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Puppy Dreams

 

I had a writing teacher once who said we should never write about dreams, or menstruation, or school, or coming of age, or drugs or…he had a long list. But the dreams were verboten because, he said, your dreams will only be interesting to you and no one else. I hope that’s not true.

At the simplest level, things you see during the day can show up in your dreams; a character on a TV show, a wheat field, a cow, a striped shirt. And maybe it’s significant and maybe it’s not. It’s just something you noticed that day. This happens when you write fiction too. You need a location or a character and, consciously or unconsciously, you grab from details you saw that day, a hat someone wore on the subway, a dog in a pet store window, a car, a smell, a song, a sound.

But we also dream about the things that trouble us, things from the past or the present or a jumble of the two. Our old stories get reset in new locations, or new stories get stuck in the labyrinth of the old places. I tend to have a lot of bad dreams set at the house I grew up in, and an inordinate amount of dreams about serial killers, but the most upsetting dreams I have are about puppies.

Puppy!

Doberman Puppy!

Poodles puppies.

Poodle puppies!

I started to do dreamwork for therapy when I was still in college. My book of Genesis at my Orthodox Jewish high school had one or two lines from the actual book on each page, with paragraphs from different commentators picking apart each word and offering every possible interpretation and interpolation one could think of. So that’s what I did with my dreams. I wrote down everything I could remember, as soon as I woke up, and later, I’d copy the dream into a special notebook, and write down my general impressions, and then do a line by line exegesis. One dream could take up ten pages of college ruled paper.

But with these puppy dreams, no matter how much work I put into the interpretations, the dreams stuck with me. I could put aside a serial killer, a flood, a crashing airplane, a car flying off the side of a bridge, but squashed puppies haunted me, not only for the rest of the day, but for weeks, and months.

Sometimes the puppies in my dreams were as small as mice, and hairless and pink, and sometimes they were barely formed and looked like pieces of raw chicken cutlet, or balls of play-doh. The puppies seemed to represent the deepest, most real and identifiably ME parts of me. As if I were made of puppies, as if I am a stringing together of puppies inside rather than the usual human organs.

Sleeping puppies.

Sleeping puppies.

There was the dream when the puppies surrounded me in a circle and I kept tripping over them and squashing them by accident until I couldn’t move in any direction. There was the dream when the lead puppy of a pack pointed a tiny machine gun at me and told me it was all my fault, without specifying what “it” was.

When my Doberman Pinscher, Delilah, gave birth to her first set of puppies, I was seven or eight years old and there to watch their birth, early in the morning, with the sun streaming in through the kitchen windows. Each puppy came out in it’s own sac and Delilah carefully licked them free and set them on their feet to wobble about and figure out how to walk on solid ground.

Delilah, ready to feed the puppies.

Delilah, ready to feed the puppies.

I loved those puppies. I brought a handful of them to school for show and tell, and put another handful in a basket to carry up to my room. I got used to the overriding smell of puppy poop mixed with newsprint and sawdust, from their puppy box in the basement. We had two sets of puppies for seven or eight weeks each, and I guess that gave them time to imprint on me.

I often have trouble remembering how small and vulnerable I was as a child, especially because I was tall for my age, but thinking about those puppies reminds me what vulnerability really is. Even the wiliest of the puppies was in no position to truly protect herself. She could try. She could fight. She could put everything she had into saving herself. But if someone wanted to squash her, she’d be squashed.

For some reason, maybe especially in America, adults want to imagine that children are the superheroes they pretend to be. Children can call 911, climb out of burning buildings, save the dog, if only they would apply themselves.

I remember a dream where I am standing in a living room, in front of a bay window, at night. There are cages full of the tiniest puppies I’ve ever seen, but they have no newspaper or mats in the cages and I’m worried that they are going to fall through the slats of metal. I’m there to save these puppies. I am planning to take the cages with me to a better place, though I can’t picture that place in the dream. As I pick up the first cage, it’s too unwieldy and I lose my grip on the cage. This is when the dream goes into slow motion and I watch as the puppies are torn apart as they fall through the sharp metal bars of the cage to their deaths. I went there to save them, and I killed them instead.

The dreams are so dark that I feel like a terrible person, hopeless, and useless, until I wake up, because my real dogs are barking at me to take them out to poop.

Which is an incredible relief.

My puppies.

My puppies.

I wonder what they dream about?

I wonder what they dream about.

