could. She’d run up to the bima to check in with her Dad, or stand still and listen to the cantor, or cozy up to the piano when the magic noise came out, but she would be there, and that would make me feel like I belonged.

 

Cricket is on Prozac


 

A few weeks ago, when I was getting fed up with the overwhelming balls of goop under Cricket’s eyes, I went to pick her up to address the problem and she bit my hand, twisting the skin with her teeth. The pain was extraordinary.

Cricket has a prescription for ACE, the doggy version of Xanax, for her trips to the groomer, but clearly, she needed more help. So for this year’s check up with her veterinarian, I planned to ask what else we could try.

I think this was Cricket’s first solo outing since we brought Butterfly home almost a year ago. When she realized that we were on our way to the car, without her sister, Cricket was jumping and skipping with glee. She loved being an only dog again, even for a little while.

Back when Cricket was an only puppy.

Back when Cricket was an only puppy.

She wasn’t as thrilled when we reached the vet’s office, though. She sat on my lap, and then behind my legs, and then she jumped up on Grandma’s lap and started all over again.

There is a bird in the waiting room at the vet’s office who is as much of a scratchy glutton as Cricket. He’s a parrot. An African Grey, I think. He stands in his cage and rings a bell to get attention. When Cricket moved over to Grandma’s lap, I said Hello to the bird and he walked over to my side of the cage and bowed his head for scratching. It was a strange feeling to scratch through feathers. They were soft and small around his head, and I worried that I was pulling them off as I scratched. But when I backed off, he bit the cage and cried and re-bowed his head insistently. He was really quite demanding. And regal. He bowed his head with noblesse oblige, as if to say, I accept your tribute, oh, dog person.

A noble bird, named "Boopy."

A noble bird, named “Boopy.”

"You may scratch my neck."

“You may scratch my neck.”

"Where do you think you're going?"

“You are acceptable.”

I had to leave him behind when we were called into the exam room, and he rang the bell to try and call me back. I was quickly distracted, though, because Cricket was busily looking for a place to hide, and when she couldn’t find one, she asked to be picked up. I tried to hold her in my arms, but she climbed behind my neck and stood on my shoulders, gripping my hair for dear life.

"Help me!"

“Help me!”

The vet is used to her, and her kind. He always has to call in one of the vet techs to hold Cricket in place while he takes her blood and gives her shots. God forbid they have to clip her nails or remove hair from her ears, but we didn’t have to deal with that trauma this time, so I won’t think about it.

When I asked the vet about Cricket’s anxiety issues, he recommended a trial of Prozac. I’ve been putting off asking for such a thing for years. I hoped training would help, or that Cricket would just grow out of it, or that Butterfly would help calm her down, but nothing has really worked.

I’ve gotten to the point where I’m less concerned about her behavior and more worried about how she feels. She doesn’t enjoy barking and being on guard all the time. She often looks grumpy and depressed, and worried. I’d love to be able to make a dent in that for her.

The vet said that, other than the crazy, Cricket is in wonderful health. All of the anxiety and barking certainly keeps her weight down.

When we got back home, Butterfly had to do a full sniffing investigation to find out where Cricket had been. There were a few odd smells, like the rubbing alcohol where the doctor took blood, and the faint smell of bird, but Butterfly was satisfied, both that Cricket was unharmed and that Butterfly had not missed out on anything good.

"Cricket has passed the smell test."

“Cricket has passed the smell test.”

Every morning now, Cricket takes her Prozac in a piece of sausage, and while she enjoys the sausage, I think what she likes most is that Butterfly doesn’t get a piece of her own. We’ve discovered that people food makes Butterfly pee in the house. Maybe if we could find a medication to stop the pee, Butterfly could have morning sausage treats too.

But Cricket would not like that.