Sunday, January 21, 2007

Ice Ice Puppy

As many of you already know, the northeastern US has had an ice storm. I haven’t had horrible problems, unlike many folks, so it seems somewhat ungracious to complain. Be it noted, however, that the complaint is on behalf of my dog more than myself….

This has been what my mother describes as a “good old-fashioned Arkansas ice storm.” The trees, cars, porch — everything not heavily salted — developed a quarter-inch-plus coat of ice. When the sun hits it (not that that’s happened much), it glitters beautifully; if it’s on your car, you’d better allow an extra twenty minutes to get the heat going so that you can chip your windows clear. (If you’re really unlucky, the door freezes shut, but, so far at least, I’ve been spared that trouble.) And that brings us to the major difference between an Arkansas ice storm and a New England ice storm: in New England, you go to work regardless.

That’s been OK, because the streets, which the town for once has salted sufficiently, have been passable. One can take tiny cautious steps between car and door; I’ve even broken out the yak-tracks to give extra grip. One can stay inside the rest of the time, and drink cocoa and live on things from the depths of the freezer.

However, if one is a dog…. The situation is a little different. Dogs do not use litter boxes. Dogs must, in fact, go outside at least twice a day to, well, go. And when the world is covered in a sheet of ice, the potential for humiliation is endless.

Vixen generally leaves the house with a rush, eager to see the new day and, incidentally, to kill the squirrel who lives in the tree by the back door. The first time she tried this, her hind feet went out from under her, and she fell hard on her side. Then she tried to squat, and her feet slowly slid apart, so that she had to scramble upright at the most undignified of moments. There is a tiny incline — literally the height of a curb — between the end of our walk and the parking lot next door. She slid down it, and was so surprised that she sat down on the ice, and spun halfway around.

None of this has been a learning experience, because every day she’s ready to do it all again. I have been terrified that she is going to hurt herself, but, so far, she has been only surprised and annoyed — each and every time.

Fortunately, Lisa taught her several commands that have come in very useful. First is the all-purpose “easy,” which we learned first to try to keep her from pulling, and now I use to slow her down as she leaves the house. It’s also helpful when she’s reached the end of the ice, but I’m still picking my way across. Second is an obedience command — I’m not sure you’re supposed to give it to the dog, it may just be something the judge says, but in any case Vixen knows it: “slow.” This is also helpful when picking our way across the ice, or when I can’t see if the dark stuff is ice or just a puddle. The third command is “treat!” said in a bright, cheerful voice. It’s used to persuade her that she doesn’t want to go any farther, but wants instead to come back inside where the floor doesn’t try to tip her over.

I can’t wait for spring!


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