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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Cricket, the Sous Chef

            Cricket is my sous chef. She stands in the kitchen while I’m making dinner, and tries to reach her paws up to the cutting board to steal red bell peppers. If she doesn’t feel like jumping, she scratches at Grandma’s leg to be lifted up so she can see the vegetables up close. If Grandma picks her up near a fresh cut onion, she sneezes. But once the sauté pan is on and the oil is heating the garlic and peppers and onions, Cricket twitches her nose and then licks her lips, at which point she has to be put down on the floor to avoid her jumping into the pan with all four feet.

Who me? I wasn't anywhere near those beets.

Who me? I wasn’t anywhere near those beets.

I’ve been tempted to buy Cricket a white toque to wear on her head, or a chef’s jacket with buttons, but she is not a fan of clothes.

Butterfly is more circumspect about the kitchen. She tends to stand in the doorway, or stretch out with her head on her paws, and stare. She’s afraid of all of the noise, like knives on cutting boards, sizzling pans, and whirring mixers, and she’s afraid she will get stepped on. Her spatial relations are, legitimately, not very good. Cricket is better at negotiating small spaces and human legs; she’s more bendy.

Butterfly tends to stand back and let Cricket get first crack at any dish at the end of a meal, because Cricket is a superb dish cleaner and Butterfly’s skills have not yet risen to Cricket’s level. It will come with time.

Class is in session

Class is in session

But Cricket is still the master

But Cricket is still the master

I used to bake a lot when Cricket was a puppy, and she learned to take part in the process: supervising the mixer, sniffing for cookie doneness, and, of course, cleaning up afterward. She gets angry, now, when I make something with chocolate in it, because then she can’t clean the bowl, or the beater, when we’re done. She would like for me to always make sugar cookies, or something with peanut butter.

Cricket is very busy

Cricket is very busy

Cricket is teaching Butterfly how to listen for the oven timer, a very important skill. They get up from their rest positions on the living room rug and stare at me until I get up. If Cricket thinks the food is ready early, despite the lack of a beep, she will let me know.

            In pursuit of her goal of one day becoming a chef with a kitchen of her own, Cricket prefers that we test chicken recipes. She likes when I make chicken wings, because I never eat the skin, and therefore she gets to taste test a chicken’s worth of skin. She is less interested in recipes that ask for boneless, skinless chicken breast, because she’s never offered the leftovers from those.

Pizza is also a favorite of hers, and of Butterfly’s. At this point, I have to give them the pizza crusts, even if they are the rare edible pizza crusts. I remove all tomato sauce possible, because I worry the spices will make them sick, and I divvy up the pieces into their bowls, and then they inevitably bring the crusts to the living room rug for chewing.

At Cricket’s restaurant, the pizza would probably be topped with: chicken, red bell peppers, pumpkin, Parmesan cheese, and olives. This would be the Cricket special. The Butterfly special would be covered in dry dog food and probably not go over as well.

Butterfly's favorite pizza topping: kibble

Butterfly’s favorite pizza topping: kibble

The waitresses at Cricket’s restaurant would sit at the tables with the customers and feed them by hand. One blueberry at a time.

            While Cricket pursues her cooking repertoire, and Butterfly attempts to scale the steeply competitive sous chef ladder, the girls are still grand champion eaters. Butterfly is a big fan of high fiber pasta, especially the little ears (orrichete). I choose to believe she is being health conscious, and attempting to improve her hearing as well.

Butterfly has followed Cricket’s example and learned how to stand on her back feet, leaning her front paws on Grandma’s knee during dinner. This is a very effective method of persuasion. Grandma is a pushover for puppy dog eyes and always finds something yummy to share. Cricket has been an incredible teacher, in this as in all things.

One day, Butterfly, the student will become the master

One day, Butterfly, the student will become the master

Shy People Need Dogs


A few years ago, I noticed a yellow sign with “RP” in black lettering, attached to a telephone pole in my neighborhood. Mom had seen similar signs before, for location shoots for movies and TV.

These yellow signs are very exciting.

These yellow signs are very exciting.

My mother went to USC film school way back when, and worked as a film editor, so she was curious about what they were filming. She followed the signs and found out that the TV show Royal Pains was shooting scenes at the beach near us. The show is set in the Hamptons, which is further out on Long Island from us, and much (much) more expensive.

Cricket Loves the beach

Cricket Loves the beach

I couldn’t bring Cricket along when we stalked the set, because dogs aren’t allowed at that particular beach. I wished she could come, and bark, and draw attention to herself, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to talk for myself.

(Just so you know the show really does exist)

(Just so you know the show really does exist)

The main character on the show is a concierge doctor who diagnoses strange diseases on the fly. Royal Pains is like the happy, pretty answer to House, with a bit of MacGyver thrown in. But more than the show itself, it was one of the featured actors I wanted to see. I’ve had a crush on Campbell Scott since I was sixteen years old.

I almost met him ten years ago. He was giving a talk at a small cinema on Long Island. He’s smart and articulate and down to earth. If ever there was a movie star I should have been able to talk to, it was him.

This is Campbell Scott

This is Campbell Scott

I did my best to dress up, in a sweater and black pants and a clean pair of sneakers, and sat in the third row of the movie theatre, next to Mom.

            First we screened the movie, The Secret Lives of Dentists, which involved scenes of screeching drills, blood, and the uncomfortable intimacy of the inside of a stranger’s mouth. I focused, instead, on the scenes of Campbell Scott as the father of three little girls. He carried the five year old around so constantly that at one point he said she had become part of his body.

            As the movie ended, he sat down at the front of the theatre, munching kernels of popcorn as the credits continued to roll over his head. When the lights came up, he tapped the microphone to begin, and – nothing.

            “I’ll use my theatre voice,” he said, and his voice reverberated.

            “Use the microphone!” someone screamed from further back.

A woman in the row ahead of me took the traveling microphone. “I thought you did a wonderful job in this movie, of showing parenthood as it really is: a burden.”

            “You liked the vomiting scenes?” he asked, with a grin.

            One woman towards the back of the room asked, in a plaintive voice, “Could you talk for a minute about Dying Young?”

“What about it?”


I moved forward in my seat, afraid he would dismiss this movie I loved as commercial crap.

“In Europe they called it The Choice of Love,” he said. “Better title, don’t you think? A person could see a title like that in the paper and say, hey, let’s go see that movie. But, Dying Young,” his voice went down an octave. “Why not just stay home and slit your wrists instead.”

I wanted to raise my hand and tell him how wrong he was about the title. How those two words were exactly what drew me to the theatre, at sixteen. I was suffering, and inarticulate. The opportunity to see some of my own pain reflected back to me was the whole point. But I couldn’t say that to a room full of strangers.

The crowd gave him a standing ovation and then slowly moved into the café down the hall for refreshments.

“What should we do now?” I asked my mother, as we watched the majority of the audience get stuck in a traffic jam at the single exit door.

“Why don’t we go to the café and maybe you’ll get a chance to talk to him,” she said.

“What would I say?”

“You’ll think of something,” she said. My mother has an unreasonable amount of faith in me.

We followed the crowd into the reception hall and I stood at the periphery, with my arms and legs crossed, willing myself to move forward, reach out, and say anything. Hello, would be nice. People swirled around him, ticking him around like a clock, quarter turns at a time, for autographs and pictures and questions.

I stood about six feet away, a step outside of the circle created by braver people than me. I listened. I wanted so badly to speak up, to have a memory for the rest of my life of having actually spoken to him. He looked in my direction every once in a while, and I imagined myself touching his arm and telling him he was wonderful. But everything I wanted to say was raw, and I didn’t want to inspire his pity, or annoyance.

And then he was being led out of the room, in slow motion, by the owners of the theatre. I just stood there, frozen.

I try to accept my limitations and forgive myself for the wide variety of anxiety symptoms that run my life, but that moment stayed with me. I could see him seeing me, wondering why I was standing there and saying nothing.

I’m hoping that Royal Pains will do some location shoots near where I live now, because the village main street is often used as a stand in for the Hamptons. And maybe I could walk down the hill with Cricket and Butterfly and meander near where the actors and crew are set up, and see if the dogs can act as my social bridge. Maybe Butterfly will bat her eyelashes and draw a crowd. And maybe Cricket won’t bark and lunge at a cameraman.

I'm sure the girls will make the walk down the hill easy for me.

I’m sure the girls will make the walk down the hill easy for me.

Who could resist Butterfly?

Who could resist Butterfly?

Maybe by the time the weather cools down, and they come back to my neighborhood, I’ll have figured out something to say.

Synagogue Dogs

            I wish that my dogs could participate at my synagogue. Yes, Cricket is obstreperous and barky and disruptive, but I’d like to believe that there is something in the music of prayer and the solemnity of the service that would help calm her and give her some relief, the way it does for me. The Rabbi and Cantor at my synagogue like to sing harmonies. I think that was the clincher for me when we visited the synagogue last year and decided to join, the way the music was like a conversation between the two of them.

            It would be nice to have an acknowledgment that dogs are members of our families, especially for people like me who don’t have children, or husbands or wives. We get left out of community rituals that would allow us to feel more whole and welcome.

And sometimes, I just feel like I want Butterfly to be sitting on my lap, so I won’t feel so strange to myself in this strange place that isn’t home. She would be my therapy dog, for when I start to twitch and shake and feel self conscious about being in public.

Butterfly, in silent prayer.

Butterfly, in silent prayer.

 Butterfly’s presence would calm and relax the people around her, except for the occasional stress peeing. And then there would be one less place my dogs would be barred from going. It’s already painful for them that they can’t go to the supermarket.

            My synagogue is Reconstructionist and one of their prime directives is to be inclusive of all kinds of people. People, but not dogs? They’ve broken down barriers for intermarried couples and gay couples and women in leadership. Shouldn’t there be some way to break the prejudice against my dogs?

At Friday night services, people wear casual clothes. I started out wearing black dress pants and high heeled boots, because I thought I should, but now I wear jeans and sneakers. There is an aging population at services and they are very accepting of each other’s limitations. They understand the need to be there instead of alone. This is the kind of place that could welcome dogs.

            I would have loved there to be a service to welcome Butterfly into our family. I picture something like the Lion King scene where Simba is introduced to the community, raised up high. I would have liked the Rabbi to hold Butterfly up on the pulpit and say a blessing over her and announce her name to the congregation.

Butterfly's naming pose

Butterfly’s naming pose

When Cricket is sick, it would be nice to be able to go to synagogue and say a public prayer for her recovery. There’s something powerful about putting aside privacy to ask for help from the community, as if we are tapping into an electrical system where everyone’s energy is pooled together.

Cricket is less amenable to being raised in the air

Cricket is less amenable to being raised in the air

On Purim, when we read the story of Esther and use a noise maker, called a grogger, to blot out the name of the bad guy in the story, Haman, the dogs could participate. My dogs, especially Cricket, could be living noisemakers. There could be a whole Hebrew school class for the dogs, to train them for their big day, when they can stand up as a barking choir, and blot out the name of the enemy who tried to harm their humans.

But most of all, I think dogs could bring something unique to a house of worship, because they are not of any particular religious or ethnic persuasion. A Golden Retriever could just as easily, and happily, live with Jews or Muslims or Christians or Buddhists. Dogs are not biased towards one religious group or another. A dog’s presence in the synagogue could be a reminder of the basic spirituality we all share, the God-sense we are all trying to tap into, rather than the specific religion we use to get us there.

