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Chasing the Light

 

Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights, started on Tuesday night, and it feels like it’s coming along at just the right time. Chanukah is a holiday for celebrating miracles and light (and a few other things that I choose to ignore, because violence and gore are not my thing). The miracles are about the survival of the Jewish people, and a light that shines longer than it ever should have. Of course, in celebrating that light we have to take it too far: if one candle is nice, eight or nine are nicer, if one Menorah is nice, twenty or thirty, or one twenty-foot tall Menorah, is nicer.

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In Brooklyn (not my picture)

I have been impatiently waiting for some light, especially since Miss Butterfly died, because she radiated light. I’ve tried so hard to generate enough light to fill the void she left behind, but what she did effortlessly I struggle to match.

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Butterfly, radiating internal light

In a strange coincidence, or not, on Tuesday afternoon we received an envelope in the mail form Butterfly’s clinic, with her collar and tags. They’d lost track of them for five months, but on the first day of Chanukah, they were found (or at least received). Mom took it as a sign that Butterfly wants us to find a new sibling for Cricket. I want to see it that way too, but looking at her little pink Butterfly charm just made me sob.

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I want to believe that bringing a new dog home will add light back into our lives. There is a new puppy across the hall, a little black ball of fluff who hops and cries and looks into your eyes until you melt. He makes me think that maybe I could manage a puppy again (I can’t); then there’s his sort-of-sister, Hazel, the mini-Goldendoodle, with her evanescent joy and uncontrollable peeing; and Teddy, our sometime boarder, who went home to find a new sister in his house, a Shih-Poo named Rosie who is doing her best to catch his eye. The light is everywhere, but I can’t quite catch it and hold onto it; I just keep seeing it run past me.

This past weekend, the first snow of the season brought out Cricket’s joy and light. She loves to run through the snow and catch snow balls with her mouth, and dig for hidden snow balls in the snow. I gladly reached down (with my gloves on) for handfuls of snow to keep her entertained. Her capacity for joy is extraordinary, and extraordinary to watch, even in the freezing cold.

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“Look at the snowy light dropping from the sky!”

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“Throw the ball, Mommy!”

I’ve been trying to look at Petfinder.com, but the pages and pages of dogs in nearby rescues and shelters overwhelm me. How do you choose? I want a puppy, but I don’t have the energy. I want a senior dog, like Butterfly, but I can’t go through the trauma of loss again so soon. I want a Great Dane, but I don’t have the room, or the strength. Whenever I see a cute dog who is the right size (no bigger than Cricket), and age (three or four), and doesn’t look too much like Butterfly, I get excited, and then terrified, and then I start crying.

I’m going to need all of the light I can get in order to help me see clearly in the next leg of this journey, and I’m hoping that Chanukah will start me off well, bringing light, and some joy, and maybe even a little bit of hope.

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Butterfly leads the way.

 

 

Cricket’s Anxiety Disorder

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Cricket’s anxiety has increased tenfold since Miss Butterfly died this summer. It’s been five years since we’ve seen Cricket quite this clingy and over the top; not that she was calm and pleasant during Butterfly’s tenure, but she was at least demonstrably better. She’s at a level ten now (or an eleven, really), but for a few years she managed to get down to a seven, or even a six on occasion, with Miss B’s help. Now, Cricket is bullying her Grandma more than ever: physically pushing Grandma around, instead of just moping, and leaning on her, and making puppy dog eyes. If Grandma dares to eat something, Cricket will sit in front of her and yell – “Where’s mine!” – endlessly, until she gets her share. She doesn’t do this with me, partly because she knows I’m a harder nut to crack, but also because I know how to deploy “the look,” persistently, until she loses hope and hides under her couch in frustration. But giving that look wears me out, and the effect is only temporary.

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“Harrumph.”

 

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Cricket has her own version of “the look.”

 

The fact is, Miss Butterfly was the best medicine for all of us. She brought happiness and peace with her everywhere she went. Cricket was pretty sure Butterfly radiated calm from her butt, and therefore sniffed it regularly. Butterfly could even get in Cricket’s face, in a non-threatening way, and interrupt a tantrum.

butterfly front feet on floor copy

It seems obvious that my only option, for the sake of Cricket’s sanity, and Mom’s, is to go out and look for another dog, someone mature and generous and compassionate, to act as Cricket’s therapy dog when needed, and her friend the rest of the time. But I’m not ready. When I try to think about finding a replacement for Miss B, I fall apart. I know I‘m being selfish. I feel cruel leaving Cricket in her current state, just because I’m not ready to let go of Butterfly, and the illusion that she could come back, somehow.

butterfly hair askew

In the near future, we will be pet sitting for an old friend of Cricket’s, a nice old gentleman who used to be my therapy dog, and will now make an effort to bark Cricket into shape, if he can. And then we’ll see. Hopefully having Teddy around will also help me become ready for a new dog, but his Mom made me promise that I won’t try to keep him.

