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The Great Dog Search

 

We started the great dog search before Christmas, because this seemed like the best way to use my vacation (as well as naps, lots and lots of naps). I was still experiencing occasional waves of grief over Miss Butterfly, but I felt a desperate need to at least try to find a second dog, someone small and gentle and loving. Cricket loves me, of course, but not like she loves her Grandma. She greets Grandma, and pines for Grandma, and guards Grandma, and, every once in a while, she comes over to visit with me.

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Cricket loves her Grandma

The first shelter we visited was about forty minutes away from where we live, with a friendly staff and separate buildings for different groups of dogs and cats. We walked through a hallway of barking dogs who were all a little, or a lot, too big for us, and then we met a Lhasa Apso. She was white-haired, eight years old, and had cataracts in her eyes, and it all made me stop breathing for a moment because she looked so much like Butterfly, with a bad haircut.

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But no one is as cute as my Butterfly was, even on a bad hair day

We left that building pretty quickly and were led over to the infirmary, where the little dogs were recovering from spay and neuter surgeries. There were Chihuahuas, a Pomeranian mix, a Dachshund mix, a senior Shih Tzu, and a Puggle. The Pom mix was adorable, but he snapped at the volunteer who opened his cage, so he wasn’t allowed out to meet us. Instead we visited with Ursula, a one-year-old Puggle. She was adorable, but we happened to have arrived just when the vet tech was filling Kongs with peanut butter, and Ursula was utterly distracted. Freed from her crate and on her own feet, she moseyed over to the tech, sat down, and gradually inched her butt closer and closer to the peanut butter. She was the right size, and terribly cute, but she barely looked at me. I felt like I should wait for some kind of spark, some flash of connection. Just being cute couldn’t be enough.

Of course, I felt guilty leaving her behind, even though the staff assured me that she’d be scooped up in minutes. There’s something awful about looking at abandoned dogs, and judging their looks and age and health and character, and then rejecting them as not the one. It makes me long for the days when I didn’t know about puppy mills, and could walk into a pet store and believe that beautiful puppies just grew on trees.

I built up the nerve to try again a few days later, and we decided to visit the shelter where we’d adopted Butterfly. They have an extensive medical program with subsidized care, so there was a safety net if I bonded with a dog who had some health problems. I’d seen a few small dogs on their website, some poodle mixes and dachshund and terrier types who all seemed around the right size and age to deal with Cricket. It was raining and cold, and we ran from the car with our hoods up to get to the adoptions building. But, because of renovations in progress, the adoptions had been moved to a smaller location, and the line of people waiting to see the dogs was outside and down the block. My emotions were still raw, with the guilt of leaving Ursula behind, and the gnawing pain of No-Butterfly, that the disrespect of making people wait outside in the freezing rain just to get a chance to fight over puppies enraged me. I knew the dogs would all be adopted, or fostered, or kept safe and warm and medically cared for, but I felt like the shelter was telling me that I didn’t deserve to be treated well. And I couldn’t accept that. Mom shrugged and followed me back to the car, and the day devolved from there into a huge pool of self-loathing and hopelessness that even chocolate couldn’t fix.

A few more days later, we heard about a shelter, more than an hour further out on the Island, where they had rescued a hundred small dogs from a hoarding situation. The website only had a few blurry pictures of the dogs in their original home, with no description of breeds or ages or health, but with a hundred dogs, we figured it was worth a try.

When we finally walked into the office, the woman at the front desk barely looked up from her computer and told us to look through the photo album on the desk. The pictures of the dogs were blurry and dark, with names under each picture, but no sexes or ages or descriptions. The first five names I mentioned had already been adopted, but then there was Twinkle. A volunteer brought him out and he was so much tinier than I’d expected. She put him in my arms and he shivered, in fear or cold, I don’t know which, but when I sat down and put him onto the bench next to me, he climbed back into my lap and held onto me. I looked into his eyes and he looked right back at me and then licked my nose. He could have been part Rat Terrier, part Chihuahua, part Schnauzer, but they had no idea. He loved the gentle scratches on his matted grey and brown and black coat. He was so much smaller than I was looking for, but I’d felt that spark, and it wasn’t going away. I asked the woman at the desk if she knew anything else about him, and she looked down at a sheet of paper next to her, and said, he’s nine years old. My heart broke. I’d promised myself, and Mom, that we wouldn’t get another senior dog, at least not this soon after Butterfly.

A volunteer came to take Twinkle back to his cage in the back, and I felt his absence immediately. Then someone turned on the lights in the little room next to us, and it was filled with more of the hundred dogs, but these were in the three to five year old age range. We were allowed to go in and sit with the dogs, still in their crates, and they very loudly asked to be let out. Some of them looked more Schnauzer-like, some more Dachshund-like, some with wiry red hair, and others with soft black hair, but they were all, obviously, related. We visited with a few of the dogs individually, and a staffer explained that the woman must have started out with a handful of strays, and then, since she didn’t spay or neuter, the family grew exponentially. They were an incest family. The dogs were all being adopted out to different families, but the backstory made me uncomfortable. The staffer told us that we’d have to bring Cricket in for a meet and greet, if we wanted to adopt one of the dogs (and no one else already had an application in on that dog), and then we’d have to bring the dog back to be spayed or neutered. They gave us the extensive adoption application and we left, to drive the long way home and think it over.

The trip home was, again, painful. All of the other dogs receded in my mind, except Twinkle. But Mom had serious concerns: not only was he a senior dog, but he’d spent nine years as an un-altered male in a house with no rules, and he might not understand that he couldn’t climb on Cricket; and we had no idea what health issues he might have, or how long he could be expected to live; and they had no subsidized medical program, and even if they did, we couldn’t drive more than an hour each way to make use of it.

I kept dreaming about Twinkle, though, and feeling sick at leaving him behind. I couldn’t figure out if the spark was because of his sweetness, or his neediness. I couldn’t separate out my healthy loving instincts from my possibly pathological ones, and I was overwhelmed. Mom hated watching me suffer, so back online she went, to see if there were any other dogs in the area. She found some prospects at another shelter we’d never heard of, about twenty five minutes away from home. This would be our fourth shelter in a very short period of time, but I was still on vacation, so off we went.

One of the dogs we liked was still available: a seven month old, black haired Miniature Poodle named Traveler. When we arrived and asked to see him, a handler took us to what seemed like someone’s living room, and then brought Traveler in on a leash. He had soft, curly black hair and big black eyes and he sniffed the whole room. I asked if I could sit on the floor with him, and within minutes he had brought over a tennis ball to play with, and started licking my face. When he got tired, he rested his head on my leg, tennis ball firmly in his mouth.

The handler warned us that we shouldn’t bond too much, because the application process would take a while, and the staff would decide who they thought was the best match for the dog, but I wasn’t worried. We filled out the two page application, including phone numbers for our vet, and three personal references, and lots of details about how we would raise the dog, and what our other dogs’ lives had been like, and on and on. In the car on the way home I was already planning the new toys we would buy, and the training classes we would take with Traveler, but I was also still thinking about Twinkle, and wishing I could have both of them. They would balance each other out, I said out loud, to which Mom said a big fat no.

Of course we didn’t get Traveler, but it took two weeks for the phone call to come telling us that he’d gone to another family. In the mean time I’d found out that Ursula and Twinkle had both found homes, and I was back in school and busy with work. I wondered if maybe the universe was telling me I wasn’t ready, but then the loneliness hit me again and I went back on Petfinder to look for more possibilities.

We brought Cricket with us to visit one dog at a PetSmart adoption event, but while the dog was adorable, he was completely uninterested in us, and barely even sniffed Cricket, which I took as a personal affront.

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“Harrumph.”

I kept finding dogs at more and more shelters I’d never heard of, all over Long Island and in Queens and the Bronx and Brooklyn and Manhattan, but each rescue had their own application, and each one was more intrusive than the last. One rescue organization, in its online application, asked for a picture of your driver’s license and the names you use as aliases on social media. We applied for another dog in Queens, a black and white Maltese Shih-Tzu mix, but she was adopted before we could even finish the extensive application process.

We didn’t go through any of this when we adopted Miss Butterfly five years ago, because she happened to be eight years old, with health issues, and yet she was the one I wanted. Now that I want a younger, healthier dog, I see how competitive the Rescue market has become, and how much power the Rescues have to determine who qualifies as worthy. Adoption fees are much higher, applications are longer and more intrusive, and you’re still not guaranteed the dog you met and fell in love with, because someone else is, in the eyes of the Rescue’s staff, better suited to care for that particular dog.

In theory, this is progress. It means that people have learned to adopt, not shop, and fewer dogs are ending up in kill shelters; but it also leaves the power to decide who’s worthy of a dog in the hands of fewer people, people who have their own prejudices about what makes a good dog owner (able to afford higher adoption fees, owning a home with a fenced in yard, etc). I wonder if it’s like this across the country, or it’s specific to the northeastern US, or even just to Long Island.

It almost feels like it’s not worth the effort. I look at other people who walk into a pet store and leave with the exact puppy they were looking for, less than an hour later, or I think about Cricket’s breeder, who was friendly and responsible and raised the puppies in her home, with their Mom, and I wonder why I’ve committed to rescue a dog at all. But I know it’s because of Butterfly, and wanting no dog to have to go through what she did for her first eight years, producing puppies in a puppy mill. But all of these applications and rejections feel personal, and my inferiority complex, and guilt complex, and every other complex, is being kicked up like a dust storm that is going to choke me any day now.

I feel like I need twenty-four hour a day therapy to get through this process, or better yet a therapy dog, but Cricket doesn’t want the job. I have a sneaking suspicion that Cricket has been calling the Rescues to say, no, no, we’re not really interested. That would explain a lot.

