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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Thunder Shirt

            We bought Cricket a Thunder Shirt over the summer. We were having more guests over in the new apartment, and Cricket was making her (loud) feelings known. I felt bad for our guests because Cricket made them feel so unwelcome. We’d tried everything we could think of to calm her down, and then I kept seeing commercials for the Thunder Shirt and figured it was worth a try.

            Right out of the box, Cricket loved it. With the terrible reactions she’s had to sweaters, and jackets, and harnesses, over the years, I thought this would be a hard sell, but she was a fan. She jumped up and asked to wear it, and didn’t even bite me when I strapped the Velcro around her neck and belly. She looked quite attractive in it, actually. I never knew that gray was her color.

"I know I look good."

“I know I look good.”

            Cricket has no issue with thunder, actually. That’s her sister’s area. Butterfly is afraid of storms and car rides and loud noises and walking along public streets. Cricket’s fundamental issue is people. So, half an hour before a scheduled visit, I would put the shirt on her, and she looked cozy, svelte and stylish, with her hair puffing out at the edges.

"My butt looks big in this shirt."

“My butt looks big in this shirt.”

            But still, she barked. She needed to be held, and given plenty of treats, and even after she’d calmed down, any sudden noise or movement would start her up again. Eventually I worked out a mix of holding her in my lap, dangling her in the air, massaging her ears and tightening her Thunder Shirt, that kept her grumpiness at a low growl, for the most part.

            I wanted the Thunder Shirt to do magical things for Cricket, to calm her and make her feel safe enough to have no need to bark. I’m sure there’s a more proactive training method I should have put into play, instead of expecting the shirt to do all of the work, but I couldn’t figure it out.

            I kept trying the shirt, for visits, for outings, for random intervals during the day, and she still loved it, and kept barking.

Out visiting in her Thunder Shirt, in the rain. (Butterfly is modeling her plaid jacket and feeling beautiful.)

Out visiting in her Thunder Shirt, in the rain. (Butterfly is modeling her plaid jacket and feeling beautiful.)

            We tried Prozac too. Every morning Cricket had her pill with a piece of chicken (and Butterfly got to have a pill-free piece of chicken as well), but there was no improvement. If anything, Cricket was grumpier than before and more prone to isolating herself under the couch, between barking attacks at the front door.

            We haven’t bothered with the Thunder Shirt in a while. It has attached itself to the couch (with its Velcro straps) and is easily available, just in case.

The couch finds that Thunder Shirt very comforting.

The couch finds that Thunder Shirt very comforting.

            My hope is that, over time, Cricket will learn to tolerate guests. We’ve been handing out chicken treats to our visitors so they can bribe her, and she can associate them with good memories. And maybe I’ll give the Thunder Shirt another try, if only as a pretty outfit for Cricket to wear on special occasions.

Cricket finds comfort in her sister's tushy.

Cricket finds comfort in her sister’s tushy.



The Flea Dance

When Cricket got fleas as a puppy, seven years ago, I didn’t know what they were. I saw what looked like fennel seeds stuck to the base of her hair, when she was wet from her bath and her hair was clumped together. I asked Mom what the seeds were and she had to take samples to the vet’s office, on a tissue, to find out.

"You're drowning me!"

“You’re drowning me!”

"I can do it myself."

“I can do it myself.”

We started Cricket on her anti-flea meds right away. Once the medication kicked in, I still had to comb through her hair to remove the dead fleas, and then trim her hair with clippers in order to find every last bug. And then we put her on monthly doses of Frontline, which she hates. The Frontline liquid has to be squeezed onto her back and she acts like I’m burning her with acid.

"You can't find me."

“You can’t find me.”

I don’t think we gave our dogs flea and tick treatments or heartworm pills regularly when I was growing up. I vaguely remember those white collars for flea and tick prevention but I can’t imagine they were worn year round. People spent (a lot) less money on dogs when I was growing up.

I don’t even remember hearing about ticks until we found one, engorged, on my last dog, Dina’s, neck and I thought it was a cancerous tumor. The vet rolled his eyes at me for that one too.

Dina. She survived that tick.

Dina. She survived that tick.

The thing is, when I was in first grade, I got lice three times. I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know why it was only me, and not my brother, or my best friend. Each time, I was sent home with special shampoo and combs, and everything in my room was washed. By the third time, my hair was so knotted from scratching that the hairdresser had to cut it short.

