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Archive for March, 2007

Pets

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about pets and the human relationship with them, thanks to Jasper’s arrival in our lives.

When we got Jasper, I did what I always do when a new interest enters my life: I went to the library and took out every book I could find on dogs. There were many. Some of the most interesting were written by Stanley Coren, who really is obsessed with all things dog.

In his book, Why We Love the Dogs We Do, Coren has a chapter on cats, in which he describes both cats and cat people and cold and unfeeling. I was a bit surprised at this stereotypical and backward view. (As I write this, my cat Roxy is sitting on my chest and shoulders with her head buried in my hair, purring madly.) However, I have to admit that introducing Jasper into our lives really has been a whole different experience than it was with the cats, and that actually took me a bit by surprise. It gotten me thinking about people and pets.

Jasper is the first dog I’ve had as an adult, but I did grow up with dogs. One dog in particular. His name was Rover. (I am not making this up.) He was a purebred Boxer, but a bit of a runt and never good for showing. My grandparents acquired him in England and when my grandfather died of cancer a couple of years later, my mother brought my grandmother and the dog back to live with us.

I loved that dog. One of my fondest childhood memories is lying on the floor in front of the fireplace in winter, using Rover as a pillow. He was completely tolerant of whatever the children did to him and a great playmate. Twenty-five years after his death I can still remember him in incredible detail – the small, crooked scar on the top of his head where he’d had a small tumour removed as a puppy, how the white line between his eyes only went down one side of his muzzle, the way the white fur on his chest swirled to a point in the middle and how incredibly soft his ears where. My memories of Rover left me convinced that childhood is better with a dog in it.

Rover wasn’t our only pet. I also had a budgie named Billy for a number of years, and a mouse after that. My brothers had guinea pigs and a rat. We had tropical fish. As a teenager, I found a garter snake out on a walk with my dad and we brought it home and put it in the then-empty fish tank. I fed it worms and raw fish. In the fall, I dug up tons of worms and put them in a bucket, then put the bucket in the back of my closet – the coolest area of my room – and dug one up whenever I needed over the winter. I kept that snake for several years before it got so big I figured it was time to return it to the woods, but replaced it with another.

Only as an adult do I now realize how tolerant my parents were of our (particularly my) interest in strange pets. Turns out most people wouldn’t appreciate a bucket of worms in the closet. When Maya was 3, I impulsively bought her a little mouse. The rodent, cage and food cost only about $15, so it never occurred to me to check with J first. Turns out, he hates rodents. You can imagine his delight when the ‘baby’ mouse we got gave birth about two weeks after I brought it home.

I really was delighted. Watching the babies grow from naked, blind things to cute little mice was fascinating, and seeing their different personalities emerge. I kept one baby as company for mom and gave the rest back to the pet store. When mom and daughter died a year or so later, I got rid of the mouse stuff and crossed rodents of my list. J had already made it clear snakes couldn’t be on that list either.

He could hardly object to fish, though, could he? Well, he could, but I ignored him and set up a 20 gallon tank in the living room. Fish are so unobtrusive that he gave up complaining soon.

So, of course, I moved on to lobbying for cats. I firmly believe pets are good for kids and while fish are interesting, they aren’t cuddly, friendly or playful. A dog seemed unreasonable in our lives at that point, with Boo being tiny. J agreed, reluctantly. We got R first, then T followed 2 months later.

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The kids do love their cats, as do I. R isn’t particularly friendly, except towards me, but she does allow Boo to pick her up and haul her around without complaint (the older two are out of luck, though – it’ll be interesting to see how long she allows Boo this privilege). She also runs to the door when the doorbell rings – as does T – rather than the running away you’d expect of cats.

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T is a huge blob of love. He purrs the moment anyone touches him, allows anyone to pick up up and cuddle him and will plop himself down in any unmoving lap in an instant. He purrs when the vet examines him and didn’t stop when one jabbed a needle in his thigh. When she wanted to listen to his heartbeat, she tried to get him to stop by waving a cotton ball of rubbing alcohol under his nose – to bother him with the unpleasant smell – so he started to eat the cotton ball, and kept purring. He puts up with anything.

