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Miss Ellie Goes to the Vet

 

We took Ellie for her first vet visit last week, or her first one as an official member of the family, but for some reason she didn’t see it as the beautiful rite of passage I’d imagined. She sat on my lap in the waiting room, ignoring Boopy, the African Grey parrot (even though he was whistling and banging on his noisemakers to get her attention). She also ignored the enormous German Shephard puppy on the floor, and the little apricot poodle on the bench across from us, and just sat there and shook.

boopy giving me the eye

Boopy, giving me the eye

She didn’t need the kind of restraints Cricket generally needs during her exam, though she was clearly tempted to pee on the table. The vet took blood and gave shots and added another tag to her collar (we’d gotten her a blingy grey collar, and red flower name tag by then). Then the vet answered my questions: about a grain-free diet (because we’d been told that Havanese dogs need a grain-free diet, but the vet said no way, research has shown heart trouble resulting from unnecessarily grain-free diets); and about wet versus dry food (both fine, to Ellie’s great disappointment, since she was hoping for a prescription for whole roasted chickens). And then he said that Ellie would need a dental cleaning, as soon as possible. Eek! He showed me the plaque at her gum line, just to make sure I got the message, that only bad dog mommies would leave those teeth uncleaned. We paid for the visit but I didn’t schedule the dental procedure right away, because, one, anesthesia scares the crap out of me, especially for someone as small as Ellie, and two, the cost of the cleaning would start at $400 and go up from there depending on the seriousness of her dental situation.

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Ellie, very concerned

My last experience with anesthesia was with Butterfly’s emergency hernia surgery, a few months before she died, when, with her heart disease, she had less than a fifty percent chance of survival. I tried to talk myself through the differences between the two situations, but flashbacks were inevitable. Of course, I decided to go through with it anyway. I trust Cricket and Ellie’s vet, both on what he thinks my girls need for their health, and on what is safe or unsafe for them. And I want Ellie to have her teeth for as long as possible. Miss Butterfly made do with the teeth she had, but I know she would have enjoyed having more teeth to chew her food with.

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Miss B

So, a week later, we took the food and water bowls off the floor at nine PM, because Ellie had to be empty for anesthesia. And no one got treats after the first walk of the day the next morning, because I was afraid that if I gave one to Cricket, Ellie would wrestle her to the ground and grab it out of her mouth. She likes food, a lot. Cricket stared at the treat shelf for an extra ten seconds, to let me know that I was making a horrible mistake, but she actually gave up pretty quickly and both girls went back to sleep.

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The girls, resting with Grandma

The real problem came when I went to put Ellie’s leash on, and Cricket pushed in front of her and started jumping at me, looking for her own leash. Usually Cricket gets her leash on first, so clearly something was wrong. I told Cricket that she didn’t want to go to the place where Ellie was going, and that as soon as we left she’d get to eat her breakfast, but she didn’t believe me. I had to pick her up and hand her off to Grandma, so that I could get Ellie out the door.

Ellie sat calmly in the backseat of the car, and then sat by my feet in the waiting room until the vet tech arrived to take her to the back. She even made sure to give me nose kisses before she was taken away, and that helped a little bit. Well, it helped me.

We got the call about an hour later that she was already out of the anesthesia and awake and no teeth had to be extracted. I’d been ready for a day of worrying, that I’d never see her again, or that the procedure would get complicated and she’d lose ten teeth and maybe a limb, but here they were calling and saying, nope, all good. We weren’t allowed to pick her up until three o’clock in the afternoon though, and, since I couldn’t think straight, I ended up doing a jigsaw puzzle for the next few hours, until we were finally allowed to go get her.

Cricket refused to be left at home for the pickup, even though I made sure to remind her that we’d be going to the vet. She sat on my lap in the passenger seat of the car while Mom drove, and then she huddled behind my neck as we got closer to the vet’s office, and then she jumped out of the car as soon as the door was open half an inch. When we went to the front desk to tell the receptionist we were there to pick up Ellie, Cricket spoke up too, and then we heard Ellie’s little whisper bark from the back room. She’d heard our voices! She knew us! Either that or she’d been barking at every noise for the past four or five hours, but I prefer my version.

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“Where’s my sister?!”

They had to do a few more things in the back room, though, and Cricket was impatient to see her sister, so she waited at the door, ignoring Boopy’s whistles and greetings. When Ellie came marching out she was perky and totally fine, and I was shocked. Even after just getting x-rays Miss Cricket always looked like she’d been hit by a truck, but here was Ellie, after anesthesia and dental scraping, looking like she was ready to party. And she knew exactly who I was, and that I was her home. How had she learned that so fast? I was sure she’d be angry at me, or think I was a stranger coming to pick her up, but no, she was blasé about the whole thing. Like, Hey Mom, are you ready to go? Anything good for lunch?

