January 22, 2014
Everyone seems to be talking about the cold weather and its effects on daily life. I hear the stories about pets, naturally! Someone should do a photo study of human and canine responses to the whole array of winter conditions.
Capture the wide, gleeful grins of young dogs and kids plunging into fresh powder, the delight dawning in the faces of the middle-aged, as they rediscover the pleasure of strapping on skis, snowshoes or yak traks — or polar trex — and hitting the wintry trails, the satisfaction evident in the body language of people and dogs coming in from the cold to toast toes and tails before a fire and snuggling up to someone they love. The Internet is full of images, but a deliberate pairing of species would be a nice touch.
Cats, while less transparently enthusiastic, are perhaps more nuanced in their reactions. Demonstrating the full range of responses to winter would confirm (if we really need it) how we and our companion animals are alike in our infinitely varied ways of experiencing the world.
Maybe we do need these reminders. Nearly every day, someone will come in to the store to shop for some foot protection for their dog, or a heated water bowl for the feral cat they are feeding, and share their worries about a neighbor's pet, usually a dog, who lives outdoors with inadequate shelter and seems to be thoroughly miserable. Speaking to the pet's owner usually gets a dismissive, "He's a dog! He's fine." If you give them a chance, they often get quite eloquent about how much hardier their dogs are for not being "coddled," how much more "natural" their lives are, more like their wild ancestors'.
Of course, this is nonsense. Feral dogs living on the fringes of human communities, are "free" to hunt and scavenge food, to seek shelter, companionship, the sun's warmth. They can indulge their curiosity and flee what they fear, to mixed results. But they are not wild canids, well-adapted to their environment. They live abbreviated lifespans, involving great suffering. The neglected backyard dog suffers similar deprivation, but is provided just enough resources to prolong it indefinitely. Feral and stray cats don't fare much better, though their smaller size and greater agility makes their survival struggles less visible, and confinement seldom precludes whatever satisfactions purposeful activity, even when futile, affords.
When the temperature drops to killing levels, and the evening news intones "concern" for the homeless (people) I wonder how many pets — and former pets — will succumb to the cold this night. We never read about them in the next day's news. I think about the Krabloonik dogs, and wonder how interminable a sub-zero night must feel to them, even if they survive.
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People who work hard outdoors don't have to sleep unprotected, or go without adequate clothing and gear. I wonder why we think working dogs should be expected to live without any of that? It is true that racing sled dogs have a greater challenge dissipating heat when running than of staying warm enough. But when not running, they have the opposite problem. Mushers who love their sport or livelihood, and their dogs, understand this and provide for their dogs' needs. Why should "working dogs" be expected to live under conditions of extreme stress and deprivation any more than should, say, garment factory workers, or migrant farmworkers? Especially when, at least in our part of the world, sled dogs are not necessities, but tourist attractions, and if a company can't afford to properly care for them, they should use snowmobiles.
Meanwhile, let's enjoy the winter with our pets. Providing foot protection, apparel, heated bowls, sunscreen, eye protection (yes, the glare from sun on snow at altitude encourages cataracts!) gives our companions the comforts we take for granted ourselves. So have fun, and stay safe! On Saturday, Feb. 1, Dr. Auslag Mandel, the valley's own veterinary rehab specialist, will give a free talk on winter safety and injury prevention at High Tails Downtown, from 1-2 pm. Two-leggeds are not the only ones who can hurt themselves on the ice. For more info, call 945-3810.
For the last nine years Laurie Raymond has been the owner of High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs.