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Monthly Archives: November 2013

Musical Dogs

            On our summer car trip upstate, both dogs were uneasy and grumpy and tense. Cricket was perched behind my neck and squiggling around; Butterfly was car sick in the backseat and panting. I had brought CDs with me (no, I don’t have an iPod) because I knew we’d be moving from one radio signal to another, and we needed a steady stream of music to get us through the six hour drive.

"Did you know that it's raining?"

“Did you know that it’s raining?”

Cricket and the deep dark sadness of it all.

Cricket and the deep dark sadness of it all.

            I tried Yo Yo Ma playing Bach first. Cricket used to do very well with classical music when I was walking on the treadmill. She’d start out antsy and annoyed with me for not playing with her, and within a few minutes she’d be asleep on my bed.

            But in the car, Bach didn’t work.

From everything I’d read, I assumed that the dogs would do best with instrumental music, so I stuck to my guns and tried more Yo Yo Ma. This time it was his Appalachian Waltz CD, including “Butterfly’s day out,” but still no luck.

            I tried Nina Simone next. She has a low, cello-like voice, that I find comforting; but something about her tone, maybe the melancholy sourness in her songs, left the dogs grumpy. And they didn’t like Peggy Lee either, or Gavin DeGraw, but they fell in love with Martina McBride.

Martina Mcbride

            I’m not a country music aficionado, but I’ve liked Martina McBride since I first heard her sing Independence Day, a paean to abused women and their children. It is a heartbreaking, tragic, empowerment song, and Martina McBride makes the pain bearable. I always thought I was being affected by the words of the song, but now I think that the reassurance comes through in her voice itself, so much so that my dogs recognized it and responded to it.

The dogs listened to the Martina McBride CD and relaxed, for as long as the music lasted. I had to play the CD three times during the drive, returning to Martina each time the girls started to pant or bark or wiggle with anxiety.

            Maybe, instead of Prozac, I should buy Cricket an iPod, and special headphones, so she can listen to Martina McBride when she gets anxious. She could wear the headphones at the groomer’s, and on walks, and when anyone, anywhere, makes a noise.

I also discovered, by accident, that when the girls were antsy and climbing all over me at home, my humming could calm them down. Cricket, especially, likes to rest on my stomach while I am humming, so she can feel the vibrations of the sound.

Cricket is digging for more music.

Cricket is digging for more music.

"Sing it, Mommy!"

“Sing it, Mommy!”

As a kid, my brother used to whisper sweet nothings to our dog, saying nasty things in a sweet voice, and he thought the dog was so stupid for not understanding what he’d really said. But maybe she just knew better than he did, knew he was posturing with his words, covering the genuine bond he felt with her so he wouldn’t have to look silly.

Dogs know that words can be lies, or complications, and are unnecessary for real communication.

Martina McBride’s voice seems to bypass the wordy part of the brain and go straight to the emotions. I think, just like my dogs, I would be able to appreciate Martina McBride no matter what language she chose to sing in.

To The Beach

Cricket loves bird poop. To be fair, she loves poop of all kinds. When she goes to the beach, she noses every pole and bench and wooden slat, and she can inspect one blade of grass for hours if an animal has left traces behind. She is a one dog C.S.I. team.

"I think smell bird poop!"

“I think smell bird poop!”

The most likely offender

The most likely offender

Both of my dogs love the beach, and my Mom loves the beach, but I don’t. I feel itchy and grumpy and inexplicably hopeless there. I force myself to go, like I force myself to take vitamins, because it’s supposed to be good for me.



We got into the habit of walking along the boardwalk at the beach for twenty minutes or so a day when we lived at the old apartment. I was already struggling to walk right, and Mom hoped that the fresh air, and the soft wood planks under my feet, and of course, the handrails, would help.

Mom believes that the smell of the seaweed, and the swirling patterns of the seagulls, and the sound of the waves have a healing power. She takes her camera along and charts the changing character of the water.