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Cats do seem the perfect pet in many ways. They are responsive and love us, but we can pour a great pile of food out and leave them for the weekend without concern. Still, getting a dog seemed somehow … better.

As I mentioned before, when we got Jasper, I expected to love him. I just didn’t expect to love him as much as I do. I attributed my love for Rover to me being a child, rather to him being a dog and didn’t recognize it as any different from all the other pets I’ve loved. But it is. Even the kids feel it. As devoted as they are to their cats, after only a few days they were all saying that while they love their cats, they already loved Jasper more. He’s special.

I’ve been trying to pin down why. What is so remarkable about a dog? I think it is his responsiveness., which comes out of how much he adores us. The cats like and put up with us, but Jasper adores us. When I’m lying down resting (happens a lot lately), R will come up, crawl under the blanket and lie on my chest purring. It’s a lovely cuddle. But if someone comes along and disturbs us, she’ll immediately pop out and cannot be coaxed back in. It has to be on her terms and now she doesn’t feel like it, so that is it. But if Jasper is lying down snoozing comfortably in one spot and I call him to come to me, he will abandon his comfort and come running over in an instant, because whatever I want is of utmost importance to him.

He wants to please me. The cats love me, but have no interest in pleasing me. Because he wants to please us, there is a much greater give and take with a dog. It is easy to train them, and the training is so much fun. With the cats, training consisted of spraying them with water when they scratched the screen door. They learned that quickly, but there is no easy way to get a cat to do something positive, because you have no way of coaxing them into a behaviour.

So I guess I love the dog more because the dog loves me more. That’s kind of selfish, isn’t it? But it does make for a more full relationship, less one-sided. For the first time, I’m starting to understand some peoples’ insane devotion to the canine companions. It’s unconditional love, and appreciating that isn’t so insane after all.

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Spring!

Ha! Not! as my children like to say. It got lovely and warm last week for a few days. It smelled all springy. Every time I walked the dog, great swaths of grass on people’s lawns had been revealed.

Then, my cleaning lady/hand-me-down nanny/wife/saviour told me that the weather was supposed to get cold again this week, and snow, and ruined all my fun. At least, I think that is what she was trying to tell me. My fingers were in my ears and I was saying, “LALALALA” so I can’t be sure. Didn’t help, though. Everything is covered up with snow once again and I had to put away my shoes and break out the big boots.

The only good thing about the latest snowstorm is that Jasper loves bounding in the snow on people’s lawns. I stand in the middle on the road with his leash run all the way out and he leaps and bounds and charges back and forth on the snow, pausing to smush his face all the way into the snow and hold it there for many seconds before bursting out and galloping off. We were quite the sight. All the other dog owners would walk staidly by and their dogs would stare at mine in amazement as he threw himself around in completely puppy joy. I don’t know what we’ll find in summer to replace that.

He’s gone from a dog who hated to go for walks to one who loves them. He also hasn’t peed on the floor in a week. He did, however, liberate a big hunk of cheese I was cutting up for an omelet from the counter. I had lots more cheese, so I mostly thought it was funny.

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Yesterday around 1 pm, I got a phone call from the school. It was Maya, reminding me that there was early dismissal and parent/teacher interviews at 3. She has absolutely no faith in me to remember anything, and despite the office staff assuring her I’d remember, as report cards just came home on Friday, she insisted on calling.

It can be very annoying, that she reminds me every Friday when they get out of school (it changes depending on the time of year, because Friday night is when shabbat starts, at sundown), and reminds of when to pick her up from camp, or when she has some event at school. But I can’t really get angry at her because – and those of you who know me well could see this coming a mile away – I’d forgotten completely about the interviews and early dismissal. Thank goodness she called.