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“Who me?”

The Baby Squirrel

 

When we went out last Thursday morning for our too-early first walk of the day, Cricket found something. At first I thought it was a dead mouse. Cricket has found dead mice a number of times, because we have feral cats on the property who are allowed to stay because of their great mousing skills. So, I thought it was a dead mouse and I yanked Cricket away from it quickly. It was curled up a few feet away from one of the huge trees on the property, up in the lightly wooded area where we are encouraged to walk the dogs. Butterfly did her usual standing around and listening to the raindrops thing – oh yeah, it was raining, lightly by then, after a night of heavy rain – and it was a lovely sound, the way the rain drops hit the leaves far over our heads. But I was still getting wet. The girls both did their business, and we were on our way back out of the woods when I thought I saw the dead mouse move an arm. I stepped a little bit closer, but I’m afraid of dead things so not too close, and that’s when I realized that it was a tiny squirrel and not a mouse, with a big head, and grey and white fur, and not only was one arm moving, the tiny squirrel was breathing. It was alive.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I had to take the girls back inside, out of the train, first and foremost. I left them standing in the hallway while I went down to the basement to throw away their bag-o-poop, and I looked through the pile of Amazon shipping boxes outside the garbage room. I like ordering things, but I am nothing compared to my next door neighbors (with the new baby) who have ordered so many things that they now have to move into a house to make room for all of it. I chose a small, shallow box, with the new-fangled air-pillow box-filler stuff, and I popped the pillows to use it as a squirrel grabber, in case it really was dead and only seemed to be moving because of the wind and rain, but also as a temporary blanket, in case it was actually alive.

The girls watched me through the glass front door of our building as I went back out into the rain, and up the hill, to where Cricket had found the baby squirrel. It was still there, and still getting rained on, and still faintly breathing and moving an arm, but just barely. I picked it up carefully, all the time worrying that I should leave it there, to die a natural death, or to be found by its Mom after whatever calamity had sent her away. But it was alive, and I couldn’t just leave it there to die.

I took the box of baby squirrel inside to the girls, and we walked up the stairs and into the apartment, and that’s when I realized that I had to wake up my mom. She’s not a fan of early mornings, and I would have let her sleep through the drama, except that I knew I’d have to leave for my internship in less than an hour, and I needed her help.

 

As soon as Mom saw the baby squirrel, breathing in the shallow box on the dining room table, she was wide awake and in Mommy mode. She took the baby out of the box and wrapped it in warmed up towels and held it while I googled. There are surprisingly specific and comprehensive baby squirrel manuals online. One was long and alarmist – with the basic gist being that I should have left her out there in the rain to die. The other manual was shorter, simpler, and more hopeful.

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Then Mom called our vet’s office to ask them what to do. The woman who answered the phone said that they’d stopped working with their wildlife specialist and had no other recommendations, and, really, the baby squirrel was going to die. Mom persisted, though, and looked up other wildlife groups she’d heard of in the area, and left messages for them on email and voicemail. In the meantime, we prepared the rehydrating solution recommended in the baby squirrel guide and then and I used Butterfly’s supply of liquid medicine syringes to start bringing the baby back to life.

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By the way, I am not an expert at identifying baby squirrel genitalia, but we later found out that she was a girl, so let’s just pretend I knew that from the beginning. We set her shallow box on a heating pad (on low), and filled the box with fabric from Mom’s quilting closet, because the baby squirrel guide said that regular towels could unravel and choke her.

I took care of Cricket and Butterfly’s morning routine, and made sure they got extra treats for all of their patience, and then I got myself dressed for work, charged my cell phone, and reluctantly left Mom to take on the burden of keeping the baby squirrel alive while I was away.

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Cricket sniffing the baby

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Butterfly, worried I’m giving her peanut butter to the baby.

I tried to talk about the baby with a fellow intern, but she looked non-plussed. “You brought a squirrel into your house?” She asked, looking at me like I’d slathered bloody entrails on my door posts. So I focused on being nice and pleasant and helpful all day, and tried to put the baby squirrel out of my mind. The room we work in is filled with windows, and I could see as the rain got heavier and heavier, so I thought, maybe, I’d done the right thing by taking the baby into a dry place. But my mind was still racing, telling me that I’d made a mistake bringing her inside, and she would die and it would be my fault. She had a fractured arm, and probably other injuries, she was cold to the touch, and her mother had abandoned her; who was I to think I could save her?

When I got home, Mom was sitting on the couch and the baby squirrel on her chest, squeaking away. Her eyes were still closed, but she was much more alert, climbing on Mom and grabbing her fingers with a paw. The baby had survived eight hours in our care, against all odds, and the next job listed in the baby squirrel guide was to move from rehydration to actual feeding. The guide said we needed Esbilac milk powder for puppies, and we should mix it with water and heavy cream to mimic squirrel mommy milk. I asked Mom if she wanted to go out and have a break from baby care, but she didn’t, so out I went again, in the rain and rush hour traffic, to find the puppy milk powder.