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We’ll see.

The Waves of Kindness and Grief

 

I want to thank all of you for your wonderful words of kindness and support since Butterfly’s death. It feels like you came to virtually sit Shiva with me this week, to mourn for the loss of Butterfly, and to celebrate her life. My rabbi even dedicated a poem to Butterfly at Friday night services, two days after she died, about the sacred nature of animals and our great good fortune at having them in our lives.

I wasn’t sure, when we first adopted Butterfly, as an eight year old rescue with heart problems, if I would be able to bond with her, or if I was just going to take care of her in her old age and learn generosity of spirit. But she became my baby, my heart and soul, my inspiration to become a better person, and a person more capable of joy.

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I still have an essay about Butterfly’s last illness, and the roller coaster of doctor visits and hospital stays, but I haven’t been up to editing it yet. The first draft was written before she died, when I expected her to recover, and figuring out how it needs to change, now, has been too hard.

Cricket has shifted in some essential way, internally, as if she needed to make room for part of her sister’s soul. She snuggles with me more than ever before. She eats enough kibble to rival her sister’s moniker of the super pooper. Just this morning, Cricket left two pieces of kibble of the rug again, right where Butterfly would have put them. She’s even giving licks, on occasion. And a brown and yellow tortoise shell butterfly has taken up residence in our bathroom, one of Butterfly’s favorite places to hang out, do her bathmat art, and find peace. Mom set out a cap full of water and a piece of kibble, just in case.

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I don’t usually, or ever, advertise products or companies on my blog, and that’s not my intention now, but I have to tell you a story. The day after Butterfly died, a bag of her diabetic dog food arrived from Chewy.com. We had a regular order with them, every few months, and it was already on its way when Butterfly died. Mom wrote to them right away to cancel future orders, and explained why, and they immediately sent us a condolence note and refunded the cost of the last bag of food, telling us to donate it to a local animal shelter.

A week later, we received a bouquet of red and white roses from Chewy.com, and Butterfly’s ashes from the clinic, on the same day, at the same time. I had forgotten about the ashes. Mom couldn’t even open the shipping box through her tears, so I put on my bravado and opened the box, removed the paperwork, and then the paper bag with the order form stapled to the front. The process became harder with each step. There was a white box inside of the paper bag, and then gold tissue paper wrapped around a decorative tin with flowers painted on all four sides. This was the end, inside of the tin were the ashes. The decorated tin reminded me of a jigsaw puzzle I once had, stored in a similarly decorated metal tin.

I was overcome by the reality of Butterfly’s ashes, devastated by it, really. We’d never asked for ashes of a pet, or a person, before. It seemed right on the day she died, when the clinic offered us that option, but seeing that tin made me feel sick, and overwhelmed. I didn’t want to scatter her ashes in the backyard, the way we’d originally planned. The idea of it turned bitter in my mind as soon as I saw the tin, as if we would be throwing Butterfly away.

The only comforting thought I could muster at the time was to bring her to my grandfather’s grave, and let her rest there with him. Because they would have loved each other.

We still need to put the bag of dog food in the car and schlep it over to the shelter – which will be hard. And then make the journey to my grandfather’s grave as well, which, for now, feels impossible. The ashes sit behind Butterfly’s picture, which is surrounded by condolence cards, and those red and white roses. And this is where they belong, for now.

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A Butterfly Companion

 

Butterfly flits around like a ladybug. I always think she should be wearing ballet slippers and a tutu, the way she twirls and flies. She is gossamer. Her wings are so ethereal that they are almost invisible. Almost.

My Butterfly

My Butterfly

She doesn’t seem to be like any other dog I’ve known. I’m used to moody dogs, dogs with personality problems, dogs who use guilt to push me around, dogs who could be diagnosed using the DSM V. But Butterfly is a different. She poops and barks and begs for treats, yes, but she’s also untouchable in a way, so sweet as to be unreal.

"Gimme some sugar!"

“Gimme some sugar!”

In a way her butterfly-ness is upsetting, because she is always a bit out of reach. Cricket will jump on me and curl up on my chest, or my hip, while I’m sleeping. She scratches me and shrieks in my ear. She is solid and real and in vivid color. Butterfly is something other than that, an enigma at times, in deep thought about something I can’t know.

