Grit Blogs > A Lakeside View

The Dog Days of Winter

By Cindy Murphy

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CindyMurphyBlog.jpgWhen the Dog Star, Sirius, rises with the sun to create the hottest days of summer, we call them the “dog days.” Torrid heat causes a languid stagnation, which is where the “dog days” get their second definition: a stagnant time period marked by a dull lack of progress. My dog days this year were neither of these. They occurred mid-November and lasted until the end of March when the sun rarely made an appearance, and created even less heat. These dark, winter days weren’t dull either; there was quite a bit of excitement to them.

Cat relaxing on the stairs

Ahhh, to be completely relaxed ...

Cat looking over his domain

To be King of your Domain ...

Cindy's cats Dusty and Ranger

Ranger and Dusty, our two current resident felines: The Lovable Idiot, and the Hell Cat.

In November all of that changed. There was to be no relaxation for Ranger; Dusty did not have total control over his domain. Their lives changed drastically with the pitter-patter of little feet ... puppy feet!

There were a couple of stipulations to be met before we agreed to the girls request last spring that we get another dog – Shelby was just six when our sweet, sweet Tucker, the beagle of all beagles died; Shannon was still an infant and does not remember him at all. For seven years we have been a dog-less family, and neither Keith nor I minded not having the responsibility, though we were open to the possibility of accepting a canine into our feline dominated household. Our stipulations were simple. First, the girls had to take complete responsibility for our two cats for six months – feeding them, brushing them, and changing the litter box – to prove they'd be responsible enough to have a dog. The second stipulation was that we weren't getting one until the nursery closed for the winter and I was off work so someone would be home during the day to house train it.

Their six month period of total cat responsibility ended, and they proved themselves capable. They were so excited, waiting eagerly for the day to come when I announced I was through with work for the season. A few days after the nursery closed, we visited Al-Van Humane Society here in town. Sadly, there were more than enough dogs to choose from, but we all knew this four-month old black lab mix was our dog as soon as we saw her. Names were discussed, but none of them seemed special enough. I suggested the unique name of a very dear friend of mine, we all agreed, and welcomed Marquetta (Mar-key-tah) into our home. She is Quetta for short.

Lab mix puppy named Marquetta

She looks like a black lab, but with a less-square head, pointy snout, and smaller feet. The vet guessed beagle might be stirred into the mix. Whatever she is, Quetta is beautiful. Her coat is shiny and black as ink. Soulful brown eyes look up at me with that “puppy dog look”; how could I possibly be angry for long with her for chewing to shreds whatever Non-Food Item Du-Jour that’s tempted her. Like most puppies, Quetta chews. She’s very adept at this skill and is always working to perfect it. In the sport of Extreme Chewing, it only took her five unattended minutes to chew a hole through one of my new leather boots. Given ten minutes by herself, and my new dining room carpet has a nice hole in the middle of it. Berber carpet, it’s been discovered, will unravel quite quickly and easily once it’s snagged with a sharp tooth.

It’s her ears that are the most expressive – all her emotions are clearly visible by the way she positions them. They are goofy ears; neither a lab’s nor a beagle’s. They stick out straight from the side of her head, then flop, their pointed tips hanging downward. I call them her “bat-wings.” When she runs, her bat-wings flap up and down rapidly until finally they somehow always end up inside out. “Quetta, fix your ears,” I tell her. She shakes her head back and forth as if to say, “No!” just like an uncooperative toddler who needs a nap. Or maybe she’s doing exactly what she’s been told. In either case, it does the trick and her inside-out ears are bat-wings again.

Aside from her chewing bad habit, she’s better-behaved inside the house than I could have imagined a lab puppy would be. For a couple of weeks, we had some issues on where was the best place to relieve herself – she wasn’t house-broken at the shelter. But her “accidents” weren’t entirely her fault. She’d stand at the door without making a sound – no bark, or whimper – and if one of us did not happen to see her there, there was where she chose to go. This was quickly remedied using Shelby’s friend’s suggestion that we “bell-train” her. We hung a bell on the door-knob, and in less than a week she learned to ring by nudging it with her nose when she needed to be let out. There have been no accidents since, but there has been some Bell Abuse. I now know how my mother felt when my brothers and I used to drive her crazy when we were kids running in and out of the house a thousand times a day. Hearing the screen door open and slam shut repeatedly, she’d finally say, “Inside or out. Pick one and stay there.”

Though she’s three times their size, my concern about the cats holding their own against her was needless. She learned King Dusty rules the house with an iron paw and not to question his authority. Dusty, the smallest of our three animals, is still the dominant beast in the household. He’ll actually sit near Quetta without too much fuss; I never realized a twelve pound cat can emit a growl that sounds exactly like a wild mountain lion. The cat chases the dog, gets in a few good licks with his paws, but is not all puffed up to four times his actual size as he was when Quetta first came home. Ranger is still a hold-out and has a hissy-fit every time he sees the dog before retreating to his safe haven up the stairs.

