Here’s an early Christmas present: another story about one of my dogs! (This was my first city dog, a black lab named Bear.)
Taking the Dog For A Walk
I’d lived in the country most of my life, and had grown up with dogs. Dogs on the farm had jobs, same as the people. They herded cattle, and they guarded the farm. And they always — always — lived outside. They had shelters, of course, filled with straw every winter so they were protected from the cold. But they lived outside.
Bear, a Black Lab cross my husband adopted, was our first city dog. He did not sleep outside, and he did not have many jobs past ruining the grass in our back yard and chasing tennis balls for hours and hours. Oh, and going for walks. He loved going for walks.
For the first five years that we had Bear, all was well. We’d go for walks, he and I, summer and winter. And we never had a problem, until the winter he turned six.
That winter was cold. Snow fell early — before Hallowe’en, I think — and stayed. In December, the temperature dropped to -50, and hovered there for over a week.
When it’s that cold, people — and dogs — just stay inside. But after a week, I was getting cabin fever. I decided to go outside and see how our Christmas lights looked from the street. I had to get out, even if it was just for a few minutes.
Bear danced up, whirling and toe tapping his desire to go with me.
“I’m taking Bear out,” I announced.
“It’s too cold,” my husband said.
“I’m just going to the front, to look at the lights,” I replied airily. “We’ll be back in two minutes. What could it hurt?”
I grabbed the leash and Bear went crazy. It had been days — actually since the temperature had plummeted — since he’d been out for a real walk. I realized as I watched him whirl like a dervish that it would be cruel to take him out to the front sidewalk then force him back in, with no real exercise at all. Besides, even though it was still bitterly cold out, the wind had died down. It wouldn’t feel as nasty as it had for much of the week.
So, I decided we would walk to the end of the block, he and I. We’d look at the Christmas lights, and get a little fresh air. It would be fine.
We walked out into the frigid air and jogged through the crunchy snow to the front of our house to admire our lights. They looked quite nice, if I do say so myself. I gave the leash a small tug.
“Let’s go see what the rest of the block looks like,” I said.
It was eerily quiet. There were no people taking their constitutionals, and absolutely no cars, which was almost unheard of on our busy street. As we walked down the sidewalk, I finally heard a slow-moving vehicle coming up behind us, but didn’t pay much attention to it. I just walked a few more steps, giving the dog another little pull to get him going again. I wanted to check out some yellow and green lighting at the end of the block that seemed far too Edmonton Eskimos for Christmas. That was when I realized Bear had stopped.
He’d flopped down in the snow by the sidewalk, and had pulled his poor cold feet up to his belly in an effort to warm them, just a little.
If he’d been a small dog, I would’ve just scooped him up, and that would have been the end of it — but he was too big to tuck under my arm and carry home. I needed another plan.
“Come on Bear,” I said, jiggling his leash. “Let’s go home.”
No response. I did see one of his eyes flicker at me in the light from a streetlamp, but that was all.
I glanced around to make sure nobody was watching — because it honestly looked like that dog had just curled up and died right at my feet. That was when I realized that the slow moving vehicle I had heard coming up behind us was a police cruiser.
“Bear,” I whispered, jiggling the leash again to get his attention — but only his, not the cops — “Come on Bear, get up, we gotta go, buddy.”
That dog was not going to move without persuasion. And me without a dog biscuit or anything. What was I going to do?
I could see the cruiser out of the corner of my eye. It had slowed to almost a stop. I didn’t dare look up and catch the eye of the officer driving that car, because if he stopped to see what the problem was, well, I didn’t know what I was going to do. So, in a moment of blind panic, I did the only thing I could think of. I began pulling on Bear’s leash, all the while merrily saying things like “Well, come on, Bear, that’s enough rest for you! Let’s get you back in the house now!” Then I broke into a run.
Bear finally realized that no matter how cold his feet were, I was not carrying him. He would have to run with me. So he did. Head down, swaying from side to side and whining like I was beating him hard with a willow branch the whole way.
We threw ourselves, shivering and whining, into the warmth and the light and the safety of our house, and as I took off his leash with fingers that felt like frozen hooks, I announced to everyone present that I wasn’t walking him again until the spring. Late spring. Possibly early summer.
“Let’s just get him dog boots,” my husband said, handing me a glass of wine to calm my nerves.
“Dog boots?” I snorted. “Dogs don’t need boots.”
But then I looked at Bear as he received sympathetic petting and foot warming from everyone else in the house. He wasn’t a country dog. He was a city dog. He slept in the house, and watched TV, and played in the back yard with a tennis ball. He needed boots.
So, he got them. I even wrapped them and gave them to him as a Christmas present. And he used them every winter for the rest of his life.