 

We loaded back into the car and Cricket immediately took up her spot behind my neck, letting me know that her ordeal had been much more traumatizing than anything Ellie had gone through. And Ellie was cool with it, leaning forward to see what was going on, sniffing Cricket’s nose, and licking my arm.

E showing teeth

“Look at my beautiful teeth!”

The fact is, even in the short month they’ve been together, Cricket and Ellie have learned how to work as a team. They wake me up early to go out for their first morning walk (and then their morning treat, and breakfast, and their second morning walk). Ellie waits for Cricket to finish as much as she’s hungry for, before she gobbles up the rest of the food in Cricket’s bowl. Sometimes they elbow each other out of the way when scratchies are on offer, but they’ll accept tandem scratching. They even nap together, or at least they nap in the same place and at the same time.

When we got home, Ellie was only allowed to have a few ice cubes and still no food, but she was still fine with everything. I was wiped out and in need of a three hour nap, but she looked like she could have taken another five walks. I don’t know where her resilience comes from, or how she’s managed to adapt to life with us so quickly. She trusts me. She snuggles next to me. And she smiles. She asked to come up on the bed, and she let me look at her newly shiny teeth, and then she stretched out for a nap, a few inches away from me on one side, and a few inches away from Cricket on the other side and she fell asleep. I’m pretty sure she was dreaming about eating roasted chicken, but maybe she was just sending herself to sleep with the knowledge that she was finally home, where she belongs.

ellie relaxed

The Battle Hymn of the Nap

 

Cricket is prone to fits of crazy digging. She’ll dig outside in the dirt, if she can, but most of the time she digs on the rug, on my bed, or under the couch. And there is a vocal accompaniment to what she’s doing with her paws. I would call it ululating, except that there’s a lack of musicality to Cricket’s version; her rhythms are chaotic, and her pitches unrecognizable. She sounds kind of like a high pitched car alarm on speed.

The crazy digger's butt.

The crazy digger’s butt.

Very often, her crazy attacks of digging are part of her preparation for bedtime. Cricket is like a toddler who is exhausted, but enraged that she has to go to bed. She loses her mind, racing around in circles, picking up toys and growling and crying. She doesn’t want to be overtaken by sleep; it’s an awful fate that she has to fight off like the monster it is.

She does the same things whether it is a daytime nap or a nighttime nap: she will either do a running jump up onto my bed from the doorway, or stand next to my bed and try to jump from a standstill, which usually takes five or six tries; when she’s finally up on the bed, she starts digging at the sheet, and crawling under the blanket to dig in the dark; the digging speeds up and the ululating kicks in, and then she starts to push the blanket around, creating a fort; and then, finally, she falls asleep, in her fort.

Cricket in her fort.

Cricket in her fort.

Butterfly has a different bedtime ritual, which requires me to chase her around the apartment for some period of time, and then pick her up from the floor, and carry her to her blanket on my bed. Sometimes she is very excited and hops around the apartment, sticking her tongue out and smiling at me. Other times she is more of a little princess, waiting to be lifted and carried to her throne.

Butterfly is very sleepy.

Butterfly is very sleepy.

Sometimes, when I pick Butterfly up for nap time, something about the slight squeeze around her middle makes her fart. Cricket’s farts are silent and stinky, but Butterfly’s farts are musical. It’s a bit like the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, or a kazoo, played staccato. Once, when I picked Butterfly up to carry her to my room, Cricket was walking ahead of us, and Butterfly made one of her musical farts. Cricket turned around and sniffed her own butt, to see if that’s where the fart came from.

"Which one of us farted, Mommy??"

“Which one of us farted, Mommy??”

When Butterfly is really tired, she just topples. She’ll walk down the hall to my room, alone, and plop down on the rug, to let me know that I have kept her up too late. There’s no running or jumping or raging at the dying of the light, there’s just motionlessness.

When Cricket is in a particularly dastardly mood, she sees Butterfly resting comfortably on my bed and starts scheming. She’ll run to the front door and start barking, as if something very important is going on and she needs all hands on deck. Butterfly, being a loyal sister, she shakes herself awake and rushes down the doggy stairs to help Cricket in her time of need. Within seconds, Cricket runs back into my room, jumps up on the bed, and stretches out on Butterfly’s blanket, leaving Butterfly stranded on the floor, because she doesn’t know how to climb back up the doggy steps.

"It's too scary, Mommy."

“It’s too scary, Mommy.”

If this had happened only once or twice, I would give Cricket the benefit of the doubt, but it happens on a regular basis. Butterfly just accepts her fate, and goes to sleep on the rug, one ear up, ready to respond to her sister’s next call to arms, while Cricket snuggles in for a long, comfortable nap, on the bed.

If only.

Butterfly’s dream.