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“Squeak!!!!!!!!!!”

When I came back, it was my turn to watch the baby. Her body temperature kept cooling down between feedings, despite the heating pad under her box, so Mom told me to hold the baby in my hands and try to keep her warm myself. I had to keep Cricket from sniffing too close, but Butterfly was largely uninterested in the baby; as far as she was concerned, there was no squirrel in the house.

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After another few hours of rehydration, we mixed up a batch of the new squirrel baby milk, and watered it down according to the mathematical formula in the guide, and warmed it in the microwave until it was just right. The baby squirrel swallowed her milk through the syringe dutifully, only pulling her head away a few times.

I woke up every few hours overnight to feed her, and to check that she was still breathing, and when I woke up again at eight o’clock the next morning I realized that she’d survived more than twenty four hours with us. She even seemed to be a little more energetic, though that could have been my wishful thinking. Mom said, pointedly, that we shouldn’t name her and risk becoming too bonded, but she knew it was already too late.

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We were still waiting for call backs from the wildlife groups a few hours later, when a friend on Facebook recommended calling other vets in the area, to see if they could help. The first one we looked up had the number of a local wildlife rescue, and when we called, they told us to bring the baby over right away.

By noon on Friday, we were on the road, the squirrel baby in her box on my lap, on our way to the rescue hospital. I kept my hand in the box to keep her warm, and she decided to crawl into my hand and snuggle.

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When we reached the Wildlife center, I filled out forms about where I’d found the baby squirrel and the assumed circumstances of her injury (a fall from the nest in the storm seemed the most likely cause, especially when I found some of the nesting material a few feet away from where I found the baby). They gave me her rescue ID number and their email address and said that I could write to them for an update whenever I wanted, and then they took her away.

I was devastated, but also hopeful. I knew that the rescue hospital would be able to do a much better job than I could at treating her wounds and feeding her correctly. Giving her up was the right thing to do, but it was also awful, and painful, and I was starting to have trouble breathing. I was giving her the best possible chance to survive, though, and I had to hold onto that.

I waited a couple of days to give the wildlife center a chance to do their work, but then I got impatient for good news, and wrote to them.

This was the email I received from them on Monday morning:

Unfortunately, we had sad news about the baby squirrel. We brought her to our veterinarian right away who confirmed that she did have a fractured humerus (one of the bones in her arm). In addition to the fractured arm, she also had lung contusions caused by trauma from the fall. We began treating her right away for the fractured arm and respiratory issue, but sadly, she was so badly injured that she passed away overnight that night.

While not the outcome we had hoped for, we are glad you brought her to us so she was able to get treatment and passed away in a quiet and peaceful place rather than outside in the wild.

Thank you again for caring about her and bringing her to our center.

 

I read it over again a few times, to take it in, because the words were not making sense at first, and then I just cried until I couldn’t cry anymore.

On Tuesday Morning, Cricket found another squirrel, this time a full grown adult, and this time, it was dead. My first, and enduring, thought was that this must be the baby squirrel’s mother. Maybe they both fell in the storm on Thursday morning, and it took the mother longer to feel the effects.

We dug a hole for her, and covered her with dirt, to keep her safe from predators. I couldn’t think of a prayer to say, all I could think of to say was, “This is for baby squirrel.”

And it was.

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p.s. Many of these pictures were taken by Naomi Mankowitz (AKA Mom)

The Broken Butterfly

There’s a special value in rescuing a dog, beyond knowing that you’ve saved someone’s life, or feeling like a good person: a rescue dog is a reminder of the broken things in the world, and of how sacred they are. My rabbi told us that the broken pieces of the first set of tablets of the ten commandments – the ones Moses smashed when he saw his people building the golden calf – were kept in the ark along with the pristine final set of tablets, as a necessary part of the whole.

           Butterfly, with her missing teeth and adorable protruding tongue, her heart murmur and lumps and bumps, is an important part of the whole story. Not all dogs are born to happy families, or adopted by happy families, and taken to the vet each time they have the sniffles. Happiness is only part of the story.

Beautiful Butterfly

Beautiful Butterfly

          Butterfly was recently diagnosed with diabetes. She had a urinary tract infection back in the fall, but with antibiotics it went away. We were curious about why she’d gotten it, but assumed it had something to do with how low to the ground she was when she peed, compared to long-legged Cricket, who practically hovers in the air.

Cricket  hovering, with help.

Cricket hovering, with help.

          As soon as she started to pee in the house again in February, we took her straight to the doctor. The vet on duty did some tests, took an x-ray to rule out kidney stones, and gave us antibiotics for another suspected UTI. We wrapped the pills in chicken and peanut butter and hot dogs and all of her other standbys; we crushed the pills and mixed them with water and then with her food and parmesan cheese. We did everything we could think of just to get the antibiotics into her system, against her will. But not only wasn’t she improving, she looked sicker and sicker every day. She was noticeably lighter when I picked her up, she didn’t do her usual poopie dance, and she stopped waking me up in the morning, waiting instead for me to wake her up and convince her to go outside.

