Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Challenges of Having Dogs in the North Woods


Very cold temperatures really affect the way my life is lived here. Starting on Wednesday temperatures are predicted to slide down into highs in the negative numbers culminating in Fahrenheit degrees below zero approaching -30 on Saturday-Sunday. I’m looking around wondering what I should be doing to prepare. Are my food and water provisions adequate for me and my pets? Do I need to drive into Grand Rapids today or can I make due? Tomorrow it may be too cold for me to want to venture out so far. Should I get the oil changed today as well? Do I need to bring more wood inside? (Yes!) 

As I burn more wood upstairs keeping it relatively toasty, the thermostat prevents the furnace from firing. So the basement where the dogs are kenneled gets colder. So far it hasn’t gotten colder than 50 down there even when we hit 27 below. I still worry. I want my pups to be comfortable. I have their crates wrapped in mylar camping blankets, and padded with rugs, mats and blankets. Their confinement probably bothers me more than it bothers them.

I can only accommodate one dog at a time upstairs for rawhides and snuggles. This place is small. My husky is a cat killer, so she must be on a leash and watched carefully every second. She absolutely loves chewing and is frighteningly focused.

My border collie is completely neurotic about keeping his eye on the cats and paws dangerously at my face in frustration (I used to be able to toss him a ball in the old living room). It takes him a while to let go of his obsession enough to actually chew that rawhide. He's easily distracted and needs me to keep him on task. He lifted his leg once on my camera case (never done that before) so now I watch him carefully too.

My cattle dog used to be a poop eater, but that chore has been handed off to the border collie. I think she cured herself of that habit one day when she threw up in her crate. It was over-the-top disgusting—even to her! Her big thing is sharing. She wants me to help her chew her rawhide bone and will jump onto my lap and press it into my face whining in ecstasy at being with me. I'm really thankful she's given up that icky habit.

My shepherd can wolf down a large rawhide in less than an hour and has a bit of reticence about giving up any portion of it to me. Every other dog readily pops whatever is in their mouths out upon my command to DROP! We're working on that and he's making progress. I like to allow my dogs to have personal opinions and preferences and so try not to abuse my authority.

My lab drools all over the place when she eats or chews therefore my carpet and rugs are often crusted with dried smears of her saliva mixed with masticated rawhide (just a bit of a chore to scrape that up). I try to keep her on one rug, but she looks for any chance to get onto the couch for a more comfortable chewing experience, so I have to watch her like a hawk too. 

My collie/shepherd is very calm and dedicated to her chewing pleasure, but once done is more likely to quietly get up and pee on the carpet than to alert me to her need. So, she must also be monitored closely at the end. She's alway had a tiny bladder for such a large dog. She will stand by the door wanting to go out and refuse to go down back into her crate after chewing her rawhide. She has me trained.

My life is a constant rotation of taking the dogs up and down the stairs to go out, bringing them back in, or coming upstairs then going back down into their crates. My thigh muscles are getting built up from traversing up and down the stairs all day; it seems my knees are stronger too; and I’m acclimating to the cold because I’m out in it so much. I’m toughening up as my dogs are experiencing enforced inactivity and becoming less fit. 

Until I can install a fenced play area in the spring their activities will remain severely constrained.  Their last play space was 400 feet of 6-foot high chain link fencing with 2 feet of fencing buried under ground to keep the husky in. They had plenty of space to play and we all miss it. Plus, I could take them out into the greater fenced in yard for frisbee and ball. The clay ground here will require a different kind of fencing. I cannot let them run loose.

The logging trucks on the wide gravel road can not stop or probably even slow enough to avoid a  hit. The road is wide, but very icy. In the past I’ve lost a dog to being hit and killed by a vehicle, and I know I’ll never get over it. Talk around here has it that the previous occupant’s habit of feeding the deer also resulted in quite a few of them being hit by logging trucks. I’m sure the drivers are glad to know I won’t be feeding the deer (and they do know). 

I trust my border collie and cow dog to come to me and to stay by me, but not if the collie/shepherd is also loose. They have gotten loose all together once, and I about had a heart attack. I was able to convince them to reenter their kennel though.  Avoiding the leash has also become a game for a couple of them now so I've got to be extremely careful. The shepherd and the lab feed off each other’s exuberance and would be long gone before they realized they were lost. The husky is on her own agenda always and would simply run off. She would come back when she chose to, but she’s also getting old and needs meds every 12 hours to survive. 

Not to mention the wolf and cougar presence. I’ll probably never be completely comfortable just leaving the dogs outside to play either due to the woods and wilds that surround me. Wolves prefer to avoid people, but dogs in their domain are not welcome and risk being killed. Cougars…well they are cats. I’m not sure they fear much of anything. And I suppose that anything that moves is fair game to them. (Then there's Bigfoot, but that's another  blog post!) I hate to say that people are both their best friends and worst enemies. Some would attempt to rescue loose dogs, but others would simply shoot them--especially if they are seen chasing deer.

When it’s relatively nice outside, the dogs can hang out in their outdoor kennel which is smaller than we’d all prefer, but nicely appointed with a weatherproof roof and individual dog houses packed with hay (yes, straw is better, but I am in possession of hay not straw). They have heated water buckets, lights, and a keeper who compulsively snatches up any poops that may appear hopefully before any miscreant has the chance to chow down. I also offer entertainment as I move wood, or work in the shed. Sometimes the UPS truck arrives, and they have something to bark furiously at. Maybe they see a squirrel—again more barking.

Okay, I may be a helicopter dog mom who over monitors, over worries, and over protects my pups.  I’m fine with that. Especially when it’s approaching 30 below zero. Circumstances are challenging right now. Add extreme weather, and daily living becomes even more challenging. The cold isn’t just simply inconvenient, it could be downright deadly. But then it will warm up.