The Dog Days of Winter

Reader Contribution by Cindy Murphy
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When 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.

Ahhh, to be completely relaxed …

To be King of your Domain …

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 ourdog 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.

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.

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