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Cricket Can Play!

            Cricket has changed a lot since she started taking the DES (Diethylstilbestrol – a non-steroidal estrogen medication) last winter. First of all, the incontinence problem disappeared, which was the point of the medication in the first place. She takes her pill – buried in hamburger – every other night, and she hasn’t had an accident in months. But there are other changes too. For some reason, her voice is higher pitched than before. She’s always been loud and barky and anxious about strangers, but now when she screams at them her voice gets even higher. She’s also clingier, if that’s possible. She used to make do with sleeping next to her Grandma, attached like a barnacle, but now she tries to sleep on top of her, like a cat (she’s fourteen pounds, at most, so no bones have been broken in the process). She’s been very attached to Grandma since she was a puppy, but it’s a little more intense now. She even sits on Grandma’s lap at the computer now, instead of just on the couch, where it’s easy.

Cricket, the barnacle.

            The big change, though, came up recently, when a new mini Golden Doodle puppy arrived at our co-op. Well, he arrived a few months ago as a little red ball of fluff, but he had to wait until he had all of his shots and did his potty training before he could meet everyone.

This is not Kevin, or my picture. But Kevin is this cute.

            Then Mom came in one morning a few weeks ago, after taking the girls for their first walk of the day, and she said in wonder – Cricket was playing!

            Cricket is fourteen years old and she has never played with another dog. Dogs have tried to play with her, doing their play bows and zooming around her, but she would just stand still and wait for it to be over, or hide behind one of her people, or just raise an eyebrow in disdain at the strange creature and walk away to sniff someone else’s pee.


            Butterfly and Ellie had both tried to play with Cricket over the years, and learned quickly that she couldn’t be bothered. And when we had other dogs over to visit, or she met dogs at the dog park or in the yard, she’d just sniff and be sniffed and then look off in the distance, bored, or confused about why the dog was still there, staring at her.

This is as close as Butterfly (top) and Cricket (bottom) came to playing.

            The closest she came to playing was with her friend Teddy – a black miniature poodle she’d known since puppyhood – but they tended to play consecutively rather than together. Teddy would throw his toy in the air and zoom around the room and scratch his back on the floor, and then he’d go lie down and watch while Cricket did her own play routine.

Teddy and Cricket, tandem napping.

            But with Kevin, the five month old mini-Golden Doodle, Cricket actually went into her own version of a play bow and hopped around with him. No one watching her could believe she was fourteen years old. Ellie, meanwhile, who’d had more than enough of boy dogs when she was a breeding mama, stayed back and waited for it to be over. She allowed Kevin to sniff her a little bit, but she really really wasn’t interested.

“Ugh. Boys.”

            Kevin is a very social dog, and especially social with other dogs. He’ll tolerate a scratch on the head from a human, but he’s really dog-centric. His humans say that they struggle to train him with treats because he’s not food-motivated, but he’ll do anything for a trip outside. I’m sure Kevin’s playful personality plays a role in how Cricket is reacting to him, but I’m pretty sure the DES has changed something for her.

            The thing is, Cricket had her spaying surgery when she was six months old, so she never had the surge of hormones rushing through her body. Now, the advice would be to wait until a dog is a little older before spaying or neutering, because it’s healthier for the dog to go through a few hormone cycles, but that wasn’t the advice when Cricket was little. So when she started taking the synthetic estrogen (DES) to solve the incontinence problem, that was her body’s first real experience with Estrogen, and one of the side effects, it seems, is that she’s learned how to play.

            Cricket has had a full life with her people, and she’s had rich, complicated relationships with her sisters (Butterfly and Ellie), and she’s eaten all kinds of interesting foods and barked in all kinds of different places and sniffed a million different smells, and she chased sticks, and ran like the wind, and rolled in the mud, but I always felt bad that playing with other dogs wasn’t in the cards for her.

            I had some theories: about her being the runt of her litter and therefore under attack from her brothers from day one and therefore not trusting of other dogs; or about her being the runt of her litter and therefore suffering from an unfinished nervous system that caused lifelong neurological issues that made her too hypervigilant and suspicious to play.

            And now she’s fourteen, and she’s discovering how to play. She still has a lot of energy and, despite a number of signs of aging, she’s still young at heart, and my hope is that she’ll have plenty of years left to figure out what else these synthetic hormones can do for her and take them out for a spin.

Cricket practicing her play bow with the grooming brush.

            Every once in a while I notice those signs that she’s aging – the thinning of her hair, the age spots and cauliflower-like growths on her skin, her skinniness despite eating plenty, the missing teeth in her smile – and I feel this void readying to open up, this reminder that Cricket won’t always be here. And then she barks at a leaf and hops across the lawn like a rabbit and then, out of nowhere she learns how to play (!!!!), and, for a few moments, she’s a puppy again, or better, she’s ageless and she seems like she will live forever.

            These are my favorite moments.

Cricket is ready for more!

