Our landladies Karin and Kathy, who also happen to be our dear friends and upstairs neighbors, recently returned from a month-long trip to Cambodia. In their absence, Jenn and I took care of Daisy, their teenaged daughter’s guinea pig, while Sasha, the rottweiler with the eating disorder, stayed with friends in East Boston, and Nemo, the shih tzu, went with Karin’s sister to Vermont.
Now, I’m not one to encourage stereotypes of any sort, but I’ve heard that Vermont is full of hippies. And since Karin drinks lots of herbal tea and has been known to wear Birkenstocks with hand-knitted wool socks, AND her niece lives in a treehouse, I can’t say I was all that surprised when Nemo came home sporting a cooler full of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and a beard that would make Pete Seeger proud.
It took me all afternoon to groom him, and he’s far from perfect, but he looks slightly less old-man-of-the-mountain now. I used a blue snap-on comb for his body and scissored his face and legs.
We’re still not allowed to do faces in school (they want us to perfect our bodies before tackling heads), which means I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing when it comes to trimming anything above the neck. Nonetheless, I did my best to give Nemo a puppy cut. Next time I groom him, though, I’d like to soften his cheeks a little–round them out and make them less blocky.
I’ve been in grooming school for three months now, and during that time I’ve come to learn that there are very few dogs who stand perfectly still while on the table. You have the sitters. And the prancers and the spinners. There are the toy breeds who try to claw their way up your arm so they can hide themselves in your neck, and the terriers who yank their feet away every time you touch them. Golden retrievers like to lean. Poodles are prone to dancing off the side of the table, and pugs send themselves into a snorting fit if you try to trim their nails.
And then there was the dog I groomed today, a cavalier King Charles spaniel/poodle, also known as a cav-poo, named Skippy. While the name might lead one to believe that he has something akin to a bouncing personality, this assumption would be dead wrong.
Here’s how the day went down: I placed Skippy on the grooming table to dry him. No sooner had I picked up the high-V, he laid down and curled himself into a tight ball–kind of like those hard-shelled bugs that live under rocks and coil up if you poke them. Now, generally when this happens, I reposition the dog and lightly place my hand on its underbelly. For some reason, the mere sensation of my hand on the dog’s stomach acts as a deterant from sitting down again. But Skippy was having none of that. So I tried a different tactic, wrapping my arm around his belly and holding him up while simultaneously pulling him tightly against me. That way, I reasoned, he could lean against me while I dried his opposite side. His reponse was to stand on his head. I managed to get my little contortionist dry, but I knew that grooming him would be next to impossible.
“Is Skippy really old?” I asked Jaque. “Nope,” she said. “Does he have hip or joint problems?” She shook her head. I glanced down at the black-and-white lump on my grooming table and sighed. “Is there any physical reason that he curls up like a pill bug whenever I touch him?” She gave me an amused smile. “No, that’s just his thing.” “Awesome,” I muttered, slipping a leash over his head to take him for a potty walk.
Outside, Skippy was a completely different dog, bounding across the snow and snuffling it with his nose. I let him have his fun, because I knew that as soon as we went back inside I was busting out the Groomers Helper.
Invented by 20-year pet-industry veteran Chuck Simons, the Groomers Helper is a system of loops, clamps, and tethers that eliminates sitting, spinning, biting, and head dropping through a series of six positions. I watched a demonstration of the Groomers Helper during last fall’s New England Pet Grooming Professionals expo, and I was eager to try out the product.
I wasn’t disappointed. Once I’d rigged up Skippy, it didn’t take long to groom him at all. I wouldn’t want to use the the system on every dog–I think it would be more trouble than it’s worth for most–but for the sitters, spinners, dancers, and nippers, I can certainly understand why it’s a time-saving device.
I’m an only child. Instead of younger siblings, I grew up around dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs, and (briefly) a python named Irma from Burma. I totally thought the Baby-sitter’s Club books were the shizzle when I was eight, but by the time I was actually old enough to be left alone with them, I’d decided that kids weren’t really my thing. As the years progressed, so did my aversion. It wasn’t that I disliked children, exactly–it was that I had absolutely no idea what to do with them, and no real desire to learn.
Yet through some strange twist of fate, I landed a weekly babysitting gig back in August when my friends needed someone to watch their son (who, for purposes of privacy, I shall call Samuel) for a few hours after school on Mondays. Knowing that I was out of work, they asked if I’d be interested. Samuel is six, has severe autism, expressive aphasia, and some serious sensory integration issues. Of course, I said yes–never mind that, to this day, I’ve never changed a diaper, tended to a scraped knee, or even opened a juice box for a child. Hey, you have to start somewhere, right?
