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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Cricket and Ursula

Is that Ursula?




Ursula is the dog next door. She looks a lot like a tall Bichon Frise. Her legs are long and she doesn’t have that two-back-legs-tied-together walk I’ve seen on a lot of Bichons, but she does have the white afro. In fact, it’s hard to see her apricot markings when she’s in full fluff.

Before Ursula came home we were told about her. Our neighbors had found a stray dog on a trip to visit family in Mexico and they wanted to know if we would take her. But we had only recently adopted Cricket and she was already more than enough work for me.

Our neighbors decided to take her themselves. It took at least a month before she came home. She was skinny and fragile like a fawn. Her hair was cut down to the nubs and it was hard to tell what breed or breeds she was, but she was about Cricket’s size and very friendly. Except that her idea of friendly was to run at Cricket, bob and weave and then stand up on her back legs and box. But Cricket loved it.

Now, if Cricket sees Ursula down the block, she starts to hop like a kangaroo and pulls to get to her. And then they run to greet each other like long lost sisters and tangle their leashes in knots.

I can never manage to time Cricket’s walks to match Ursula’s, so weeks or even months can go by before they see each other again. But the other day, I saw Ursula out walking and she stopped to sniff exactly the spot where Cricket had peed a few hours earlier. She sniffed carefully, placed herself, and left a return message right next to Cricket’s spot. And I’ve seen Cricket do exactly the same. It seems that they’ve been communicating with each other whether I was able to see it or not. They are pee-mail pals and it makes me feel better to know that. I’d rather they could see each other in person more often, but it’s good to know they are keeping in touch.

I had a friend once who ran up and hugged me like Cricket and Ursula do. It was breathtaking. I never felt like I deserved that greeting but it felt good in the moment. I’m glad Cricket has that in her life.

Are they whispering to each other?


Time to go for a walk

Harness Houdini

All of Cricket’s harnesses



When Cricket was little I heard a lot about the collar versus harness debate. That, especially with small dogs, the vertebrae at the neck are so fragile that the collar can do real damage if she pulls too hard at the leash. A harness is safer and better. Just like a crate is better than leaving the dog to roam free and sleep on your bed. And homemade food is better than store bought. And you need pet gates and wee wee pads and hourly trips outside, and on and on.

I was determined to be the perfect pet owner this time around. We bought everything on the list from the breeder, including special food and treats and toys and a crate. For my whole life, our dogs went without all of that. They ate regular dog food, and chewed on socks and couches and never stepped foot in a crate or an obedience class.

I was especially proud of Cricket’s car harness. It was black nylon on the outside and plush on the inside and solidly made. I snapped her into the harness and tightened the straps and then attached it to the seatbelt in the back seat of the car just like the instructions told me to do. My preference would have been just to hold her in my arms, or buy one of those soft carriers you see in the catalogs. Dog catalogs are like crack for new dog owners, addictive and very bad for you.

She was sitting calmly in the back seat when I turned the key in the ignition. This was just a test trip, because I’m a worrier, and Mom was there with us in case of trouble. And, of course, within thirty seconds of my turning the key in the ignition, Cricket had escaped her harness and jumped into the front seat.

The car harness, for just a moment

The pressure to put her in a harness didn’t go away, though. Whenever we took her out walking, we were told that her collar was too skinny to take the pressure of the leash pulling at her neck. So we went back to the store and bought a strappy red harness for her daily walks. By the time we reached the sidewalk on the first outing with the new harness, she had removed the whole apparatus, this thing that took me five minutes and ten red scratches on my arms to put on her. One minute she was at the end of the leash and the next she was in the street, bewildered.

Mom found a wider collar, meant for a larger dog, and then altered it by adding more holes in the collar so it could be tightened down to Cricket’s size. With the wider collar, we read, the pressure would be more evenly distributed along her neck as she, inevitably, pulled like an ox against her leash.

We took a break from harnesses for a year after that, but when Cricket went to her second training class, the teacher recommended harnesses again, and told us which one to buy. She carefully tightened the straps in all the right places before class and told us Cricket would be fine. Within two minutes, Cricket had worked her body into such knots that the harness was wrapped around her ankle and holding her foot in the air.

The teacher had never seen such a thing, and after another few failed attempts, she told us to stick with the collar and make do.

Finally, five years along, Cricket has a harness that stays on. Mostly. It’s pink and silver and looks like a little tank top. And this time, we tailored it so it fits her skinny shoulders and stays right under her armpits. She can stay in it for a whole walk, but even with this one, she can pull part of the mechanism over her head, so that the leash is dangling from her throat. I don’t know how she does this.

The pink and silver harness

The fact is, with enough motivation, like one of her human cousins trying to drag her across the yard, Cricket can even get out of her collar, let alone any of her many harnesses. She’s an escape artist. But the only place she escapes to, is behind my legs, where she feels safe. Go figure.

The pink harness out for a walk


Cricket in the City

Cricket in Central Park



I live on the North Shore of Long Island and I was lucky during Hurricane Sandy to only lose power. There was no flooding or fire or downed trees at my house, though I only had to walk a few blocks to see power lines draped across the roads and horizontal trees where fences used to be. I was doubly lucky then, when a cousin of my Mom’s offered us her apartment in the city until our power returned. We drove in on the Wednesday after the storm and started out before anyone realized it was gridlock day. We were in the car for six hours on a trip that would usually take less than an hour. Six hours with Cricket climbing behind my neck and barking at trucks and all of us really needing to pee.