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

72 responses »

  1. Cricket–you little rascal! You were just waiting for the man of your dreams. And if he is anything like that photo, he was worth the wait.

  2. That photo beneath the chair and blanket is absolutely wonderful.

  3. 😝(Don’t tell Cricket, but mini-Golden Doodles are cute as a button.)

  4. Dear Cricket, you’ve found the playful girl inside you waiting to be “unleashed.” We are cheering you on!

  5. Hooray for cricket. Wishing her many more years of play. Lots of us learn late in life how to play.

  6. This is such happy news! Cricket has a new lease on life it seems. Yay!

  7. How fantastic! Isn’t it nice to see such a tangible sign that she’s becoming happier and more well-adjusted. We all seem to take our hormones for granted until they get wacky, and then its surprising how much that affects us. You go girl!

  8. Isn’t that amazing? I’m glad she’s getting a taste of play. Everyone should play – especially dogs!

  9. Oh Cricket I absolutely love that this cute golden doodle puppy sparked the puppy in you. I hope you and Kevin have many more opportunities to play and that someone is able to snap a picture of the two of you together.

  10. What a wonderful story of inspiring events!

  11. I loved reading about Cricket; she reminds me a lot of our Rudy (gone now but still greatly missed). He was an introverted dog and just wanted to be with us. Going in the water? Nope. Playing with another dog? No thank you! But walkies and pettings and good food? Priceless! Glad to hear that Cricket is expanding her horizons – it’s never too late!

  12. Your story reminds me so much of Geordie! He was a pretty old guy before he learned to play. I am so grateful he got to know that joy while he was on earth. Congratulations on your new, playful Cricket! 🐕

  13. Bravo Cricket. Bravo Kevin. How joyful it must be to see them playing.

  14. So wonderful! Well written

  15. Great to hear that, Rachel. Ollie is 10 next birthday, but that’s old for his breed. He has arthritis in his front legs, and cannot tolerate such long walks anymore. But every once in a while, he remembers how to play, and it is a joy to see him do that, albeit for a very short time.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  16. As I’d bet is true with a lot of your readers, I’ve totally fallen in love with both Ellie and Cricket. It’s wonderful to hear that Cricket has engaged in a new hobby called “playing”. Maybe she’s gone into her second childhood and learning all of the things she missed the first time around?

  17. Yay for Cricket! I hope she has many more years to play!

  18. Good to learn of her finding fun

  19. Delighted to read about the newly-playful Cricket and that Kevin has managed to bowl this maiden over! Jeanette

  20. This story reminds me that not only dogs but also people can learn to play at any age. We all need to go out and have some fun!

  21. hehe. I can imagine!! But how lovely.
    Maggie forgot how to play and be a puppy when we were house hunting in 2007. We were on the road a lot in our tent. She’d never shown much interesting in male dogs until she was past 10, so an old lady by then, and she would flaunt her assets at a couple of unsuspecting young males. No takers though, which at her age, were just as well I think. Happy memories though.

  22. Maybe she’s saved the best for last.
    Enjoy these days.

  23. How lovely that she’s having a second wind as a cougar!

  24. See? All she needed was a play pill.

  25. Reading this touched my heart and made me so happy! Every pup deserves a good romp! I hope she has many years of play left in her! (And my pup wants to know what is this thing that calls itself a dog but isn’t food motivated – he suggests you check to make sure it’s not a cat.)

  26. kristina smith

    They always surprise us!

  27. Clinginess can definitely be a side effect of the DES. Happy to hear about the playfulness! And many of us vets still say spay a small breed dog at 6 months. If they never have a heat cycle then they will never get mammary cancer. The protective benefits last up to 4 heat cycles, after that there is every chance a female will develop the often life-ending cancer so you did the best thing for Cricket in spaying her back then!

  28. What great news for Cricket and for you and your Mum. Well done Kevin too, for coaxing her to play. 🙂

  29. Go Cricket! I’m happy to learn how playful she’s being. She sounds like she’s feeling much better.

  30. Such a wonderful discovery. May we all find “play” as our stories unfold. I’m so happy for Cricket !

  31. I’m so happy to hear this! I think we all have a bit of our youth inside us as we age. Even animals! I’m almost 70, with mobility issues and a heart condition, and sometimes get the urge to dance my way across the living room. Then, I crash on the couch. But, I still danced! Way to go Cricket!!

  32. Happy to hear about all the positive changes in Cricket. We had a kitten named Amber that was the “runt” of her litter. Yet, she lived for 22 years.. And there are things around the house that still remind us of her. Our dog Yasus never looked out the camper shell windows of our pick up truck. He’d always laid on the floor till we got to our destinations. It wasn’t until he was 9, that he decided one day to stand up and watch the scenery as we traveled. From then on he continued with his new found excitement– probably wondering “How could I have missed all this?”

  33. It is great that your dog is getting a new lease of life from the doggy HRT.


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