In the five months since we started hanging out, I’ve come to realize that babysitting Samuel isn’t that different from watching my own dogs. Case in point: Connor and Bailey spend hours playing fetch, while Samuel spends hours sending his stuffed elephant, Nellie, down the sliding board. All three love to swim, sit on my lap, and ride in the car. Also? They are all mildly obsessed with balls.
One day when Jenn was home, I brought Samuel over for a visit. Putting a bowl of blueberries and a glass of juice on the table, I called him in from the living room. “Samuel, come here, buddy,” I said, clicking my tongue. “Are you hungry?”
Jenn popped her head around the corner as Samuel–and both dogs–came trotting over. “Oh, my God!” she exclaimed. “Did you just click your tongue at him?” “Um,” I stammered. “Maybe?” “I don’t believe you!” she said. “HE ISN’T A HORSE, VICKY.” “Well, obviously,” I huffed. “But it works. See, all three of them came.” Jenn threw up her hands in exasperation. “You are seriously a menace,” she said.
Perhaps, but thus far, my treat-the-kid-like-I-do-the-dogs strategy is working for me in every circumstance except potty breaks. For whatever reason, I can pull tapeworms out of a dog’s anus without batting an eye, but ask me to clean up after Samuel’s bowel movements and I’m rendered helpless. Apparently, human poop is my kryptonite. The first time Samuel went for me, I puked into the sink. The second time it happened, I managed to get him cleaned up before dashing out the back door and vomiting into the flower bed. It doesn’t help that he insists on closing the door every time he goes. Or that the sound of the exhaust fan freaks him out. At one point, he suffered from some pretty severe constipation, and I was temporarily off the hook until I discovered a cure to his blockage: my bathroom. For reasons I cannot explain, the kid loves nothing more than to poop in my toilet. Most recently, he locked himself in my bathroom for 40 minutes while I washed dishes, watered the plants, made the bed, folded laundry, and dusted the living room. Every so often, I’d ask him if everything was okay, to which he’d reply with a cheerful, “Yeh!” When he finally finished, it smelled so bad that I couldn’t even stand in the hallway without gagging. To make matters worse, I couldn’t find our baby wipes. After several failed attempts that only resulted in my retching into the sink, Samuel got fed up and ran into the living room, his bare bottom making a beeline for the leather sofa. “Gah!” I cried, stumbling after him. “Wait!” After spraying enough lavender to choke an aroma therapist, I managed to get him cleaned up, at which point he looked up at me with his beautiful brown eyes and asked for a cookie.
I thought about Samuel yesterday as I scrubbed Harry’s crusty butt. Henceforth, I told myself, I shall think only of doggy dingleberries while tending to Samuel post-poop. I shall think of tapeworms and anal glands and dirty litter boxes and hair balls. And in case that doesn’t work, I’ll start carrying alcohol swabs in my pocket. You know, to help with the gagging.
That annoying Siamese cat song from “Lady and the Tramp” is stuck in my head. It’s probably stuck in yours now, too. Sorry about that.
One of Jenn’s coworkers wants me to groom her two cocker spaniels, so this morning I asked Jaque if I could groom a cocker within the next week or so. No sooner had the question left my mouth, Rhonda, one of the receptionists, poked her head into the grooming room and asked if we could fit Harrison, her six-year-old cocker spaniel, into the day’s line-up. “Ask and you shall receive,” Jaque said. “I could also use a million dollars,” I told her. “You know, to help with start-up expenses for my imaginary grooming salon.” I’m still waiting for that money, Jaque.
As you may recall from my last attempt at grooming a cocker, they’re not the easiest breed to groom. Their coats are extremely thick and curly, they’re prone to warts, eye and ear infections, and oily skin, and–for someone who’s new to grooming–the cocker pattern is pretty complicated. Nonetheless, I was determined to approach grooming Harrison with a clear head and a positive attitude. He’s a sweet boy, and Rhonda typically lets us get creative with him. One time the girls even gave him a green mohawk.
Despite his young age, Harrison has had a number of health issues, which sadly isn’t uncommon among cocker spaniels. According to registration statistics provided by the American Kennel Club, they were the number one breed in America from 1936 to 1952 and again from 1983 through 1990. As is typically the case, their popularity resulted in excessive and irresponsible overbreeding, which in turn led to a myriad of health and behavioral problems. As a result, cockers have earned a reputation for being “difficult,” which is a shame because they’re truly beautiful dogs.
