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Cricket Can Play!

            Cricket has changed a lot since she started taking the DES (Diethylstilbestrol – a non-steroidal estrogen medication) last winter. First of all, the incontinence problem disappeared, which was the point of the medication in the first place. She takes her pill – buried in hamburger – every other night, and she hasn’t had an accident in months. But there are other changes too. For some reason, her voice is higher pitched than before. She’s always been loud and barky and anxious about strangers, but now when she screams at them her voice gets even higher. She’s also clingier, if that’s possible. She used to make do with sleeping next to her Grandma, attached like a barnacle, but now she tries to sleep on top of her, like a cat (she’s fourteen pounds, at most, so no bones have been broken in the process). She’s been very attached to Grandma since she was a puppy, but it’s a little more intense now. She even sits on Grandma’s lap at the computer now, instead of just on the couch, where it’s easy.

Cricket, the barnacle.

            The big change, though, came up recently, when a new mini Golden Doodle puppy arrived at our co-op. Well, he arrived a few months ago as a little red ball of fluff, but he had to wait until he had all of his shots and did his potty training before he could meet everyone.

This is not Kevin, or my picture. But Kevin is this cute.

            Then Mom came in one morning a few weeks ago, after taking the girls for their first walk of the day, and she said in wonder – Cricket was playing!

            Cricket is fourteen years old and she has never played with another dog. Dogs have tried to play with her, doing their play bows and zooming around her, but she would just stand still and wait for it to be over, or hide behind one of her people, or just raise an eyebrow in disdain at the strange creature and walk away to sniff someone else’s pee.


            Butterfly and Ellie had both tried to play with Cricket over the years, and learned quickly that she couldn’t be bothered. And when we had other dogs over to visit, or she met dogs at the dog park or in the yard, she’d just sniff and be sniffed and then look off in the distance, bored, or confused about why the dog was still there, staring at her.

This is as close as Butterfly (top) and Cricket (bottom) came to playing.

            The closest she came to playing was with her friend Teddy – a black miniature poodle she’d known since puppyhood – but they tended to play consecutively rather than together. Teddy would throw his toy in the air and zoom around the room and scratch his back on the floor, and then he’d go lie down and watch while Cricket did her own play routine.

Teddy and Cricket, tandem napping.

            But with Kevin, the five month old mini-Golden Doodle, Cricket actually went into her own version of a play bow and hopped around with him. No one watching her could believe she was fourteen years old. Ellie, meanwhile, who’d had more than enough of boy dogs when she was a breeding mama, stayed back and waited for it to be over. She allowed Kevin to sniff her a little bit, but she really really wasn’t interested.

“Ugh. Boys.”

            Kevin is a very social dog, and especially social with other dogs. He’ll tolerate a scratch on the head from a human, but he’s really dog-centric. His humans say that they struggle to train him with treats because he’s not food-motivated, but he’ll do anything for a trip outside. I’m sure Kevin’s playful personality plays a role in how Cricket is reacting to him, but I’m pretty sure the DES has changed something for her.

            The thing is, Cricket had her spaying surgery when she was six months old, so she never had the surge of hormones rushing through her body. Now, the advice would be to wait until a dog is a little older before spaying or neutering, because it’s healthier for the dog to go through a few hormone cycles, but that wasn’t the advice when Cricket was little. So when she started taking the synthetic estrogen (DES) to solve the incontinence problem, that was her body’s first real experience with Estrogen, and one of the side effects, it seems, is that she’s learned how to play.

            Cricket has had a full life with her people, and she’s had rich, complicated relationships with her sisters (Butterfly and Ellie), and she’s eaten all kinds of interesting foods and barked in all kinds of different places and sniffed a million different smells, and she chased sticks, and ran like the wind, and rolled in the mud, but I always felt bad that playing with other dogs wasn’t in the cards for her.

            I had some theories: about her being the runt of her litter and therefore under attack from her brothers from day one and therefore not trusting of other dogs; or about her being the runt of her litter and therefore suffering from an unfinished nervous system that caused lifelong neurological issues that made her too hypervigilant and suspicious to play.

            And now she’s fourteen, and she’s discovering how to play. She still has a lot of energy and, despite a number of signs of aging, she’s still young at heart, and my hope is that she’ll have plenty of years left to figure out what else these synthetic hormones can do for her and take them out for a spin.

