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Monthly Archives: May 2014

Nurse Butterfly

Nurse Butterfly

Nurse Butterfly


Every once in a while I have these “spells,” like a Victorian lady having the vapors. I’d use a more scientific term if I could find one, but diagnosis has been elusive. The spells start with head pain and nausea, usually, and quickly lead to trouble speaking and trouble moving. I feel very unsteady and yet almost rigid, like I’m trapped inside of my body and can’t really control what it’s doing. I feel dizzy, and frightened, and sometimes I start to drool (a little bit, not too embarrassing) or my eyes start to water. The overall feeling is that something-is-wrong, but I can’t articulate what’s going on.

Cricket keeps her distance when these spells happen. She goes under my bed, or under her couch, or stares at me with suspicion from across the room. But Butterfly comes over and tries to help.

Cricket, under her couch

Cricket, under her couch

The other night, I had one of my spells while I was sitting in my comfortable chair in front of the computer. I felt this unbearable need to crawl to the floor to safety. As soon as I was down on the rug, Butterfly came over to lick my hands and keep close. She watched me and snuggled next to me, not asking for petting the way she normally would, just staying close.

And when I felt well enough to get up and go lie down on my bed, she came with me and snuggled next to my shoulder, until she was sure I was normal again. After that, she left for her midnight snack and whatever other adventures she goes on at night when she’s not taking care of her Mommy.

Butterfly made me feel loveable at a moment when I felt alien and unreal. She reminded me that I was able to walk her and pet her just a little while ago, and that ability would return soon.

"Hi Mommy!"

“Hi Mommy!”

My sense is that these spells have an electrical component, because Butterfly is sensitive to electrical things in a way Cricket is not. And she seemed to know when the static had subsided. I love that, in return, when it’s stormy outside and Butterfly’s electrical senses go wonky, she comes to me for comfort. She climbs on me, or sits on my shoulder while I’m (sort of) sleeping, and she knows that her Mommy will keep her safe.

Butterfly was a mommy, and maybe her mommy instincts are what kick in when she sees that I’m struggling. She must have been such a good mommy to her puppies. Maybe that’s why the puppy mill was still breeding her at eight years old. They had to have seen her sweetness, even there, where she was a commodity and her puppies had price tags. They knew, at the very least, that other people would want their own Butterfly puppies.

Sometimes I feel guilty for loving her and wanting her to be happy here. All of those puppies are on my conscience, as if I took them away from her, as if I wished them away because I selfishly wanted Butterfly for myself.

Cricket never had puppies and has therefore remained a puppy herself. She’s never had to take care of someone else, though she does see Grandma as her protectee. Cricket’s caretaking is free of niceties like offering comfort. She is there to protect Grandma – from bad dreams, strange noises, encroaching cold weather, and Butterfly’s advances. She would definitely stick close by if Grandma had a cold or an injury, but she’d so absorb the anxiety that she would become the second patient. She doesn’t quite believe that she and Grandma are separate people.

Baby Cricket

Baby Cricket

Cricket especially likes to sit on, or next to, Grandma’s head, as a way of sharing dreams and being ready to beat down any monsters that might show up in Grandma’s nightmares. Otherwise, she curls up next to or on top of Grandma, so that there is no air, only blanket, between them, and that way she always knows where Grandma is.

"This human belongs to me."

“This human belongs to me.”

My girls are very different. I have the sense that if we were home alone and I had an attack of some kind and needed help, Cricket would bark for someone to come and Butterfly would sit by my side and keep watch over me until help arrived.

My girls, resting until duty calls.

My girls, resting until duty calls.



Dog blogs


"You have to check in with my bloggy friends, Mommy!"

“You have to check in with my bloggy friends, Mommy!”


I want to write a celebration of all of the blogs I read each week. I’ve not only learned a lot, I’ve become a part of a community of real people who influence each other to be better, happier, kinder, more open and more in love with life. Every blog has its own strengths: some are full of information and advice, some are full of compassion, or humor, or recipes. Some people add photography or artwork, cartoons or videos or animation.

"Tell me the story about the doggy who likes to swim in the mud. And then the one about the piggy who watches TV, and then..."