Before I bathed him, Susan demonstrated how to properly clipper a cocker’s face. Because Harrison recently had surgery to remove some abscesses on his eyes, she didn’t want me to clipper around his cheeks or muzzle. But she did allow me to clipper V’s on his inner and outer ears. Trimming his ears is rather tricky because his face is slightly lopsided–the result of a stroke and palsy–so we trimmed one ear slightly higher than the other in an attempt to make him appear better balanced.
Unlike Nola, Harrison barely has any skirt, and his coat isn’t nearly as thick as hers, which makes it easier to brush and clipper. And because Rhonda has him groomed about every three weeks, he rarely has any nits or mats, which makes for speedy prep work.
With one eye on my Notes from the Grooming Table book–dutifully turned to the cocker spaniel page–and the other on Harrison, I began to clipper his back with my 7F blade, mindful not to nick any of his warts. It was at about this time that my mind wandered to Lady and the Tramp, which happened to be one of my favorite movies when I was a kid. I remember when my grandparents got this dachshund/beagle mix, and I begged them to name her Lady, which my entire family protested. Instead, they let my aunt name her Biscuit, a decision my grandmother severely regretted five years later when she inherited my mother’s border collie/Australian shepherd mix, whom I’d christened Muffin when I was four. This is why you should never allow children to pick out your pets’ names.
Before long, that song from the Italian restaurant scene–you know, the one where the dogs eat opposite ends of a single strand of spaghetti until meeting in the middle–was stuck in my head. (I always thought it was super romantic when Tramp rolls the last meatball over to Lady with his nose. Then again, I really like food, and it thrills me when Jenn offers me the last of anything, particularly if it involves chocolate, ice cream, or bacon.) Pretty soon it was replaced by “He’s a Tramp,” the tune that Peggy Lee sings when poor Lady is trapped at the pound, and before I could stop myself, I thought about those damn Siamese cats. “We are Si-a-mese if you plee-eeze–ba dum dum dum…” That’s right. Now the song will be going through your head all day, too. You’re welcome.
By the time I finished grooming Harrison, I’d reviewed the entire film in my head, from Lady’s Christmas Eve arrival at Jim Dear’s and Darling’s house to the heart-wrenching climax when Jock and Trusty chase down the dogcatcher’s wagon and rescue Tramp. (To this day–even though I know all he has is a broken leg–I still tear up when the wagon falls on Trusty and Jock howls mournfully into the night.)
And that, dear readers, is the beauty of my new profession. Because unlike writing–which requires one to remain focused on the subject at hand at all times–dog grooming gives my mind the freedom to wander and think about important things, such as whether or not the Siamese cat song can be construed as racist. (Given their obviously slanted eyes, buck teeth, and horribly misconstrued use of the English language, I think maybe it is. Great, now I’m worried that I’m a racist because I happen to really like that movie.)
Sadly, Harrison doesn’t look a thing like Lady. Nevertheless, I plan to Netflix Lady and the Tramp this weekend. For research purposes, of course.
Anyone remember that children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? Multiply that by 365, and you get 2010. In fact, most of last year was so awful that I kind of want to forget it ever happened.
Well, hell. Already I’ve started this post all wrong. See, my New Year’s resolution is to limit negative thinking, which is something I do extremely well. I also excel in areas of guilt, self-loathing, resentment, and fear. You know–all the good, happy, healthy stuff.
Last year, I almost lost myself in a labyrinth of hate, and it was all directed inward. If I ever caught anyone saying the horrible things that I say to myself every day–you’re fat, you’re ugly, you’re stupid, you’re lazy, you’re selfish, you’re talentless, you’re a terrible daughter/partner/friend/writer/groomer, I-hate-you-I-hate-you-I-hate-you-I-hate-you–I would be absolutely appalled.
The truth is, no one treats me as poorly as I treat myself. And that has to change, here and now. No excuses.
During a recent dinner party, my friends Danna and Lindsay discussed the Law of Attraction, which is essentially a theory that “like attracts like.” Lindsay explains it as such: “Whatever you focus your energy and attention towards, you will attract into your life – even if that is something you don’t want. So, if I spend time thinking about how cranky a certain job makes me feel, I’m going to continue to feel like a curmudgeon and continue to have a crappy job. But if I think about how wonderful life is (or can be), then more good will come my way.”
I definitely need to put this philosophy to practice, because let’s face it, negative thinking didn’t get me very far last year.
