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The Dancing Raccoon

Out for a stroll.

Out for a stroll.

The other night when Mom and I took the dogs out for their last walk of the night, I heard a terrible squawking sound. I couldn’t quite place it, but it was a mix of a little girl being tortured and birds flapping their wings and leaves rustling. I was concerned, but when I looked up into the woods I couldn’t see anything to explain the sound, and the lights from the complex illuminate the area well enough that a screaming child and her tormentor would have been visible.

The scene of the crime (or, the backyard).

The scene of the crime (or, the backyard).

I thought it might be a cat fight or a strange bird ritual that I didn’t want to be a part of, so I turned the girls back towards home. The rustling sound came closer though, and, of course, I turned around to see what it was, and there was the dancing raccoon. He was skipping out of the woods like little red riding hood, without a care, until he saw the dogs. I don’t think of my dogs as especially frightening, especially when Cricket is keeping her barking to herself, but to this raccoon they must have looked terrifying, because first he froze in mid-hop, then he backed up on his tippy toes like a bad cat burglar, and then he turned and ran back into the woods.

The raccoon looked something like this (not my picture).

The raccoon looked something like this (not my picture).

I really wish I had a video of the dance. He was a bruiser of a raccoon, clearly eating a lot of the cat food left out for the now scrawny feral cats, but my little white fluff balls intimidated the poop out of him.

Who knew raccoons were so cute? (not my picture)

Who knew raccoons were so cute? (not my picture)

To be fair, it’s possible that he’d been spying on us for a while, for days or weeks or months, and had decided that the little white dog with the curly hair and the big mouth was clearly the devil in disguise. Cricket can really scream. I feel bad for the workmen who’ve been traipsing in and out of the complex for the past eight months, because Cricket barks at them every single time she sees them, and tries to break her leash and lunge at them from fifty feet away. Even Butterfly gets a few deep barks out before she calmly sniffs their pant legs.

Crazy barking Cricket!

Crazy barking Cricket!

The big raccoon had probably written out a schedule of safe times to cross the yard to get to the garbage cans in front of the Seven-Eleven, and we ruined his plans by going out at an unexpected hour. He was making such a racket on his way down the hill that I guess he couldn’t hear us until he was just a few feet away.

This was my first raccoon sighting on the premises in a year. We have a lot of wildlife behind our building: we have chipmunks and squirrels and butterflies and snails, we have tiny birds and fly over geese and feral cats and home grown cats, and of course we have the dogs. But the raccoons have been keeping a low profile, and I’m afraid that this particular raccoon will do his best not to let himself be seen again, at least not by me and my scary, scary dogs.

Who could be scared of these two?

Who could be scared of these two?

Dancing Puppies

Always start with a stretch

Always stretch first

 

Cricket first came home as an eight week old puppy, in September of 2007. She was adorable and tiny and running in every direction and we took her to puppy class that October, determined to start her off right. She needed socialization, and manners. And we needed some idea of how to make her stop biting us.

Every Monday night, after class, we drove home discouraged, and turned on the TV for some relief. I don’t remember if I’d watched Dancing with the Stars before that season, but it was on after class and it was undemanding, so it became a staple.

I picked up my exhausted, angry puppy, and we learned how to dance. She liked the calm, slow, up and down twirls of the Waltz. I liked the sharp, staccato turns of the Tango, paw in hand. But her best dance was a free form mix of the Latin dances. She loved to shake her tushy. I held her in the air and twisted her to the right and the left, shoulder shimmy right and left. We sang the “I like big butts” song and the “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard” song, though Cricket does not have much of a milkshake.

Cricket demonstrates a dance lift

Cricket demonstrates a dance lift

Each week, we danced with the contestants and tried new rhythms and new lifts, and the dancing bonded us in a way the class, with its forced sits and holding-puppy-on-her-back to get her calm, never could.

I’ve tried to teach Cricket some dance moves she can do on her own. There’s the slow turn on two feet, and the two-steps-forward-two-steps-back, and the sit-down-stand-up-jump combination. All held together with chicken treats. But, honestly, she’d rather be getting scratchies.

Cricket mid-spin

Cricket mid-spin

When Butterfly first came home she wasn’t up to dancing. She’d been living in a crate for her eight years at the puppy mill and needed to start slow. The first step was to get her moving, just walking around the block, using her legs, climbing curbs and steps. She learned about jumping for treats from Cricket, and she taught herself how to twirl, just for fun.

Butterfly learns by watching Cricket

Butterfly learns by watching Cricket

Now that she has all of her dance steps, she prefers to dance on her own instead of with me. She has a very specific, well choreographed poopy dance. First she starts to run, back and forth, back and forth, to warm up. Then she starts to hop and skip in circles, in one direction and then the other. Then there are the spirals. She ends with a few small, hopping circles, lifting her hind end up and bouncing it off the ground.

Then, finally, she stops and poops.

Butterfly mid-dance

Butterfly mid-dance

It’s possible that Butterfly’s puppy mill was near a ballet school. I can’t imagine how she had the room to develop this dance routine living in a crate all day, day after day. She must have been dreaming this dance her whole life.

 

 

 

 

Cricket’s First Training Class

 

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Mom and I took Cricket to a puppy class at the local pet store when Cricket was three or four months old. I wanted Cricket to stop biting me; that was my most pressing goal.

All of the books said that it would be easier to train her as a puppy, rather than later on, and that I would be a terrible person if I didn’t teach her to heel, come when called, and pee on command. But for me, the thing I wanted most was for her to be able to make friends with other dogs, and people. I wanted her to be a safe companion for her young human cousins, and to not be as isolated as my previous dog had been, with her antisocial behavior and anxiety disorder.

I also had dreams of getting Cricket to do tricks, like ride a skateboard, or surf, or dance with me.

I loved meeting all of the other puppies in the class. There was a baby bloodhound named Baxter, and a pair of miniature Pinschers, and miniature Poodles, and a black Lab or two, and an older Maltese. But Cricket was not as enamored of them as I was, and she didn’t think the treats were worth working for. She ignored the commands and smiled at me and sniffed the shelves at the store and peed in the corners, and then we went home and she chewed through an entire wicker garbage can.

What I remember most about the teacher was that nothing she said made sense to me. I felt like I was listening to a foreign language I’d never studied, or trying to make sense of NASA’s instruction book for how to launch a space shuttle. I can’t tell you even now if that was because she actually didn’t make sense or if it’s because obedience training kills my circuitry.

The teacher had a way of taking my nervous, meant-to-be-funny comments and using them as lessons for the class. Like, I asked her, after a particularly grueling lesson, when do we get the magic pill that makes training just kick in, and she said, in all seriousness and pointing me out to the class, that there is no magic pill and training takes a lot of hard work.

The teacher was impatient with all of us, but especially with Cricket. She told us to flip Cricket onto her back and hold her down, as an intervention. We were supposed to show Cricket that we were in charge and resistance wasn’t going to get her anywhere. But all that did was to make Cricket more frightened and more resistant to the training.

I should have listened more carefully when the teacher told us that her mother used to hit her to keep her in line, and, instead of saying that her mother did the wrong thing, she said, mothers hit us because they love us.

I finally gave up on the class after the fourth week. The teacher had done her “intervention” one time too many and Cricket had learned to hide behind my legs whenever the teacher came by.

It all felt like a way to crush her spirit and mine. I resented the idea that Cricket was supposed to be a pod puppy, with no unique or rebellious characteristics left. And I was exhausted. So we left, and replaced training class with episodes of Dancing with the Stars. Cricket is great at the Tango.

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