Cricket practicing her play bow with the grooming brush.

            Every once in a while I notice those signs that she’s aging – the thinning of her hair, the age spots and cauliflower-like growths on her skin, her skinniness despite eating plenty, the missing teeth in her smile – and I feel this void readying to open up, this reminder that Cricket won’t always be here. And then she barks at a leaf and hops across the lawn like a rabbit and then, out of nowhere she learns how to play (!!!!), and, for a few moments, she’s a puppy again, or better, she’s ageless and she seems like she will live forever.

            These are my favorite moments.

Cricket is ready for more!

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?

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.


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!

Delilah’s Puppies


Delilah was a pure bred Doberman Pinscher. We adopted her from a breeder when I was six or seven years old on the condition that her first litter would go back to the breeder (and he would supply the stud and medical care). My father fed her from the table and spoke to her in German, but she liked to sleep on my bed in the afternoons, after barking at strangers passing by all day.

She had a job, though, and that was to get pregnant as soon as her body was ready. Mom woke me up when Delilah went into labor. I think it was sunrise or shortly afterwards, because the rays of the sun were shooting through the windows in the little vestibule between the kitchen and the dining room. The vestibule was just the right size for Delilah, her puppies, Mom, my brother, and me.

I remember Delilah breathing heavily, panting, with sweat dripping from her tongue. She had a kind of crazed look on her face, but very serious, especially after each bag of puppy slid out of her. The bags were grayish brown and slimy, but Delilah was conscientious about freeing each puppy from its cocoon, and cleaning it thoroughly so it could start to breathe and walk freely.

Suddenly, Delilah was a warrior. Any attempt to get close to her puppies without her permission and she’d bare her teeth and growl.

At around six weeks, the puppies were sent to the breeder for a medical visit. My father brought me with him to the breeder’s workshop to pick them up. I got there just in time to see a row of puppy tails on the work bench, unattached to the puppies. They had their ears wired up as well, with what looked like copper wire laced through each ear like a long row of earrings.

The puppies were warm, squeaky and cuddly, and when my parents brought them back to the breeder for good at eight weeks old, I was sad, but I wasn’t heart broken. I’d thought of them as borrowed, from the beginning.

The second litter of puppies was different. My father thought he could make money as a breeder on his own. He paid the original breeder a stud fee, and then the resulting puppies were ours to sell, free and clear.

My brother and I were away at sleep away camp during the pregnancy and arrived home a few days after the puppies were born. My father made sure to tell us that there had been eight puppies originally, but that Delilah had rolled onto one and killed it. When I repeated the story to my mother recently, she said no, it was a still birth. Delilah didn’t kill her own baby, why would you think that? But Delilah did, supposedly, leave a mark on the foot of one of the seven puppies, a boy, and I named him Wounder.

I believed the story – that Delilah had stepped on him, and wounded him – and somehow, in my nine year old brain, that transposed into “Wounder.” Maybe I was trying to combine the two things I saw in him, “wound” and “wonder.” But the final version resonated as more meaningful to me, even then, before I’d ever heard of a Freudian slip.

Mom put an ad in the paper after a few more weeks, and people came by to look at the puppies. But no one bought them. Maybe it was because we weren’t registered breeders or the paperwork wasn’t good enough, or we were asking for too much money.

My father was angry that the puppies didn’t magically sell themselves, and he abdicated responsibility for them. Eventually my mother had to bring the puppies to the animal shelter to be adopted out, because, she said, we just couldn’t keep eight full grown Doberman Pinschers in one house.

The shelter took all of the puppies but one, Wounder. They said he was too rambunctious, climbing on counters and showing them he was boss. I loved that about him. I was sure that my father would have to let me keep Wounder now, but he said no. We couldn’t have an un-neutered son and his un-spayed mother in the same house, and my father refused to have either of them fixed, so Wounder would have to go.

My mother tried to find him a home, but no one would take him, even for free. She had to take him to the pound, where, I knew, they put unadoptable dogs down after a specified period of time. I was told that he was adopted from there, but I’m not sure I believe that.

Delilah went back to sleeping on my bed every afternoon and barking at strangers who came to the door. But I never forgot Wounder, and I don’t think Delilah forgot him or the rest of her puppies either. They were her babies, after all.