For Butterfly’s Gotcha day, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to celebrate. She has been with us for a year now and the difference in her is extraordinary. She barks, and begs for snacks, and runs like the wind, and disobeys me, like a real dog. She almost never goes blank anymore the way she used to do. She loves her sister, she follows me everywhere, and she looks forward to her goodnight kiss from Grandma.
My first thought was to buy her a new pink leash, to replace the one she had drenched in pee and mud, but that was more of a present for me. Then I wanted to get her a special ID tag, one that doesn’t just announce her inoculation status. Her most recent tag from the doctor is actually blue, which is not her color.
I like to be thorough and waste printer paper and toner when I do research, so I printed out ten or fifteen options for Mom to look at from her seat on the couch. There were tags in the vague shape of a butterfly. There were brass and plastic and steel tags. There were flowers and dogs and fire hydrants and bones, and quite a lot of tags devoted to sports teams. But the one I liked best was round and pink, with a colorful butterfly painted on the front, and her info etched into the back. I found a red one with a silver heart for Cricket, so she wouldn’t feel left out.
But I still didn’t feel like her present was a real present for HER. I always want birthday presents that will change my life and I wanted the same for Butterfly. And I thought about the doggy steps I’d seen all year in catalogs and at the pet store. For a year now, I’d been air lifting Butterfly onto the bed whenever she barked for uppies, and air lifting her down when she demanded to see her sister. But she’s become very insistent that this air lift be available every few minutes, and in the middle of the night. There’s a pain in my upper back that I blame entirely on her.
I’d been putting off the doggy steps for most of the year, because Mom, whose father was a consumer advocate, on the board of Consumer Reports, believes that shopping takes time, months, really, of comparing, contrasting, forgetting, and starting over again. No more of that. I did my printing-out-options routine, wasting a very satisfactory amount of multi-purpose paper, and decided on a set of steps and ordered them right away, before the comparing, contrasting and forgetting could set in.
It turned out that Mom was more excited than I was when the doggy steps finally arrived. I carried the box up to the apartment and went to bed, at one o’clock in the afternoon, as I often do. I could hear a lot of banging and crashing noises, par for the course with some of Mom’s do-it-yourself projects, so, nothing to worry about. And then the steps appeared, all snapped together, and hollow, and ready to place at the side of the bed. We tried a few different positions for the steps, to see where they’d be most stable, and least likely to trip me in the middle of the night.
But the girls were not excited about their new furniture. When I picked up Cricket and tried to put her on the top step, she scrambled out of my arms and jumped to the floor and squeezed herself under my bed.
Butterfly was less frightened, especially when I spread pieces of chicken treat across the steps. I placed her on the top step, and gave her a treat. We did that ten times. Then I placed her on the middle step and she climbed onto the bed and got a treat. We did that another ten times. We did sessions like this twice a day, until Butterfly could climb up all of the steps to the bed herself. She still refused to put her paws on the first step by herself, though. She sat and trembled on the floor and tried to run away.
Cricket refused to be seen even touching the steps. She came over, when she thought no one was looking, and twisted herself into knots to get at the leftover treats, without putting two paws at a time on any given step. She developed some quite beautiful ballet moves this way, and seemed to be teaching herself how to get whiplash from a standstill.
Butterfly took to hoovering up a row of chicken treats in one gulp, to prevent Cricket from getting to them. I worried this would lead to choking, but so far she has managed to keep herself alive.
Butterfly has gotten to the point where she will run into my room, and flatten herself on the floor so that I can pick her up and place her on the steps, but she won’t put a paw up on the steps by herself. I may have to find more valuable treats for the next step of this adventure.