My classmates had two answers to this situation. One was to call me Simon, the name of a boy in my class with a similar haircut to mine. The second was a dance the popular girls made up, where in they pretended to be bugs, and danced around me with curled fingers and raised shoulders and bent knees.

Little Rachel

Little Rachel

When Cricket got fleas, I felt like I was back in first grade. Cricket had no doggy friends laughing at her and calling her names, and the fleas were dead and gone as soon as possible, but I could still feel the phantom popular girls dancing around me and laughing.

Cricket doesn’t understand when people are criticizing her, or making fun of her. She doesn’t hear it or care about it, but I do.

I can’t imagine having a dog now and not medicating her against fleas and ticks and heartworm. It’s part of the ritual now. With each new dog I become more protective and more of a mommy. They need meds, and treats, and baths, and grooming, and special collars and tags, toys, and beds, and training, and endless scratchies.

By the time I get my next dog I’ll probably have a full sized princess bed in the corner of my room with a tray table for midnight water breaks and maybe an escalator out to the yard.

And I’ll try not to project too much of my human crap onto him or her, but I can’t make any promises.

Butterfly Takes A Hike

Butterfly has learned the joy of chasing squirrels. She used to be indifferent, or even oblivious to the running rodents. She didn’t understand what all of Cricket’s running and barking was all about, though she was eager to follow behind her sister wherever she might go. For a while now, I’ve been letting Butterfly run off leash in the backyard (or run with her leash dragging behind her), because she has to run and dance in order to poop, yes, but mostly because she makes a horrible choking noise when she pulls against the leash. Butterfly’s running has led her to discover the squirrels. She runs ahead of me and follows a squirrel to a tree, and Cricket drags me to catch up, and the girls circle the tree as if they’re doing a squirrel dance, thumping their chests and jumping for the sky.

Butterfly, ready to run.

“Where’d that squirrel go?”



            At some point, when Grandma had the girls to herself one afternoon, she decided to walk them further up the hill than usual. They climbed through deep leaf piles, on steep inclines, with Cricket up ahead and Butterfly running behind, while Grandma leaned on tree trunks, and held onto branches for support. Grandma assumed this would be a one time thing, but Butterfly had discovered Nirvana.

            The next time I took the dogs out by myself, I let Butterfly run up ahead as usual, assuming she would stop at the halfway point. When I called her to come back, she looked over her shoulder at me and Cricket, and continued to climb higher.

I had a vision of Butterfly in goggles and an aviator jacket but had to shake it off and concentrate.

            I couldn’t follow her up the hill, or, rather, I was afraid to try. I clapped my hands and called her name, nothing. Cricket stood next to me, in shock at what her sister was getting to do without her. Butterfly sniffed tree trunks and circled large rocks and stopped to poop before climbing even higher. I felt awful. I always pick up the poop. I need the feeling of accomplishment I get when I collect bags full of poop on a walk.

I had to climb up after her, still holding onto Cricket’s leash. Most of the solid ground under our feet was actually slanted and covered with leaves. Cricket was impatient while I held onto trees and branches whenever I could. I chose unwisely a few times and found myself holding a skinny tree in my hands with no actual part of the tree touching the ground. When we reached a plateau, I found Butterfly’s poop and scooped it up. That was a relief, at least. And then Butterfly came running over to us as if she’d been waiting up there to show us her wonderful new discovery. Cricket did some butt sniffing to get the full story, and then we all trekked back down the hill.

            And of course, I did not learn my lesson. For the next few trips, Butterfly seemed satisfied with running up the hill by herself and coming back down pretty quickly. Cricket busied herself with sniffing her usual territory, which is actually rich with interesting smells, and she didn’t complain much about Butterfly’s excursions. And then it snowed.

The whole family went out together to explore the new white world, Cricket, and Butterfly, and Grandma, and me. Everything was covered with snow, including Butterfly’s path up the hill. I watched her run up by herself and idly noticed that I couldn’t figure out which icy patches were covering solid ground and which ones sat on loose piles of leaves that I would fall through. Butterfly explored on her own for longer than usual, but when Grandma asked if she should go up and get her, I looked at all of the ice and shook my head. We would just wait.

The snowy hill

The snowy hill

"Hi, Mommy!"

“Hi, Mommy!”

"Oh yes, I am very concerned about my sister."

“Oh yes, I am very concerned about my sister.”