Butterfly, not eating? Cricket is unconcerned.

Butterfly, not eating? Cricket is unconcerned.

          My concern has always been her heart, because she has a prolapsed mitral valve and is at risk for heart failure. I knew this when I adopted her. But it’s a hard thing to remember when she is running and jumping and smiling at me. I was afraid that after a year of watching her flourish, I was going to lose her.

          We collected some of her voluminous pee and brought it to the clinic to be tested, and made an appointment with a different vet. As soon as we met the new doctor he took a blood glucose test, to confirm the results of the urine test, which, he told us, showed very high sugar. In the office that day her sugar was over five hundred. It’s supposed to be under a hundred.

           I was relieved. I’d been so scared that this was heart failure, and she was dying, but diabetes is treatable. The doctor showed me how to give her a shot of insulin in the scruff of her neck. He also gave us a liquid antibiotic to try on her, instead of the dreaded pills, because the UTI was clearly being maintained by the diabetes and needed another round of antibiotics to wipe it out.

          Every morning, and evening, I give her a dose of the antibiotics which she hates, making angry toddler faces and sticking out her tongue, and I give her a shot of insulin, which she doesn’t seem to mind. Some days I do a better job than others. It still feels strange to stick a needle into her skin, and I can be too tentative, but mostly it gets done, and she’s improving.

          The rest of the day, I follow her around with pee test strips to see how the insulin is working.

          The first time I saw her run again after her diagnosis and treatment began, I thought my body would crack open from all of that joy.

Hopefully this is what she'll look like again soon.

Hopefully this is what she’ll look like again soon.

          There is a sort of halo of white light around Butterfly, that could just be the highlights in her hair, but the light could also be coming through her broken pieces. And I want to keep that light going for as long as I can.

Butterfly , spreading the light

Butterfly , spreading the light

Becoming Sisters

When Butterfly first arrived last year as an eight year old rescue dog, she saw Cricket as the all knowing mentor about things like poop, and stairs, and dinner time. But Cricket looked at her with suspicion and made it clear that everything in the house belonged to Cricket first: the food, the toys, and most especially the people. Cricket had been an only dog for six years and did not see any reason to change that. But I did. I wanted her to learn social skills, to calm down her protective instincts and to widen her emotional repertoire. She preferred to sit on her grandma’s lap and give the usurper her best death stare.

"Hello, Cricket!"

“Hello, Cricket!”

"What are you looking at?!"

“What are you looking at?!”

My job was to make sure that Cricket had no good reason to feel usurped. That doesn’t mean she never felt jealous or resentful, just that she had no good reason to feel that way. I had to make sure that Cricket didn’t run low on scratchies or treats or have her walks curtailed.

When Butterfly pooped in the house or looked at the stairs with terror, Cricket rolled her eyes. She lived like there was no other dog in the house, just a distant, annoying, buzz of noise that had no interest for her. But Butterfly ran a campaign of attrition. She was unremittingly loyal, and upbeat, and ignored every sign of Cricket’s disdain. Butterfly was the kind of friend anyone would want, but no one could quite believe they deserved.

"Are you down there, Cricket?"

“Are you down there, Cricket?”

Butterfly started to show her usefulness to Cricket by being the one who woke me up at the break of dawn to go outside. Cricket just had to yawn and stretch and meet us at the door. Butterfly also made chicken treats more available, by needing and responding well to training, so that if I was giving Butterfly treats, Cricket had to have some too, and again, without much effort, Cricket’s treat intake at least doubled.

But the biggest benefit of having Butterfly around is the unconditional love. Cricket can be snotty and grumpy and indifferent, and Butterfly will still look at her with devotion, follow her around, and pee where she pees. It has to be a nice ego boost.

I’ve caught Cricket, recently, snuggling up to Butterfly, purposely resting her head next to Butterfly’s tushy, for comfort and wonderful aromas. Cricket doesn’t find it quite as annoying anymore that Butterfly worships the ground that she walks on, especially because the worship has been tempered over time. If food or scratchies are being offered, Butterfly will shove Cricket out of the way to get first dibs.

Tushy to tushy.

Tushy to tushy.

I wanted Cricket to have a sister so that she would have someone to talk to, someone who could speak her language. No matter how much I love my dogs and try to understand them, there is a language barrier that stops important messages from coming through. Butterfly and Cricket know that language. A lot of it seems to be transmitted by the smell of pee. They sniff-in with each other multiple times a day, to see what’s going on, as if they are reading each other’s diaries.

The girls, intentionally, do things together now. They cozy up for warmth. They sit on either side of grandma’s rolling chair at the computer. They take turns eating at the bowls. They especially try to walk down the stairs at the same time, in the same place, so that they are piled on top of each other and jockeying for position. They do the same thing when they notice a strange pee in the backyard. They pull me forward like two horses pulling a cart, and then they both have to examine the pee at the same time, pushing each other out of the way, eventually smushing their heads together so they can both smell at once.

