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Monday, July 10, 2017

Dog Love VI

                    Flickr/James Foreman
It appears that there is a conspiracy of silence surrounding dogs and their ticks. Dog people talk about all kinds of misfortunes that befall their dogs: bloody fights with other dogs, attacks by vicious raccoons and coyotes, exotic illnesses, getting lost, run over by a car, bitten by snakes and so forth. But no one ever mentions ticks.
 
Yet every dog occasionally has ticks on its body. Once a dog steps out of its people’s home, it is bound to attract a tick. But I never hear about these ticks and I never see dog people pull ticks from their dogs. And I wonder, is talking about ticks taboo? Is pulling ticks a private thing like going to the bathroom? Or is it a non-issue, which is worse, because for me, ticks are one of evolution’s meanest ideas.
 
Since dogs live in people’s homes, on people’s carpets, in their kitchens, and many times in their beds and cars, and ticks live with dogs, logically, people live with ticks as well. So how come I never hear about them? How come I never see dog people pull ticks from their dogs? Is this done in secret?
 
When I was a kid growing up on the kibbutz, every dog I knew had ticks lodged in its ears. These ticks looked like small blueberries and came in different sizes and shades of pink. The people who had dogs knew how to pull the ticks out of their ears and then smash them on the concrete walkways with a stone they found on the ground. Sometimes you could hear a small popping sound and blood would splatter around the crushed blueberry.
 
Now since I didn’t have a dog, I didn’t give ticks much thought. I avoided ticks and the dogs’ ears that housed them and practically forgot about their existence for many years.
 
And then I came to America.
 
The first time I heard about ticks was when Lyme disease started to appear on the East Coast. But the ticks that carried the disease were deer ticks, and they lived in the woods mostly, so apart from hearing about the danger of contracting this awful disease, I didn’t have to worry about ticks, since my chances of running into them were slim.
 
Until I found a tick on my neck. Twice. After hiking in the woods.
 
The first time I didn’t even know it was a tick. I felt something crawl behind my ear and picked at it. Then I looked and saw between my fingers something black that looked like a little spider. But it was not a spider. The thought that it might be a tick passed through my brain like a blinding flash of neon light. I threw the thing on the carpeted floor of the San Jose Airport, and tried not to pass out before boarding for my flight was announced. 
 
Before I saw that spidery thing squirming in the palm of my hand, I’d never seen a tick out in the world, doing its own thing, not attached to a dog. I didn’t know ticks had little legs. It never occurred to me that they turned into pink blueberries only after they sucked enough blood from their host.
 
Host. I’d become a tick host. Sweet mother of Jesus, break out the tweezers and dunk me in pesticide and petroleum jelly. Sorry, I am Jewish and should not take the name of Jesus or his mother in vain, but I can’t think of any equivalent expression in Jewish vocabulary, and I need something stronger than “oy vey” and “gevaldt” to convey my horror.
 
Ever since I discovered that I was attractive to ticks, I look at dogs with even more suspicion. Yes, we share the same predicament, but they don’t seem to care much about it. And neither do their people. Or maybe they do, but they know how to hide it.
 
Thinking that something that crawls in nature and sucks blood decided to camp on my neck and drill a hole into my skin in order to suck my blood makes me want to jump off a really tall bridge. I don’t do well around blood-sucking, multi-legged crawling things.
 
I remember, when my daughter was three and a half, we came back from Israel—a hot and humid place brimming with all kinds of unspeakable wildlife—and the next day her father discovered lice in her beautiful, thick, long hair. At that critical moment, I seriously considered giving her up for adoption. Luckily, her father was more realistic and said I was a bit radical and that the problem could be solved with a special shampoo and repeated treatments.
 
But what treatment is there around to help me overcome the realization that for a tick, I am not much different than a dog?
 
I guess dog people don’t have this problem. They are not offended by ticks. They can live happily in the company of their dogs and their ticks, knowing that at any given moment a tick can get tired of their dog and decide to crawl out of its ear and settle on them.
 
Maybe they are created part human and part other things—a combination that enables them to accept the fact that they might find a tick on their dog or on themselves, and that the tick will have to be removed and smashed by none other than them. And then, they can return to normal life as if nothing unusual had happened.
 
I, for one, cannot do that.  I guess that’s why I am not a dog person. 

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