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Stay Cool, Cricket

 

We are still working on keeping Cricket calm and quiet, while she’s getting her leash on to go outside. My latest attempt is to sing to her. The song that keeps coming to mind is “Cool” from West Side Story. Of course, I had to switch boy to girl, “Girl, Girl, crazy girl, get cool, girl!” The next line in the lyric is, “Got a rocket in your pocket,” and that made me think about the whole question of dogs having pockets. If Cricket has hidden pockets, and she keeps rockets in them on occasion, that would make the amount of time she spends writhing on the floor, scratching her back, seem much more dangerous.

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“I can scratch my back if I want to!”

“Keep coolly cool girl?” The lyrics seem a little sillier than I remembered.

“Girl, girl, crazy girl. Stay loose girl!” I can picture Cricket doing the dance moves at this point in the song. She’s outside in the dark, wearing her denim jacket and canvas sneakers (just go with me on this), and she’s getting really low and jazzy and snapping her fingers (side point, what made God decide that dogs shouldn’t have fingers? Do dogs have no need to snap?).

“Breeze it buzz it, easy does it. Turn off the juice girl,” except, given that the goal is to get Cricket outside to pee, I’m not sure this line in the song is very helpful.

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“You’re not funny, Mommy.”

“Go, girl go, but not like a Yo Yo school girl,” this reminds me that Cricket is not allowed to go to public school, which still bothers me, because she would love to learn French, and math, and a little bit of social studies, and she would especially love running laps in the gym.

“Just play it cool girl, real cool.”

Cricket responds well to music, actually. She especially prefers it to when I say words like no, stop, sit, and other cruelties of that kind. She watches my face very closely when I’m singing, just like my oldest nephew did when he was a baby, as if he was trying to figure out where the sounds came from.

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Music soothes the savage Cricket.

It takes at least the length of the song to get Cricket quiet enough to be leashed and allowed out the door. Once she’s outside, though, all bets are off. She’ll bark at just about anything.

But that’s a challenge for another time, and a longer song.

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“I don’t think I can take anymore, Cricket.”

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“Wake me when the training is over.”

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.

To the Library we go

 

We walked the dogs to the library the other day. It was a magical moment when the weather was cooperating, and I actually had the energy to walk. We leashed up the dogs and put our overdue books in a bag and off we went. Cricket loves to go on long walks and visit other places. She would prefer to drag me around the neighborhood for an hour or two a day, if it were up to her, whereas Butterfly would prefer to never leave her backyard.

"Let's go!"

“Let’s go!”

When we first moved to this apartment, a year and a half ago, Butterfly blossomed. She smiled more. She ran in the yard and recognized our door right away and ran straight too it, off leash, within days. She was home.

"My backyard!"

“My backyard!”

Butterfly is not a fan of walking along the very noisy street next to our building, though, so I had to carry her for the first part of the trip to the library. I carried her down the hill and across the street, while Mom and Cricket stopped every few seconds to sniff things and race ahead, and sniff things again and race ahead again.

"Must. Sniff. Everything."

“Must. Sniff. Everything.”

"Cricket, are you sure it's safe out there?"

“Cricket, are you sure it’s safe out there?”

I expected Butterfly to be fine walking on her own once we reached the side street, but she still refused. She tried to pull back towards home, and when that didn’t work she just refused to move at all. She was afraid of every noise, especially the birds squawking from the nearby trees.

I carried her like a baby, with her head resting on my shoulder, and that seemed to calm her down. I tried setting her down a few more times, because fifteen pounds gets heavy after a while, but she’d walk for a little bit and then stop and refuse to go any further.

"Mommy, I think my tongue is falling out of my mouth."

“Mommy, I think my tongue is falling out of my mouth.”

We finally made it to the library and dropped off our books in the book slot, and then decided to walk home through the duck pond, hoping the serene atmosphere would help Butterfly stay on her own feet. We walked on the sidewalk, to avoid as much goose poop as possible, and for a little while, Butterfly was fine. She was even running ahead of Cricket, who was hyperventilating. The sound of Cricket’s breath, scratching against her vocal cords, made me picture a tiny musician inside of her throat, playing a tiny violin very badly.

"I'm not choking. I don't know why you think I'm choking."

“I’m not choking. I don’t know why you think I’m choking.”

Before we were halfway through the park, Butterfly balked again. I veered off onto the grass after all, hoping that would make her feel better, but it didn’t. I had to carry her, and dodge goose poop, all the way up the hill, until we were back to the sidewalk and the busy street. I put Butterfly down, just to rest my arms for a second, and as soon as she realized we were on our way home, she started to hop and smile.

We had to wait for the light to change, and then wait for cars to swoop around the corner at high speed, but then Butterfly pulled me across the street and up the hill as determined as a marathoner in her last lap.

"Are we there yet?"