The facsination of pee.

The fascination of pee.

Cricket has attempted a play bow, though she still doesn’t know what to do after that, so Butterfly is trying to figure out how to grab a tug toy with her few teeth so she can play in the way Cricket likes best.

There was an incident one night recently when Butterfly managed to get in Cricket’s way, unintentionally, and Cricket was so angry that she made a screeching sound, like a car suddenly breaking on the highway. There was no dog fight, just the sound of Cricket’s outrage and then the scuffling sound of Cricket rushing under the bed to sulk. Cricket has a big mouth, but when push comes to shove she doesn’t really want to do damage.

But that incident made me realize that in more than a year, we’ve never had a dog fight. A few grumps here and there, but mostly smooth sailing. Maybe it has taken this long for Cricket to finally believe that there is room for two dogs here, and we are not going to get rid of her. I don’t know what she’s been thinking. She’s inscrutable when she wants to be.

Cozy time.

Cozy time.

I think Cricket would even protect her sister now. She won’t admit it, but she cares about Butterfly and would never let anyone hurt her. She still doesn’t think Butterfly should ever get more than she gets – of food or attention or outings or freedom – but she’s learned to tolerate a fair and equal distribution of goods, with Cricket being ever so slightly more equal.

The sherriff and her deputy.

The sheriff and her deputy.

Katie the Cat

 

When I was a teenager, my aunt had a friend who could not say no to a cat. She took in old ones and young ones, exotic ones and feral ones. The cats clearly owned the house, sitting on the dining room table and the kitchen counters, preventing the humans from preparing meals in their own house; which explained all of the take-out menus. These were well fed cats, some over twenty pounds. But then there was Katie; she was the anomaly. Katie was a small, ill behaved, underfed specimen with no social skills, who lived under the bed in the guest room and was terrified of humans and animals alike.

Katie looked something like this, but I never had a chance to take her picture. (This is not my picture, thank you Google)

Katie looked something like this, but I never had a chance to take her picture. (This is not my picture, thank you Google)

            My aunt’s friend was going away for a few days and, while she could leave out food and litter boxes for the sociable cats, and have a neighbor come in to check on them, Katie needed special care. So       I was called into service.

Mom and I brought Katie home in a cat carrier and brought her to my bedroom and closed the door so that our dog, Dina, couldn’t come in. Dina was a forty-five pound black Lab mix and I’m pretty sure Katie was more of a danger to her than the other way around. Dina didn’t like the arrangement at all, because my room was her room. But I felt a responsibility to Katie, not to traumatize her any further. Who knew what her early life had been like to make her so frightened and angry?

I had a platform bed pushed into the corner of my room and immediately Katie found the L shaped tunnel it made against the wall, and scurried inside. I placed her litter box at one end and her food and water bowls at the other end. If I dared to reach my hand in, she’d hiss at me from the darkness. She came out to pee and eat and drink when I was sleeping or out of the room, and the rest of the time I just heard her, licking her paws, scratching the carpet, and mumbling to herself.

I made a point of taking Dina out for long walks to compensate for not letting her into my room. And on our walks, I tried to brainstorm ways to reach Katie. I pictured myself as a cat whisperer, solving all of her problems in the four days she would stay with me, and going on to become a Vet, or a therapist, or Mother Theresa. Dina just hoped the long walks would continue after the interloper left.

My Dina, and me

My Dina, and me

Katie was very hard to like. First of all, she was a cat, and I am allergic to cats. I don’t think I knew that before I agreed to cat sit, but maybe I did and I just felt too guilty to say no. My eyes water and I feel itchy all over, on my arms and lips and in my throat. I get nauseous and itchy just seeing cats on TV.

Maybe, given more time, Katie would have learned to trust me, but four days was not enough to make a dent. I was relieved when she left, and I felt guilty for that too.

A few years later, my aunt and I volunteered at the local animal shelter, and we were sent to the cat apartments to help socialize them. I saw it as a chance to make up for my failure with Katie. There were three or four cats in each apartment and they had beds and hammocks and scratching posts and climbing towers. But they weren’t sure about humans and my job was to go from group to group and sit with them for a while and let them get used to me.

I had learned more about neurotic animals by then, and I didn’t take it personally when the cats stayed back or stared at me for five minutes straight, waiting for me to impress them.

Then came kitten season and suddenly there were three or four litters in crates in the front room of the shelter, where visitors could see and adopt them right away. I was overwhelmed by all of them, and by the fact that, if not for some kind stranger, they would all have been left on the streets, to die, or to become like Katie.

I sat there, feeding the smallest kitten with a medicine dropper and I felt like I could barely breathe from grief, from responsibility, from anxiety that the problem was too big to ever be solved, especially by me, or by anything I could do.