“Tell me the story about the doggy who likes to swim in the mud. And then the one about the piggy who watches TV, and then…”

I’m afraid to do a list of dog blogs and leave people out of it, but I want to tell you how much I appreciate this blogging community and how much I’ve gotten from reading what you write. Without your influence I would never have felt ready to adopt Butterfly, or felt capable of managing her diabetes. I’m grateful for all of the validation you’ve given me that writing about dogs is a worthwhile endeavor. I love that these are real dogs acting like dogs: destroying stuffed animals, trying to steal treats, breaking through fences, napping in the sun, and playing with their friends.

I would recommend that anyone who is low on dog vitamins and high on stress, type “dogs” or “pets” into the search bar of your reader and just spend half an hour soaking up the joy.

Dogs are my organizing factor; they are the scaffolding I can hang ideas on to make things make sense. Dogs allow me to listen with compassion to ideas that might otherwise seem too foreign. I’ve noticed that I will read all kinds of posts from someone that I know loves dogs, even if nine out of ten of their posts are about something else entirely. I read about Australian politics, and gardening tips, and running and travel and cooking, all because I found a picture of a dog on that blog one day, or a cat, or a horse, or a pig. I trust that someone who loves animals has something interesting to say about other parts of their lives.

"Thank you!"

“Thank you!”

I’m going to attempt a comprehensive list here, but there are so many good dog blogs and I know I will miss too many. Please add links in the comments section to dog blogs you like. I hope I’m doing the links right. (Danny the dog) (Understanding Your Dog) (Love your dog) (c-dog & company) (fozziemum) (dogs and humans) (Will and Eko) (Linda Trunell) (All Fur One and One Fur All) (Bailey) (Bacon) (Vanilla bean) (snoweiners) (Maxwell the dog)


late additions: (Tzuri)



Petting Dogs


My dogs are scratchy gluttons. If I keep going with the scratchies for as long as they ask, first they yawn, then they close their eyes, then they start to relax into mush, and then they don’t need any more scratchies because they are asleep.

"Excuse me. I'm getting my scratchies now."

“Excuse me. I’m getting my scratchies now.”

If Cricket’s feeling grumpy and I start to scratch her head and ears and under her chin, I can almost see the neurons making better connections in her brain and sending calming signals throughout her body.

"I'm not sleepy at all. More scratchies."

“I’m not sleepy at all. More scratchies.”

Given the amount of petting my dogs seem to need every say, I wonder how humans survive on so little. Just to get through a harried day of walks and meals and naps, Cricket tells me, she needs at least an hour of petting. She knows instinctively that petting is good for her, that it makes her feel better – whether it’s freeing up her chi, releasing neurotransmitters, or relaxing her muscles, she feels better because of it.

Butterfly loves her scratchies.

Butterfly loves her scratchies.

And, finally, Cricket has been scratched enough.

And, finally, Cricket has been scratched enough.

Dogs are safe to touch, because we aren’t afraid that they will misconstrue our attentions, and because if they don’t want to be touched they are not so polite that they will continue to allow contact, the way humans will. Humans are often too polite for their own good, trying not to hurt someone else’s feelings and sacrificing their own safety instead.

Touch between humans can go so quickly from comforting to threatening. If someone you like and trust squeezes your shoulder or gives you a hug, that can make you feel better. But if someone you don’t like, or don’t know, does the same thing, the violation of boundaries can be overwhelming. We have so many (necessary) rules in place to protect us from unwanted and threatening human contact, but not much has been clearly stated about what kinds of healthy touch we need.

Medicine is often practiced from a distance, through scans and blood tests and a few vague questions, but there’s a lot to be said for the idea that touch can be used to diagnose, and especially to treat, certain problems. Touch in general can be a way to transmit kindness, which is one of the most healing things we can give each other.

My mother has been having nerve pain and numbness in her feet for the past few years and numerous doctors and tests and medications have failed to relieve, or even to diagnose the cause of the problem. Feeling desperate, Mom finally took the recommendation of a friend and tried a cranial sacral therapist. He’s a doctor of osteopathy and covered by Medicare, so she figured it wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot.

He talks about moving plates in her skull and other hoo haa things that don’t make much sense to me when Mom reports back about her visits, but as a result of these treatments, her pain is going away. And with each visit, the pain stays away longer and longer. I don’t understand any of it, but it seems to be working.

