At Cricket’s last vet visit in October, there was a dog standing on the welcome desk barking a greeting. She was small, but mighty, with silky grey and tan hair and a willingness to be petted by almost anyone. I talked to Boopy, the African Grey Parrot who had always acted as greeter in the past, but my eyes kept going back to the dog on the desk.
Cricket was in a panic. She peed on the floor and refused to sit still on the scale and she did not want any dry dog treats (as usual). The dog on the desk was put on the floor and given free rein to walk wherever she pleased, and Cricket was horrified when the little dog decided to walk into one of the examining rooms of her own free will!
Eventually it was Cricket’s turn to see the doctor and when we walked into the pristine examining room, Cricket tried to hide behind my legs. I picked her up and she climbed behind my neck like a monkey. The doctor came in and I removed Cricket from my neck, very carefully, and placed her on the stainless steel table. I expected him to take some blood and give some shots; I did not expect him to gasp and shake his head and tell me that Cricket needed to have the hair pulled out of her ears. He was not pleased with me, or Cricket’s groomer, for being so lax about such an essential hygiene issue.
A vet tech had to come in to hold Cricket down, because I was no help, and as Cricket started to squirm on the table, the little dog came in to the exam room and walked over to my feet and sat down. I squatted to pet her and she seemed to say, I see that you are anxious, I am an anxiety dog, pet me.
Cricket peed on the exam table, and cried pitifully as the vet ripped hair out of her ears with a rounded, bent, tweezer-like device. The little dog stayed with me, and leaned against my leg. She seemed to think I was taking the whole thing as badly as Cricket, and she was probably right. I kept petting the little dog and talking to Cricket and working very hard not to slap the vet’s hands away from my baby’s ears.
Once the trauma was over, and Cricket was back in my arms, I got the little dog’s C.V. from the vet. She was a Maltese Yorkie mix (a “Morkie”), and her name was Olive. The vet brought her to the office sometimes to help keep the humans calm.
Cricket’s vet is tall and awkward, and not especially warm. He’s so good at his job, in part, because he can block out the anxiety of the dog on the table and do what needs to be done to make them healthy. It’s not a lack of compassion, though every once in a while, I get the sense that his compassion for humans is limited. He looks like someone who would have black labs or German shepherds and take them hiking in the woods, but there’s Olive, the sweet, little, silky-haired girl with the bedside manner. And she’s his dog.
He seemed surprised by the idea that once or twice, at least, he’d had to retrieve Olive from the parking lot when someone “accidentally” tried to take her home with them. But I was surprised that it didn’t happen more often. I had a visceral response to Olive – maybe because we’d been through a traumatic experience together (Cricket’s cries were truly harrowing), or because she is a born comfort dog. Or maybe it’s me, because I have this dog magnet embedded in my belly and I have to fight hard against taking every dog home with me, but Olive made the magnet supercharged. And I felt the tug, and the loss, for days afterwards.
My Rabbi still has not gotten a dog. I made a blanket for his potential dog, thinking, if I knit it she will come. His daughters even threatened to choose a dog for him and just bring her home. He has his reasons for not wanting another dog yet, or ever. I just don’t know what those reasons are.
The thing is, despite everything that I love about my synagogue, there’s too much of me that doesn’t feel safe, or welcome, when I’m there. And I feel totally accepted by dogs. They don’t care how many times my writing has been rejected. They don’t care if I make funny faces or don’t wear fancy clothes. Dogs care that I show interest in who they are, and listen to them, and give them scratchies and honor their unique energies. I do the same with humans, but humans have more conflicted reactions to being seen as they are. Dogs appreciate when you read their body language and respond to them as individuals, rather than just being the same polite, charming, whatever you try to be with everyone else.
Cricket and Butterfly are too much like me to be community dogs. They need to be in their own safe place with their familiar people in order to let down their guards. But Olive the Morkie was different. She sent out calming vibes to the room, even when she was barking.
If Olive were the synagogue dog, she would walk through the rows of people, listening for an erratic heartbeat, or feeling for a tremble in someone’s legs, and she would try to heal what she could. She’d run up to the bima to check in with her Dad, or stand still and listen to the cantor, or cozy up to the piano when the magic noise came out, but she would be there, and that would make me feel like I belonged.