When Butterfly’s sugar is very low, she seems as light and airy as a butterfly; within moments she seems to lose most of her body weight; this is the most frightening thing, both for her and for me. Her eyes bulge and she alternates between staring into space and looking at me and shaking. She doesn’t know what to do. Even she thinks this is too much lightness to bear.

I feel so much safer when she is solid in my arms, or galloping down the hill. Then she is real and alive and none of her paws are reaching towards another world. But there is always this tendency to unreality with her. She drifts away, either because her physical health is shaky, or, more often, because she is lost in another state of mind, thinking of some other place, or thinking of nothing at all.

I wonder what she's thinking.

I wonder what she’s thinking.

My mom was kind of like this when I was growing up. When she was present, her love was obvious and full of joy, but then she would disappear, either leaving the house or just leaving her body, and there was no way to reach her. I always wanted to hug her, or yell at her, to bring her back to life, and to me. Mom also has the same sweetness and generosity of spirit as Butterfly, where you can’t quite believe how lucky you are to be loved so much.

I know that Butterfly loves me. When we go outside and she runs off for a minute and turns back, the joy in her face at seeing me, and the flying run she takes to return to me, is extraordinarily good for my self-esteem.

But she can be very independent. If she doesn’t want to be crowded, she’ll just walk away and find a place to be alone. When Cricket does this, she chooses a place nearby, where she can stare at me, and let me know that I have disappointed and annoyed her. But when Butterfly wants to be alone, it’s not about me; she’s not angry at me, or jealous of Cricket, or pouting, she just wants to be alone: on the mat by the front door, on the rug in my room when I’m not there, on the bathmat in the bathroom.

When Cricket is grumpy, she wants me to know about it.

When Cricket is grumpy, she wants me to know about it.

Butterfly prefers to keep her thoughts to herself.

Butterfly prefers to keep her thoughts to herself.

It would almost be better if she was reacting to something I’d done, because at least then I’d feel like I mattered.

It’s possible that a lot of things in my life have had this fleeting, ethereal quality to them, and I write it all down to capture it and remind myself that it was real and not just my imagination. I worry about that, about losing wisps of my life into the air as if they never happened, losing people and memories and emotions because I wasn’t quick enough to tie them down and secure them before the rains came.

I love Butterfly all the time, whether she is close and present, or dreamy and far away. But the pull of grief when she’s flitting away can be incredibly painful. There’s a reason why most people don’t have butterflies as pets.

White butterflies.

Butterfly’s white butterflies.

Chasing A Butterfly

 

Butterfly is diabetic, and she has created a ritual for her morning blood test. She sees that I am going to the shelf where her testing kit lives, and with great excitement she runs to the hallway. She makes sure that I can see her, and then runs a few feet away, and then she turns back to check on me, to make sure I’m following her. She makes a dance of it, turning back three or four times down the fifteen foot hallway, bouncing on her toes in between twirls.

"Is it time yet?!

“Is it time yet?!

"Aren't you coming to the bus stop, Mommy?"

“Aren’t you coming to the bus stop, Mommy?”

Then she lands at her bus stop in Grandma’s room. And I mean lands. She flattens herself into a down position and waits for me to pick her up. Then I carry her back to the living room, sit her on my lap, and start the testing procedure.

"You can pick me up now!"

“You can pick me up now!”

At first, when it came time to pick up Butterfly for her blood tests, Cricket would escape to her apartment under the couch. She was very concerned that this blood testing idea would spread, like a virus, like a bath-giving, haircutting virus. But over time she started to notice that not only was Butterfly the only target for the needles, there was also a very reliable treat give-away after the test. So Cricket began to sit by my feet as Butterfly’s blood was tested. I even caught her sniffing the testing kit once, as if she could smell the chicken treats by association.

"We want treats! We want treats!"

“We want treats! We want treats!”

We take blood twice a day from Butterfly’s tail. We tried the veins in her ears, and her paw pads, and the callus on her elbow, but none of them worked, and then I saw a YouTube video of a dog getting her blood tested from her small cropped tail. Butterfly’s tail is long and skinny, so I wasn’t sure if it would work the same way, but there’s blood available every time and it doesn’t seem to bother her, much.

Her insulin shot goes into the scruff of her neck and usually doesn’t bother her either, but sometimes I hit the wrong spot, or maybe the cold temperature of the refrigerated insulin bothers her, and she flinches. But it’s over in a second and then she’s ready for treats. She never runs away or growls or tries to bite me. Thank God all of this isn’t going on with Cricket. I’d have no fingers left.

If Butterfly’s blood sugar is low, which it often is in the morning, she gets a special bone treat, made with whole wheat flour to raise her blood sugar just enough. Mom got this Bake-A-Bone toy for Mother’s day or her birthday this year from my brother’s family, along with books of recipes for special foods for dogs. I think Butterfly has been talking to their dog, Lilah, and trying to influence the gift choices over there.