I didn’t bother with Maya’s teachers, as she’s fine, but did the rounds of Asher’s. He has problems with handwriting and reading – he could do the latter, he just refused to, but he’s much improved. He also has mild ADD. It is hard for me to write that, because I feel like I’m labelling him.¬† I tried just saying he has problems concentrating and with organization, but people aren’t stupid and would say things like, “Oh, my nephew has ADD too.” He’s not hyperactive at all and he’s also has no behaviour problems, which is sort of how I normally imagine kids when you say ADD. He’s just very, very easily distracted and forgetful and disorganized. He’s exactly like me.

His handwriting and reading are coming along beautifully, but his teachers have his desk up right beside theirs so they can keep him ‘on task’ as opposed to staring out the window.

After the interviews, I was driving Asher to his tutor and told him his teachers love him (which they do – his Hebrew teacher said at times he’ll come up to her and say, “I’m sorry, but you know I have trouble concentrating and I wasn’t paying attention when you told us which page to work on. Can you just tell me again?” She wishes all the kids with concentration difficulties were so self-aware), but of course we need to work on his organization so he doesn’t forget so much stuff.

He said, “There’s no point. It isn’t going to get better.” I said, “Of course it will! As you get older, you’ll get better at figuring out how to remember things.” He said, “Like you and the parent-teacher interviews?” Ouch. He had me there. So I told him that when I was a kid, no one knew exactly how to help me, but teachers know more nowadays and can help him more. He wasn’t buying it. As we arrived at the tutor, I told her that he’d gotten his report card, then said, “Oh darn! I meant to bring it for you!” and smart mouth said quietly, as he went into the kitchen, “Never gets better ….”

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Head of the class

Jasper and I had his second obedience class Saturday. The instructor says he’s the calmest Doodle she’s ever encountered. We get that a lot, comments about how calm he is, especially as he is not quite 6-months old. I’m totally impressed with how well J did in picking a good puppy.

He’s the star pupil. It warms my over-achieving heart. We had to demonstrate what we’d learned last week, which was to get our puppies to look at us on command. Jasper was the only one to get this one the first try and without a piece of food held enticingly up to the owner’s nose.

Then the instructor asked if any puppy had learned to sit yet, 4 of 5 hands went up. Sit for anyone? One hand went down. Sit on the first command consistently? Two more hands dropped, leaving mine up. She then took a piece of apple from me and asked Jasper to sit, which he immediately did. I’m so proud.

The next step was to teach them how to walk on a leash without pulling, which I’ve already taught him. Maybe I’m the star pupil?

Certainly, I’m an over-achiever (who’s under-achieving in every other aspect of her life¬† right now, but we won’t go there). But really, he’s such a smart dog that it is fun and rewarding to teach him things. We are also doing pretty well on ‘lie down,’ ‘stay,’ ‘Where’s Asher?’ and ‘Where’s Boo?’ (because they were the ones home sick).

It snowed today, after everything had pretty much melted last week, so I took Jasper to a big off-leash wooded dog run near here for a walk, despite feeling kind of crappy. I figured maybe the fresh air would be good for me. He loves the snow now, so I wanted to give him one last kick at running around in it. I’ve only been once before and, not know how he’d do around the other dogs, keep him on the leash. This time I let him off and he continued to show his brilliance – or his deep attachment to me – by never straying far except when running around with another dog, and returning promptly when called, even when in the middle of playing.

I really did want to get a dog for the kids. I grew up with a dog and I think childhood is just better with a dog to share it. I wanted that experience for my kids and was delighted when J decided he did too. I totally did not expect how much I’d love and enjoy the big dopey guy, but I think it is pretty obvious that I do. He’s a great addition to my life too. It’s like having a child who never learns to say, “Why are you such a mean mommy?”

Here’s a picture of him on his blanket with a purloined slipper. He was so cute I took pictures before taking the slipper away.

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All alonely

The children seem pretty much on the mend. Asher went back to school Thursday, but developed a fever Thursday night and had a bad cough this morning, so we made him stay home. He begged to go to school, completely bored with staying at home. I insisted and he tortured me all day. Keeping him home was the right move, but he was well enough to be a pest, especially as I am the next one in line for this dreaded lurgy. This past week, I’ve been coughed on, slept on and wiped countless snotty noses, so when I woke up this morning with a head full of cotton balls and a sore throat, it wasn’t really a surprise.