I couldn't find a kitten small enough using Google. The kitten was about half this size.

I couldn’t find a kitten small enough using Google. The kitten was about half this size.

The little kitten climbed up my sweater and the head of the volunteers told me she probably wouldn’t survive twenty four hours, despite my ministrations. I felt sick and itchy and ready to climb out of my skin and I wanted to believe it was just my allergies, as the kitten scratched my face, asking for my full attention.

All I could do was give her food and kisses, and hope.

Happy Mother’s day to all of the dog and cat (and piggy) mommies and all of the mommies of little humans, and especially to my own Mommy!

We love you!

We love you!

The Red Dog

 

This is a Red Dog, but not The Red Dog (and this is not my picture of a Norfolk Terrier)

This is a Red Dog, but not The Red Dog (and this is not my picture of a Norfolk Terrier)

            The first time I saw Red Dog, about three years ago, Cricket and I were walking up the hill on our regular route around the neighborhood. We rounded the corner and there was a dog in the leaves at the side of the road. She looked like some kind of terrier and she was the same color as the autumn leaves around her, that orangey, reddish brown, and hard to see. But then Cricket noticed her and started to leap frog towards her. She does this. Instead of her pull-like-ox move, she hops forward in hopes of outsmarting the leash.

            The little red dog crossed the street, so we did too. She wandered around on the side street, sniffing all of the hot spots, letting Cricket know where they were. I couldn’t leave, knowing she was in the street with no leash and cars on the way, so we stayed with her. Eventually, she climbed up a lawn and stood on a small concrete slab at the front door, like she owned it. Cricket and I walked up to the lawn and knocked on the door. A sleepy face eventually came to the door and I asked if this little dog lived here. The woman stepped back, and the little red dog ran inside. And then the door shut.

            The next time we saw the little red dog, it was about a month later and getting chilly. She was missing a lot of hair down her back, and from a distance, I could see black dots on her skin. It was only when I got up close that I could see that the black dots were moving.

            My immediate reaction was revulsion, and I pulled Cricket away from her. Cricket had fleas once when she was a puppy. She was two months old and I was giving her a bath and found these things that looked like black sesame seeds stuck in her hair. I freaked out and obsessively cleaned and medicated her and combed and combed and combed.

This is not Red Dog either, but, ouch! (also not my picture)

This is not Red Dog either, but, ouch! (also not my picture)

            But Red Dog had been colonized. She had cities of fleas. I couldn’t understand how a human could live in a house with a dog that thoroughly inhabited by fleas. Fleas jump.

            I wanted to take her home and dunk her in a flea bath and wrap her in a soft towel and comb and soothe and ice and do whatever necessary to make her feel better.

            But more pressing was the fact that she was standing in the middle of the street and not following Cricket to safety at the side of the road, and there was a car coming straight at her. I screamed. It was one of those out of body screams where you look around to see where the noise came from. Finally the scream brought someone out of the house.

            Red Dog’s mom was disheveled and wearing pajamas and she asked why I’d screamed. I pointed to Red Dog, who was now safely on the side of the street, sniffing at Cricket. And, when I got my words back, I told her about the car.

            No real reaction. It was as if her emotions were blunted. She came down the lawn and picked up Red Dog, fleas and all, and watched as her other dog ran out of the house, without a leash, or even a collar. He was a black haired, medium sized dog, maybe fifty or sixty pounds. And the woman called him Jack, yelling at him to stay out of the street. Jack was missing hair too. I realized I’d seen him around the neighborhood, even further away from the house than Red Dog.

I mentioned the fleas and the woman smiled and said, “I know,” and shrugged. She eventually got both dogs back in the house and Cricket and I went along on our walk, but I couldn’t stop obsessing. The woman had cuddled Red Dog. She didn’t seem abusive or mean, but her dogs were sick with flea juice. I wanted to go home and get a box of Frontline and leave it in her mailbox, but I was afraid she wouldn’t use it or she’d be insulted and firebomb my house.

            I called my mother at work and asked for advice, because I couldn’t sit still and I was fantasizing about running back and stealing Red Dog. Mom asked her coworkers and they suggested I call the ASPCA which led me to the local no kill animal shelter in my town. The woman I spoke to from the shelter was just as upset as I was when I described Red Dog’s hair loss and standing in the street. She said they’d had previous complaints at that address and they would look into it again. She didn’t make me feel like I was interfering or making too much of it, but she also didn’t give me much reason to hope that they could help Red Dog.

            I wanted to be a super hero but I didn’t know how to do it.

            I didn’t see Red Dog for a long time after I made the call for help. I hoped, but did not believe, that they had been able to make a difference. Eventually, I did see her again, at least a year later. She had most of her hair back, but she was still outside by herself with out a collar or a leash, running into the street. As we got closer, her person came out of the house to get her, so that was progress, at least.

            I walk by her house regularly but rarely see her. I hope that means she’s doing well and her fence is working.