Nurse Butterfly

Nurse Butterfly

Nurse Butterfly

 

Every once in a while I have these “spells,” like a Victorian lady having the vapors. I’d use a more scientific term if I could find one, but diagnosis has been elusive. The spells start with head pain and nausea, usually, and quickly lead to trouble speaking and trouble moving. I feel very unsteady and yet almost rigid, like I’m trapped inside of my body and can’t really control what it’s doing. I feel dizzy, and frightened, and sometimes I start to drool (a little bit, not too embarrassing) or my eyes start to water. The overall feeling is that something-is-wrong, but I can’t articulate what’s going on.

Cricket keeps her distance when these spells happen. She goes under my bed, or under her couch, or stares at me with suspicion from across the room. But Butterfly comes over and tries to help.

Cricket, under her couch

Cricket, under her couch

The other night, I had one of my spells while I was sitting in my comfortable chair in front of the computer. I felt this unbearable need to crawl to the floor to safety. As soon as I was down on the rug, Butterfly came over to lick my hands and keep close. She watched me and snuggled next to me, not asking for petting the way she normally would, just staying close.

And when I felt well enough to get up and go lie down on my bed, she came with me and snuggled next to my shoulder, until she was sure I was normal again. After that, she left for her midnight snack and whatever other adventures she goes on at night when she’s not taking care of her Mommy.

Butterfly made me feel loveable at a moment when I felt alien and unreal. She reminded me that I was able to walk her and pet her just a little while ago, and that ability would return soon.

"Hi Mommy!"

“Hi Mommy!”

My sense is that these spells have an electrical component, because Butterfly is sensitive to electrical things in a way Cricket is not. And she seemed to know when the static had subsided. I love that, in return, when it’s stormy outside and Butterfly’s electrical senses go wonky, she comes to me for comfort. She climbs on me, or sits on my shoulder while I’m (sort of) sleeping, and she knows that her Mommy will keep her safe.

Butterfly was a mommy, and maybe her mommy instincts are what kick in when she sees that I’m struggling. She must have been such a good mommy to her puppies. Maybe that’s why the puppy mill was still breeding her at eight years old. They had to have seen her sweetness, even there, where she was a commodity and her puppies had price tags. They knew, at the very least, that other people would want their own Butterfly puppies.

Sometimes I feel guilty for loving her and wanting her to be happy here. All of those puppies are on my conscience, as if I took them away from her, as if I wished them away because I selfishly wanted Butterfly for myself.

Cricket never had puppies and has therefore remained a puppy herself. She’s never had to take care of someone else, though she does see Grandma as her protectee. Cricket’s caretaking is free of niceties like offering comfort. She is there to protect Grandma – from bad dreams, strange noises, encroaching cold weather, and Butterfly’s advances. She would definitely stick close by if Grandma had a cold or an injury, but she’d so absorb the anxiety that she would become the second patient. She doesn’t quite believe that she and Grandma are separate people.

Baby Cricket

Baby Cricket

Cricket especially likes to sit on, or next to, Grandma’s head, as a way of sharing dreams and being ready to beat down any monsters that might show up in Grandma’s nightmares. Otherwise, she curls up next to or on top of Grandma, so that there is no air, only blanket, between them, and that way she always knows where Grandma is.

"This human belongs to me."

“This human belongs to me.”

My girls are very different. I have the sense that if we were home alone and I had an attack of some kind and needed help, Cricket would bark for someone to come and Butterfly would sit by my side and keep watch over me until help arrived.

My girls, resting until duty calls.

My girls, resting until duty calls.

 

 

The Puppy Kiss of Life

Lonely baby Cricket

Lonely baby Cricket

 

Before Butterfly came home, the closest thing Cricket had to a sister was her human cousin, Tamar. Cricket and her cousin were a lot alike, with their long skinny legs, mischievous eyes, and tendency to scream, very very loud.

Tamar was two and a half years old when Cricket arrived and she wasn’t sure about those teeth, and the fast paw movements, and the way Cricket could jump up on a couch or a bed and seemingly appear out of nowhere. And Cricket was too enthusiastic. Too bossy.

"Play with me!"

“Play with me!”

Tamar ran into her brothers’ room and grabbed onto me for dear life when Cricket followed her down the hall. I was reading to the boys, five and eight at the time, and Tamar zoomed in and climbed on my lap and curled into a ball, genuinely afraid. Cricket tried to come over and make friends, but with her pink tongue hanging out, her intentions were misconstrued.

