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!”
“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.”
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.
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.
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.