When we arrived at the building and found a magical parking spot only two blocks away, my first priority was, of course, to pee. And then I had to find and turn on the TV. I am a TV addict. I may have to write a whole blog on that someday, but suffice it to say that going a full day without TV leaves me strung out, two days and I’m shaking.

But really, what the TV offered was a better idea of what Hurricane Sandy had done. Listening to the radio on and off didn’t make it clear, pictures did. It was the flooding that I couldn’t have imagined without the pictures. The houses snapped in half and pulled off their foundations. The only sign of the storm damage in the Upper West Side neighborhood I was temporarily living in was that Central Park was closed, so all of the runners and the dogs had to crowd onto the sidewalks.

Cricket is my anxiety dog, in that she shows the anxiety I feel. She shook and cried under my legs during the storm itself. And then in the aftermath, she was scared of the dark. We always leave the living room light on, or a light in the hallway, but without electricity, the only light came from candles and flashlights and those were only where the humans were. And she became even more of a Velcro dog than usual.

In the city, she was overwhelmed by all of the new people and smells and configurations. At first she wasn’t ready to poop or pee in a strange place, then, once she’d mastered that, she started to bark at everyone – in the elevator, in the lobby, on the sidewalk. She was clearly the country dog among city dogs. She weaved from side to side, sniffing every pee spot along the sidewalk, turning her head at every new dog, hiding behind my legs as every clique of marathoners ran by. The city dogs were polite, and somewhat jaded. They kept their eyes forward, did their business, and went on their way.


Cricket sniffing the city

We walked everywhere. They had a Fairway and a Trader Joe’s just like on Long Island, but more cramped and with escalators filled with people. I tend to panic in crowds, and that’s what happened when I tried to go into stores in the city. Everything was too close together and I couldn’t think, or breathe. But the crowds on the sidewalk were half dogs, so they didn’t scare me. It’s as if dogs mitigate the panic for me. If I could go to school, or work, or synagogue or the doctor with dogs, I’d have a much more active life.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if dogs were allowed at the DMV?

I liked having doormen there at all hours. Taking Cricket out to pee at ten PM and being surrounded by light and people was very different from home, where it is dark and haunted by six o’clock this time of year, even with the power on. You only know other people are around because there are lights in the windows.

The power came back on in our neighborhood by Friday, so Saturday morning we were ready to go home. But first, Central Park was finally open and Cricket needed to walk. I’d seen so many dogs and runners on the grassless sidewalks that I’d assumed that was their natural habitat, but no, they belonged in Central Park, with the dogs finally free to run off leash and chase balls and grab sticks, and the runners on their own separate paths.

We met a woman and her dog who had been there from the first opening of the gates, when at least a hundred people and their dogs were waiting impatiently to get in. She said that once the gates were opened, the dogs ran like mad to get inside. After a week of being city dogs, they let loose and became dogs again.


Cricket taking center stage


The Tissue Thief


Cricket is a tissue thief. Cricket used to stalk a tissue like it was a wild beast. She’d lower herself into a bow, like she was about to play a very serious game of twister. Then she’d grab the tissue with her teeth and run to a safe place to dismantle it. She could have been sleeping when the sound of a tissue being pulled from the box woke her up. And if she couldn’t get the tissue directly from my hand, she’d jump off the bed and try to get the tissue on its way to the garbage can.

The thing is, it has to be a used tissue, and I have allergies, so Cricket has a lot of used tissues to choose from. Sometimes I am lazy and leave a couple of tissues on my bedside table before forcing myself to sit up and throw them all away in a clump. Cricket can’t reach the top of the bedside table, but she can leap off the bed, walk slowly between the bed and the table and gradually rise up on her toes to see where the tissues went and calculate whether she can reach them with her teeth before she loses her balance.

In my room, the garbage can is two feet tall and elevated on a file box another foot in the air, so that Cricket can’t shove her paws through the top and remove stray tissues. But it doesn’t stop her from trying.

The garbage can in the living room even has a locking mechanism on it.

Some time in Cricket’s first year, after I’d been thinking that for sure she was devouring the tissues whole, we discovered her stash behind the TV. There wasn’t just a tissue or two back there. There were dozens, maybe a hundred tissues, piled together where I couldn’t see them as I walked past. And yes, I’m sure I should have been a better housekeeper, pulling the TV center forward to dust behind it more than once a year, but I didn’t, and Cricket was skinny enough to squeeze herself back there and secrete her treasures there for later use.

It’s the same way she buries crackers or bones or pieces of cheese in various corners of chairs and couches and under beds, certain she’ll find a use for them later.

Cricket is a hoarder, that’s what I’m trying to say.

My mother is stubborn. She has kept her two short, open-topped, garbage cans, one plastic and one wicker, in her bedroom. Predictably, any time a tissue is used and dropped into either garbage can, Cricket jumps off the bed, pushes her nose inside and pulls out the tissue with her teeth. Then she’ll either jump back onto the bed with her treasure, or slink under the bed to her “apartment” where no human can disturb her.

There are times, not many, when it is safe to blow my nose. These are the times when she is too exhausted to even lift her head, and she closes her eyes and just dreams of the all the tissues she’d like to eat. I can only imagine the magical tower of tissue boxes she climbs in her dreams. She is a very happy puppy.