I’ve had a few EEG’s over the past few years and, though I’m not a fan of the 24 or 48 hours of traipsing around with machinery attached to my head, I love how it feels as the little sensors are individually attached. I don’t know why this is such a magical feeling. I feel the same thing when my hair gets shampooed before a haircut. It’s not the same as a massage, where only skin is being touched. I wonder if this is what petting feels like to my hair-covered dogs, as if the touch reaches down to the root of the hair, deeper than the skin.

In summer camp, girls braided each others hair or drew letters on each other’s backs with a finger, as an excuse to touch and be touched. And it relieved some of the homesickness we all felt.

My dogs try to pet me, each in her own way. Cricket paws at me, or lifts my hand with her nose, when she wants me to scratch her, and then cuddles into my side or onto my lap. Butterfly noses my head if I’m exercising on the floor. She likes to sniff my hair or my armpit and then sit there and stare at me while I do my crunches. But her real offering is the way she licks my hands with such love and care. It’s not quite the same as petting, but it might actually be better.

Butterfly lickies on the way.

Butterfly’s licks are on the way.

Reading Dog Books


When I first got Cricket, as an eight week old puppy, I wanted to do everything right. I found books on how to choose a puppy, train a puppy, and groom a puppy, but it was all too generic. None of it addressed who Cricket actually was: the way she seemed to love the taste of the bitter apple spray I was supposed to put on the furniture to discourage chewing; the way she couldn’t calm down after even the smallest excitement; the way she stuffed herself between book cases for comfort.

"You can't see me, Mommy!"

“You can’t see me, Mommy!”

"Of course I can fit!"

“Of course I can fit!”

"I will never take a bath again. Period."

“I will never take a bath again. Period.”

I needed to hear about actual dogs, and real people who were imperfect like me, but trying.

I found a book by Jon Katz called, “A Good Dog: the story of Orson who changed my life.” He’d adopted a Border Collie, from a breeder who’d had trouble finding the dog a home, and when he picked the dog up from the airport he found out why.

jon katz

What I loved about the book was that he was willing to admit how hard the lessons were to learn. He didn’t portray himself as a white washed ideal. He was a person who made mistakes, and tried hard, and came up against failure again and again. I’m a big fan of people who are willing to admit failure, and not always put on a happy face, because that’s what allows me, as a reader, to relax and not feel so judged for my own failures.

Pam Houston writes fiction that she says is about 82% autobiographical. She wrote a novel called “Sight hound” about an Irish Wolfhound with cancer. I actually can’t remember what else the book was about because her portrayal of the dog was so rich that I tuned out the rest. This was a dog who was loved. And I felt like she was giving me permission to love my dogs that much too.

pam houston and dog

Pam Houston and her Irish Wolfhound’s Butt

I specifically read James Herriot’s collection of dog stories as a way to warm up for writing this blog two years ago. He was a country vet, and his writing style was so friendly and filled with humor and compassion, that he made me feel comfortable. I felt like he was painlessly teaching me bits and pieces about how to take care of animals, and treat them with respect, and he tossed in a few bits of insight about people too. I’ve been reading more of his work recently, and now I know more about a cow’s insides than I ever wanted to know.

James Herriot and a dog with something more interesting to look at.

James Herriot and a dog with something more interesting to look at.

Mark Doty’s memoir “Dog Years,” is a new favorite of mine. I’d read a couple of his poems, under duress, during graduate school, and while I could admire his skill, I was not tempted to read more. But I came across a picture of him with his dogs online and I thought, he can’t be that bad, and I decided to take a look at the memoir.

Mark Doty's dogs

Mark Doty’s dogs

I was afraid he would be pretentious, or his language would be heavy and convoluted, but he is a memoirist who speaks with a clear, articulate, and deeply empathetic voice. He illuminates grief. He has compassion for himself, for his dogs, and for me, by extension.

Anne Lamott says that “having a good dog is the closest some of us are ever going to come to knowing the direct love of a mother, or God.”

Anne Lamott as puppy pillow

Anne Lamott as puppy pillow

I wouldn’t want to tell someone to just read one or another of Anne Lamott’s memoirs. Read all of them. Go on line and read all of her one-off essays. Read her shopping lists if you can get your hands on them, because they’re probably hysterical.

I’m always looking for more dog books, just like I obsessively read all of the dog blogs I can find. Any and all recommendations are welcome.