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Goodbye, My Friend


            A good friend of mine died recently. He was a black-haired, gentle-souled miniature poodle named Teddy and I miss him very much. I hadn’t seen him in a while, but just knowing that he was still there, still climbing through his doggy door and sleeping on his Mommy’s lap, was reassuring and made the world feel whole.

            He was fifteen and a half, I think, two and a half years older than Cricket, my cocker spaniel/miniature poodle mix, who adored him from the get-go. He was long-legged and skinny, with hair that quickly covered his eyes between grooming session. He could leap like a ballet dancer, pointed toes and all, or just race full steam ahead to play with a toy. He was full of joy, and love, and seriousness. He was a gentleman, in the way he held himself and in the boundaries he set around himself. If he could have spoken, he would have had a faint French accent, nothing too broad, more like the head waiter at a high-end restaurant.

Gentleman Pose

            Over the past few years he grew blind and deaf, relying on his younger sister to alert him to noises he needed to respond to, and by the end, to alert him to meal time as well. He had been slowing down for a while, but took great joy in his resurgence on CBD oil, it gave him a zest for life and an appetite and the energy to be his athletic self once again. But his final illness came on quickly, shutting down his kidneys. Treatment only relieved his symptoms temporarily, and when the symptoms inevitably returned he was even more confused than before, and unable to feel like his true self. When he stopped eating, his sister stopped eating too, to keep him company, to express her grief at what she instinctively knew was coming, and because when your loved ones are in pain, you feel the pain too.

            He died with dignity, in a way we don’t often allow our human loved ones to do, surrounded by love and by the knowledge that he had lived a full life, a generous life, and a satisfying life. I imagine that when he crossed the rainbow bridge he did a few leaps and arabesques and then raced towards his two golden sisters who were waiting for him on the other side. He would have had so much to tell them about the world they’d left behind, and they would have had so much to tell him about what comes after.

            We tend to think that our role models and teachers will be human, but Teddy was one of my best teachers, and he was truly, and fully, a dog, in the best possible way.

            Teddy was my therapy dog. Not only because he was my therapist’s dog, but because he offered his own version of therapy: a nonverbal, relationship-based therapeutic technique that they don’t teach in school. He modeled for me how to respect your own emotions and your own boundaries even while reaching out to others. He modeled how to be fully yourself and respectful of others at the same time. He, like Cricket, taught me that there is no shame in speaking up when you feel strongly about something. And that there is honor and strength in accepting your own limitations and not forcing yourself into situations where you don’t feel safe.

“I want out!”

            He was a picky little man, with specific tastes in food and people and dog friends, and he chose me. He trusted me, and I felt the honor of that deeply. Teddy taught me that it’s not arrogant or selfish to hold your own views, or to love only who you love. He showed me that you can have those preferences, and know yourself, while still being respectful and polite to those who don’t fit for you – unless they scare you or piss you off, and then you can scream.

“Let’s get ready to rumble!”

            He showed me that you can express your fear and pain, and if you express it fully and truthfully, there is then room for other feelings to come in. He taught me that there is no shame in asking for affection when you need it, and he taught me that there are people, and dogs, who will be honored that you’ve asked for their affection.

            His acceptance of me, his love for me, and his trust of me, was healing on a very deep level. He reflected me back to myself as I really am. He told me that I am kind, I am trustworthy, and I am loveable. And I believed it, from him. I think the fact that he could never communicate in words, which are my stock in trade, also played a role. He reached the parts of me that can’t speak and they heard him and felt comforted by him.

            I know there were times when it wasn’t easy being Teddy. There were a limited number of people that made him feel comfortable, and when he couldn’t be with those people he suffered. I can relate to that, completely.

            He stayed with me a couple of times, in the period after Butterfly died and before Ellie arrived, and after a short period of vocal grief and longing for his Mom, he settled in with us. He set his boundaries with Cricket early on, and she respected those boundaries, and appreciated his respect for her space too. They went on walks together, and ate dinner together and took naps together peacefully, as long as I was there to referee. By the time he had to leave Cricket was forlorn, sleeping in his makeshift bed until the scent of him dissipated.