The magical bone making toy.

The magical bone making toy.

Bones in process

Bones in process

Bones!!!!!!!!

Bones!!!!!!!!

But if the blood sugar is normal-ish, or high, the girls share a chicken treat. They know where the bag is. They go straight over to the book case and stare up at it. Cricket has even tried to climb the shelves, unsuccessfully. They pull out all of their circus dog tricks if the treats fail to come as quickly as desired. Even Butterfly has learned how to stand on her back legs with her front paws in prayer pose, though she can’t maintain the pose as long as Cricket can. Then Butterfly takes her share and runs to the hall to eat alone. And Cricket inhales her treat whole, coughs a bit, and then stares at me expectantly as if I never gave her a treat at all.

Cricket is starving!

Cricket is starving!

The other day, in the middle of the afternoon, Butterfly had a partial seizure. Her eyes started twitching, her legs wobbled, she walked in circles and couldn’t see clearly, and her body shook. When I calmed down, I tested her sugar and it was very low, the lowest it had ever been. We gave her maple syrup – applied to her gums the way the doctor told us to do, so she’d have no choice but to take it in – and within thirty seconds, she was herself again.         Her doctor warned us about listlessness and even coma, but he never mentioned partial seizures, so thank god for doctor Google.

And Now Butterfly is back to normal. I can be sitting on the couch, or at the computer, or trying to sleep, and she’ll come over as if something very exciting is about to happen. She’ll dip her head and smile at me, and then she’ll run. If I’m too slow, she waits for me, every step of the way, because she wants me to catch her. She wants to flatten out on the floor and get scooped up like a rag doll. It’s her favorite thing, chicken treats or not.

 

A Butterfly Moment

A Butterfly moment

A Butterfly moment

 

Sometimes, especially at night, Butterfly likes to do a walking meditation. She’s not overly energetic by then, or full of poop, and she’s sniffed as much as she’s interested in for the day, so while Cricket drags one of the humans up the sidewalk to sniff the world, Butterfly gently but firmly leads the other human to a quieter place in the yard. She walks slowly and with intention. She listens for the wind and the shaking of the leaves. She sniffs the smells that come to her on the air. She takes this time to unwind and let go of whatever didn’t work out from her day so that she can sleep well and wake up refreshed and ready for a new adventure.

Walking meditations are full of joy

Walking meditations are full of joy

Meanwhile, Cricket is practically flattened to the ground to get better traction as she pulls mightily on the leash. She always wants to go towards the street and the cars and the noise. She wants to make every pee trip into a three mile walk, uphill, into traffic.

Cricket is so strong she pulled me back to the Fall

Cricket is so strong she pulled me back to the Fall

When Cricket returns, Butterfly tries to share her calm with her sister. It’s like a Reiki master who warms her hands to build energy before sending energy to someone else, but Butterfly uses her nose. She breathes in the fresh air, paces herself, rests her mind, and then when she sees that her sister is overwrought, she offers a nose to nose check in, and inevitably, Cricket calms down, somewhat (we can’t work miracles here.)

nose to ear, close enough

nose to ear, close enough

Whereas butt sniffing is about curiosity and checking in, nose to nose sniffing is about sharing breath and offering peace. It’s like when you take the hand of a friend who is grieving or in pain and you offer your energy and warmth and life to the other person, as a bridge.

Butterfly really listens to the birds when we go outside. The birds I recognize (with help from my nature loving mom) are the red breasted Robin, the Cardinal, the Baltimore Oriole, and the cowbird. Mom is not a fan of the cowbird. There were also starlings at some point, and a bird whose feathers were left in a pile, like a quickly discarded coat, white with black polka dots.

Butterfly's indoor birdie friend

Butterfly’s indoor birdie friend

I’m not sure if Butterfly knows the differences between the birds, or gets a sense of what they are singing about, but she listens carefully to all of them, and to the sound of the airplanes overhead, or a bus passing by, or the train stopping at the train station. She’s a connoisseur of different sounds and songs, but she doesn’t sing them herself, She just likes to listen.

I wonder if the extra birds hanging out in the yard this summer have been drawn here by Miss Butterfly. She has such a Zen feeling about her that we now have Robins and starlings sitting on the lawn, having their own Butterfly moments, as if two fluffy dogs are not inches away from them.

Even the white cat with brown patches who used to run up the retaining wall at the sight of a dog, has become more relaxed, watching us walk in her direction, even coming up to our front door, and only running away when the dogs make eye contact with her.

