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My Senior Snow Dog

 

Winter finally kicked in a few weeks ago with more than two feet of snow in one day. I think the Great Snow Planner in the Sky was trying to make all subsequent snowstorms seem puny, so we’d feel shamed into going out, even in eight inches of snow.

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The big snow!

For some reason, this year, Butterfly loves the snow. In the past she’s been uncomfortable with the snow swirling in her face, and the ice crunching and sliding under her feet, and she could never understand Cricket’s fascination with climbing to the top of Snow Mountain to poop. But this year, with the snow piled up over her head, she changed her mind.

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“What is this fluffy stuff?”

This is a dog who does not try to climb up on the couch, and hesitates each time she sees a stairway looming, but she saw a two foot wall of snow and decided not only to try to climb it, but to pull herself up and over, and walk along the iced over top. She went out onto the tundra of the backyard, like a lone explorer, sniffing for squirrels and birds and cat poop. (It didn’t hurt that one of our neighbors had tossed huge chunks of French bread out into the snow for the birds to choke on, again.)

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“I think I can, I think I can…”

Butterfly came home three and a half years ago as an eight year old dog, with a long puppy mill history and a heart problem. She had to learn how to poop outside, and climb stairs, and bark at strangers, and generally be a dog, and we figured, at a certain point, that she was finished catching up. She was running and barking and begging for food, just like Cricket, and really, who expects an eleven year old senior citizen to learn new tricks? But here she is, learning to love the snow. She loves when the snow hardens and she can walk on top of it, she loves sticking her toes into the rain-softened snow and trying to keep her balance as her legs fall out from under her. She loves the way the snow keeps smells fresh for days and days, and she can revisit an old message twenty more times. She even managed to pass the scary corner of the building, because the snow made her forget her fear of the outside world, for a little while.

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“Whoo hoo!”

Cricket has always loved the snow. In the snow, even Cricket can go leash-less, for a moment, and run and play like a puppy. I throw snowballs for her to catch and she buries her head in the snow to find them. She would stay outside for hours, except that snowballs accumulate on her fur and she starts to look like a Yeti who can’t move very well. She tried to chew off the snowballs herself one day, but, since she needed a bath anyway, I tossed her into the tub and melted off the snowballs with the shower attachment. She was not a fan of this experience.

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Cricket, headless.

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Grandma’s magic camera captured Cricket in action.

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“Grrrrrrrr!”

Butterfly didn’t get quite as covered as Cricket, because she’s still a newbie with this snow business. She likes how the snow feels on her toes, and maybe up to her ankles, but once it reaches her chest she starts to shiver. Her favorite thing is to run in the light powdery snow and leave a trail of paw prints in her wake.

cricket & Butterfly

 

Butterfly Almost Gave Grandma a Heart Attack

 

Butterfly’s collar started out a lovely powder pink, to match her girly personality, and ended up washed out and grey. Same with the leash, but much worse. Butterfly’s body produces an inordinate amount of oily sweat, and something about this substance breaks down the fabric in her collars. The leash problem is more my fault, because she needs to dance and twirl and run on her way to pooping, and it’s just easier to let go of the leash in the backyard and let her drag it behind her. I don’t know if it was the mud and grass, or the endless trips through the washing machine, but something killed her leashes fast.

For her birthday this year I decided to replace both. We found a leather collar in a bright pink, with silver studs on it, and a bungee cord of a leash that will never be destroyed. The collar seemed to be little a loose to me, but Mom said not to worry, that the stiffness of the leather would keep it in place. I still listen to my mom. I mean, she’s MOM!

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Butterfly is wearing her new collar here. You can see how much she loves it.

We decided to inaugurate the new collar and leash by taking both dogs out for a walk around the neighborhood. Butterfly prefers to stay in the backyard and listen to the birds, but Cricket needs adventure, and Butterfly can use the exercise, so, every once in a while, I insist.

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She’s already got her paws on the new leash!

As usual, as soon as we got to the edge of the backyard, Butterfly put on the breaks. She gave me her “Are you trying to kill me?” look, and I had to pull on her leash to move her even an inch at a time past the dreaded corner. When she’s feeling really stubborn, I just pick her up and carry her, and hope she will relent before my back gives out, and she was feeling particularly stubborn that day.

I carried her around the corner and up past the Seven-Eleven, where Cricket started to bark at coffee addicts and big trucks and children in strollers. I put Butterfly down and hoped she would be distracted by the cacophony of odors outside of a local restaurant.

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“I think somebody interesting peed here!”

Mom was busy arguing with Cricket, about the social niceties of NOT barking at strangers, so I focused on trying to convince Butterfly that walking was a good thing. I’d tug on the leash and she’d walk a few steps, and then she’d sit down and yank her (very powerful) neck to let me know I was a really bad Mommy. Then I’d tug again, she’d walk another few steps, and stop. After a while, I stopped even looking back. I just faced forward and pulled.

And then there was no struggle. Ahh, I thought, she’s finally enjoying her walk. But when I turned around to check on her, all that was left at the end of her new leash was a bright pink collar. No dog.

I looked up, past Mom and Cricket, and saw the receding plume of Butterfly’s white tail. She was on her way home. Alone.

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“You mean this tail, Mommy?”

My mind was running in too many different directions, with all of the thoughts whirling and refusing to stand still. I was in a panic that Butterfly would get hit by a car; I was angry at Mom for telling me not to worry about the loose collar; I felt horribly guilty for dragging Butterfly on a walk she didn’t want; I was embarrassed that it was all happening in public. I couldn’t make one thought come through, except for the need to scream and ask for help. So I screamed, “Mom!”

Mom gave me Cricket’s leash and started to run after Butterfly herself. My mother doesn’t run, nor should she run, but I was too shocked to remind her.

I took Cricket’s leash, but I was still frozen, and confused, and Cricket tried to take advantage of my in-between state to take charge and pull me up the hill. But arguing with Cricket is familiar and it helped my brain click back in. We had to dodge cars again as we walked past the Seven-Eleven parking lot, and I watched helplessly as Butterfly ran down the sidewalk, and around the corner, following the exact route home, with Grandma on her tail.

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Cricket likes to control the leash, too.

By the time we caught up with them, Grandma was sitting on the stoop in front of our building, breathless, with a smiling Butterfly standing at her knees. Butterfly let me put her collar back on without an argument, and I took both girls up the hill to finish their walk while Grandma took some deep breaths by herself.

When we got back inside, we fixed the collar right away, punching a new hole in the leather so that Butterfly couldn’t pull her head through again. And then Mom went to bed, with Cricket guarding her back, to make sure she stayed alive through her nap, of course, and probably also to keep the dastardly Butterfly away.

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“Who me?”

I’m not sure what lesson to learn from all of this. Maybe, Don’t listen to Mom, or, Don’t force Butterfly to do things she doesn’t want to do, or, Cricket is the most adaptable member of this family (!!!!!!!)! Maybe the lesson is simply to take each adventure as it comes, and know that you can always take a nap afterwards, with or without Cricket standing guard.

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Cricket guarding Grandma.

Cricket’s Knee Surgeries

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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