“Are we there yet?”

I’d been listening to Sheryl Crow singing “Home” earlier in the day, maybe on a TV show or a movie, and the song had become an earworm playing over and over in my mind, louder and louder, as Butterfly pulled me into our parking lot, and around to the backyard, and straight to our door. Home at last.

"Wait, the walk is over?"

“Wait, the walk’s over?”

 

Butterfly’s Day Out

My best friend from high school lives in Israel, with her husband and four kids, but she came to the states to visit family in the Catskills this summer, and I decided to take Mom and the dogs up for a visit.

            We packed up the car, with dog beds and treats and snacks and cd’s, for the drive upstate. We were prepared, with doggy Xanax (for Cricket), and Pepto Bismal (for Butterfly), and paper towels (for their maid, me).

            Cricket snuggled in behind my neck, and then behind my back, with her nose behind her grandma’s shoulder. Butterfly unhooked her seatbelt in the first ten minutes, with Cricket’s help, but stayed in her bed on the back seat, car sick. She only threw up twice on this trip, compared to the seven times she threw up on the trip to Washington, DC, in January. But I found two large chunks of chicken treat, and a ribbon of rawhide, floating in the puke, when we stopped at a rest area to clean up. Feeding her before a trip is a mistake. Now I know.

Butterfly, keeping an eye on Cricket's back

Butterfly, keeping an eye on Cricket’s back

            We reached Monticello, New York, late in the afternoon and checked in at the “best” local motel. One of the bedside lamps didn’t work. A floor lamp, the fridge and the microwave had to share two outlets. The door to the room didn’t quite close, unless you slammed it, repeatedly. And the bathroom light only stayed on for a certain amount of unspecified time. I won’t describe the carpets. But there was a grassy area next to the motel for the dogs to pee on, and beds to sleep on, and a TV to watch, so we were set.

Watching TV with Butterfly

Watching TV with Butterfly

Cricket guarding the door to the motel room

Cricket guarding the door to the motel room

            The next morning, I met up with my friend and her newest baby, not quite two months old, and only ten pounds, in her little pink footie pajamas. I had a chance to hold the baby while her mom and I caught up and, thankfully, she didn’t have that new baby fragility anymore. New babies feel like they’re barely held together with scotch tape, and a slight wind could break them apart, but this baby was gelling nicely.

Then we met up with the rest of her family at their bungalow colony, and Mom and the dogs arrived, and we were immediately swarmed with kids, some related to my friend, some complete strangers.

I saw Cricket getting a little antsy with all of the attention, despite her anti-anxiety medication, so I picked her up and held her for a while to help her calm down. Butterfly, on the other hand, sat patiently, while the kids took turns petting her back, and followed willingly when they led her around on her leash. She even took on a steady dog show trot to show off how well she conforms to Lhasa Apso breed standards.

How many hands can fit on one Butterfly?

How many hands can fit on one Butterfly?

Walk number thirty two.

Walk number thirty two.

            Before I put Cricket back down on the ground, to help meet the doggy love demand, I made sure that the kids knew that Butterfly and Cricket were different dogs. If Cricket ran under the picnic table to hide, I told them, it would not be a good idea to reach your fingers under the table to try and reach her. The kids adapted well, learning quickly that Cricket could be tempted with sticks, and would keep chasing sticks until her mouth was filled with four or five sticks at a time.

While the rest of the kids lined up to walk Butterfly, my friend’s seven-year-old daughter chose Cricket, who ran her every which way, to her father’s great amusement. Cricket is as bossy as the bossiest little girl, and managed to drag her new friend through the swing set, under the hammock, and into the woodsy area behind the house, until they were both dizzy, and smiling.

Happy Cricket, leading the way, to the water.

Cricket leading the way, to water.

Eventually, even Butterfly hit a wall, and scampered under the picnic table to rest, while I held Cricket, who had hit her limit a while earlier. The kids didn’t understand how the dogs could be done playing so soon. They had only been running for four hours, this way and that, with a crowd of children. Why would that be exhausting?

            Everyone gathered around for pizza and some kind of blue drink that even the kids found suspicious. The only sign that Butterfly was anxious was that she didn’t take pieces of pizza crust when they were offered to her, but Cricket didn’t mind eating a double share.

My friend’s children started to beg for a dog of their own, generously offering to trade in the new baby for said dog. I was a little worried that I’d brought discord into the family with my fluffy children, but my friend reassured me that the kids, and her husband, had been pointing out dogs everywhere they went, making a not subtle case for dog ownership, long before the fourth child came along, and long before my furry children offered such visceral temptation.

            It was nice just to sit there and take in the experience of seeing my high school friend, with her kids, and her husband, on a sunny afternoon in the country. I could feel her happiness; it was this quiet, solid fabric and her whole family was wrapped in it. And for a few hours, I was wrapped in it too.