Teddy on his bed

            The most important lesson I learned from Teddy is that love is a gift. His love for me was a gift. And the love I felt for him in return made me feel strong enough to raise Cricket with love, and then Butterfly, and now Ellie. He taught me that having enough of what you need makes you feel like you are enough.

            Dogs, maybe because they live such short lives, focus in on the most important things: love, food, joy, and safety. They don’t get distracted by appearances or wear the masks we humans wear to get through our days.

Cricket and Teddy napping with Grandma

            I will miss Teddy, but I will also keep Teddy with me, as part of me, for the rest of my life, as a guide, and as a source of energy for the lessons I still want and need to learn.

            Goodbye, my friend. May you feel all of the love you have inspired throughout your short life, and find peace and community on the other side.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?

The Joy in Community


I recently watched a documentary called Praying with Lior, about a boy with Down syndrome preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. Both of Lior’s parents were rabbis, but his mother died from breast cancer when he was six years old, and that shapes a lot of the story. There are bits of film of her praying with Lior, and with her larger community, that are heart breaking. Lior’s joy in prayer clearly comes from his Mom, and his love for her. He leads prayers in his classroom at school, and in his tree house, and then finally at his Bar Mitzvah in front of the whole congregation. His joy in prayer is contagious. The only person who is less than enthusiastic about him is his younger sister, because she is his younger sister. I can relate.


The most poignant moment in the movie is when Lior and his dad go to the cemetery to visit his Mom’s grave for the seventh anniversary of her death, just before his Bar Mitzvah. At first it feels like a forced set piece for the movie, but then Lior starts to hug his mother’s headstone and he won’t let go. Eventually his father is able to hold him and Lior starts to keen with sorrow. It’s as authentic as everything else about this boy, and it feels like he’s giving permission to everyone around him to express more, and be more, of who they really are.


Some of Lior’s fellow congregants wax poetic about the greatness of Lior’s spirit, and wonder if maybe he’s the reincarnation of a great Rebbe, but his godmother laughs it off and says that if Lior had been born into a Christian family he would have been singing Christmas songs with the same passion. Because it’s not about his particular religion, or some magical force that is out of reach for other people; Lior’s joy comes from his love for his mother, and his memories of singing and praying with her, and from the heart of who he is. He just happens to be a Jewish boy, in a Jewish community, so that’s how his joy expresses itself.

The way Lior’s family and community embrace his passion for prayer gave me a lot to think about, because another community might not have been as welcoming of him. He might have been shut out, or shut down, instead of encouraged to grow in his spirituality and in his role in the community. The fact that he didn’t just have his family behind him, but also a wider community, made a huge difference in who he was able to become. His dad, a Reconstructionist Rabbi, works with him on his speech for his Bar Mitzvah and jokes that Lior has heard way too many sermons about the value of community in Judaism, but the fact is, Lior has gone beyond hearing it, he’s taken it to heart. He sees himself as a full-fledged member of his community, because he has been seen and treated that way by the people around him.


“Huh, are we a community?”


After the movie ended, I looked up Lior to see how things had turned out for him, and I found an article from 2018 about how Lior, at twenty-six, was living in his own apartment in supportive housing, had a girlfriend, and a job, and went to his drum circle and synagogue events every week, and also did speaking events to help people see that communities can be inclusive of children and adults with disabilities, and that those children can do so much more in their lives, with that support, than anyone might have thought possible.

I want my community to be more like Lior’s. I’m trying to figure out my role in making that happen, but it’s hard to overcome the resentment I feel, that what I need doesn’t already exist, and that I have to first imagine it, and then create it, and fight for it myself. It is hard work to teach our communities how to accept us as we are. I don’t have 2.5 children, or a husband, or even a Seder to go to for Passover, but I still exist. And I still have a lot to offer. I want my community to see me, and be open to hearing what I have to say, instead of assuming that they already know, or that I have nothing to add.

Maybe what I really need is for Lior to come to town and show me how it’s done. At the very least, he could teach us how to run a drum circle. Cricket and Ellie would love that.


“I love making noise!!!!”


“Me too!!!”


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 (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, 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.




