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Cricket’s Ears

 

Two weeks ago, on Friday morning, we took the dogs to the groomer for their regular appointment. Butterfly’s hair was turning grey around the ears (she’s a white dog) and Cricket’s eyes were disappearing into a mop of hair. My biggest concern, though, was the hair in Cricket’s ears. I’d asked the groomer to pull the matted hair from her ears, every time, but somehow it rarely happened. So this time, I was insistent. Whatever else you do, I said, make sure to deal with her ears.

When we picked the girls up that afternoon, everything seemed fine. Cricket was flapping her ears a bit, but that seemed reasonable given that they’d not only plucked the hair from the inside of her ears, they’d shaved the mats off the outside too, making her look even more like a little lamb. Butterfly started sniffing at Cricket’s ears almost immediately, but it’s something she tends to do, sniffing Cricket’s ears, nose, butt, etc., for secret messages, so I didn’t take too much notice. On Saturday, though, I noticed that Cricket was still flapping her ears. I managed to feel the inside of one of her ears, for a second, and I felt something hard, as if the skin where the hair had been plucked was scabbed. Cricket wasn’t interested in letting me look more closely, though, and I figured it was probably no big deal.

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“Mommy, why does Butterfly keep sniffing my ear?”

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Ears mid-flap.

By Sunday afternoon, Cricket was flapping her ears so much that I thought she was going to give herself whiplash, and then I noticed this strange smell. I wasn’t sure if the smell was coming from Cricket, though. In fact, I assumed there was some food in the garbage can that was beginning to rot.

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flap flap flap!

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“Mommy, I think Cricket’s ears are going to fly away.”

On Sunday night, after emptying all of the garbage cans to no avail, I was finally able to look directly inside of Cricket’s right ear, and I saw a ring of brown pus, surrounding livid red skin. My stomach dropped, from the guilt, and the smell, and an incredible amount of anger at the groomer, for doing this to Cricket, and for not telling me what she’d done.

At eight thirty Monday morning, when the vet’s office opened, I called and got an emergency appointment. There was just enough time to wake up everyone before we had to leave (Cricket was sleeping on her grandma’s head, and Butterfly was sleeping-guard next to the bed). Cricket was excited, as usual, to go outside without her sister, and get in the car without her sister, and climb behind my head in the passenger seat. But as soon as we got to the vet’s waiting room, she tried to run back out the front door, and failing that, she hid under the bench. Cricket is a terrible patient. The only part of illness she can handle is taking a pill, slathered in peanut butter. Going to the vet and being man-handled? No way.

We were called in quickly, and the vet took one look at her ears and almost gasped. He’s not really a gasper, by nature, but he came close this time. He had to clean out both of Cricket’s ears, with cotton balls and long Q-tips, and then he gave her a shot to calm the redness, and drops in her ears, all with a muzzle on, because she was not handling the stress very well at all. He asked, twice, if we’d rather have her put out during the ordeal, but, knowing Cricket, I thought she’d be even angrier waking up from anesthesia.

The vet gave us ear drops to give Cricket at home, twice a day, and Mom said, of course we can do that. The vet said that if we couldn’t get the drops in her ears, the second best option was to put something else in her ears (at the office) that would last a few weeks. No, we can do it, Mom said, as she looked at Cricket on the stainless steel table, wearing her muzzle, with her eyes bugged out, and clearly imagined a completely different dog.

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Peanut butter!

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Peanut butter tongue.

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“My turn!”

I actually managed to get drops into one of Cricket’s ears, in fifteen attempts, but not in the really bad ear. Cricket bared her teeth at me each time, and swung her head around 360 degrees as if she was possessed by Satan each time I got anywhere near her with the medicine dropper. So we had to go back to the vet, in defeat, the next day, and have him do the second best option. Cricket had to be dragged into the examining room (it’s a good thing the floor is slippery), and then she ran into the corner of the examining room, trying to avoid the reality that she was in the vet’s office, where who knew what horrors could come next. The vet dropped the lotion into her ears in two seconds, before Cricket could build herself up to full hysteria, and then off we went.

The doctor checked Cricket again on Thursday morning, and pulled some more hair out of her bad ear like it was so much fluff. Cricket’s eyes bugged out, and she had to be held still by the vet tech so that she wouldn’t jump off the table, and then the vet told us to come back for one more check-up the following week. I’m not in love with watching Cricket panic as she’s called into the examining room, but I feel like we’re really well taken care of by this doctor, and I wish that we could find a groomer who made us feel the same way. I thought we had, actually. This was the first groomer (after many tries) that Cricket could tolerate long enough to get an actual haircut, and she’s been going there for years.