The Neglected Cricket

 

Cricket has been giving me the evil eye more often lately. She sits in her dog bed and rests her chin on the edge and stares at me. She jumps on my bed, climbs on my chest and stares. She especially crawls under her couch, looks up at me, and stares.

"Harumph."

“Harumph.”

I have started to imagine the letters Cricket would send me, if she could write.

 

Dear Mommy,

            You have been using too much of my blog (The Cricket Pages!!!!) to talk about Butterfly. I am cute too. I am exciting and interesting and doing lots of great stuff. So, stop being a doodie.

            Yours truly,

            Cricket

 

I’ve tried to explain to this imaginary Cricket that early on, the blog was entirely about her, but I’m afraid this would not go over well, and she would begin to reminisce about the good old days of being an only dog.

The fact is, with all of the health stuff Butterfly and I have been going through lately, we haven’t been focusing enough on Cricket’s need for adventure. We’ve almost entirely given up on training. Cricket hasn’t been to the beach or been able to run full out or even been able to go on her long walks. Her resentments must have been seething under the surface for quite some time.

"I'm not tired at all!"

“I’m not tired at all!”

 

            Dear Mommy,

            Have you seen how high I can jump? And I don’t need shots or blood tests and I only bark at really important stuff, like dangerous intruders trying to kill my family! Write about me!

            Your neglected puppy,

            Cricket

 

I’ve been trying to think of potential blog posts that would be all about Cricket. Maybe a post about her tiny stump of a tail, and how she uses it to communicate alternate messages to the looks on her face. She can’t send mixed messages verbally, the way humans can, so she has to make do with mixed body language.

But that’s not a whole post, and it might lead to rhapsodies about Butterfly’s long plume of a tail, and the way it dances in circles and swings like a fan dancer. Clearly a danger zone.

If I had more energy, I could take her on some adventures just for her. Cricket would love to go on another car trip, or to fight with seagulls at the beach, or to a lake to meet some frogs or turtles. She’d love to go to the duck pond and chase the geese, as long as she wouldn’t fall into the water. She’d like to go on long walks and sniff new things. But she would not like to go to a training class, or to the vet or the groomer. She’d love to go to Petco to find treats and toys and other doggy smells, but not if it meant trying on outfits. She especially likes to poop on the floor there.

I would love to be able to send her to school for half a day. She could have gym class and meet new dogs and learn to read, of course. And that would be a rich source of new blog topics, about her athletic triumphs, and social anxieties, and public speaking disasters. And then she could come home exhausted and not give me so many dirty looks for the rest of the day. This is a very good idea. This is the next thing we should be doing in America: public school for dogs.

In the meantime, I did find something fun for Cricket to do closer to home that fulfills her need for excitement and lends itself to pictures for the blog. Her favorite poopy area in the backyard has been getting crowded out by weeds, and Cricket loves to battle weeds. All I have to do is pull one or two weeds up to show her the way, and she sticks her head in the ground and searches for more roots and digs and bites and steals the weeds and runs around in a frenzy. She especially likes the tall fat weeds that look like juicy green sticks.

Criket, guarding her treasure.

Cricket, guarding her treasure.

"Mine!!!!!"

“Mine!!!!!”

"Don't interrupt me while I'm weeding, Mommy."

“Don’t interrupt me while I’m weeding, Mommy.”

For minutes at a time, Cricket is unbelievably happy, and distracted. She comes back in the house with a smile and dirt all over her face and a light in her eyes. It’s a good thing we’ve been getting so much rain lately so that the weeds can keep growing and taking over the yard. The longer this Cricket happiness can last, the better life will be, for everyone in Cricket’s house.

"Shh. We're sleeping."

“Shh. We’re sleeping.”

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.

The Social Butterfly

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Butterfly at Grandma’s colorful feet

 

            When Butterfly first came home from the shelter she didn’t make eye contact with me or Mom, and I was afraid she wouldn’t be able to bond with us. They told us not to expect too much from her after spending her whole eight years in a puppy mill. She was afraid of being picked up or petted, but she licked my hand to say hello, so we started there.

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Butterfly’s tongue

She was hyper vigilant even in sleep, curling up in a ball, waking at any noise. The first time she was able to sleep on her side, with her legs stretched out and her belly exposed, I knew what a triumph that was. A few weeks later, she started to do a little move where she twisted her head to expose her neck and chest for scratching. And then, just once, she rolled entirely onto her back.

But she has been a social butterfly with other dogs from the very beginning, especially in contrast to Cricket. Butterfly will walk up to any dog, big or small, yappy or shy. She doesn’t let Cricket’s fear or standoffishness deter her. The other day we took the girls out for a long walk around the neighborhood. We went to the left instead of the right this time and met a male dachshund and his human mother. Cricket kept her distance, because she usually does. But Butterfly was drawn straight to him. She sniffed his nose. Then she sniffed his butt. He peed obsessively against the telephone pole on his lawn.

