I thought last winter was tough, but the blast after blast of arctic air this winter gave a new meaning to “cold”. One day in February, it was -16F here, and other places in the state were even colder, -26F, -39F.
We live in a log cabin in the National Forest, and we heat with a wood stove. Mornings can be pretty nippy, when the embers have burned down to nothing. If we can keep the cabin in the 60’s, we are doing well. Sometimes I feel the cold deep down inside me, like my ribs have ice cubes packed around them, and I just can’t get warm.
My normal day usually includes three, 1 mile walks with Waldo, our boxer/golden mix. When it gets down below zero though, we don’t walk. We barely let him peek his nose outdoors. For a dog that loves to be outside playing in the snow, this is very hard for him.
That -16 day here, I slathered the pads of his feet with Bag Balm, and I let him run up into the meadow to do his morning business. After only a couple of minutes, he was in distress. He had to do more than just pee, but it was too cold. He picked up one foot, then the other, and I could see how his legs were frosted with the crystalline snow. I called him, and he limped to me. When I brought him in and dried him off, there was blood on the towel after I’d wiped one of his feet. Only three minutes outdoors and his foot was bleeding…and that was after I had covered his pads with a protective coating!
Waldo was very upset. Not about his bleeding foot, but because it had been so uncomfor- table outside. Because it had been too cold for him to do the pacing and circling he needs to do before he poops. He buried his head in my lap asking for sympathy. After I had coddled him, I put a clean pee pad on the floor and instructed our little dogs to use it. Their tiny paws would have frozen before they were even off the front porch, so I would not subject them to even a minute outside.
Other dogs are not so lucky.
The month of February, I worked for the group Dogs Deserve Better. I fielded complaints about chained dogs around the country. I reported the cases to officials in the communities where those dogs were being forced to endure arctic temperatures outdoors, on chains, without proper shelter.
I loved the job. Taking action made me feel like I was doing something to help those dogs. Case after case, officials told me they checked on the dogs and that they were “fine”. I wondered how that could be possible; how a dog could survive an entire night outdoors in the cold, when my dog was clearly distressed, suffering, and hurt after just a few minutes.
It’s not possible. Those officials must have a really messed up idea of what “fine” is. And the owners of those dogs…well, there just aren’t enough profane words in the world to express how I feel about them.
Dogs Deserve Better CEO, Tamira Thayne, blogged about more than a decade of struggle with this same issue: I Care, and It Hurts. That Dogs are Dying Outside RIGHT NOW.. DDB is a great group, and deserves your support. Like any 501c3, they are always in need of donations. You can even commit to a small monthly donation to sponsor one of the dogs at the center.
Stephen Wells from the Animal Legal Defense Fund says that
“The fundamental problem for animals is that the law considers them things.”
But it’s not just the laws…because the people breaking them have that same mindset. Take my sister-in-law’s husband, Glen, (please!) who thinks he knows how you should treat dogs
because he watches Cesar Millan. Since my sister-in-law’s death three years ago, it’s fallen to Glen to take care of her dog, Chloe. Chloe is a rat terrier, who was very attached to her human mama. Chloe spent 9 out of every ten hours on her mama’s lap…but since she’s been gone, Chloe hardly gets any attention at all, and she spends way too many hours outdoors, alone. To Glen, a dog is “just an animal”. The only reason Chloe stays vetted, is because I take her in and pay for her shots myself.
When Glen texted me to see how we were holding out in the brutal weather, I responded, then added that I hoped Chloe wasn’t spending any time outdoors. He texted back that she’d been out for an hour, and had another hour to go. This prompted a flurry of feverish texts, wherein I stated some facts, expressed my opinion, and asked if I should come and get her. After the texts, I decided that I would be calling the local humane society to go out and check on her, just the way I had spent the past week calling officials in other states for other dogs – dogs I didn’t know. And along with that decision came the realization that deep down at the core of things, I didn’t care if calling the authorities would destroy my relationship with Glen. I’m not about to give a pass to somebody just because I know them.
My partner, D, convinced me to call and talk to Glen before I called the police or HS, so I did; and he was angry – angry that I hadn’t known that he was just messing with me.
As if it isn’t obvious to everyone, even people I barely know, how seriously I take this stuff.
I’m not sure that even I was aware of how passionate I am about dogs, until I realized that I cared more about Chloe’s life and safety than I cared about maintaining a human relationship.