My synagogue-ready dogs

My synagogue-ready dogs

DSM Puppy

I took a class in Abnormal Psychology this past semester, and we learned about the Diagnostic and Statistical manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM is similar to a field guide to birds, without the map to tell you where to find each colorful creature.


There was a lot of excitement, from the teacher, about the new DSM 5 arriving in May, and I began to think, what would a DSM for dogs include?

My incomplete list of disorders:

Hyperbarkia – a disorder in the quantity of the barking and/or the level of hysteria. An occasional woof-woof to mark the passing of a neighbor, or a more persistent bark to note a stranger at the door, can both be within the normal range. Whereas an unending barking spree, lasting twenty minutes or more, or rising to operatic levels, can be a sign that the need-to-bark meter has jammed.

Bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you-disorder is self explanatory.

Cricket, a case in point

Cricket, a case in point

Foreign object eating disorder – eating rocks and sticks and plastic toys, because those trips to the vet are just so much fun!

Vacuum phobia – when dogs believe that the vacuum cleaner is a giant roaring monster, ready to devour every toy, treat, and dog in its way.

Mailman paranoia is the belief that the mail delivery person is coming to massacre the family, and the only thing standing in his or her way is a tiny barking dog. (I worry that this puts undue stress on Cricket’s heart.)

"Mailman! Mailman! Mailman! Mailman!"

“Mailman! Mailman! Mailman! Mailman!”

Scratching Addiction is when a dog can get hours of scratchies at a time and never feel like it’s enough. Having an endless void inside of you, that no amount of scratchies can fill, may lead to other addictions, like chicken. Not to be confused with a genuine allergic skin condition.

Butterfly, a borderline case of scratching addiction

Butterfly, a borderline case of scratching addiction

Bone hiding disorder – this can be a normal reaction to a sibling who steals bones, or it can be a miscalculation on the dog’s part, imagining that the humans would steal that dirty, spit covered nylabone, if only they could find it.

PGSD or Post-Grooming Stress Disorder results in flashbacks and tremors at the sign of clippers and the sound of bath water. This can be incredibly disabling and creates the false impression that dogs prefer to be dirty. They do not. They just believe that the process of becoming clean will kill them.

Cricket hates being wet

Cricket hates being wet

Overly Selfless Dog Disorder is common in Golden Retrievers and other therapy dogs. This disorder can result when a dog is so focused on pleasing her humans, or other dog siblings, that she doesn’t stand up for herself. These dogs can be so good natured and non-confrontational that others take advantage of them or ignore their needs. (Butterfly started out this way, refusing to fight with Cricket over food or leashes or toys. If Cricket wanted something, Butterfly would stand back and leave it to her sister. But she’s getting better at elbowing her way to the food and speaking up when she wants to go outside or eat Grandma’s chicken wings.)

Butterfly: "Who me?"

Butterfly: “Who me?”

Jumping Bean Disorder – Some dogs have this need to bounce that can’t be repressed. Jack Russells are known for springing so high into the air that they greet human visitors at eye level. (Butterfly has not managed this feat, but she is trying.)

a serious case (not my picture)

a serious case (not my picture)

Fear of Thunderstorms is very common. I imagine thunder sounds like a huge, unnaturally ferocious, dog standing outside of the house and barking to get in. (Butterfly gets very anxious. Usually she sleeps on her side of the bed, with maybe a paw stretched out to touch me. But during thunderstorms, she climbs on my chest and shakes. Cricket has no fear of the sound of thunder, but she doesn’t like to be out in the rain and get plinked on the head by rain drops.)

Flibbertigibbet Disorder is an unrelentingly positive attitude towards going outside for walks that causes the body to hop and twirl and race around in aimless circles, preventing the attachment of the leash.

Small Dog Syndrome is when dogs under fifteen pounds believe they can intimidate full sized humans, by growling. This is also assumed to work on Fed Ex drivers.

This is my incomplete list of disorders. Clearly further revisions and additions will be needed. This shouldn’t take more than twenty years.