Ellie’s Surprise Birthday


This past Thursday we got a call from our groomer (the goddess who mediated Ellie’s adoption) wishing Ellie a Happy Birthday. Wait, what? It turns out that Ellie just turned five years old this week, and we now know her exact birthday, so of course celebration ensued (I still plan to celebrate her Gotcha Day in July, but two birthday parties won’t hurt anyone).


“A birthday party means food, right Mommy?”


“Where’s my party?”


We were already in celebration mode, what with my own birthday, and Thanksgiving, and Chanukah coming up, and, oh yeah, the publication of my novel Yeshiva Girl (!!!!!!!!!!).



My first thought for the celebration was cookie decorating, given the season. I found a Chanukah House kit at our local drug store (yes, there are quite a few Jews in my neighborhood), right next to the Gingerbread house kits. My cookie decorating skills lack a certain precision, so, a lot of the house making materials ended up on the floor, where the dogs enjoyed them thoroughly. It turns out you need a lot of royal icing to hold a house made of sugar cookies in place, and then you need to cover the whole thing with much more sugar than you could ever have imagined. Mom had a steadier hand with the roof tiles, but I just played for hours, tossing sprinkles and candy every which way.


It turned out that that was not enough cookie decorating for us (um, me). So I made a batch of sugar cookie dough and used every cookie cutter I own, from tiny leaves, to giant Butterflies, with teddy bears and hearts and giraffes in between. I colored way outside the lines (as always, I actually failed coloring in kindergarten), and made sure to let the dogs share in the joy whenever possible. And then, to balance out their diet, I used our new treat launcher to spray chicken-flavored treats around the room and set the girls off on a scavenger hunt to make sure not one bite was lost.


iced cookies

Celebration accomplished!

I’ve been overwhelmed this week with the support for my novel and I want to thank everyone who ordered a copy of Yeshiva Girl from Amazon, and everyone who offered encouragement on the blog as well. I can’t wait to hear what you think of the book!

If you haven’t seen it yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if anyone feels called to write a review of the book on Amazon, I’d be honored.

yeshiva girl with dogs

The girls are trying to read the book too, in their own way.


Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, 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.


Keeping Cricket Busy


A few years ago, I collected a bunch of Cricket’s toys and put them into a bucket on a shelf under the TV. The plan was to switch out the toys from the bucket every week or two, so that she could have the benefit of all of her toys, without spreading them on the floor where I would trip over them. Of course, I got distracted and forgot about the bucket of toys a long time ago. At around the same time, I stopped taking Cricket for her three mile walks each day, and she definitely noticed the difference and has perfected her disappointed-with-Mommy face.


Recently, I watched a story about a man with a movement disorder who went to a special kind of occupational therapy, with not only a human therapist but also a doggy therapist. The exercises required the man to put treats into treat puzzles, in order to rebuild the strength and flexibility in his fingers. His reward was to watch the dog chasing after the toys and enjoying the treats. The smile on the man’s face when his knotted hands were successful at fitting the treats into the toys, and the dog ran across the room after the toys, was pure joy.

And it occurred to me that we might have some of those toys; not the flat puzzles with secret compartments, but the plastic toys in different shapes that would allow small amounts of treats out if Cricket could figure out how to make them bounce the right way. We’d bought a ton of toys for Cricket when she was an incorrigible puppy, in order to keep her from continuing to destroy the furniture with her sharp puppy teeth. And in the bottom of the bucket, under the everlasting chew toys, and the purple dinosaur that has dried into a husk of its former self, I found three treat puzzles of varying sizes and levels of difficulty.


Pink vase, red ball, and blue thingy

Cricket has been needing more attention and distraction since Butterfly died, and even more so since it’s been too cold for Grandma to take her for extended walks in the afternoon; those garbage cans up by the 7-11 were an endless source of fascination. So I was willing to try something new to keep her busy, and, hopefully, happy.

I had to do some significant cleaning on the old toys – boiling them with baking soda and rinsing thoroughly – before I could risk putting food in them again. For my first experiment I used the pink vase-shaped toy. I was worried that I’d made the pieces of Pupperoni too big, and Cricket would go straight past optimal frustration into the land of rage and disappointment, but, actually, she loved it, and was busy for hours. She was actually disappointed when I gave her next treat toy to play with, the red ball, and she was able to empty it within minutes. Cricket likes a challenge.