Quetta and I were constant companions over the winter. We walked many miles together – she put in double the miles because she runs up ahead, runs back, and then circles around. We’ve traveled alone and with friends and dogs of friends. We’ve been through town, behaving like proper ladies – except in Decadent Dogs, where wild around-the-counter chases and play is encouraged among its patrons. We’ve let our hair loose together and have been free to roam down country roads, on sandy beaches and in snow up to my knees (and her belly), tromping through the woods. She is as comfortable being a country dog as she is at home being a town dog.

It’s spring, and my Dog Days of Winter came to an end last week when the nursery re-opened. I’ll miss our one-sided talks and lengthy middle-of-the-day walks just Marquetta and me, until the Dog Days of Winter roll around again.

Right now though, I’ve got to sign off. Someone’s at the door, ringing the bell.

cindy murphy
4/14/2009 2:30:30 PM

Hey, Lori. I was just thinkin' 'bout you; I just received the latest issue of Grit, and saw your name on some of the photos - as usual fantastic photography. Hope all is well your way, and that spring has arrived there. (Mother Nature here hasn't quite made up her mind whether to give up her winter garb, or go for her more colorful spring wardrobe). I completely understand about the extra responsibility of having a dog, (ya gotta admit cats are the easier of the two species). If the decision were based soley on my desires, we would have missed out on the joys of having one in the family again. Shelbs, (with the backing of Shannon), did her homework though, and presented quite the convincing argument, complete with hand-drawn graphs, and a computer presentation. This well-thought out plan came just weeks after an equally well-thought out plan and presentation on the merits of owning exotic breeds of pigs. I know my daughter - and she knows me; ask for something outrageous and without a chance you'll get first, and chances are the thing you really want will be agreed to without a whole lot of resistance. It doesn't always work, (I'm on to her....shhhh, don't say a word), but in this instance, it did.

4/14/2009 6:24:49 AM

Hi Cindy! We lost our dog, Bear, a few years back and haven't gotten another since. I'm still not ready for another one yet. I'm not ready for the extra responsibility right now, we have enough other stuff going on. We do have a cat though, Miss Belle, AKA "The Princess"! She definitely has a cat personality. She is not a child's cat. As a matter of fact, when children enter the house she runs and hides. She is very fussy about her appearance and seems to be washing herself all the time. This is a good thing, but it is amusing too. She will get finished bathing herself, and if we pet her she looks at us as if to say "I just washed that, now I have to redo it!" When this happens my hubby will say " Now you've gone and soiled the princess, how dare you?" She won't let just anyone touch her, but she is very lovey dovey to Jim and I. At bedtime she will come in with us and give us " Hugs and Kisses".

cindy murphy
4/11/2009 9:02:45 PM

Hiya, Dave. Sounds like your dog days spent with your Grandpa fishing were good ones. I've got many fond memories of fishing with my Dad and brothers too - mostly for perch; there is nothing as rewarding after spending an early summer morning fishing, as having an evening meal of fresh pan-fried perch. I don't remember catching many carp - actually only one specifically. I remember it because it was HUGE. My dad brought it home and "planted" it under my maple tree as fertilizer - each of us kids had our own maples that were planted when we were born. I've never heard of the "sun dogs". It sounds like fun; I wanna try! Sometimes I come home from work at the nursery in those hot August days, sweating and covered in dirt and Hubs will start a water fight with the hose just to cool me off. Once, he picked me up, and dumped me in the kiddie pool that the girls had when they were younger. Of course, I put up a fight...but not too much of one, because the I knew how good that cold water was going to feel! I have to admit to being more of a cat person than a dog person...probably because I've had a lot more cats in my life than dogs. Tucker, the beagle, was our last before Quetta, and the memory of him, I think, had a lot to do with why we didn't get another dog until now. I know it was in the back of my mind that no dog could ever compare to our sweet beagle. But you said it well, when you wrote "each one is special". You can't compare one dog to another in terms of how much they will bring to your life - each enriches their owner's life in ways that are uniquely their own.

cindy murphy
4/11/2009 8:33:51 PM

Hi, Iggy. I've had all kinds of cats too; they were each unique in their personalities ranging from box-of-rocks dumb to stereotypical sly and aloof, and I've loved them all. One, I swear, was the model for the cartoon charactor, Garfield - in personality, not looks. Another - the beastie boy I had when I lived in Germany - had quite the night life. There was a friendly little bar around the corner from us, and patrons used to bring their dogs with them; in Europe, dogs are welcome in most restaurants and other establishments. If dogs, why not cats? My cat became a regular there, and the bartender always had his "usual" ready - a bowl of milk waiting for him on the bar. Dogs are great; they love you unconditionally. Cats view you as their pets, not the other way around, and that is love too. But Hermit crabs? That may be the latest creature added to our family., I mean Louise, may be getting a Hermit crab when her friend returns with one as a gift from Florida, (the same friend Dusty corners, and I wonder if this is some kind of pay-back). Somehow though, I doubt they'd let her bring it on the plane. I don't know how friendly of a pet a Hermit crab would make. I've never had crabs....and shouldn't there be some kind of social ramifications for giving crabs as gifts? And thanks,, I mean Iggy, for your kind words. I'm glad you enjoy reading!