Have tongue will travel

Have tongue will travel

By the next visit, Tamar had a pink toy gun and was fascinated with shooting at people. Her brothers were fixated on computer games with serious firepower, and so was her father (my brother), and therefore, so was she. And being her aunt, I was a prime target. She loved the shooting, but even more than that she loved to do her own death scenes, falling dramatically to the floor after a drunken stumble down the hallway. Cricket was off playing with the boys at first, but when she heard the loud thump of a body hitting the floor, she ran down the hallway to help. Tamar scrambled to her feet and raised the pink water gun and screamed, “fweeze puppy!” in a very serious voice.

"Why is the door closed?"

“Why is the door closed?”

            Cricket didn’t follow orders. She ran towards her human cousin with her tongue hanging out, intent on licking the pain away. My niece ran into her bedroom and slammed the door.

            It didn’t take long for isolation to get boring, though, and the gun slinger came out of her room and tracked me down again. I was in the kitchen, baking cupcakes with the boys, and, in order to save time, and eggs, I gave in; I did a long, slow death scene at the kitchen counter and fell to the floor. But when I tried to get up, Tamar laughed and shook her head and said, “No, you can’t move. You’re dead.” I thought for a second, and then called for Cricket to give me the Puppy Kiss of Life, to bring me back from the brink, so I could finish making the cupcakes.

Cricket rushed over to lick my face and I surged back to life.

My niece loved it. She insisted on replays, with various family members nearing death, and Cricket rushing in to save them.

When it was my oldest nephew’s turn, he did a very convincing imitation of death, after a very convincing shoot out with his younger bother. He was sprawled on the floor, limp and seemingly dead, and his little sister was horrified. She called for Cricket to hurry, “You gotta save BB!” Cricket obliged with the puppy kiss of life and my nephew rose from the dead with a flourish. Tamar jumped up and down and screamed, “I saved BB! I saved BB!”

She was so proud.

After that, she held Cricket’s leash and called her “my puppy” for the rest of the visit. She still demands Cricket’s leash, while her younger brother hogs Butterfly, but she doesn’t love it when Cricket tries to lick her toes. You can’t have everything.

"I wouldn't have hurt her, Mommy. I only like to bite you."

“I wouldn’t have hurt her, Mommy. I only like to bite you.”

The Dina Years – Puppyhood

Puppy Dina

Puppy Dina

When I was sixteen years old, my parents, my brother and I went to a Long Island animal shelter to find a new puppy. We’d lost our previous dog over the summer to diabetes, and the house was feeling empty. We had to wait in line on a cold January morning because that was when my brother was home from college.

There was a litter of Labrador/mix puppies set up in cages around the room, and I chose the girl puppy because she had a drippy nose and rubbed it against my hand through the bars of her cage. Within hours of bringing her home, we found out that she was sick. She wasn’t just sniffling; she was also vomiting and woozy. This animal shelter, we later learned, had a reputation for adopting out sickly animals and our puppy had to go back and stay for a week of anti-biotics before she could come home.

We had named her Dina, because my father wanted a biblical name, and my brother was indifferent, and I thought of Dina, the sister of the twelve tribes of Israel, who we’d been learning about at my orthodox Jewish school. My brother shrugged and my father gave me a funny look, maybe because Dina was famous for being raped, and then avenged by her brothers. But he didn’t argue, for once.

When Dina came back home, we put newspaper down on the floor, but expected her to know how to pee outdoors. My father yelled at her for eating from the table, and then gave her his leftovers from the table. She had full run of the house with no boundaries, but she was expected to know that furniture was off limits for chewing. I asked if we could take Dina to an obedience class but my father refused. He saw nothing wrong with the way things were. Dina would continue to misbehave and he would continue to yell at her, and blame my mother, as it should be.

            She liked to spend time up in the attic, because it was the warmest room in the house, and it was a convenient place to poop without being noticed or yelled at. While she was up there, she found a big black garbage bag filled with my childhood stuffed animals. I had just recently put my toys into storage, in an attempt to force myself to grow up. And I didn’t mind sharing my toys with her, except she didn’t just teethe on the stuffed animals and cover their soft fur with slobber. She ripped them open and stuck her nose into their bellies, leaving wet cotton lumps on the carpet. Then she dragged the lifeless bodies of each of my old playmates to my bedroom door.

            My brother’s paraphernalia remained untouched. She didn’t even bother with his smelly socks or worn old sneakers. His room – a shrine to clutter and odd, unidentifiable smells – remained pristine and unchewed.