When Butterfly was finally ready to come back down, she chose a different route than she was used to, excited at her own daring. But the new path dead-ended at a pile of leaves and sticks and cut up trees left by the maintenance men. She looked at me across the divide with confusion. I told her to go back up the hill and come down the normal way, and she seemed to understand, but as she turned to find her way back up the hill, her leash caught on a sharp piece of wood, and she was stuck.

I am not an athlete, but when my baby is in danger, I do what I have to do. I left Cricket with Grandma and examined the mess in front of me. The tree slices were at odd angles and covered with icy snow, but I took each step slowly, only losing my footing ten or fifteen times. When I reached Butterfly and unhooked her leash, I was thinking a bit more clearly and was able to find a safer route back across for both of us.

I have learned to hold onto that leash, whether she likes it or not. And she protests, a lot, either by coughing and pulling, or by refusing to poop. I know myself. I can’t deny her forever. So I gave myself an insurance policy and lugged a few large branches across the path to discourage her from running all the way up the hill. She went over to the branches and sniffed, and so far, she has been deterred. Thank God Cricket is a typical big sister and has not offered Butterfly her help in figuring out a new way up the hill. If Cricket can’t go up there, then, really, why should anyone else be allowed to go?



The Feral Cats


One night, in the old apartment, I heard what I thought was the baby downstairs crying. It was late at night and I worried that he had been left alone on the porch, or left alone in the apartment with the windows open. I was debating whether or not to call the police, when I finally decided to go downstairs myself and take a look. I was outside on the front lawn at one o’clock in the morning, barefoot and in my pajamas, and the only spot of light was on a cat standing ten feet from my next door neighbor’s door. The cat turned to me, and cried.

Looked something like this picture from wikimedia

Looked something like this picture from wikimedia

            I was reassured, at least, that it was not the baby downstairs who had been wailing for hours, but I wasn’t sure what to make of the cat. He seemed to be calling to my next door neighbor, who had an arrangement with a lot of other cats, and dogs, in the neighborhood, concerning food. I asked the cat if he wanted to come inside, but he declined, and went back to staring at my next door neighbor’s side door, ever hopeful.

            I’d never really known about feral cats before then, but suddenly there seemed to be feral cats everywhere. Another neighbor set out bowls of food and water on her porch for the cats, and made snuggly cat houses for them when the weather got chilly, just in case they were desperate enough to accept the warmth.

high class cat house from Alley Cat Allies

high class cat house from Alley Cat Allies

            I couldn’t imagine where all of these cats had come from. They didn’t look like siblings. It might have made sense if one stray, abandoned cat had managed to have a litter on the streets, but where did all of these unmatched cats come from?

            When we first moved into the new apartment in May, I assumed that every cat I saw wandering the grounds was a pet who lived in the complex. I was relieved, because it meant we really had found a pet friendly co-op. I didn’t realize that a number of cats were feral until months later. This concept is so strange to me. Whenever I see a dog out on his own, I make sure he gets home, either following behind as he finds his own way, or using Cricket as a prod, or just going over and looking at the tag and calling home for him. I can’t imagine leaving a dog out on the street. And yet this seems like what’s done with cats all the time. Are the cats better at surviving on their own, or better at avoiding capture? Or are people just scared that bringing feral cats to the shelter will end in euthanasia, rather than adoption?

            I found out about the feral cats because people were feeding them out behind the work shed, as a matter of Co-op Board policy. It had been decided that it was okay to feed the cats, in the hopes that the cats would clear out any spare mice.

            The feral cats here are very quick to run up and hide in the woods when people are around, but they leave behind dead mice and piles of bird feathers, to let us know they’ve done their jobs and earned their keep.

            We have one resident cat who seems to be the big man on campus and his name is Muchacho. He is not a feral cat. He was the first neighbor to welcome me to my new home, rubbing his head on my leg as I carried boxes up the walkway. Muchacho is elderly. He had surgery a couple of months ago to remove a tumor, but within a few days he was back out strolling, with white bandages wrapped around his middle. He is dark grey and overweight and not fast. He can adventure as long as he wants, knowing he has a warm, safe home to return to, and as a result, he can be friendly and charming and relaxed in a way the feral cats can never be. The feral cats have to be hunters. They have to be on their guard. I wonder if some of our cultural expectations of cats come more from these feral cats than from a big old guy like Muchacho who is almost like a dog.



My friend

My friend

            But also, I wonder if Muchacho’s ever present self is the reason why the feral cats here don’t cry at our doors at night. They know who runs this place, and it’s not the people.

"I've got my eyes on you."

“I’ve got my eyes on you.”