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Cricket and Ellie

Cricket and Ellie have been together for almost a year now, and I think it’s been a long year for Cricket. She wasn’t convinced that she needed a new sister, and she will never acknowledge that having Ellie with her has lowered her anxiety level a few decibels (but it has).

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“I don’t need no sister!”

It was luck that we got the call about Ellie on Cricket’s 11th birthday, last year, and were able to pick her up the following day. I’d like to believe that Ellie was, in a way, Cricket’s birthday present, but Cricket didn’t see it that way, especially because, in the turmoil, we forgot to have a celebration with Cricket’s favorite foods (peanut butter, red bell peppers, olives, and, of course, chicken). We tried to make up for it with a week full of chicken, for both of them, but Cricket remembered the slight.

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“I remember everything.”

I worry that if we celebrate Ellie’s Gotcha Day, right after Cricket’s 12th birthday, Cricket will feel neglected, or resentful. I mean, more than usual. But Ellie deserves to be celebrated too. She’s found her place in the world, through trial and error, and luck, and quite a lot of therapy, just like me.

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“What are you looking at?”

From the beginning, Ellie has come to therapy with me once a week. My therapist insisted that Ellie should come, not so much for my sake, or even for Ellie’s really, but because my therapist likes having dog patients. She misses her own dogs during the day, now that she works from an office building instead of from home. But it turns out that I like bringing Ellie with me, because it’s the one time of the week when she sits on my lap. At home she prefers to stretch out nearby, on the floor, on the couch, or on the bed, but in therapy she needs more contact. And if I have to talk about something particularly painful I can cuddle with her for comfort, or talk about her as a break from the tension, just for a little while. And therapy has been good for Ellie too. She’s been gradually learning self-calming techniques, and realizing that she has a safe base to return to (me), which allows her to spend more and more time exploring the office. Recently, she even built up the courage to go over to my therapist directly, which she never did early on (though my therapist clearly cheated by bringing in cheese). It’s Ellie’s one hour per week when she gets to go out alone with Mommy, while Cricket stays home with Grandma, and she seems to look forward to it, and know where we’re going, though, really, it could be all about the cheese.

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Ellie in therapy: thinking deeply.

I brought Cricket along with us to therapy one day, when my Mom had her quilting group in the city, and Cricket seemed forlorn at the thought of being left home alone. Cricket used to go to therapy with me herself, when she was a puppy, so she was thrilled to see her therapist again; so thrilled that she peed on the rug three times, and used the furniture, and my therapist, as a jungle gym, and then stole a chocolate-filled candy from the coffee table. All of this while Ellie sat calmly on my lap, bewildered.

Cricket does not believe that she is going to be twelve years old. Yes, she’s had occasional back trouble, and she takes CBD oil each morning to relieve general aches and pains, but she thinks she’s still a puppy, and the fact is, she is still as smart and stubborn as ever. I can see that she has slowed down over time, but that’s only because she used to be a raging speed demon and now she’s not dragging me down the street, as much. In her trip to therapy she forgot her age completely and went back to acting like the puppy she used to be: raging speed demon, excitement peeing, and all. I can’t afford to replace the office carpeting, though, so Cricket will be staying home from now on.

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“Harrumph.”

Cricket is still clearly the boss around here. If there’s a plate on the floor, Ellie will run for it, until she sees Cricket out of the corner of her eye, and then she backs off and waits for permission, from Cricket, to lick up the leftovers. Though, Ellie has occasionally ignored her sister’s rules and elbowed for space, when there were scratchies on offer, but not too often.

Ellie generally sleeps in my room, because Cricket won’t allow her up on Grandma’s bed, though Ellie has no problem sharing my bed with Cricket. They often take their afternoon naps with me, each staking out her own territory and stretching out. Ellie has tried to get Cricket to play with her, doing a play bow, or running circles around her out in the yard, but Cricket just gets confused. Cricket can play by herself, or with a human, but she doesn’t understand dog to dog play. It’s just too weird for her.

We will have to find a way to celebrate Cricket’s 12th birthday, and Ellie’s Gotcha day, and their sisterhood, all at once, in a way that Cricket will enjoy. Ideally, I would buy six or seven roasted chickens and hide them strategically around the backyard for the girls to find, but, there are other animals around here, and our yard isn’t fenced in, and, it’s possible that there is such a thing as too much chicken, even for my girls.

