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Welcome Home, Ellie


We got a call from Cricket’s groomer, last Friday, saying that she had a five-year-old Havanese female and would we want to meet her. She’d rescued the dog from a breeder, but then she realized she didn’t have the time and energy for another dog. We had asked her to keep her eyes open, and so, she thought of us.


My original plan was to wait until the end of my internship, in early August, to start looking for a dog, but the call came on Cricket’s eleventh birthday, about two weeks before the one year anniversary of Butterfly’s death, and I’d like to believe that the timing is a sign that she’s the one for us. Ellie is a breeding dog, like Miss B, with mainly white hair and a compact build, like Miss B, but she doesn’t really remind me of Butterfly. She reminds me more of Dobby, the house elf in Harry Potter, with her big eyes, and her fear of being hit, and her uncertainty about how to manage freedom.

Ellie with Gerry

Miss Ellie

Ellie checked a few boxes for me right away: smaller than Cricket, not a puppy but not a senior either, Havanese (hypoallergenic, non-shedding, good-tempered companion dogs). But we found out that Ellie had had her “barker” removed by the breeder, and was very skittish around humans, for a number of possible reasons. Mom was freaked out by the no “barker” idea, because, what is a dog without a bark?

We decided to go ahead and brought Cricket in for a haircut on Saturday morning, to turn her back into a recognizable dog, and to introduce her to Ellie and see if they could get along. Cricket sniffed Ellie and Ellie sniffed Cricket, and war didn’t break out, so we decided to take her home for a trial visit. The groomer gave us the supplies she’d already bought for Ellie, including cans of wet food, grain-free treats, wee wee pads and a doggy bed, plus her harness and leash. She said that, if we decided to keep her, we could pay her back for her spaying and shots, and then she’d be ours.

She doesn’t respond automatically to “Ellie,” so it’s unclear if that’s been her name all along or not. She has salt and pepper hair on her ears, and I thought “Pepper” might fit her, but Mom worried that it sounds too much like other “P” words, and could cause confusion, so we’re sticking with “Ellie.” She has a long back, and short legs, and her nose is longer than Cricket’s. Her ears sit up like pig tails, and her eyes are huge. She eats very quickly and would seemingly eat everything in the house, if we gave her a chance, so no more leaving kibble out for Cricket all day.


Early on, Ellie paced through the whole apartment, to check things out, and even went under Cricket’s couch, while Cricket watched, horrified. I think some message must have been sent, silently, that Ellie should never go under that couch again, because she has stayed clear.


We still have her in her harness all day, because the process of taking it off and putting it back on freaks her out. Even clipping on her leash for a walk terrifies her. She lets me pick her up, sometimes. Other times she turns away from me as if I am the bogey (wo)man from her nightmares.

Ellie between two beds

“You’re so scary.”

She doesn’t know what to do with herself overnight yet. I’ve put her on my bed, but the slightest sound scares her off and she jumps to the floor and wanders through the apartment, using the living room rug as her wee wee pad, because she can’t remember that her wee wee pad is by the front door. We gently remind her where to pee, and clean up after her, and praise her when she pees outside, but I’m not sure she’s able to take it in yet. She’s started to play with toys, even pouncing on a ball when it was thrown for her. And every once in a while she gives us licks when we pet her head. She’s warmed up to Mom faster than to me, asking for uppies and sitting on her lap for a little while during the day, but I’m catching up.


“I love Grandma.”


Ellie is a gift, but I keep worrying that I didn’t choose her, and she just fell into my lap by luck. And I don’t trust luck, or fate, to do right by me. Part of my uneasiness is her uneasiness. She’s very skittish with humans, and when she stares at me, I worry that she’s scared of me, rather than interested. If I turn the page of a book, she stares at me, worried, but then she flops back down into her resting pose, where she looks almost at ease, stretching her legs and lifting her chin onto the rim of her bed.


“Excuse me, I’m stretching here.”