Boo, who was not really sick Tuesday but just riding the coat-tails of her siblings, got sick Wednesday and was still feverish today, but clearly feeling much better. She was in total denial over that because her raging fever and misery the past two nights earned her a spot on our bed. She loves sleeping with us. Loves it. She was the hardest to kick out of our bed. In fact we were huge failures in that area and she only truly moved to her own bed last April when we went to Israel for 10 days. The babysitter and Maya did the job for us by refusing to sleep with her. So any suggestion that she is improving is met with a dramatic sigh and, “I’m starting to feel a little better, but I still have a fever.” Then she gives a dramatic little cough for good measure.

So, the whole week was a total write-off, with sick children draped all over me the entire time, and now it is my turn. This means that J. packed up the kids and went up to the cottage without me, and I’m all alonely. Normally, I would be thrilled to have some peace and quiet, but J.’s brother and family are up there and it would probably be a lot of fun, if I didn’t feel so bad. I’m sick of feeling bad, very frustrated, and that translates into not being so happy to be left behind. But this way I will get lots of rest, I can take the dog to his obedience class (unless I feel too awful) and we don’t have to find someone to look after him. We couldn’t bring him because my sister-in-law is allergic to dogs and doesn’t believe that there is any such thing as non-shedding, hypo-allergenic dogs. How can anyone not love this doggy?

This guy was clearly meant to be my dog. He sleeps in and simply refuses to get up in the morning until I do, and even then it is slowly and reluctantly; and he eats lying down.

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Oooo – I forgot to mention I finished my second sock! Yay me! They are so comfortable I immediately started knitting the next pair. The children are now clamouring for them too. I think I’ll knit a pair for Boo next (but after the baby sweater for my friends’ baby and the sweater for Asher) because knitting them for tiny feet should be a snap. That’s why she got the first pair of thrummed mitts too. Lucky thing. There are advantages to being little.

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More weirdness

Pluckymama says she has nine nipples! I must know more about that! Extra nipples are totally cool. I googled ‘third nipple’ not long ago (after a friend told me she has one) and found a whole bunch of pictures of people with pierced third nipples. It never occurred to me to google ‘9 nipples.’ Too bad they all don’t all work (I assume). Your kid would be in heaven.

The funny thing is, I was going to add one more bit of weirdness to my last post, but ran out of time. I recently ran across a link to this article in the Dermatology Online Journal (no, I don’t read it for fun; some other blogger linked to it, but it wasn’t one of my regulars and I’ve forgotten who it was). This is a nipple:

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On someone’s foot! I swear, no hoax. Here’s the close-up:

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Doesn’t work, though, according to the article.

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weirdness

Asher is still sick, but not as feverish. The doctor said he has nothing infected, thankfully. Boo, who wasn’t really ill yesterday, coughed all last night and could barely get a word out this morning without another coughing fit, so she’s home again too. Maya got sent off to school despite having insomnia last night. She didn’t get to sleep until about 12 and was clearly exhausted. As sorry as I felt for her, her exhaustion was the reason I sent her to school. She’s mean when she’s tired and particularly mean to me, and I just couldn’t handle that with the other two home sick too. Besides, she actually copes remarkably well on very little sleep (which is why her infancy nearly killed us). We’re all better off this way.

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Someone found my blog with the search string “noises a camel makes.” When did I mention a camel?

Some else found it with “squished ear at birth,” which Asher had. Has. My labour with him was 5 hours total, with only about an hour of active labour, and I only pushed twice. Apparently when you do that to an almost-9-lb baby, they can get a little banged up. He had a big bump on the top right side of his head, a bloodshot right eye, and his right ear was completely flattened. Actually, the flattened ear suggests that he’d been mushed up on his right side for some time in there. It never popped out properly. It’s not really noticeable, but it means he cannot use ear buds on MP3 players.

