“…In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in a ring, howled out their woes to the homeless snows…” — The Cremation of Sam McGee, by Robert W. Service
Most people know me as a peculiar person, but I was also a peculiar child. For no particular reason, I had a habit of memorizing poems. I wasn’t hung up on style, theme or author; I didn’t care if it was romantic or macabre. If I read something I liked I just committed it to memory: How Do I Love Thee by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Desiderata, by Max Ehrmann, and The Cremation of Sam McGee, by Robert W. Service. I used an excerpt of that last one for my intro here, which is apropos of nothing, really, other than to kick off this blog about dogs in winter. And to be reminded that I could, at one time, recite the entirety of Service’s brilliant ode to the cold by heart. Did I mention I was peculiar?
Anyhoo, some of the verses of that poem ricocheted around my chilly bean as we were digging ourselves out of two feet of snow that fell in 48 hours here in the Shuswap region of British Columbia. Like our whiny, gold-panning pal McGee, I felt “…the cursed cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone.” Despite woollies, parka, gloves, muffs, toque (to our American friends, that’s a cap) and boots, it’s still freakin’ freezing (-12 °C, which would be downright balmy to Mr. McGee). Imagine how it feels to a dog. Well, some dogs. Short hairs we’ve pet-sat, like Miller here, are obviously more sensitive, so it’s imperative to slip on a jacket before he heads out to make snow angels. Long hairs, like Abi, who preferred to sleep outside in sub-zero temps, have perma-parkas, so no jacket required. If it’s brass monkey-ball freezing, limit their time outside to avoid frostbite to nose, ear tips and tail. Also, it’s a good idea to lace up some booties to protect their feet from mini snowballs forming between their toes, ice shards slicing into their feet, or road salt and other de-icing chemicals chafing their pads (or worse, sweet-smelling but highly toxic antifreeze that they might lick off later). And/or consider slapping on some salve, like Musher’s Secret, a waxy, breathable bond that was developed in Canada for sled dogs.
Speaking of mushers, participants of the 42nd annual Iditarod in Alaska are going through their paces in preparation for the big race in early March. The humanoids will be hermetically sealed in cold-defying fabrics; the huskies have, well, their hides. And those are usually enough. But the more than 40 on-site race vets insist on tending their tootsies — those clawed propellers that will help win it all. It’s mandatory that they are slathered with salve and suitably shod in special booties; in fact, rules state that a minimum of eight booties be packed in the sled for each runner.
The average city dog won’t be traveling Iditarod distances in Alaskan temps, but they do encounter some of the same hazards to some degree or another, so make sure your precious pooch is protected and comfortable. The last thing you want is Fido echoing Sam’s refrain of “…the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled…”