Friday, February 11, 2011

COLUMN: Snow-where to run to, doggie

I am my household’s designated evening dog walker. That means while everyone else in the world is watching “Modern Family,” I’m leading four dogs into the wilds of our backyard so they can do out there all the things we’d prefer they didn’t do in here.

We have enough property that this is usually a pleasant adventure, such as when we get close to the woods and I’m sure I can hear the rustling of something (rabid coyote, serial killer, rogue NASA robot) coming to kill me. You’d think I’d have nothing to worry about, being surrounded by four dogs, but I’m reasonably sure that as soon as something ominous appeared, Lilly, Corona and Sally would run (not for help, just run), and Penny would just try to lick it into submission, which would probably only work on the robot.

Regardless, it hasn’t been an issue lately, since my entire yard is now like the surface of the moon: cold, foreboding and looking vaguely like three solid feet of cheese. Sure, the driveway is plowed, and there are a few carefully snow-blown paths that look like little Death Star trenches, if Death Star trenches were frequented by giant space dogs leaving little Jabba the Hutts in their wake. But it’s no substitute for a full yard, or, if nobody’s looking, a neighbor’s yard. Hypothetically.

It’s bad enough without even considering the getup I have to put on to bring them out. I give the dogs credit for their patience every night, staring sympathetically as I pull on my rubber boots, quilted flannel shirt, ski jacket, gloves, scarf and hat or, if it’s cold enough, two hats. If someone came up the driveway and saw us I’m sure they’d mistake me for the padded guy in a K-9 demonstration.

Still, I’d argue that my wife, Theresa, the household’s designated daytime dog walker, has it worse — at all her favorite dog-friendly spots, she’s lucky to find a plowed-out parking space, much less a walking area where you don’t immediately sink in up to your waist or jowls, depending on your species. I’ve been there with her, so I know it’s true: You find yourself standing there in the middle of a field panting, the dogs bounding, dolphin-like, through the drifts as you pray an illegal snowmobiler will come by and pack the snow down, or run you over.

We do have a fenced-in area in front of the house with some shoveled-out space, but this weekend Sally, our 4-month-old golden, finally figured out that with so much snow up against the gate, all she had to do was hop over and she was home free. Of course it didn’t take long for her to start sinking into the nearest snow bank up to her furry little ears — I pictured rescue workers having to burrow down there and send her back up in a Chilean miner tube.

Luckily, I was able to climb into the snow after her and get her back easily enough. Meanwhile, our wandering dog Penny stared incredulously, clearly flummoxed at how Sally had managed to get on the other side of the gate, something Penny had been attempting to do for years by sheer force of will. Of course she had just seen her jump it, but we’ve realized Penny has the attention span of Dory in “Finding Nemo.” This also explains all the times she scratches at the front door, then looks at me with utter surprise when I open it to let her in. (“Evening dog walker guy! What are you doing here?”)

So we’re left trying to find a way to give the dogs outdoor supervision despite the challenges: Just as the show must go on, the dogs must go out. Fortunately, even if it doesn’t seem like it now, spring will be here before we know it, and we’ll have the whole yard to explore again.

At which time I’m sure I will sink immediately into mud up to my waist. It should be much easier for Penny to lick me from that angle.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. This year he’ll be taking an occasional detour from his “At Large” column to write about life with pets — you can follow his animal-related musings at

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