My mother suggested that Dina was “playing” with my toys because she missed me when I was in school during the day, and she was looking for smells that reminded her of me. It all sounded farfetched to me, especially the idea that I had a recognizable odor. That just sounded wrong.

But after a while, Dina had devoured all of my small stuffed animals, and moved on to Panda. He was life-sized, or the size my life took when I was four years old and my grandfather thought I needed a companion my own height. My grandfather died when I was eight years old, and Panda was watching over me as his stand in.

My Grandpa

My Grandpa

Somehow, Dina knew that Panda was hidden in the back of my bedroom closet. She nosed open the closet door, pushed my clothes out of the way, and climbed up Panda’s overstuffed legs. She balanced her paws on his belly and gnawed with focus and determination on his pompom belly button and googly eyes.

I found Panda, humiliated and shamed, on the floor of my room, when I came home from school that day. Mom did her best to sew things back into place, and then she sent Panda for the water cure, in the washing machine, which seemed to help. But I was angry, and I refused to let Dina back into my room for days.

Panda, after plastic surgery, ready for physical therapy.

Panda, after plastic surgery, ready for physical therapy.

Dina was bereft. She scratched at my bedroom door with her nails, leaving deep grooves in the wood, even cutting through the corner of the hollow door with her teeth. I had to relent, for the sake of her mental health, and the health of my door.

As soon as I let her back into my room, she climbed up on my bed. She made a half hearted attempt to chew on my math textbook, but then she stretched out to watch TV with me. She leaned her head on my legs and I could feel her breath and her warmth, and I thought, this is better than a stuffed animal. This is real. Maybe Grandpa sent her to be my new watcher.

Stair Climbing for Puppies

Baby Cricket, confused by the stairs

Baby Cricket, confused by the stairs

            When Cricket was a tiny puppy, she had to learn how to climb the stairs. My bedroom is in the attic and Grandma’s room is one floor down, and baby Cricket just couldn’t decide where to spend her time. She would stand at the top or the bottom of the stairs longing to be wherever she wasn’t.

            Her first attempts at climbing the stairs were harrowing. She managed to lift all four paws onto one step, and then the next, and the next, and then she looked down from the middle of the staircase and cried like a toddler at the top of a Ferris wheel. She was terrified, but she was also Cricket, which means relentless and determined. She willed herself up the stairs.

Baby Cricket, waiting to go up the stairs

Baby Cricket, waiting to go up the stairs

            I don’t remember how long it was before she developed a down-the-stairs strategy. Maybe we’d been watching skiing on TV, because she did the stairs like they were moguls, bumping her butt in the air with each jump.

Baby Cricket, exhausted from her travails

Baby Cricket, exhausted from her travails

            When Butterfly came home from the shelter in November, she had never used stairs before. She was scared to even climb up on the curb when we went out for a walk, let alone attempt the high hill of stairs up to our apartment. She worked on those curbs, seven times a day, until she was flying over them. But she needed some instruction with the stairs. I’d put her front paws on a step, then lift her midsection to show her how to make the next step. Up and up until she’d gone all the way up the stairs. We did this day after day until she started to place her paws all by herself.

Butterfly going up

Butterfly going up

            We assumed she would learn the down-the-stairs next, but nothing worked. I showed her a way to do the steps sideways, so she could fit her whole self on each step and not have to look down. But as soon as I let go, she would scramble back up to the top as if her paws were on fire.

            We tried her on different types of steps, carpet and hard wood and concrete, higher rises and shorter rises, skinnier steps and wider steps. But nothing worked.

            This hasn’t stopped her from climbing up every staircase she sees, though. There’s a never ending staircase at the local beach, and she tries to run up high and higher, without any thought of how she’s going to get back down. Some magic angel will make it happen, even if that angel is Mommy and groaning the whole way.

            I had to put a pet gate in the doorway to my room, to stop her from running up there and barking to be brought back down, or worse, staying up there alone for hours. Before I had the bright idea to block my door-less doorway, I had to do a lot of puppy retrieval, climbing stairs endlessly to make sure she had access to food and water and a place to pee. But as soon as I move the pet gate, she comes running from wherever she is in the apartment, even if her head is buried in her food bowl, just to run up those stairs.

Butterfly going up, again!

Butterfly going up, again!

                      Cricket thinks this is hilarious.

