An old dog teaches owner a new trick

New Year’s is for making resolutions, not breaking them. But a storm New Year’s Day persuaded me to scrap one of my long-standing rules.

New Year’s is for making resolutions, not breaking them. But a storm New Year’s Day persuaded me to scrap one of my long-standing rules.    Surviving a winter storm may call for flexibility on several fronts, from drinking coffee whitened with whipping cream when the milk supply runs out to making do with whatever fresh veggies remain in the crisper.

New Year’s Day began calmly at -4 C but by noon a wild wind whipped falling snow into near whiteout conditions. By bedtime I lacked the heart to leave my old dog outside, though I’m sure once in his snug house where he has lots of fresh oat straw bedding he would be dry and warm.

I understand his body’s failings, so much like my own. Getting in and out of his house can be a problem for him when packed snow thunders down from the steel covered roof piling up like concrete  on the porch  steps four feet high. Or, just as formidable for him, heaps of fluffy snow turn his house entrance into a deep dark hole.

Being a smaller dog, his tummy drags in deep snow, and at the right temperature, snow clings to his leg fur and wedges apart his toes. (A prairie friend told me of his big dog once becoming so burdened with clinging snow while following him as he snowshoed, the animal was immobilized and had to be assisted home.)

At his age, my 14-year-old dog has lost most of his ability to bounce through deep snow; he returns from his bathroom tours plastered in snow that he then must chew or lick off. A major job for an elder with stiff joints.

Not since I was a kid on the farm have I roomed with any four-footed critter other than a cat.

A small mutt, Tippy, toasted away his winters behind Mom’s wood range. And on a rare subzero night, our Golden Retriever was allowed  to snooze under the kitchen table. All manner of livestock in need of warmth might spend time there. One March for a few hours we had a newborn calf in a wash tub. Piglets snuggled in a baby’s receiving blanket were almost common.

Before I caved to letting my old dog sleep inside, I argued with myself. Animals quickly adapt to favourable conditions. Would he expect this same lenient treatment until April? Could I live with that? What if I tripped over him  and ended up in traction?

Suppose he needed to be let out once or twice during the night. What if he didn’t rouse me and messed on the linoleum or, worse yet, on a hard-to-clean floor mat?

Before we adopted him from the pound at eight months of age he had been a much loved, well-trained indoor dog. He never jumped up on furniture or people except me when I brought out his leash.

He had been in my former shop often but only for short visits, including for a warm meal on an inclement day. I was swayed by his downcast expression and damp fur.

His moving in occurred in stages, beginning when he trailed visitors who arrived in a swirl of wind and snow. While we ate lunch and visited later, he curled up on the runner leading to the kitchen door and slept. That’s where heat from the basement woodstove creeps out of a register. When the visitors left, he didn’t.

I fed him supper, set a bowl of fresh water beside his food, then stacked two plush floor mats on the spot he had chosen, but off to one side so that I wouldn’t fall over him.

He made a trip outside after supper before settling in on this mat, and though I frequently checked on him during the evening, except for turning like a pancake a time or two, he never stirred.

Breaking my vintage resolution leaves me with two misgivings: that the younger dog may feel lonely, and if only I could discover the old dog’s secret to bladder control.

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