Maybe there’s an ad in a newspaper only animals can read, inviting everyone to our backyard for meditation class, and that’s why Butterfly has been barking more often, impatient to get outside to her students.

Butterfly has the ability to dissociate from her body too. She spent eight years in a puppy mill perfecting this skill, so that nothing happening to her or around her had to penetrate her heart and soul. She does this less now, but it’s been a process. When Cricket tears around the room like a pinball, Butterfly will freeze and her face will go blank, for a moment or two, and then she will come back. When my youngest nephew (or his father) decide to drag Butterfly around by the neck, she lets go of herself for a moment, until it’s over, or until she hears me screaming.

Dissociated Butterfly, waiting fro Cricket to stop barking.

Dissociated Butterfly, waiting for Cricket to stop barking.

This is different from meditation. Dissociation is absence, from the mind or body or self, a way to survive, but meditation is something else, it’s sparkly and kind and full bodied and it lets in noise, but not so much that it’s overwhelming. And Butterfly is mastering meditation in our backyard, and, little by little, teaching it to me.

Butterfly's favorite form of meditation - on food.

Butterfly’s favorite form of meditation – on food.

The Broken Butterfly

There’s a special value in rescuing a dog, beyond knowing that you’ve saved someone’s life, or feeling like a good person: a rescue dog is a reminder of the broken things in the world, and of how sacred they are. My rabbi told us that the broken pieces of the first set of tablets of the ten commandments – the ones Moses smashed when he saw his people building the golden calf – were kept in the ark along with the pristine final set of tablets, as a necessary part of the whole.

           Butterfly, with her missing teeth and adorable protruding tongue, her heart murmur and lumps and bumps, is an important part of the whole story. Not all dogs are born to happy families, or adopted by happy families, and taken to the vet each time they have the sniffles. Happiness is only part of the story.

Beautiful Butterfly

Beautiful Butterfly

          Butterfly was recently diagnosed with diabetes. She had a urinary tract infection back in the fall, but with antibiotics it went away. We were curious about why she’d gotten it, but assumed it had something to do with how low to the ground she was when she peed, compared to long-legged Cricket, who practically hovers in the air.

Cricket  hovering, with help.

Cricket hovering, with help.

          As soon as she started to pee in the house again in February, we took her straight to the doctor. The vet on duty did some tests, took an x-ray to rule out kidney stones, and gave us antibiotics for another suspected UTI. We wrapped the pills in chicken and peanut butter and hot dogs and all of her other standbys; we crushed the pills and mixed them with water and then with her food and parmesan cheese. We did everything we could think of just to get the antibiotics into her system, against her will. But not only wasn’t she improving, she looked sicker and sicker every day. She was noticeably lighter when I picked her up, she didn’t do her usual poopie dance, and she stopped waking me up in the morning, waiting instead for me to wake her up and convince her to go outside.

Butterfly, not eating? Cricket is unconcerned.

Butterfly, not eating? Cricket is unconcerned.

          My concern has always been her heart, because she has a prolapsed mitral valve and is at risk for heart failure. I knew this when I adopted her. But it’s a hard thing to remember when she is running and jumping and smiling at me. I was afraid that after a year of watching her flourish, I was going to lose her.

          We collected some of her voluminous pee and brought it to the clinic to be tested, and made an appointment with a different vet. As soon as we met the new doctor he took a blood glucose test, to confirm the results of the urine test, which, he told us, showed very high sugar. In the office that day her sugar was over five hundred. It’s supposed to be under a hundred.

           I was relieved. I’d been so scared that this was heart failure, and she was dying, but diabetes is treatable. The doctor showed me how to give her a shot of insulin in the scruff of her neck. He also gave us a liquid antibiotic to try on her, instead of the dreaded pills, because the UTI was clearly being maintained by the diabetes and needed another round of antibiotics to wipe it out.

          Every morning, and evening, I give her a dose of the antibiotics which she hates, making angry toddler faces and sticking out her tongue, and I give her a shot of insulin, which she doesn’t seem to mind. Some days I do a better job than others. It still feels strange to stick a needle into her skin, and I can be too tentative, but mostly it gets done, and she’s improving.

          The rest of the day, I follow her around with pee test strips to see how the insulin is working.

          The first time I saw her run again after her diagnosis and treatment began, I thought my body would crack open from all of that joy.

Hopefully this is what she'll look like again soon.

Hopefully this is what she’ll look like again soon.

          There is a sort of halo of white light around Butterfly, that could just be the highlights in her hair, but the light could also be coming through her broken pieces. And I want to keep that light going for as long as I can.

Butterfly , spreading the light

Butterfly , spreading the light