I’ll have to keep thinking about this. But in the meantime, I’m going to celebrate the fact that Ellie has made her way into our hearts, and made our world a warmer, happier, funnier place. And if Cricket wants to pretend that she’d be better off as an only dog, panting and shaking with separation anxiety each time we leave the apartment, she can certainly hold on to her illusions. But I know the truth.

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“Shut up.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. 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 girl on Long Island named Izzy. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes is true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain and looking for people she can trust, 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?

 

Butterfly’s Step Training


 

For Butterfly’s Gotcha day, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to celebrate. She has been with us for a year now and the difference in her is extraordinary. She barks, and begs for snacks, and runs like the wind, and disobeys me, like a real dog. She almost never goes blank anymore the way she used to do. She loves her sister, she follows me everywhere, and she looks forward to her goodnight kiss from Grandma.

My first thought was to buy her a new pink leash, to replace the one she had drenched in pee and mud, but that was more of a present for me. Then I wanted to get her a special ID tag, one that doesn’t just announce her inoculation status. Her most recent tag from the doctor is actually blue, which is not her color.

            I like to be thorough and waste printer paper and toner when I do research, so I printed out ten or fifteen options for Mom to look at from her seat on the couch. There were tags in the vague shape of a butterfly. There were brass and plastic and steel tags. There were flowers and dogs and fire hydrants and bones, and quite a lot of tags devoted to sports teams. But the one I liked best was round and pink, with a colorful butterfly painted on the front, and her info etched into the back. I found a red one with a silver heart for Cricket, so she wouldn’t feel left out.

Cricket, my red girl

Cricket, my red girl

Butterfly's butterfly

Butterfly’s butterfly

            But I still didn’t feel like her present was a real present for HER. I always want birthday presents that will change my life and I wanted the same for Butterfly. And I thought about the doggy steps I’d seen all year in catalogs and at the pet store. For a year now, I’d been air lifting Butterfly onto the bed whenever she barked for uppies, and air lifting her down when she demanded to see her sister. But she’s become very insistent that this air lift be available every few minutes, and in the middle of the night. There’s a pain in my upper back that I blame entirely on her.

            I’d been putting off the doggy steps for most of the year, because Mom, whose father was a consumer advocate, on the board of Consumer Reports, believes that shopping takes time, months, really, of comparing, contrasting, forgetting, and starting over again. No more of that. I did my printing-out-options routine, wasting a very satisfactory amount of multi-purpose paper, and decided on a set of steps and ordered them right away, before the comparing, contrasting and forgetting could set in.

            It turned out that Mom was more excited than I was when the doggy steps finally arrived. I carried the box up to the apartment and went to bed, at one o’clock in the afternoon, as I often do. I could hear a lot of banging and crashing noises, par for the course with some of Mom’s do-it-yourself projects, so, nothing to worry about. And then the steps appeared, all snapped together, and hollow, and ready to place at the side of the bed. We tried a few different positions for the steps, to see where they’d be most stable, and least likely to trip me in the middle of the night.

            But the girls were not excited about their new furniture. When I picked up Cricket and tried to put her on the top step, she scrambled out of my arms and jumped to the floor and squeezed herself under my bed.

Can you see Cricket under there?

Can you see Cricket under there?

            Butterfly was less frightened, especially when I spread pieces of chicken treat across the steps. I placed her on the top step, and gave her a treat. We did that ten times. Then I placed her on the middle step and she climbed onto the bed and got a treat. We did that another ten times. We did sessions like this twice a day, until Butterfly could climb up all of the steps to the bed herself. She still refused to put her paws on the first step by herself, though. She sat and trembled on the floor and tried to run away.

Froggy tried the steps first

Froggy tried the steps first

Butterfly can fly!

Butterfly can fly!

Cricket refused to be seen even touching the steps. She came over, when she thought no one was looking, and twisted herself into knots to get at the leftover treats, without putting two paws at a time on any given step. She developed some quite beautiful ballet moves this way, and seemed to be teaching herself how to get whiplash from a standstill.

Cricket is cleaning up

Cricket is cleaning up

Cricket's dance moves

Cricket’s dance moves

            Butterfly took to hoovering up a row of chicken treats in one gulp, to prevent Cricket from getting to them. I worried this would lead to choking, but so far she has managed to keep herself alive.

            Butterfly has gotten to the point where she will run into my room, and flatten herself on the floor so that I can pick her up and place her on the steps, but she won’t put a paw up on the steps by herself. I may have to find more valuable treats for the next step of this adventure.