How My Dogs Watch TV

Butterfly at the computer

Butterfly at the computer

 

 

After twenty years of loyal service to the family, my small color TV finally collapsed a few years ago and we were forced to update. Cricket had been indifferent to the TV for the most part, until the flat screen arrived. Suddenly, she noticed strangers in her house. She stood in front of the TV and barked at Hugh Grant and tried to push at him through the screen. She searched behind the TV to see where the invader had come from.

Cricket prefers to watch Grandma

Cricket prefers to watch Grandma

Cricket is mostly indifferent to the TV now. But she does notice when the TV goes off, because that’s an important signal that something in her environment is going to change. Maybe her people are going to bed and she has to choose which room to visit, or maybe she’s going out for a walk, or, worst option, maybe her people are leaving the house without her.

The television is a big part of my life. I use it for background noise while I’m typing or cooking. I use it for company when I’m lonely. I use it for mood alteration when I get depressed. I had to make a point of not keeping a TV in my bedroom, because I’d never get to sleep.

When Butterfly first came home from the shelter, she was mesmerized by the TV. She was barely making eye contact with her people yet, but wherever she was in the living room, her eyes and ears were focused on that TV. I picked her up on my lap to watch a video on the computer of another Lhasa Apso, just like her, growling about something. She was fascinated. She couldn’t look away from the screen. Cricket could have cared less. She did the doggy equivalent of rolling her eyes, but Butterfly was riveted.

Side view of Butterfly - riveted

Side view of Butterfly – riveted

 

Cricket has just finished rolling her eyes

Cricket has just finished rolling her eyes

 

Butterfly was sleeping when the puppies came on the TV. I was watching a show called “Too Cute” on Animal Planet, where they follow puppies and kittens from birth to adoption. And the puppies started to squeak. Butterfly stood up, looked around in confusion and then walked over to the staircase behind the TV. She looked up, as if the puppies were up in the attic and she needed to go to them.

I’ve often thought I should leave the TV on for the dogs when I go out, in case they get lonely or bored. But Cricket tends to wait for us on the stairs, avoiding the living room entirely. Butterfly might watch the TV, but then I worry about what will be on. Even if there’s something cute and fluffy on when I leave the house, I might come back to crocodiles terrorizing puppies in a back yard. And I don’t think Butterfly would survive that.

 

Puppies in Paris

Those puppies really liked me

Those puppies really liked me

 

            When I was fifteen years old, my mom and I spent two weeks visiting my aunt in Paris. It was August, and my aunt told me that we came at the wrong time of the year, because everyone was away on vacation and there were no kids my age left in all of Paris. I discovered for myself that August was a bad time to visit because the heat is unbearable and my aunt didn’t believe in air-conditioning.

I remember noticing that there were dogs on the subway, but I don’t have a strong memory of the dogs on the streets of Paris. Maybe a lot of the French dogs were in the country for August with their owners.

A few weeks before we left for Paris, my dog, Delilah, died. And I missed her. The hope was that Paris would rejuvenate me, and Mom too. We would see the city of lights and be inspired, and hopeful. I’d spent two years learning French and being indoctrinated into the romance of Paris and cafes and the Seine and the museums. I didn’t know that I could still be depressed in Paris.

I had panic attacks. I was afraid of everything that summer: heights, food, buses. I was dizzy and sick to my stomach and anxious all the time. We found out later that my thyroid had burned out and that a lot of my symptoms were related to not having enough thyroid hormones, but at the time, I just felt awful. I was afraid to walk up the glass steps at a museum, because I could see the floor below me and I could picture myself slipping through the slatted steps to my death, like a long legged Flat Stanley. I kept trying to put my foot up on the next step. But I couldn’t do it.

It was a week and a half of that. Feeling frightened, and guilty for being such a burden, and lonely, and struggling to remember any of my two years of French.

And then we found the puppies. I thought we were just going from one flower shop to another. There are so many outdoor markets in Paris, for cheese and vegetables and flowers. But it never occurred to me there would be a row of puppy stores in the middle of it all.

Everyone in Paris seemed so aloof and sophisticated and cool and hard. And I am none of those things. All of my vulnerable, soft, lonely, hopeless feelings were rising to the surface. And then there were the puppies. And what are puppies but soft and loving and needy and vulnerable and desperate to be held and chosen and taken care of and shown attention.

I wanted to climb into the cage with the puppies and snuggle, but I was too big and the cages were too high off the ground. But I felt better. One nose kiss at a time, I started to feel better.

Poodles! In France!

Poodles! In France!