There goes the neighborhood (again)


How I morphed from New Neighbor to Nasty Tick Lady with one kid's alarming discovery.

After moving to a new home and spending several months leading my kids around our blessedly quiet new neighborhood hoping to find some children their age, the warmer temperatures finally brought kids out of hiding like little hibernating bears. With two little girls and a little boy on the same block, my kids now self-eject from the house as fast as their little feet can take them in the morning. As an added bonus, the little girls down the street have a 12-week-old golden retriever who comes by on his walks and visits us.

I like the mild temperatures as well. They've gotten our golden retriever, Brody, and I out of our own winter hibernation and back on a "great outdoors routine," exploring the trails that run around and behind the neighborhood. We saw a deer bound by on the trail last week, and there is even a muddy creek to wallow in. Life is good.


Several days after our latest hike, the girls were over playing with the kids and Brody. The younger one was petting Brody and asked innocently, "What's this bump?"

I knew before I even looked.

Dang it. A tick.

Ticks are sporadic in San Diego, and the only other time I ever found one on Brody was last spring, when we were also out hiking in a backcountry-ish area. He went on tick prevention since we were hiking that area, then when we stopped heading that way, I went back to using an oral flea and heartworm preventive that works just great for what I needed.

I always do a once-over after hikes to look for parasites or foxtails or any of the sorts of things that can annoy a golden. Still, Brody is hairy and rather than just put on tick preventive like I should have, I figured that so long as I wasn't seeing anything, I might as well finish off the product I was using.

Grasses, check. Deer, check. Bad vet who should know better, check.

And of course—of course—it would be the neighbor kid who found it.

A part of my brain whispered to me, "Lie. Say it's a sebaceous adenoma. She's 6; what does she know?" But I figured it could be a teaching moment, so I told the truth. What a sucker. The news sent the girls screaming with hands waving in the air, in the way only little girls can do, despite my calm reassurances that they would be just fine and so would Brody. I removed the tick, confirmed no others were present, had the kids wash their hands, and figured that was that.

I left Brody in the backyard away from the kids while I stood in front of a ceiling-high stack of unpacked moving boxes, cursing myself for not labeling one of them "OVERFLOW ECTOPARASITE TREATMENT MEDS" in large block letters. Eventually I found it: a box with at least a six-month supply of myriad tubes and collars for just such an occasion. Tick meds in hand, I went to plunk them on Brody.

When I came back into the living room, I found my daughter giving the wide-eyed neighbor kids a lecture about ticks using all the dramatic tricks she learned in theater. She was projecting. She was using her hands to illustrate their arachnid ways. She was telling them, with great relish, about the one other time Brody had a tick last year and how traumatized she was by the whole experience.

In short, she just ensured that the entire neighborhood would now know us as the Nasty Tick People.

I sat at home mortified for the next day. When the neighbor girls came by with their dog, they stood apologetically by the front door and said my kids could come for a walk with them, but Brody could not—so their dog wouldn't get ticks.

"Is he on meds?" I asked about the now 13-week-old pup.

"No," they said. "He's too young."

I bit my tongue, knowing full well that when their dog goes for a walk down the very same trail Brody did and ends up with a tick, we're going to shoulder the blame for it. In a flash, I saw my new life flash before my eyes. Denied a contribution to the PTA bake sale. Well-coiffed blond women scooting their chairs ever so slightly off to the left when I sit down next to them. Neighbors squealing in horror and crossing over to the other side of the street when we run by.

My husband thinks I should talk to the other mom.

I have not met this neighbor. I have no idea if she's the "shake it off" kind of person or the kind who would say to me, "It's fine; don't worry," with a smile that doesn't quite reach her eyes. I decided it was best to take the "ignore it and just tell the kids to tell her Brody's on meds" approach.

"Did you talk to the mom and tell her you're a vet?" my husband asked.

"Somehow," I said, "I don't think that will improve the situation." Do I want to be the Gross Tick Neighbor or the Bad Vet Neighbor? Don't answer that.

Ah, well. Onward and upward. Lesson 1: I'll be moving on to topical flea and tick preventive in the new casa. Lesson 2: It made for a good opportunity to talk to my daughter about "stories not to share on the first day at the new school."

In other news, the little girls came by today with their puppy, bearing the tell-tale greasy spot of a recent ectoparasite treatment. My methods of getting people to get up to date on treatment may be unconventional, but they are very, very effective.

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, known as Dr. V. among her readers, is a regular contributing author for a number of well-known publications. Visit her award-winning blog at

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