The dogs slept well in the car on the way home, and through the next day. I don’t know if dogs relive experiences in their minds the same way people do, but I think Butterfly will always remember running like a show dog, with a long line of children waiting for the chance to be close to her. She was a star for the day, and she loved it.

Butterfly, after a long, but very good, day out.

Butterfly, after a long, but very good, day out.

The Dina Years – Separation Anxiety

Dina and her shadow

Dina and her shadow

 I was supposed to outgrow my separation anxiety. People expect small children to cling to Mommy, but as you get older, not so much. Except that, I grew up afraid that my mother would leave. My father would yell, and yell and yell some more, until she ran out the front door to get away from him. I could hear the door slam from my bedroom upstairs, and I was afraid that this time she would leave and never come back.

But she always did come back. And when I was twenty-three and she was truly ready to leave him, she took me with her. I wasn’t ready for graduate school yet. I needed a cave to hide out in, and I needed my mother. I was like a little mouse, scampering up and down the stairs, terrified of being caught, and eaten.

Our dog, Dina, a black Labrador mix, was almost eight years old, and Mom wasn’t sure about bringing her with us, but I insisted. I had made a commitment to Dina and I couldn’t leave without her. My father didn’t even ask if Dina could stay with him. I would have said no. I would have screamed and run away with her in the middle of the night. But he didn’t ask.

We left behind most of the things my mother had accumulated over thirty years of marriage, but we did take the living room couch. Mom had picked it out from a charity shop to replace the faux leather couch Dina had destroyed during her rampaging-puppy years.

We found an apartment that accepted dogs, and the couch was now our central gathering place. When Mom and I sat down to watch TV, Dina climbed up to be the glue between us.

My father had refused to let Dina get fixed, even though she’d been having hormonal problems and false pregnancies for eight years, tearing up carpets to create bedding for imaginary puppies. One of our first priorities when we moved was to find a new vet and get Dina her operation. They shaved her belly pink and left a long black scar, but even though she was woozy and sore, I knew we’d finally done right by her.

Within months, something changed: Mom and Dina started to bond. My mother woke up early to take Dina outside for the first pee of the day, now that we had no backyard to let her loose in, and then my fifty-five year old mother would get down on the floor with Dina and pounce and growl and throw dusty tennis balls every which way.

Mom became the fun sister, and I was the fuddy duddy, the disciplinarian. In our new life, I was responsible for cooking and cleaning. I put out the garbage and made up menus and shopping lists and budgets. I made sure Mom ate healthy food and had lunches to take to work. I planned TV watching and other entertainment. I also took Dina out for long walks every day; two or three miles of wandering around the neighborhood, with poopy bags and fresh water and paper towels to clean off her drool.

And yet, when my mother came home from work each day, Dina’s ears perked up, and her tongue stuck out and she made guttural sounds as if she were trying to squeal, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!”

I knew that Dina had been out to pee at three PM and again at six, and I knew that she could actually hold her bladder intact very well for eight to ten hours without incident, but Dina’s manipulative brat persona would surface – Bam! “Oh Mommy, I just have to pee or I’ll die!” and then, “Oh Mommy, I am so hungry I could faint!” even though she’d been eating Twizzlers and string cheese with me all day long while I was supposed to be writing. She’d even eaten a few stray chunks of her own dry dog food.

I think that, finally, Mom felt like she deserved to be loved. By both of us, because Dina’s excited greeting was pretty similar to how I felt. I couldn’t begrudge her this joy which was suddenly part of her every day life.

My separation anxiety didn’t go away, though. I still worried that Mom would die. She would have a heart attack on the train into the city, or get into a car accident on the way home from the station. Something would happen while she was out of my sight and I wouldn’t be able to save her.

And Dina started to develop similar separation anxiety symptoms, around me. When I left the house without Dina, even for an hour, she would run up to my room and sit on my bed, releasing hair and drooling until my room smelled like stale dog breath. I wonder if she, too, was imagining all of the awful ways I could die and never return to her. I’m pretty sure her scenarios would have involved squirrels, and cats. An assassin cat and his squirrel assistant were clearly plotting ways to get me as soon as I walked out the door. That’s why Dina had to push past me, and bite my leg whenever I tried to leave. To protect me.

Dina, keeping me safe from the jigsaw puzzle.

Dina, keeping me safe from the jigsaw puzzle.

The fact is that I don’t think I could have handled sitting in an empty apartment all day while Mom was at work. I needed Dina as much as she needed me. Even if all she wanted was to rub her head against my leg when her nose itched.

As a result of her operation, and with the addition of her extended walking schedule, she wasn’t tearing up carpets anymore, and her remaining neuroses were manageable, as long as I never left the house without her. And, actually, I could live with that.

Me and Dina, out for a walk.

Me and Dina, out for a walk.

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.