We haven’t had much of a winter here this season, at least by Minnesota standards. Not much snow, not very cold weather. It seems like the temperature has hardly even dropped below freezing. By the time you read this, I might be trying to dig my way out of a snowstorm. But while writing this in mid-February, we’ve gotten off easy. I suspect that March may bring a barrage of snow, and April may fool us yet. So far, though, most of our winter walks have been on slippery mud and ice, not snow.
I’m always surprised to hear that some people stay cooped up inside all winter. With three very active dogs, I need to get out every day. I would get no rest on the sofa with three dogs bouncing off the walls. They need to run and play off leash to get worn out, so we go out for our daily walk/run no matter the weather. The dogs usually lose weight in the winter because they’re doing the same things, except in the snow. They’re less active when it gets very hot in the summer.
I bought Cayenne a wonderful new dog coat from Duluth Trading this year because she tends to be a freeze baby. We haven’t had much occasion to use the new coat this season, but when the temperature dropped, we were glad to have it. I keep Cay lean because she was born with some minor joint problems and I don’t want extra weight to make them worse. Her leanness and her fine coat make her more sensitive to the cold than the boys. She came from Tennessee and apparently wasn’t made for harsh winters.
Cay loves to run and play in the snow and doesn’t want to miss a thing, but when it’s just time to go out for a potty stop, she makes quick work of doing her business. When she first joined our family, she was even afraid to go out in the dark. She doesn’t like the early morning and late night dark and cold temperatures. She runs right back to the door, willing me to let her back in.
Bandit, on the other hand, stays out to play with the jolly balls in any kind of weather, apparently not noticing crisp cold air or bitter arctic winds. He has a thicker coat, but more importantly, he has focus and a strong work ethic. True to his Australian Cattle Dog ancestry (with middle name “Cattle”, not “Careful”) , he was born to focus on the task at hand, whether it is herding cattle or carrying one jolly ball while herding a second one around the yard. His play is his work and his work is his play, no matter the weather.
Without Bandit, I probably would never find myself playing ball out in the yard at 11 o’clock at night, experiencing the wonders of nighttime. I would have missed the quiet stillness of the night, the amazing clear night skies with astounding arrays of stars, and the bright full moon casting its light across the yard. I would have missed seeing the northern lights and listening to coyotes howling, prompting my own three dogs to join in the song. Without Bandit, I probably wouldn’t spend much time outside at night at all; I likely wouldn’t even know what phase the moon is in.
Chase has a good thick coat to keep him warm. He looks like a cattle dog-collie mix. When we go out, he keeps track of the birds and animals, including the crows that fly overhead and the rabbits that live just outside the fence. More of a border patroller, he checks the perimeters each time he goes out. He uses his nose extensively to keep track of everything in the neighborhood. He has shown me a bald eagle way up in the sky, one that I would have missed without his help. He also notifies me of anything that seems different or out of place, and pesters me until I check it out.
Without my three dogs, I would have missed so much of the day time and night time beauty of winter. No matter the weather, I appreciate what my dogs teach me. I’m comfortable knowing that Omega Fields Omega Canine Shine® and Omega Nuggets™ give them the optimum nutrition they need to cope with the varying weather conditions here in Minnesota. I’m taking good care of them as they are taking good care of me.
In January, Chase and I started taking a therapy dog class. The point of the class is to familiarize the human-dog team with the exercises they need to pass to become a Delta Society® Pet Partners® team. Chase has been waiting for me to get my act together for years. He loves to meet new people, is very sensitive, and seems like a natural. I’ve thought for a long time that he would make a good therapy dog, visiting the elderly, or kids in the hospital, or anyone who would feel better by having a dog’s company for a little while, a dog to cuddle up with, stroke, and talk to. He’s a great snuggler and a great listener. He’s a sensitive guy—his favorite ball is pink!
Chase has always been tuned in to people’s feelings. He knows when something is different. He intuitively picks up on any unrest among animals or people. He’s the dog who goes into the bathroom and puts his front feet up on the stool, waiting for a hug. I used to think he did it because he wanted attention. I slowly came to realize that he does it when I could really use a hug. He’s thinking about me and is much wiser than most people realize.
My friend Sarah rescued Chase in a poor area of rural Virginia, from a man who was going to shoot him for chasing sheep. This young cattle dog-collie mix had a strong herding instinct and, knowing him, was just trying to keep the place organized. But the man, in a rage, stuffed him into a tiny chicken crate and was going to shoot him. When Sarah intervened and saved Chase, she held him on her lap for a long time before he stopped shaking. He knew what was going on.
You may have read the story of how Chase and I came together (in the book 8 State Hurricane Kate). The short version is that I met Sarah while caring for rescued animals in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. We stayed in contact and I came upon Chase the following spring on Sarah’s rescue website (www.lostfantasystables.com). Seeing that he was a “red heeler mix”, wanting to support Sarah’s rescue efforts, and knowing that my red Australian cattle dog needed a new pal, I followed up. Sarah and I determined that Chase would likely be a good fit with my family. A series of very caring people transported Chase from Virginia to Wisconsin, where I picked him up and brought him home.
That was in 2006. Chase settled in pretty well here, becoming fast friends with Bandit after a few tussles to settle the pack order. One morning, I was puzzled when Chase wouldn’t go into the garage with me to get bird seed. I later learned that the man used to throw him in the garage by himself for hours. Chase apparently didn’t want to go in the garage with me because he thought I was going to leave him there… alone… for hours.
Chase also had a few episodes that seemed like traumatic flashbacks. One occurred when we were in an agility class, getting ready to start a course. I hadn’t unhooked the leash yet, but he began to run, thinking he was already loose. I didn’t see him take off in time and he hit the end of the leash very hard. His reaction was so dramatic, especially for such a gentle dog, that we decided he was reliving bad past experiences of being jerked hard or hung on a leash. He was very traumatized.
In spite of his past, Chase is a very loving and friendly dog. He loves people and wants to connect with everyone. If we’re in a room full of people, like at a book signing, he is bothered if he doesn’t get to greet each person individually. Being locked in the garage all alone must have been a horrible punishment. He’s trying to make up for lost time on the love front.
Chase has been waiting for years now for me to follow through on his potential. I think he will be a great therapy dog, but I’ve often wondered how I would fit another commitment into our schedule. He has an arthritic back now, probably from being thrown around when he was younger. I’m concerned about someone surprising him with a big hug and hurting him. But a year ago at a book event, I learned about READ Dogs (www.readdogsmn.org) and I think he would be a perfect READ dog. READ dogs sit and listen while a child (or anyone who is learning to read) reads them a story. Dogs are great company and aren’t judgmental. They enjoy any story. A kid builds confidence and gains a friend while reading out loud to a dog. Kids who don’t have pets at home get to make a connection with an animal. A dog like Chase gets to bond with a kid and fulfill his purpose to give love.
Chase may have trouble passing some of the Delta tests due to his back problems, but we’re going to try anyway. We know that, just as a dog can learn to pass the required tests, kids can learn how to approach a dog kindly and gently. Chase already knows the important stuff. He knows how to forgive and how to give love. His heart is open.
We’re going to share the “secret” behind Chase’s beautiful, soft coat. Once we let our classmates know about Omega Fields Omega Canine Shine® and Omega Nuggets™, they will all have the key to plush, soft and shiny coats that everyone loves to pet!
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