I’ve always been fairy skeptical (and–to be perfectly honest–more than a bit judgmental) about any sort of idea that is the least bit spiritual. I tend to mock “kooky” new-age theories and anything that involves self-affirmation or self-love of any kind. (My girlfriend-the-therapist has plenty of speculations regarding this attitude, none of which I care to get into here.) One afternoon while I was vacuuming last summer, I happened to catch a reflection of myself in the bedroom mirror, and what I saw disgusted me so much that I began to rake my fingernails across my arms, chest, neck, and face. You’re repulsive, I told myself. Inside and out, you sicken me.
Later that evening, when I admitted to Jenn what I’d done, she asked if I’d consider posting “notes of positive reenforcement” on the bathroom mirror. “Come on, Vic,” she said. “Just write, ‘I love myself’ on an index card, tape it to the mirror, read it, and repeat it aloud every time you go into the bathroom.” “I can’t do that,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Why not?” she demanded. “Because it seems cheesy and self-indulgent,” I said. “It’s all touchy feely and sounds like something I’d read about in a self-help book that’s written by lesbians who worship the moon goddess and spell ‘woman’ with a y.” “The depth of your self-hatred truly astounds me,” she replied, shaking her head.
Five months later, I’m able to look back on that conversation with an objective eye. I can certainly understand Jenn’s frustration with me, but I also know why I so adamantly rejected her idea. For someone who thinks so little of herself, repeating “I love myself” every time she looks in a mirror is unthinkable. Last summer, my poor body image–coupled with my “failure” at my former job–left little room in my brain for any thoughts besides ones of self-loathing. Enrolling in grooming school is probably one of the healthiest decisions I’ve made in recent years, because the positive feedback that I receive each day from my classmates and instructors has slowly helped re-establish my self-confidence. For the first time in more than a year and a half, I feel excited about my future.
My friends Liz and Dave (whose dog Sadie we happen to be watching this weekend) recently quit their jobs to go into business for themselves. Liz opened a private therapy practice in Andover and Cambridge, and Dave is in acupuncture school. Liz recently completed a year-long course in aromatherapy, which she plans to incorporate into her practice, and Dave–an avid believer of energy work–has practiced meditation, qi gong, Chinese medicine, shamanic healing techniques, reiki, crystal healing, and heart-mind integration since 2002. Liz and Dave are also both certified reike practitioners.
While browsing through their library during a recent visit to their house, I noticed a collection of index cards taped to the wall above Liz’s desk. “I will support myself through my private practice,” one said. “I will supplement my income with aromatherapy and reike,” said another. “I will save money for our honeymoon.” “I will have a successful practice.” “I am happy.”
Liz’s wall was not so different from what Jenn suggested earlier this summer, but for whatever reason, seeing those affirmations written by someone else made the idea seem… not so weird.
In the upcoming weeks, Jenn and I plan to create a wall similar to Liz’s. And my first index card will say, “I will learn to love myself.”
Like all lapsed Catholics, Jenn and I have a nativity set for the Christmas season. Ours is fairly large–Jenn’s grandfather found it at the supply yard, also known as the community dump–so we display it under the tree, next to all of the colorfully wrapped presents because both are equally important.
Jenn’s family has this unique holiday tradition of never placing Baby Jesus, Mary, or Joseph in the manger until Christmas morning, reasoning that none of them actually arrived at the stable until December 25. Instead, they hide Baby Jesus in a drawer and move the Mary and Joseph figurines around the room every few days to symbolize the couple’s journey to Bethlehem.
When Jenn and her siblings were little, their mother came up with a highly effective system for convincing them to help her around the house. For every chore they completed, she allowed them to place a single piece of straw into the manger. “If you don’t wash the dishes,” she’d warn, “Jesus won’t have a nice, warm bed. You don’t want Baby Jesus to be cold, do you?”
Jenn has continued this tradition–minus the guilt-trip–in our own house, but this year I regret to report that, despite a full bed of fluffy hay, Jesus may need to find himself some other quarters. Because ever since we set up the damn manger, my cat’s been sleeping in it.
That’s right, everyone. Edward thinks he’s Jesus.
This isn’t the first time that Edward has suffered from a major identity crisis. For several years now, he’s thought he was a dog. He greets us at the door with Bailey and Connor. He tries to follow us outside when we take them for walks, he meows whenever he sees a leash–he’s even taken to sleeping with them on their bed.
Still, there’s a huge difference between believing yourself to be a golden retriever and believing yourself to be the Messiah. Then again… God spelled backwards is dog.
Merry Christmas, everyone.