A treasure trove of smells

A treasure trove of smells

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IMG_2279summer 2008 to winter 2009 079

When we moved to the new apartment we stopped our daily trips to the beach. The extra ten or fifteen minute drive was a good excuse, but not the real reason. Despite endless attempts, I still hated the briny taste of the air, and the indifference of the seagulls, and the squawking predatory sound they made when they circled a pile of stale bread in the parking lot. I was still afraid of the creepy crawlies that lived under the dark green water, and the slippery sea plants wrapping themselves around my ankles.

"Get off my beach!"

“Get off my beach!”

"Let go of my leash and I can reach it!"

“Just let go of my leash and I’ll go by myself.”

I forced myself to go back to the beach again in mid October. I felt silly for avoiding it, and I wanted the dogs to have a chance to socialize with other dogs, on leashes, and to sniff new things that don’t live in my backyard. Once again, the girls loved it, and Mom loved it, and I didn’t.

I sound like a curmudgeon. Beaches are supposed to be inspiring and life giving and romantic, and instead, they make me feel like life is not worth living. Even watching Butterfly sniff every spot Cricket had just sniffed couldn’t quite cheer me up. And I don’t know why. There are too many mysteries like this that I can’t resolve.

I’ll go back again, eventually, if only to make my family happy. In the meantime, I walk by the local pond instead. I nod to the ducks, and look up as packs of geese fly by, and shake my fist at the signs that say my dogs are not welcome in this lovely place, where Cricket could sniff bird poop to her heart’s content.

Bird Island, where no dogs may roam

Bird Island, where no dogs may roam

"So there!"

“So there!”

(All pictures in this post taken by Naomi Mankowitz – aka Grandma)

I Was Born To Be A Runner

I was born to be a runner, but something went wrong. My feet flattened. My knees swelled. My immune system weakened. My body was not put together right; like furniture from IKEA put together by someone who is not good at following directions. When I try to run, I feel like a bag of rocks being smacked against the pavement.

My dream used to be that I would build up from walking on the treadmill for an hour a day, to running on the treadmill, to running miles a day outdoors; in a park, maybe, or at the beach, with Chariots of Fire playing in the background. But I seem to be locked inside of this particular box, and no matter how hard I try to move it, it refuses to stay moved.

Whenever I see someone running in a movie, in dress shoes and overcoats, in tank tops and shorts, in leg braces or chased by police, I feel like I am running too. I watch sports, and dance, and movies, not just because it is entertaining to watch, or beautiful or dramatic, but because it is cathartic. Something deep within me is living in those bodies for a moment, kissing the love of my life, dancing with Fred Astaire, and running faster than I could ever imagine.

I feel this when I watch my dogs too. When I take them out to the backyard, I let go of Butterfly’s leash and let her gallop (she needs to gallop in order to poop, so this is a completely practical choice on my part). She lifts up off the ground and soars forward, and I feel her joy.

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I can’t let Cricket off leash, because if she sees a person, she will run, and bark, and lose her mind, and I won’t be able to interrupt the crazy. But Cricket loves to chase leaves, even on her leash. She is a huge fan of the wind, because it lifts up the leaves and makes them swirl, and she pulls me along behind her, to catch those leaves.

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When the dogs run, their ears fly out, and their legs stretch into the air, and they don’t run because I’m forcing them to get their exercise; they run for joy, automatically and without thinking about calories burned.

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In elementary school, we used to run a mile’s worth of laps around the gym to Eye of the Tiger from the movie Rocky. A dogged determination would come over me whenever I heard that song, to keep pushing myself forward until that mile was done.

But I want more than that. I want to run with my dogs until my ears fly like theirs do, and I am in no pain, and all I care about is catching that damned leaf up ahead.

(All pictures in this post taken by Naomi Mankowitz – AKA Grandma – and her magical DSLR camera)

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.