Asher and his dad like to have ‘who’s more unique’ arguments thanks to this. Not only does Asher have a squished ear, which he is convinced is unique to him (I don’t think I’ll tell him about the search string), but he can blow air out his tear ducts. That is just totally cool. You can see it bubble and actually feel air if you put your hand up close. I’ve never met anyone else who can do this, but I suspect they are out there.

J’s weird thing is a hole in his toe. Like me, he had ingrown toenails as a kid (our children are doomed) and had them operated on. One didn’t heal properly and, if I remember the story correctly, the doctor somehow cauterized the unhealed part, creating a hole at the base of the nail bed. Some time later, J noticed something hard coming out of the hole. It grew. Eventually, in an attempt to cut it, as it was getting longer and bugging him, he actually yanked a small claw-shaped bit of nail out of the hole. It bled for a moment and the hole appeared to close. But after a while, a new nail began to grow. My husband has a claw growing out of a hole in the top of his big toe. Every few months, he pulls it and the cycle starts again.

He is convinced he is the only one in the world with such a thing. He may be right. Asher considers this hole very cool and they make a huge deal out every few months – “It’s time to pull the thing out of Daddy’s hole!” But he also believes that his two weird things – even if they aren’t completely unique – make him more unique than J’s one weird thing.

The girls in the family think both the boys are weird things and cannot believe the discussions they are party to.

J. also has a friend who finds his toe hole completely fascinating and took before and after photos last time. Here they are, in the interests of science.

Before:

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After:

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Much illness

Asher hates Mondays. He demonstrates this by frequently getting ill on Mondays. Maya is convinced he’s a big faker. It drives her crazy that I fall for his schtick and allow him to stay home. What a sucker I am. Well, he showed her. Yesterday, I let the kids all stay home from school (they don’t get the same March break as the public schools) because their cousins were in town, and Asher got sick again, with a raging fever.

Poor boy. He’s always responded to viruses with nasty fevers. I actually have all the children home ‘sick’ today (and haven’t yet killed myself!). I put ‘sick’ in quotes because I have realized that Boo isn’t really. I think she was just tired from the busy weekend and got a pass because of the other two. She’s the one really driving me nuts, of course.

Maya is mildly ill and Asher is on death’s door, as usual. Even when some hideous stomach virus rampages through our house poor Asher pukes for two days and Maya loses her appetite for a morning.

He’s so bad, I’m actually medicating him. I have to confess, I frequently don’t bother with that. I discovered early that if I gave him Tylenol and his fever went down, he started bouncing around, which is clearly not good for him (or for me). But this time, the fever just dips with medication and he’s still a blob.

When Asher was almost 2, he got hugely ill with some mysterious virus that caused him to break out in bizarre spots all over his body that no one ever figure out. Before the spots appeared, I took advantage of his lethargy by going shopping for Christmas and Hanukkah gifts. He just lay in the stroller while I leisurely shopped. I figured he wasn’t touching anyone and no one was touching him, so how bad could it be? It was quite the treat, calmly comparison shopping rather than frantically racing through my errands while fighting to keep him in the stroller.

In one store, I was in the same aisle as a woman, her mother and her little boy, a similar age to Asher. That kid was acting like a normal toddler, twisting in his straps, kicking, grabbing at everything and announcing loudly, “Out! Out! Out!” The grandmother clearly did not approve of her grandson’s antics, telling him he needed to be a good boy and sit nicely. Finally, she said, “That little boy over there is behaving nicely. Why isn’t he like that?” I looked up at her poor frazzled daughter, a young mom, handling Christmas shopping with a busy baby and a critical mother on top of it all.

I said, “Oh, he isn’t behaving nicely. He’s feverish. Normally he screams if he isn’t actually pushing his own stroller. Taking him out when he’s sick is the only way I get anything done.” It sounds awful put that way, doesn’t it? The grandmother looked at me with an expression of horror and her daughter with one of gratitude. It was my little gift to another mom.

I just took a look down his throat with a flashlight and saw little white dots. We’ll be off to the after hours clinic in a couple of hours.

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