I’m sure I had second thoughts with Butterfly too when she first came home, with her health issues, and her tendency to shut down and not interact at first. But she was the right dog for me at that moment and the fact is, Ellie is going to blossom over time, and she will have her own lessons to teach me, and to teach Cricket. Butterfly taught us unconditional love, persistence, and resilience. I don’t know what Ellie will teach me, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

Ellie in the car

“Me too!”

Mom was right, though, the silence was eerie. Ellie didn’t bark at all at first. She listened to Cricket’s barking with interest, and/or fear, but she didn’t make a sound, just opened her mouth a little bit and closed it again. Mom thought she heard a high pitched bark one day, not from Cricket, but we weren’t sure. Then, Wednesday night, after my long day, I came home to Ellie and Cricket waiting for me at the door, both jumping up to greet me. And then, Ellie barked, again and again and again. Her bark is high pitched and light, as if she has a sore throat, but she has a lot to say and she wants to be heard.


“I just need to practice.”


There was one more sign. The first morning after Ellie’s first night with us, a brown butterfly came flying through the living room, flitting everywhere frantically, seeming to sniff the air, and sniff both dogs, to take stock of the situation. It made me think that maybe Miss Butterfly had sent her, to let us know that Ellie is the right one for us.

So, we wrote the check, and called the vet to have Ellie’s records transferred, and Ellie is officially ours. And I don’t even think Cricket minds, too much.

Cricket is sad


The Baby Substitutes

Me and baby Cricket

Me and baby Cricket


Almost from the beginning, I carried Cricket like a baby, she grabbed around my neck with her front paws and wrapped her back paws around my waist, or whatever was closest. She’s kind of a cross between a dog and a monkey the way she can use her limbs like arms and legs. I wanted to make the most of the hugs and baby-like things about her in case I never got to have a human baby. Maybe I was being too fatalistic.

I used to think I was in therapy almost entirely to prepare for motherhood, to make sure that I would be functional and kind and smart in raising my children and not take out any of my weirdness and depression on them.

Throughout my twenties, I had a dog with serious neuroses – separation anxiety, fear of strangers, fear of bridges, panting out half her body weight and releasing hair in piles every time I left the house. I practiced on her, learning how to be a mom to her, how to set limits and offer comfort and accept her as she was and teach her what she could learn.

Dina in her mild old age

Dina in her mild old age

My prospects for becoming healthy in time to be a mom before my eggs wither and splat are not good. I’m not quite at the point of no return yet, and with reproductive technology, that point has been pushed off even further. But I already feel the loss. I thought my number one goal in life was to be a writer, and it was, and is, but it turns out that being a mom was second, not fourth or fifth like I would have thought.

Theoretically, I could go to a sperm bank, or foster a child, or adopt. Mom would help. But I don’t feel like I’m up to the challenge. And I’m not sure if I would like children as much as I like dogs.

There are a lot of things that just aren’t the same about parenting a child and a dog. Children grow up and go through many different stages of development and need to learn how to be responsible for themselves and think independently. You can’t clicker train a child if you want them to make their own decisions about right and wrong some day. A dog remains on a leash or in an enclosure and never learns to drive or gets a credit card or finds a job or robs a bank.

Cricket is a lot of hard work. If she were a human child I would say that she has ADHD and maybe a conduct disorder. And I would say that, as a parent, I struggle with disciplining her and setting clear rules and keeping her busy in productive ways. I feel like instead of building better parenting skills from raising Cricket, I’ve become resigned to the way Cricket is.

Cricket, biting the hand that feeds her

Cricket, biting the hand that feeds her

I accept that I will have a shorter amount of time with Butterfly. She only came to me at eight years old, after a hard life, and her breed’s life expectancy is twelve to fourteen years. But what I’ve learned from Butterfly is that I could adapt to raising a child who is not a baby when they come to me, and is already formed by difficult circumstances. So, again, the dogs are my practice for little humans.

My adopted Butterfly

My adopted Butterfly

But they may also be all there is. I may never give birth or adopt or even foster a child. I may never be financially, emotionally, or physically ready to be a mom. And if that’s the case, then the dogs ARE my kids. And I need to take as much joy and education from their presence as I can.

My girls

My girls