This is where Cricket uses her head.


This is where Cricket guards her toy from the humans.

Now, if I try to let a day go by without filling the pink vase toy with treats, she gets grumpy, and insistent. She stands next to me as I fill up her toy and then she tosses it around the room, and hoards it under her couch, and does everything she can think of to make it give up its riches. I’m pretty sure that my face looks very much like that man in the occupational therapy video, full of joy, as I watch Cricket running after her toy and bouncing it into submission to get every last treat.


“I need more treats. Now.”

Now, if only I could figure out how to set up a drone to take her for walks when it’s too cold for me. Does anyone know if a drone can be programmed to pick up poop?



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.

menorah21 brooklyn

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.

pix from eos 020

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.


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.


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


“Throw the ball, Mommy!”

I’ve been trying to look at, 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.


Butterfly leads the way.



Cricket’s Knee Surgeries


When Cricket was about a year old, we noticed that she sometimes limped, always lifting the same back leg. At first, I checked her foot for a burr or a nut shell stuck in her paw, but there was nothing. The limping was infrequent, at first, and then it was less infrequent. We took her to the vet and he gave her a vitamin supplement, like the one humans take for their bad knees. But it made her vomit.

Cricket didn’t seem to mind having walking problems. She’d just hitch up her leg, and keep going on three legs. But we couldn’t take her on long walks anymore and she couldn’t run and she couldn’t jump onto beds or laps. People kept telling me the problem would resolve on its own, but it didn’t.

The vet recommended doing an x-ray, to see the extent of the problem. Doing an x-ray meant putting her under anesthesia in the morning, then taking the scans and waiting for her to wake up. By the time we picked her up, she was dragging the vet tech down the hall to get back to us, scrabbling her toes on the slick floors, trying to go faster without much of a grip.

The vet showed us on the x-rays that the ligaments holding Cricket’s knee in place were stretched like an old rubber band, and the other knee was starting to show trouble as well. It’s a problem of little dogs, he told us, that the groove in the knee isn’t deep enough so the bones keep slipping out of place and stretching the ligaments that support it until they have no spring left.

The x-ray itself was scary to look at. My puppy splayed out like a dead frog in a specimen box. But, I saw the loosening tendons on the second knee and I was afraid that if we didn’t get her surgery on the first knee soon, she’d get to a point where she couldn’t walk at all.

The surgery itself was only a one day affair. No eating after eight PM the night before, go in first thing in the morning, anesthesia, shave the leg, paint it with yellow antiseptic, cut it open, build a groove in the knee so it fits like a lock and key, tighten the ligament, sew with black thread. Her bare leg was grisly and yellow for a few days after the surgery. And she was drugged and woozy and wearing the Elizabethan collar to keep her from chewing at her stitches.


It took about two weeks for her to start putting her foot down, then a few weeks more to build back muscle tone, because the bad leg was skinny and the good leg was getting muscle bound and tight.

I started doing massage on her after her stitches were out and her bad foot was willing to bear weight. We started with gentle stretching, hamstrings, quads, but mostly hips, where there was extra strain from compensating for the weak leg. By six weeks, she was running and jumping better than she had since she was a puppy.

For the next eight or nine months she was great. She got a lot of exercise and play time and I felt really good about how she was doing. But by September she was limping on the other leg. Mom wanted to wait, to see if we could get pet health insurance that would cover the second surgery (we couldn’t) and maybe look into another modality, like pet acupuncture or pet physical therapy. But Cricket was gradually limping more often and for longer stretches. When we finally took Cricket in for another x-ray, the surgery was scheduled for the following day.

Mom had a bad cold and as soon as Cricket was safely home, drugged to the gills, they both fell asleep. I went in occasionally to bring peanut butter covered pills for Cricket and Robitussin or soup for mom. I carried Cricket outside to pee and deposited her back up on the bed.

Cricket’s knees are perfect now. The only sign of the surgery is that her knees stop her before she can straighten her legs out fully, but it’s barely noticeable.

Whenever I think, maybe we shouldn’t have spent the money or put her through the pain of surgery, I just have to watch my mother take Cricket out for her morning joy run across the front lawn. It’s a reason to wake up each day, for all of us.