nebraska dave
4/11/2009 2:39:10 PM

Cindy, those dog days of summer will be upon us before we know it. My memories of the dog days of summer was with my Grandpa carp fishing. To carp fish, all one needs is a secret dough ball recipe, a treble hook, a bobber, a rod holder, a comfortable lawn chair, and a clip on bell for the end of the fishing rod. First thing was to find a good shade tree to nap under in the comfortable chair. Then bait up, cast out, sit back and relax until the bell rings. Catching carp is not exactly bass fishing, but they can certainly put up a fight that would be hard to match for their size. Then of course there are sun dogs. I’m sure you have seen the phenomena and it happens quite often here in Nebraska. There is also a city organization called Sun Dogs here that keeps kids entertained in the summer months by having games and other activities in the city parks. Quite often the closest firehouse to a given park will break out the giant overhead water sprinkler that connects to a fire hydrant for kids to run through. It is quite impressive and draws kids from blocks around. It’s quite amazing how the word will spread through the neighborhood when the water valve opens. It almost always starts by the firemen running through the sprinkler first. The interaction between the firemen and the kids is really heart warming. I have memories of a whole litany of dogs from my childhood through the raising of my kids. Each one was special. The only cat I remember other than barn cats, belonged to my kids we called her crazy Casey. It was the only cat that I knew that didn't always land on her feet. She would jump off of chairs or beds and plop on her side or tumble head over heels. I think there was something seriously wrong with that cat, but she actually fit into the family quite well. :) The only problem with pets is that they don't live long enough. My last little mixed breed dog lived 14 years.

michelle house
4/10/2009 9:53:00 PM

Uhhhh, your friend really really likes flowers. lol Yeah, I have had cats for as long as I could remember, my first cat was a white cat I got when I was 2, I loved him so much, he would attack me and others while we were trying to read. I feel for your daughters friends. lol. I also had a cat, that was dumber than a box of rocks. Seriously, she was, but I loved her too. Now I have the demon spawn, who weighs all of 7 or 8 pounds, and walks all over the 15-20 lb old cat. LOL, he could kick her booty if he wanted but he don't. BTW, I really do think you have a awesome gift for writing, and I enjoy reading your articles.

cindy murphy
4/8/2009 8:52:20 AM

Hey, Iggy. Yep, we've got cats; what house would be complete without the little beasties running around causing general havoc? I don't think there's ever been a long period of time that I haven't been owned by one or two cats. Dusty, the Hell Cat, and your demon-spawn sound like two of a kind. Out of all the cats I've had, he is by far the most demonishly wild. At least in his own feline mind. Extremely territorial in a weird kind of way, he chases some of the girls' friends. It's strange to see a little twelve-pound cat chasing a teenager through the house. His latest demonstration of "I AM CAT, HEAR ME ROAR!" occurred when Shelby had a couple of friends over to paint t-shirts for a contest at school. One of the girls ran upstairs to grab something out of Shelby's room. Upstairs also, I kept hearing a quiet timid voice calling for Shelby. I peeked around the corner, and there was her poor friend, blocked in the doorway to Shelbs' room by Dusty, who wouldn't let her pass. Dusty is as cat-like as Ranger is not; he is as assertive in his beastly attitude as Quetta is sweet. But it's all an act, evident when he curls up in someone's lap and revs up his purring motor.

cindy murphy
4/8/2009 8:31:24 AM

Shel....I mean, Louise. Shouldn't you be doing your chores instead of playing on my computer? After-all, you've got to work to pay for those 1,000,000,000 rhododendrons. I'll put in the order tomorrow; Jan will be so pleased. No, it's not Ketta...or Keeta either, the way Dad likes to spell it. I keep telling you all it's spelled with a "Q". And while I'm correcting your spelling, I'd like to also point out that you left your participle dangling. Love,, I mean Esmeralda.

michelle house
4/7/2009 9:24:40 PM

I did not know you all had 2 cats, I call my cat the "demon spawn" lol. What an awesome story about your dog. You have a wonderful gift. :) Iggy

shelby is awesome_1
4/7/2009 6:50:35 PM

this is ummmmmmmm.......... Louise...Romada. I think I would very much like to visit this said nursrey you work at. I think I would order 1,000,000,000 Ro-da-dun-drens. I think. Oh and by the way.... you don't know me. oh, and I love your puppy.KETTA, isn't it? love, shel...I mean, Louise :)