Butterfly clearly liked him, but whenever he tried to sniff her butt, she hopped away like a good southern belle, exclaiming, “well, I never…” But she didn’t want to leave. When we finally convinced Butterfly to leave, she was in a great mood. Her hips twitched from side to side, and her nose and tail were up in the air.

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The girls get all tangled with their friend Bella

            Cricket is not a social butterfly. When we’re outside and strangers walk by, Cricket automatically barks her head off. She needs to tell them that this is her neighborhood, her street, her sidewalk, and they have no business near by. Butterfly just stands there and studies them. She isn’t upset by Cricket’s barking. She almost doesn’t seem to notice it. She just seems curious, and like a scientist, she is taking time to patiently examine the evidence.

But in the house, Butterfly barks. She especially likes to bark at the doggy in the mirror. She’ll be walking around in my room, surveying the territory, and then look to her left and see another little white dog. The mirror on the closet is full length so she can see herself down to the toes, and she barks and hops and gets into play pose as if she really believes that another dog has come into the room to challenge her.

Butterfly’s biggest challenge is to teach Cricket how to be her friend. It is an uphill battle, with a lot of grumbling and suspicion and hiding under beds and hoarding treats. But right now, Butterfly is napping only inches away from Cricket on the bed. They are getting closer every day, whether Cricket likes it or not.

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Blurry but happy. At least Butterfly is.

The Reluctant Mentor

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Cricket is exhausted by her new job

Cricket is a reluctant mentor. She resents the way Butterfly follows her around. She hides treats she doesn’t even like, because she doesn’t want Butterfly to have them.

But, Butterfly thinks Cricket is her leader. When Cricket barks, Butterfly barks, or whimpers, or looks to Cricket for answers to the questions of the universe. When Cricket pees, Butterfly pees. If Cricket stops to sniff a bush, Butterfly stops, sniffs, and thinks, this is what I am supposed to do.

Cricket’s most important job has been to teach Butterfly to poop and pee outdoors. Butterfly is eight years old and she’s not used to having to hold it in and wait to be taken outside. She’s not used to thinking of poop as something that shouldn’t be left in the house. And Cricket is teaching her otherwise. I’d like to think that Cricket is pooping more often each day as a generous form of inspiration for Butterfly, to teach her the joys of pooping outdoors. But it could also be because she is an emotional eater and has been eating more since Butterfly came home.

Cricket is an adventurer and Butterfly is learning from that. She’s learning how to run and play and go further afield. She’s learning that long walks and sending pee mail messages and sniffing new places is fun, and safe.

She’s learning that you can get away with standing your ground and being stubborn sometimes and no one will hit you. They may just pull on your leash and make grumbly noises, but that won’t kill them, or you.

The first few days, maybe even more than a week, that Butterfly was home, she was uninterested in toys. We gave her two toys from Cricket’s box, carefully choosing ones she’d never shown interest in, but Butterfly ignored them. And then she found Ducky on the floor next to my bed and she fell in love. The duck quacks when you squeeze it and has been one of Cricket’s favorites since she was a puppy, with surgery scars to prove it. Now Butterfly tries to bring Ducky with her whenever she goes out for a walk (the answer is no). She licks him the way she would lick one of her puppies and that seems to calm her. But Cricket is not pleased.

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Butterfly loves ducky

Butterfly tries to forget quickly after each time Cricket snarls at her, or blocks her way up the stairs. She chooses to forgive Cricket over and over.

There are some things Butterfly has not picked up yet. She’s not in love with the variety of foods Cricket enjoys. She doesn’t see the point of cheese, or red bell peppers, or morning pancakes with maple syrup. She hasn’t learned how to bark menacingly at strangers, or hide under the bed in a huff. She hasn’t learned how to revel in a warm lap and really relax, yet.

Butterfly has tried running after sticks and chewing on them the way Cricket does out on the lawn in the mornings, but sticks are an acquired taste.

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Don’t take my stick!

            Just once, Butterfly tried to pee like Cricket, with her right leg lifted an inexplicable inch off the ground. But she found that position uncomfortable and ineffective. I’m not sure why Cricket does it, being a girl and all.

After all of that mentoring, Cricket has some aggression to get out of her system and she has taken to bringing me her rope toy when it gets to be too much and she needs to play tug of war. While Cricket tugs and jumps and growls and is suspended in midair, Butterfly hops around and pants and tries to get in the game. She can’t fit her teeth around the rope, though, and Cricket is grateful for that.

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Cricket is levitating

            Once tug is over, they’re both exhausted and ready for a nap. Cricket has taught Butterfly all about napping. So once Cricket is asleep, Butterfly will stretch out on the floor, legs in front of her like a fallen cow. Just like Cricket.

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Fallen Cow pose