            The Red Dog situation, and the deep pull to save her, is what, eventually, led to adopting Butterfly. I learned, from Red Dog and others along the way, that I really didn’t need to know a dog from puppyhood to love her. In fact, my ability to love a dog seems to blossom in the first few seconds and is very hard to shake.

My Butterfly, with her Duckie

My Butterfly, with her Duckie

Butterfly, with her own adoptive family

Butterfly, with her own adoptive family

Butterfly’s New Home

 

Butterfly before her bath

Butterfly before her bath

 

 

Leading up to my birthday, I was reading about dogs who had lost their homes in Hurricane Sandy. I was overwhelmed with stories about rescued dogs, and information about where to find dogs to rescue close to home. I’ve been thinking about adopting an older dog for a long time now, but I’ve been intimidated. All my life, I’ve only had one dog at a time, but lately I’ve been meeting a lot of people with two dogs, or more, and I’ve been tempted to have a pack of my own.

I talked to Mom about it and she said why don’t we just go take a look?

So, on Tuesday, November 20th, we went to North Shore Animal League, on Long Island. I loved all the big dogs. If I had a house and more energy I would have adopted five of them on the spot, especially the hound who stood on his hind legs and looked me in the eye. I’m pretty sure he winked at me.

But then there was Betsy. Her little pink tongue stuck out, and she had huge brown eyes and a sweet little snout and feathery white hair. She was a Lhasa Apso and the tag on the crate said “Adult +” so she was at least eight years old. The volunteer told us she was a puppy mill dog.

I don’t know what Mom was thinking when she encouraged me to have a visit with Betsy. She should have rushed me out of there right then.

I spent an hour with Betsy, staring into her eyes and coming up with potential names: Snowy, Dawn, Fawn, Buttercup, Cinnamon, Butterfly. I was loopy. We filled out a preapproval form and Mom said we should go home and think about it. But the longer it took to get the approval, the more I went back to see Betsy and the less likely it became that I would be able to leave without her.

I worried that Mom would not be happy, and a second dog would cost too much, and Cricket would be jealous and my own health problems would make the extra effort unmanageable. But I lost control of my brain. I was just a puppet nodding my head.

I decided on Butterfly as her new name, to fit in with the insect theme of Cricket’s name, but also because of the transformational effect I hoped we would have on each other. Love is a magical thing.

Then the vet tech took Butterfly to see the vet one last time. We’d been there for three hours by then and I could barely stand up, let alone think straight. When they came back to tell us she had a heart murmur and that we should probably leave her there and not take her home with such an uncertain future, I almost cried. They listed her issues: she was at least eight years old but probably more; she had been a breeding mama at a puppy mill and couldn’t walk on a leash or pee and poop outside; she was skittish and afraid of being touched; some of her bottom teeth had had to be removed because they were rotted out, so her tongue lolled out of her mouth; she’d had a cyst removed from under her armpit; and now the heart murmur. She’d need an echocardiogram before they could even tell us how serious it would be, and then she’d need one every six months for the rest of her life. But that was what clinched it for Mom. She has a leaky heart valve too. She would never want to be left behind in a shelter. She’d want someone to pick her up and take her home. So that’s what we did.

I carried Butterfly to the car and she stood on my lap in the backseat and looked out the windows the whole ride home. She was so much more curious than we’d expected, though she did drool up a storm, flicking droplets of water onto her forehead and onto my sweater.

Cricket was, as predicted, not happy with the interloper. The first night, I sat on the kitchen floor with them and Cricket stood with her front paws on my leg in her ownership pose accepting scratchies with noblesse oblige, and then I reached out with my free hand to pat Butterfly. Immediately, Cricket pushed my arm away from Butterfly with her nose, and then she walked across my lap and out of the room in a huff.

She’s such a person.

Cricket staring at Butterfly

Cricket staring at Butterfly

But, given her resentment, Cricket has been pretty well behaved. For the first few days she ignored Butterfly entirely, and then she started to sniff her and walk near her instead of avoiding any room Butterfly was in. It helped that Butterfly couldn’t climb the stairs, so Cricket could come up to my bedroom with me and leave the interloper downstairs for a while and pretend life had gone back to normal.

But Butterfly has been blossoming.

She’s had two baths so far. The first one took off the surface dirt and left me thinking that she was off white with grey and apricot markings. But she kept scratching her ears and neck, so we bought an oatmeal shampoo to help her skin and her second bath took off just as much dirt as the first one, and turned her into a white dog with apricot markings all over her feet and back. I’m afraid of what we’ll discover with bath number three.

We’ve had Butterfly for a week and a half now, and she’s already pooping and peeing outside. She’s gotten used to the lawn, and she walks on the leash and has made friends with every dog she’s met. But her favorite dog is Cricket. She sniffs her and follows her lead and learns from everything Cricket does. She even makes a point of finding the spot where Cricket peed and hopping into a squat to pee on that exact spot.

Cricket thinks that’s just weird.

The Girls

The Girls