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Visiting the Boys

 

Before our most recent visit to my brother’s house in New Jersey, we gave Cricket some doggy Xanax, to see if it could make her a little better behaved. The occasion for this visit was my youngest nephew’s eighth birthday, and my brother insisted that the dogs were invited. He’s terse, but he seemed to be clear. But, Cricket is terrible in the car. Harnesses cannot hold her and she ends up climbing behind my neck, and then trying to insert herself behind her grandma’s shoulder. My job, in the passenger seat, is to make sure that Cricket keeps her paws off the steering wheel.

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“Squirrel!”

Butterfly, on the other hand, slept peacefully in the back seat. She was so quiet that I had to aim the camera over my head to catch a picture and make sure she was still alive back there. I couldn’t turn around far enough to see her, what with Cricket balancing on the back of my neck.

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If you listen carefully, you can hear her snoring.

By the time we got to a gas station in New Jersey, Cricket was losing her marbles. We always wait until Jersey to fill up the gas tank because they have no gas tax, so it’s significantly cheaper to buy gas there, even if the roads are a bit extra bumpy. Cricket seems to think that gas station attendants are closer to the devil than even Mailmen. She shrieks and throws herself at the car window and scratches the glass in a terrifying fever of activity. Sometimes the guys laugh, but it’s that nervous laugh that means they’re trying very hard not to pee in their pants.

When we were back on the road, I had hopes that Cricket would be calmer, but no. She climbed behind my neck again and then started hyperventilating when she recognized my brother’s neighborhood. When we turned onto their block, she started to whine and dig into my shoulders with her toe nails. We were in the car for two hours, and the Xanax still had not kicked in.

My brother’s driveway was empty, and the only family member in evidence was cousin Lilah – the black lab – standing behind the front door, barking at us. I didn’t have the patience to stand on the stoop and wait with Mom for my brother to appear, so I took the girls on a walk around the block, passing all of us single file through a shovel’s width of clear space in the snow. I’d already done my exercise for the day (ready for birthday cake!), and I was a bit wobbly on my feet, but adrenalin got me through, and as we neared my brother’s house again, the littlest nephew (aka birthday boy) came running to see us, or rather, to see the dogs.

It turned out that they’d been away in the Poconos for five days, and were just returning. Don’t ask me why this did not come up in the planning with my brother. As I said, he’s terse. Lilah had been dropped off by the pet sitter an hour earlier and that was why she was so agitated to be home alone. As soon as my brother opened the front door, to drop off five days’ worth of laundry in the front hall, Lilah raced out to greet the rest of her humans in the street.

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Lilah and Cricket

I assumed that this was all preparatory to the whole family going inside, but the minivan was still running, and it turned out that sometime during their drive back from the Poconos, it had been decided that we would be going out for pizza instead of eating at their house. The dogs would have to stay home. My girls would be given the basement, and Lilah would get the rest of the house.

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“Are you talking about me?”

I tried not to look into Butterfly’s big brown eyes as we closed the door to the basement. I was angry at the change in plans, and confused about the right thing to do, and feeling guilty because I was actually considering staying behind with the dogs and missing my nephew’s pizza party. Cricket stood on the other side of the basement door and barked her frustration clearly and succinctly, and I had to agree she made a good argument.

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“Mommy?”

When we returned from pizza early (because littlest nephew missed the dogs), Cricket was still standing right at the top of the basement stairs waiting for the door to open (she left drool behind as evidence of her plight). Meanwhile, Lilah had eaten the rabbit food in one human brother’s room, and pooped all over the floor in another brother’s room, to let her family know how she felt about their decision making priorities.

After some screaming and cleanup, we finally ate birthday cake and watched my nephew unwrap his presents. Out of the pile of gifts tottering on the table, partially opened, three boxes contained toy guns, and this inspired the older boys to go and find their own favorite toy guns – bright blue and orange and yellow guns that could not be mistaken for the real thing, but filled with marshmallow sized bullets that actually sting quite a bit when they hit you. My niece was, unsurprisingly, missing from the action, holed up in her bedroom with her iPad.

I held Butterfly on my lap, because she was shivering, and I had to hold Cricket’s leash to keep her from starting a fight with Lilah. I also had to stay alert, because guns kept being aimed at each of our heads.

Cricket finally did calm down, when we returned to the car at the end of the visit. She curled up behind my neck, with her feet shoved behind my back, and fell asleep within minutes. Halfway through the trip, she was snoring into my hair. On an efficacy scale of one to ten, doggy Xanax, zero, house full of boys, ten!

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Exhausted puppies.

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.