The thing is, I still don’t understand what went wrong. How come Cricket wasn’t whimpering in pain, or bleeding, right after the grooming? Did they put something on the wound to stop the bleeding and numb the pain, and just not tell us? The other thing is, the scabs were already growing out with new hair in less than a week, and that seems really fast for new growth. The hair inside of the ear is supposed to be plucked at the root, to keep it from growing back so quickly, so, did the groomer shave the inside of Cricket’s ear, and push too hard, shaving off layers of skin?

The vet actually knows Cricket’s groomer and usually trusts her. He said that, from now on, we should come to him every two months to have him remove Cricket’s ear hair, and never let the groomer do it again. I’m sure Cricket will be thrilled when she figures out that she’ll be going to the groomer and the vet on a regular basis for the foreseeable future.

When we got home from the third vet visit of the week, Butterfly had to sniff Cricket all over, to second check his methods and diagnosis, and she seemed satisfied with his work.

I could tell that Cricket was starting to feel better when she scratched her ear against the floor, a sign that her ears were not quite as sensitive anymore. And then she felt so much better that she risked scratching her ear with a paw, though she did sniff the paw afterwards, to check for lingering infection, or just because. She’s like an eight year old boy in a dog costume.

 

Listening Like A Dog

 

Cricket can be a very good listener. Even in a dead sleep, limbs flopping in midair, she can hear certain words (like: walk, chicken, go, out, and, of course, pee) and be up on her feet and stretching within half a second.

Don't be fooled. Cricket can hear everything!

Don’t be fooled. Cricket can hear everything!

She listens to the sounds of her people sleeping, and shifting, to determine when the waking up drama is about to take place, so she can mark it with screeching and scratching and growling and jumping. She listens to the outdoor sounds, to make sure terrorists are not hiding in plain sight, pretending to be birds or squirrels. She often listens by sniffing, hearing the story of her sister’s visit to the vet by smelling her ears, armpits, and, of course, her butt.

This is Butterfly sniffing Cricket, but you get the idea.

This is Butterfly sniffing Cricket, but you get the idea.

Listening like a dog means actively looking for the information someone wants to give you. It’s not about being nice, or friendly, or polite; it’s about tying an imaginary thread between you and the talker and letting them feel the tug each time you understand what they’ve said.

Butterfly even listens with her tongue!

Butterfly even listens with her tongue!

My rabbi went to Israel this summer with a group of other liberal rabbis, and they spent a week with different groups of Israelis and Israeli Arabs, and at the end of the trip they spent three days in Jerusalem, hearing from Palestinians from East Jerusalem, during the height of the Gaza war. These speakers had to spend hours travelling, because of the heightened security measures, but they felt it was important enough to come and tell their personal stories to this group of American Jews. The rule was that the listeners had to wait until the end of the presentation to speak, and even then, only speak in the form of a question, to try to understand better where the speaker was coming from, rather than to argue with them.

That way, even if you hear something early on that’s provocative, or that you think is untrue, or unfair, you don’t interrupt. You keep listening, in case there’s something for you to learn. And isn’t there always something to learn? Maybe you learn why the other person believes as they do, or why they are willing to go through the difficult journey just to speak to you. There can be a moment of understanding, and compassion, and even progress, through dialogue. Not total agreement by any means, but maybe one or two points of connection will come through.

It is taking me forever to learn how to listen when listening is difficult. Patience was never my strong suit. And to be fair to me, people keep saying the craziest things and I feel like it is my job to set things straight so that the world won’t tilt out of control.

Cricket is listening, but she doesn't like what she's hearing.

Cricket is listening, but she doesn’t like what she’s hearing.

Butterfly is a much better listener than I am. She very rarely takes offense. She listens to her sister’s diatribes with curiosity and patience. She even sniffs an ear to see if there’s more to find out. She uses a tactic I’d call whole body listening. You can see her ears lift and rotate, and her nose twitch, as she focuses her gaze on you. But even more, you can feel her listening, feel the heat of her body leaning against you to see what mood you are in, or her tongue licking your palm to let you know that she’s paying attention.

I can probably skip the licking part, but the rest of her listening skills seem worthy of imitation. Now, if only I could get my ears to lift up and rotate the way hers do…

Look at those ears!

Look at those ears!